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CommaKazi Speek

A blog (weblog) containing harsh realities, bitter truths and other reasons to smile

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Good Comcast Communicator

I've been a Comcast customer for just over a year, and evidently have had a different experience than many people--at least if blog comments are any indication.

While researching my previous post on a Comcast customer who videotaped a sleeping Comcast repairman, I read many flaming comments about the quality of Comcast's service. The Comcast repairman who came to my house last Saturday had a similar problem than the one that contributed to the other repairman's sleep episode. But my repairman's communication efforts were a definite plus.

I signed up last year for a package deal: Comcast digital telephone, Internet and cable television. None of them have been any trouble, and in fact, I'm much happier than when I suffered through a period with a satellite TV provider. You want to complain? Try justifying the expense of satellite when your signal goes out for long periods of time whenever a modest storm passes by. We even lost service on sunny days, with no apparent cause.

So when Comcast called recently to offer us the chance to change to its new digital phone service (basically VOIP, like Vonage), we gladly accepted the offer. On Saturday, "Chuck" the repairman (not his real name--I'll be darned if I get a good worker fired) showed up within the timeframe that we expected (the three-hour window), and got straight to work. I was looking for a way to bring up the story of the sleeping Comcast repairman, when Chuck brought up the issue in a roundabout way.

As he hooked up my new modem, Chuck told me that the setup work would be quick, but that it would take a long time for him to complete the job. Why? Because part of the work involved Chuck and his call center exchanging phone calls, to ensure that the line works both for inbound and outbound calls. "I've had waits as long as an hour," Chuck said ruefully.

That was almost unbelievable to me, an employee of a financial services company that operates three call centers in the U.S. and one in Canada. We worry about hold times that exceed 60 seconds, let alone 60 minutes! After I asked him what was causing those extreme wait times, Chuck explained that Comcast had nearly 500 repairmen (and women) like him servicing accounts in the Chicago metro region. Comcast was pushing to get the maximum number of customer installs scheduled in the second quarter, to improve the company's financials.

But those 500 repairmen had to wait for one of the less than 10 service representatives in Comcast's call center. The backlog should have been anticipated by Comcast--and additional staff hired and trained. But that didn't happen. So after a few minutes of standing in my basement with his phone on hold, waiting for a customer service rep, Chuck excused himself and said he was going to wait in his truck. Sure enough, it was somewhere between 30-45 minutes later when he reentered my home and finished the install procedure.

I thanked him and told him that he had been excellent. Did I say that because the install was speedy? Obviously not. I said it because he told me to expect a longer timeframe from the beginning. No surprises. And although he may have taken a nap in his truck, I wouldn't know and I wouldn't care. Chuck had the sense to limit his impact on my life.

Of course, Comcast had better come to its senses regarding staffing its call center. As one blog commenter stated:
While there’s no excuse for someone falling asleep on the job, it does point to the importance of telecom providers providing quality, rapid customer service, even when the ‘customer’ is an employee.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

More 'Bombastic' Than 'Comcastic'

By now, many of you may have heard about the incident involving a Comcast repairman who lost his job after sleeping on it. Here is a recent post from the Comcast customer who created and distributed a video of the sleeping repairman. [6/28/06 update-The original post was not available today, and may have been removed. Here is a link to a related post.]

More than amusing, this incident is a lesson for companies, consumers, and communicators trying to judge the impact of social media on our lives. If it is still available when you see this, read the New York Times online article about the Comcast customer, Brian Finkelstein, a student at Georgetown Law School. The NY Times journalist stated that the video shot by Finkelstein "is one of several recent examples of angered customers taping their interactions with customer service, then putting the experience online."

The customer is angry with the long wait time, sees the sleeping repairman, and decides that posting the video will somehow improve Comcast's customer service. In reality, Comcast executives overreact by sending a squad of Comcast repairmen to fix Finkelstein's digital issues, while also firing the sleeping repairman. Evidently full of remorse for causing the firing, Finkelstein unsuccessfully contacts Comcast officials to plead for a reversal of the firing. When he realizes that his pleas are falling on deaf corporate ears, Finkelstein strikes back with his blog. He writes:

If Comcast was trying to make me happy, they failed. I didn’t discuss this online until today because I was hoping that I could beg for the man’s job more efficiently by going directly to Comcast. That has failed, so I’m going to once again turn to the power of the Internet.

Comcast, do the right thing, hire back the technician.

The "power of the Internet," Finkelstein? What about the "power of choice"? As one comment on Finkelstein's post states,

My question is “What did you think would happen?” You are a smart guy; could you not predict this outcome? It was foreseeable to even a non-legal mind. It would be more honest to acknowledge that you disregarded the potential consequences to him in pursuit of whatever it was you sought to get out of all of this. Comcast has its faults but is firing a guy who is sleeping on a customer’s couch really one of them? I see this as an attempt to assuage your own (rightfully troubled) conscience.

I offer the following, forgive yourself, personally make amends to the fired technician, discover whether he has a sympathetic story that can be told (works multiple jobs to support a family, up all night with a sick kid, etc.), if so, tell it, and finally, make better use of your power in the future. Beating up on Comcast or yourself is, in my opinion, misplaced energy.

