Tag Archives: manager

Why Hotels Should Avoid Social Media

By Jeremy Wagstaff

(this is a copy of my column for newspapers)

If The Wall Street Journal is to be believed—and as a former contributor I’ve no reason to doubt it—the best way to get decent hotel service these days is to tweet about how bad it is.

And reading the piece made me realize that, when it comes to an industry like the leisure industry, social media can only be a disaster for your brand.

An article by Sarah Nassauer says that “hotels and resorts are amassing a growing army of sleuths whose job it is to monitor what is said about them online—and protect the hotels’ reputations.” It also offers a handy list of eight tips on how to “snare better service”, including:

Before you check-in: Post a comment on the hotel’s Facebook page or send a tweet saying you’re looking forward to your stay. A savvy hotel will put you on its radar and may dole out perks or give specialized service.

or this one:

Have a lot of online friends or followers. Hotels will pay more attention to your requests.

Now I’m a big fan of social media. And hotels. And the Journal. But this kind of advice is WRONG.

Basically, what the paper is suggesting is that you abuse social media, and the hotel’s check-in system, to snag yourself better service. Unfortunately it betrays a distinct lack of understanding of how things like Twitter work.

First off, you don’t just “have” a lot of online followers or friends. Followers and friends are earned through providing interesting commentary, in the case of Twitter, or being there for them, in the case of friends. OK, you can buy both, but that’s not the point.

Although I suppose you could calculate your savings through free hotel upgrades and offset that against the purchase off Twitter followers through services like usocial (“become an overnight rock star on twitter!”).

Now I’m not averse to hotels and other companies using Twitter and Facebook to keep an eye on what people are saying about them. That’s good, and, frankly, it should have happened a long time ago. I’m frankly amazed that companies measure their footprint on social media quantitatively rather than qualitatively: in other words, they count the number of followers they have, rather than look closely at who those followers are, learn about them and recruit them as unpaid evangelists.

As the piece mentions, hotels and resorts are setting up their own social media monitoring centers which sound like Churchill in the bowels of London in the middle of the  blitz, but is probably more likely some overworked drone monitoring a laptop in the hotel kitchen or a workaholic F&B manager checking TripAdvisor his BlackBerry while his wife is delivering their 4th baby.

The problem is this: Social media is social. If I grumble about my hotel on Twitter, it’s presumably because the other options open to me aren’t working. And those options usually involve something other than boring all my friends about the state of the bath, or the shortage of Mountain Dew in my minibar.

These are things that I should be bringing up with room service, or the front desk, or the F&B guy. If I’ve started twittering about it, it’s proof the system doesn’t work.

So, unless I’ve got really patient followers and friends, using them as a platform for my grumbles isn’t only an abuse of social media, it’s an abuse of my friends.

The problem with the Journal piece is that it assumes that social media is merely a public platform for self-promotion: either for getting better deals, or for getting better service.

But it’s not. Social media only works because we’re interested in what other people are saying. Those people who tell the world they’re about to have coffee don’t have many followers, unless they’re someone famous.

The value in social media—in any network—is the information it’s carrying. Whines about the view from one’s room isn’t information. It’s a whine. (Unless of course it’s me, in which case I’m being wittily ironic in a post-modernist sort of way.)

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding, and a recent case in point: hotel guest complains about the quality and price of Internet in their hotel on Twitter, including the hotel’s twitter name. Hotel responds within seven minutes, asking guest to direct message them—in other words, to send a message that can’t be viewed by anyone else.

So, now the conversation goes offline. No more tweets that anyone can read. In short, guest is basically saying to his followers: I’ve got what I wanted, thanks to all of you for helping me get my way. Hotel is saying: We’ll solve this problem privately, thank you, and leave no-one the wiser about whether this was a one-off complaint or something other guests may have to worry about.

Neither respects the audience on social media who have to watch this public face-off and miss the private make-up.

The upshot: Guests learn that twittering gets results. Hotels learn that twitter guests can be bought off as easily as non-social media guests. And the followers of that particular twitterer come away none the wiser and feeling slightly used.

For sure, it makes sense to use social media as a platform to air your grievances–if other paths have failed. If you want to warn others. Just like writing a letter to the editor back in the old days.

