Reading Kristina Halvorsen on my new Kindle Fire this morning, I came to the realization that I'd recently been shirking my strategic responsibilities as publisher of online content. I've recently become team lead on an online outbound content program for a client's technical audience. My official title when I first came on the team over two years ago was "content strategist." I managed curation and aggregation of the inbound content resources when evaluating products. To the extent of my job scope, I absolutely fell into a content strategy role.
As my experience and responsibilities expanded into more of a marketing communications role on the team, my oversight into content strategy was compressed into larger responsibilities around outbound marketing strategies for the experience. The organization shifted, and thusly, content strategy was folded into everyone's ownership.
Now the lead on our team, my interest in content strategy is rekindled and three-fold:
The result here is that I'm spending the next twenty business days proving the practice of what I preach - blogging on these four topics to create a forcing function for my yearly goals. I'd love your feedback and helpful encouragement.
Business Consulting | Client Relationship Management | Marketing | Project Management
If you’re like me and scour the various tech blogs and social media channels, you're probably familiar with [or at least aware of] the Ocean Marketing fiasco. If not, you can catch the story's summary from Zdnet here.After discussing the debacle with my colleague, Jason Bennett, he mentioned a takeaway that continues to stick with me: “It’s amazing how much of this could have been diffused with a simple, early apology”.Thankfully, most [hopefully, all] of us are not like Mr. Cristoforo; we don't engage clients in angry, condescending email threads. However, we've all encountered periods of stress where things can become a bit tense. The perspective that Jason gave me was simple; Apologize early, diffuse the situation.A recent study reported by The Alpha Galileo Foundation showed that following a mishap, customers who were sent an apology were more likely to respond positively than customers who were simply offered some sort of compensation. The Nottingham School of Economics, who conducted the research, found that customers of a large Ebay seller were more likely to remove their negative feedback when sent a simple apology, acknowledging the seller's error and regret. This was in comparison to a set of customers who were sent an offer to remove their negative feedback in exchange for a small amount of money.The results are surprisingly definitive. Only 23% of folks removed their negative reviews in exchange for money, while 45% responded to a clear apology by removing their negative reviews.Sure, a solution is of utmost importance and will need to exist, but, a simple, clear, sincere, and early apology should not be understated. When something goes wrong, remember to acknowledge your fault. You may find it to have a surprisingly positive impact.
Tags: Customer Service, beliefs, core values, Relationship Marketing
Client Relationship Management | General | Marketing
Client Relationship Management | Marketing | Social Media
This is a piece for the team at Exsilio, our clients, and partners to know what our internal expectations are. Obviously, the title of this article is rather black and white, and it seemed to me of value to have a discussion on how Exsilio can be a challenging, yet very rewarding, place to work for reasons people may not immediately think of. I'm going to speak specifically about developers, but the general concepts apply to all categories of our team.
As a service based organization, people often believe that being successful in their job means having a specific technical skillset. For example, I'm a developer and I’m very good at programming in T-SQL and C#, so I should be successful. A strong technical skillset is a given, and honestly speaking, if your only asset is your technical knowledge then you're probably not going to succeed – at least not at Exsilio.
Let’s talk about what makes people succeed, get the level of appreciation they're looking for, and keep everyone else happy. So think about the real purpose of your job. Since I’m already using the example of a software developer, why do people want software developers, to write code obviously (this is the point where average developers begin to fail). But there are more fun ways to spend money, so why are they spending their money on this project? Fundamentally, at least in most cases at our company, it is to write code to create solutions which will make someone's life better or easier than it would have been otherwise. And it’s a solid understanding of this where you move from an average developer to a quality developer.
If you're a software developer and you're not thinking every day, with every task, about how your solution will enhance, benefit, and dare I say "amaze" the end-user, then you're in the wrong profession. You’re certainly working for the wrong company, if you work at Exsilio. It goes further than the code you write, it is the way people interact with the product you build, it is the way you present your product, and the way people receive it. The end product should practically glow with the pride and efforts of the person who is delivering it. This comes from the person building it affirmatively answering all of the following: Does this make sense? Do I know why I'm building this and understand the value it will be providing to people? Is this something I'd want to use every day? Am I proud of this product? Is this something that is commercially worthy?