Be blessed and Be thoughtful!

I like the advice about blogging about the repairman's situation, rather than striking out at Comcast. Of course, Comcast should hire someone quickly to help them learn how to engage in online conversations, rather than continue to draw fire by hiding behind the "no comment" garbage can lid to avoid the rotten tomatoes being tossed its way. Neither side handled this well. The main thing that I'm taking from this is the quote, "make better use of your power in the future."

This post is getting long, so I'll find another way to add my personal Comcast story from the last weekend. Another long wait by the repairman trying to reach his call center. Mine didn't fall asleep on my couch, however. Would I have videotaped him? No, because of the way he communicated the facts to me. That's another post!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Be a Style Guide

If a "guide" is someone who leads or directs another's way, I suggest that we act as an unwanted guide to the Associated Press and IABC. I'm not talking widespread mutiny, just some common-sense in the use of two now-common words: email and website.

The editors of the AP Stylebook and the IABC Style Guide might be cringing a little, but I'm trying to bring them into the modern age.

I was handed an AP Stylebook as part of my freshman coursework in Journalism 101, and have continued to rely upon it in just about every job I've had since. (One consulting firm used the more formal Chicago Manual of Style.) I rarely disagree with the AP Stylebook, and have often used it to settle disputes with coworkers. The IABC states that its Style Guide "is based largely on The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual."

So let's fix two publications with one decision: To face the reality that the words "e-mail" and "Web site" are outdated and in major decline. Time to go with email and website.

Do a search on Google for "e-mail," and you'll get about 10.4 million results. But look at the results; they almost exclusively say "email" without a hyphen. Check the links on the Google ads--again, almost exclusively without the hyphen. Or read what Ray Tomlinson, the person credited with first using the @ symbol in email, says about it.

Same with the term, "Web site." An AP Stylebook editor writes
"We decided early on that Web site was a component or part of the World Wide Web, not a compound noun based on it (as, say, webcam)."

Well, why don't the rest of us decide that regardless of where it resides on the Intranet, just about everyone thinks of it as a single word: "website"?

This is the age of social media, consumer-generated messages, yadda-yadda. Let's let our voices be heard and bring some common-sense to this style issue.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A benefit of podcasting?

Something that I just heard during a radio interview with motivational speaker Zig Ziglar motivated me to write this. (Hey, he IS good!)

Ziglar was discussing the number of responses he gets when speaking to a live audience, versus the responses he gets after people hear his audio tapes and CDs. It's no contest, he said. Far more people who hear Ziglar's audio tapes and CDs contact him, compared to his live audiences. Ziglar contends that the reason has more to do with the medium than with the sheer numbers of people who hear a CD compared to people who hear him live.

When we listen to a message several times, Ziglar contends, we begin to repeat the words in our own "inner voice" and it becomes a form of self-talk. Unless the message absolutely strikes us as untrue, we almost unconsciously begin to accept it. The message becomes so strongly ingrained to Ziglar's audio listeners, that they feel compelled to contact him.

This has real potential for podcasts. Imagine having someone listening to Donna Papacosta's Six Communication Truths or, "Five Advantages of Social Media"--until after a few repeats, they finally "get it." By the way, I'm letting someone else create the social media podcast--it's just my idea right now.

The important things would be to keep the podcasts short, so that the message is manageable, and to make them informative and entertaining enough that someone would want to hear them more than once. Maybe you could sprinkle in some "Zig-isms" like:

People say to me, Zig, a motivational speech is great, but it only lasts for a short time. I tell them that motivation is like bathing and eating. All of them only last a little while, but if you include them all in your day, you will live longer, be more energized and happy… and smell better!

Does this idea pass your "sniff test"?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Tuning up the old blog

After an absence of about one year, I'm firing up this blog. I'm hoping that the timing is still within spec.

When I began to post regularly on the IABC Cafe, the official blog of the International Association of Business Communicators, time became so short that something had to give. I decided to keep my wife and kids, and to stop writing this blog instead. I have never regretted that decision--until recently.

A couple of wonderful communicators recently referenced me in blog posts, and used this as the link to me. Nothing says "professional" more than having someone follow a link to a dust-covered blog, huh? In utter embarrassment, I decided to go with the flow, and add new content to CommaKazi Speek.

My intent, long-term, is to move to a more polished blog software, such as WordPress. But I have to load that software onto a server and get it up-and-running. Haven't had time for that up to now.

At work, I'm moving forward with preparation for a presentation to my management regarding the benefits of social media (blogs, podcasts, wikis, RSS feeds, instant messaging). I thought that I was going to be able to present at a June manager meeting, but just learned today that the June meeting has been cancelled. So I am now looking at a July date.

I can't tell you how relieved I will be if management supports my ideas for introducing social media to our employees. It will improve communication and collaboration, and will take a great amount of tactical burden off of my shoulders.

Professionally, it will allow me to roll up my shirt sleeves and make some tangible improvements. Sometimes, I feel like those people in Hollywood who are "famous for being famous." You know, the people who always have their pictures taken with celebrities, attend the right social events, and know the right names to drop. They remain on everyone's minds, even if they haven't actually done anything of note.