But hotels and other companies that scour social media to buy off bad-mouthers will do terrible damage to themselves, and to social media, if they seek to reward anti-social behavior. If you broadcast to social media that bad-mouthing your brand pays dividends, expect to get lots of bad-mouthing on social media.

If you then try to solve the problem in private, all you leave is a paper-trail of bad-mouthing, and no happy ending.

So the solution is simple: Social media should be monitored. Grievances should be addressed. But rather than setting up time-consuming twitter monitoring teams money would be better spent on developing rapid responses internally—a instant messaging service only accessible to guests, say, or a texting service so guests don’t have to listen to jingly jangly phone music while they’re being connected to reception.

It comes back to an old adage: Social media is not another broadcast platform. It’s a very public forum. So having a twitter feed is a life-time commitment to allowing every customer grumble to be seen by everyone on the planet. Don’t go there unless you have to.

Instead, keep those private channels with your guests as free of friction as possible. Don’t encourage them to go public, because however it works out, it won’t be pretty.

Oh, and provide a decent service. That always works.

HSBC “Rgerts to Onform”

I’m always amazed at how much money companies sink into sparkling advertising and PR, but so little into ensuring the emails their staff send and receive reflect the same sheen.

Especially when they call themselves the “world’s local bank”.

Take this recent email exchange with HSBC. I’m a customer, and sometimes use their Premier lounge at Jakarta airport. I’m one of those annoying people who make a point of submitting comments to companies about my experience, even if they’re not solicited.

A few months back I was impressed enough with the Jakarta lounge to send an email to a generic customer relations email address I found here on HSBC’s global site where the page says:  HSBC customers are invited to email customerrelations@hsbc.com.

I can’t remember now what I wrote, but it was complimentary about the initiative of one of the staff, a guy called Musli. I got this back a few days later:

Thank you for your recent e-message.
I have forwarded your email to Jakarta, Indonesia so that your positive comments can be feedback to Musli and their manager.
Thank you for taking the time to contact us.

Great. Just what I wanted. A slap on the back for the little guy.

But a few months later—last week–I had a quite different experience, so I fired off another email to the same address:

Hi, I thought I’d follow up my earlier message about HSBC lounge in Jakarta. Since my last email I feel standards have slipped a bit and the place could do with some attention.

I then went on to detail the slippage: my Premier card, it turned out, wasn’t in itself good enough for Premier lounge, and the staff seemed keener on getting rid of me than seeing whether I carried the magic card. The lounge felt more like a lower tier massage parlor, with four females sitting around the front desk, chatting, giggling, singing karaoke and exchanging backchat with male staff. It got so raucous I and some other travelers went to another lounge to get a bit of peace and quiet.

Anyway, I fired off what I felt was a constructively critical message. I got this back today:

Thank you for your further e-message. I am sorry you have had to contact us under such circumstances.
I rgert to onform you that I am unable to assist you with your complaint.
As you have contacted HSBC UK, we are only able to access accounts held within the UK.
Therefore may I suggest that you contact HSBC Jakarta for them to investigate the issues you have and provide you with a full response.
I apologise for any inconvenience this may cause you.

I wrote back:

Thanks for this, it cheered me up no end. The first time I send complimentary remarks to this email address, and they’re passed on right down to the staff, but when I send criticism you “rgert to onform” that you are unable to assist me.
Lovely stuff. Couldn’t make it up if I tried.

I’m a bit flabbergasted, actually, but I shouldn’t be. It’s pretty amazing that the global email address for customer relations for what is now one of the world’s biggest banks can spew out ungrammatical and misspelled dross like that, but more important, but that the staff member feels able to shunt responsibility back to the customer is shockingly shoddy.

Repeat after me: Every email sent and received by a member of your staff is an ambassador at large for the organization. Mess it up like this one and your whole brand suffers.

(Also being sent to HSBC PR for their comments.)

The Periphery of the Brand

(Updated Dec 8 with comment from IKEA)

image

I’m always amazed at how companies work really, really hard on their brand, and then blow it all on the periphery.