I hear developers often say “I’m a developer not a creative designer.” I tend to translate this to, "It should be alright if I create something that looks like crap." Professionally, this may be correct; however, people know what looks good and what doesn't. While some make the excuse that it is subjective, most people would agree that Lamborghinis and Ferraris are truly stunning vehicles, they don’t need a creative designer had to tell them this. They know it based on basic senses. The same rule applies if you’re a developer without a creative person on your team; build something that you're incredibly impressed by. If you're incapable of doing this, then either you don't care about your project or you’re lacking in technical skills.
In the same regard as above, they often times say “I'm not a business analyst so I should just need a technical spec and not need to understand the business requirements”. To that I say something very similar. Simply put, if you're working on a project and you don't know the business rationale and use cases behind it, then 1. Your project is doomed from the start and 2. You probably should be working on it until you do.
At the end of the day, if the software you’ve written doesn’t make your users feel like they're being more successful and impressed both by function, feature, and general beauty, then the project was a failure. Average developers, developers who shouldn't be working at Exsilio, simply take what was delivered to them on a technical specifications document and deliver on that. Anyone who's been around me in meetings to review projects and status hopefully knows this.
While this piece was aimed at the developer, it conceptually crosses the boundaries for all of the delivery groups in our organization. It is really an honor that our customers have chosen to work with us on some truly amazing, incredibly high profile, and cutting-edge projects, but with that comes an awesome level of responsibly. With that level of responsibility come the intangibles that make people the best they can be. At times, these are the same things that can make Exsilio a tough place to work for reasons I think most wouldn't ever think of. Over the six years, I’ve thought it is worth it, and honestly I have to believe the people who’ve stood the test of time have thought so as well.
Client Relationship Management | General | Randomness | Software Development
As a sort of addendum to Jason Bennet's post about client expectations from cloud services, I wanted to mention the PlayStation Network. PSN has been down for six days now, the last update mentioning only that Sony doesn't "have an update or timeframe to share at this point in time."
There are differences between Amazon Web Services and PSN, of course, the primary being that AWS is a paid service. However, the initial MSRP of the PlayStation 3 was $600, an extremely high price for a console. One of the features on the box, and a feature that continues to be noted on the home page of the PlayStation, is access to the PlayStation Network. So regardless of the lack of subsciption fee for PlayStation Network, there is a client expectation that they have paid a premium for the physical product with the understanding of 24/7/365 access to the free service.
Unfortunately, Sony's handling of this disaster has only exacerbated the problem. On April 20th, Sony took down the PlayStation Network. Their initial statement said, in toto, "We’re aware certain functions of PlayStation Network are down. We will report back here as soon as we can with more information. Thank you for your patience." The next day they said they were "investigating the cause of the Network outage." The day after that they mentioned an "external intrusion," and said they took down the network themselves, back on the 20th. Many of their customers and game journalists understood "external intrusion" to mean the hacker group "Anonymous" who had recently gone after Sony. After the hacker group vehemently denied responsibility, Sony didn't mention it again. Officials at Sony have said they don't know if customer account data, including credit card numbers, have been compromised. Their blog includes only 3-4 line updates once a day, where they mention things like "Our efforts to resolve this matter involve re-building our system" with no estimated date or time for when something that sounds so monumental might be finished. There has been no explanation as to why this is happening. Rumors have swirled, none of which Sony has directly addressed. Games that depend on PSN for full functionality aren't getting sold. Products available for sale ONLY through PSN are obviously not getting sold either. Many of these titles are the lifeblood of indie game companies.
Compare this to XBox Live troubles 2 years ago after Christmas - Microsoft's Major Nelson stated the exact nature of the cause (Christmas rush led to a huge usage spike), possible work-arounds, estimates, and at the end of it, customers got a free XBox Live Arcade game and 1 month of free service. The whole busines was soon forgotten.