I don't want simply to continue to talk about the benefits of social media--even if doing so raises my visibility among communication professionals. I want to be able to share real experiences and advice based on hard work and solid planning.

Many of you may be in a similar situation. Please share your successes, challenges and thoughts, so that we all benefit from the exchange.

Linking Corporate Reputation to Business Value

Who would have thought that a university professor would be the first presenter at the April 27-28, 2006 Corporate Reputation Summit to offer practical, real-world advice for showing the business value of communications? Of course, Paul Argenti is far from a stereotypical, all-theory academic.

Argenti has invested a great deal of time, energy and thought into the practical aspects of corporate reputation, and he shared many insights gained through research and interactions with top corporate leaders. He is a professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, where he prepares students to become real contributors to business. Communicators need to hear the same message, Argenti said to the reputation summit participants.

"Don't say or imply that 'We're different,' or 'Communications is an art' when you talk with executives," Argenti said. "The executives will just think you're crazy. You're not different. You need to measure and strategize." He showed the following quote from Bill Margaritas, senior vice president worldwide communications and IR at FedEx:
You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Everyone’s looking for a seat at the table, and they ought to be looking at measurement for getting to the table and staying there.”

Companies need to manage their reputations, Argenti said, because studies show that well-regarded organizations generally:

  • Command premium prices
  • Pay lower prices
  • Entice top recruits
  • Experience greater loyalty
  • Have more stable revenues
  • Face fewer risks of crisis
  • Are given greater latitude by constituents
  • Have higher market valuation and stock prices
  • Have greater loyalty of investors and thus smaller stock price volatility

Communications professionals are under pressure from their top management to prove the value of what they do, because many are not linking what they do to the company's bottom line, and they have not established benchmarks for the communication function, Argenti said. Senior executives want to know how best to allocate communication assets, how communications supports risk management, and how communications at the corporate level can be structured and integrated with other business functions like marketing, sales, legal affairs and corporate development, he added.

Technology allows us now to measure communication value and link it to business results through the use of sophisticated statistical analysis, he said. This statistical analysis allows companies to spot the communication activities that are contributing to business results. "Business value measures the sum of a company's components and evaluates a company's worth to relevant constituents" including revenue, profit, sales volume, share price, customer retention and employee retention, Argenti stated in his presentation.

"The biggest mistake many companies are making today is that they're not paying attention to the impact of intangibles to the company reputation," he said. "If you look at the top companies in the U.S. and all companies on our planet with strong reputations, the people in charge care a lot about their reputation, and how it gets communicated to the world."

Anywhere from 35% to 80% of a company's value depends on intangibles, rather than tangible assets like property, plants and equipment, Argenti said. Intangibles include:

  • Brand
  • Work quality
  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Customer loyalty
  • Strategy execution
  • Alliances
  • Innovation/IP
  • Communications

Argenti used the following quote from Pete Peterson, chairman of Blackstone Group, which captures the essence of the importance of intangibles:
What matters is what the public thinks, and the public trust is what's really crashed.

School District Must Think That This is the Year '1984'

If we searched through the school library at any Community High School District 128 facility in northern Illinois, I wonder whether we would find a copy of George Orwell's classic, "Nineteen Eighty-Four"? If so, it would be good to offer a copy to the local school board, which on Monday night passed rules changes that will hold students accountable for what they post on blogs and social-networking Web sites. The school board's action seems "Orwellian" to me.

Here is part of the article from the Tuesday Chicago Tribune:
Associate Supt. Prentiss Lea said the changes are part of an effort to get the district community more knowledgeable about the growing Internet blog phenomenon and more aware of the pitfalls of such sites as MySpace.com.

"By adding the blog sites [to the student codes of conduct], we wanted to raise discussions on the issue," he said. "We have taken the first steps to starting that conversation."

Conversation may be starting, but it includes a lot of discussion about overstepping boundaries. The Trib quoted one parent as saying, I don't think they need to police what students are doing online. That's my job." The article states that school district officials will monitor student web sites if they get a tip or other indication that something inappropriate or illegal is posted there.

I have no argument against anyone guarding against illegal or libelous material being posted. In fact, one of my neighbors is an assistant state's attorney, in charge of the computer crime unit that seeks out and prosecutes child predators. My kids must wonder why I often sound so strident about "safe computing" after I've come back from talking with this neighbor.

But this "Big Brother" initiative by the school board is not the way to handle it. Here is the link to the District's Internet Safety Resource page. There, the District states that it "wants to proactively partner with parents on an education program that provides both our parents and students some basic information on how to use the Internet safely."

That's fine. But usurping a parent's authority and deciding how to hold a student accountable is not the way to handle this. Call the parent(s) and discuss with them how best to deal with the situation.

Our kids will bring their viewpoints of social media into the workplace someday in the near future. I want mine to understand and respect this communication channel. I've been having conversations with my kids, and I will be glad to hear from their schools about any potential issues--but the schools need to leave the parenting to the parents.