It's highly unlikely that will be the case with Sony. In all, their network disaster has turned into a credibility disaster, and the repercussions are bound to affect not just Sony, but many companies in the PlayStation environment. Sony has blogs, twitter feeds, facebook pages, and none of those are being used to communicate anything meaningful to their customers. The lesson here is a simple one - don't just have a plan for disaster prevention, have a plan for disaster recovery that includes customer communication and marketing. Because day six of the outage of your 24/7/365 network is too late to come up with a plan.
Update: Since I posted this initially, Sony has admitted that user accounts were compromised. Again, this is six days after the initial breach. User IDs, passwords, and credit card information are all at risk.
Tags: Cloud, Disaster Recovery, Infrastructure, PlayStation Network
Business Consulting | Client Relationship Management
photo by Origamidon on Flickr
Early yesterday, Amazon's cloud offering, Web Services (AWS) had widespread failures and latency issues, effectively blocking Amazon's clients from serving up online services. This effectively blocked companies like Reddit and Hootsuite users from their main services. Hootsuite was completely shuttered for the day, and Reddit blocked logins to the site. With this reminder of the risks associated with heavy investment in the cloud, it's worth surfacing a couple of terms to think about when considering a cloud offering.
High Availability. This is the idea that moves beyond mere uptime for all of your servers, and focuses resources to make sure high-business-impact components are not just up, but have multiple systems of redundancy. No failure allowed.
Points of failure. Again, server uptime isn't sufficient for discussing problems that arrive 1 or 2 hops away from your customers. Diagramming the network points between your services and your customers can identify weak links that won't surface in mere platform uptime analysis.
The irony in Microsoft's recent "all in" cloud messaging is that the for businesses focusing on online services, supplying "brick and mortar" customer service argues the vice versa of traditional disaster recovery. The message is still the same - hedge your bets on platform and network, investing in solutions that deliver 24-7 global services that customers demand.
Tags: Amazon Web Services, Cloud, Infrastructure, Disaster Recovery
Business Consulting | Virtualization | Client Relationship Management
Clients often come to us with a fixed timeline, budget, rough objectives in mind. It can be a challenge to respond to a customer who only has a vague idea of what their looking for, and wants a quick estimate. Offering good/better/best options can be a simple way to present a tiered range options, where one is more likely to meet the customer's needs and price point. It helps convey features and tradeoffs in a way that’s straightforward for your customer to understand, and narrows down options and scope to start a deeper conversation around one option. It also makes it easier for your customer to present and justify costs to a manager approving buget, which can often be the case.
Good: lowest price; standard features. This option should always include your standard SLAs – if you have value-added services as part of your SLA, those should be included too! Better: mid-tier price; added features and benefits included. Present your standard option with some recommended features. Depending on the range between your “good”and “best” option, among other considerations, there are times where you'll actually want to avoid offering a “better” mid-tier option. Best: highest price; has the most features and benefits included, plus add-ons that the client may not have thought of. Even if you’re aware it’s beyond your customer’s budget, consider this as a chance to present your best recommendation. It’s an opportunity to inform and showcase your full capabilities, and exhibits thought leadership and creativity – the outcome of which can lead to prospective engagements (not now, but maybe next time… or, not now, but talk to this other person who may be interested).
In other words, make it easy for the customer to differentiate between the good, better, and best – in a way that the benefits vs. the tradeoffs of each are immediately recognizable and understandable. Make it an easy "yes" decision. And, most importantly, don’t gloss over the “best”. Don't just show them what they asked for, show them what they could have. I’m coming from the perspective of a vendor-to-client scenario, but this can also be applied in marketing and selling products to end customers. Products that come to mind are car service packages, mobile phone plans, restaurant prix fixe menus, booking hotels, super value meals. Do you have a positive experience you can share as a customer, choosing between different levels of service? Or, as a business, offering your customer a choice of different levels of service?
Tags: Tips, Marketing theory
Client Relationship Management | Marketing
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