The pictures here are taken from the Milton Keynes branch of IKEA, an otherwise wonderful store that caters to kids, has the usual IKEA range of stuff and generally lives up to the company’s brand in spades.

image

Except at the entrance. The trash repository is right in front of the door, and is littered with cigarette butts, burger wrappers, ash, IKEA cups and a half-drunk glass of orange that, presumably, came from the IKEA cafeteria:

image

It stands out like a sore thumb, depressing newcomers and those leaving the store alike. At a guess it’s not maintained, or maintained enough, because it’s just beyond the scope of the store, and so is probably not, strictly speaking, the responsibility of the store. There’s probably no guideline for this sort of situation in the IKEA manual. But IKEA is the only user of the building, and the stuff being left here is all from IKEA shoppers—some of it sporting the IKEA logo.

The periphery of the brand is often just beyond the reach of all the normal boxes a manager would tick in ensuring the brand is looking good. But that is often the exact point of contact for a customer—coloring either their first impression or the lasting one they have when they leave.

IKEA have promised to address the problem: In an email, they said: “At IKEA Milton Keynes, we strive to maintain high standards of tidiness across our store both inside and out to give our customers the best possible shopping experience. On this occasion, the maintenance of the bin does not reflect these standards however, we are addressing this, and are stepping up measures to make the necessary improvements.”

When Technology Lets Us Down

image

(from tcbuzz’s flickr collection)

Two recent events from the UK underlined how dangerous our dependence on technology can be.

The soccer UEFA Cup final in Manchester was overshadowed by riots when one of the massive screens installed in the city for fans who didn’t have tickets broke down.

And more recently, the inquest into the death of a former BBC editor found that she committed suicide after failing to find support among her colleagues. Her line manager, the inquest heard, tried to find her counselling:

However, her manager sent an email to the wrong address and his request was never acted on.

Technology is passive, and doesn’t take into account the implications of failure. In the first case the technology either didn’t work, or those setting it up didn’t know how to work (or fix) it. In the second case, the error was more obviously human: the sender of an email did not enter the correct address, or did not enter the address correctly.

This is more about our failure to anticipate failure in technology, and our blind dependence on it working.

Obviously, it would have been smart of the organizers in Manchester to have had a back-up plan in place for an eventuality like a screen breaking down. And the line manager’s apparent failure to see whether the email arrived at its destination or even to have picked up a phone and tried to reach the counsellor directly.

But perhaps there are ways for technology to further help us by providing a layer of redundancy? In the case of the screen, could there be some sort of diagnostics test which would alert the technicians that something was amiss, or about to be amiss?

And, in the case of email, the answer is perhaps simpler. There are tools out there to determine whether an email has arrived safely and been opened. The one I use is MessageTag, which will inform me whether an email I have tagged with the service has been opened. (The advanced service will give me a list of emails I have tagged and show me which ones have been opened, and which havent–a very useful checklist to show me which emails I need to follow up on.)

(There are privacy implications with services like MessageTag/MSGTAG, which I’ve gone into before. But sparing use of the service, I believe, is acceptable, so long as you give recipients the option of opting out of future tagging. Other people use the receipt acknowledgement option in Microsoft Outlook and some other email programs.)

We perhaps need to be reminded that technology, as it stands, won’t save us from ourselves.

Soccer 2.0

image 

Photo: The Offside

In Soccer 1.0 the manager is king. But an Israeli football team is experimenting with a sort of crowd-sourcing, wisdom-of-the-Kop type approach, where fans monitor the game online and suggest starting line-up, tactics and substitutions.

Reuters reports from Tel Aviv that “diehard football fan Moshe Hogeg was so upset when star striker Lionel Messi was left off Argentina’s side for a World Cup match against Germany last year that he teamed up with an online gaming company to buy a club where fans decide over the Internet who will play and in what position.” Hogeg’s company, an Israeli social network for sports fans called Web2sport, teamed up with online backgammon website Play65 to buy Hapoel Kiryat Shalom, a team in Israel’s third amateur division.

Fans log on to the team’s website and make suggestions and vote in poll which are monitored by an assistant to the coach. Ahead of the season’s opening match some 6,000 people tried to log on to make suggestions. The team lost 3-2 to Maccabi Ironi Or Yehuda in injury time.

Needless to say, I have mixed feelings about this. I don’t think crowd-sourcing is going to replace the genius of Wenger, Mourinho or Ferguson. On the other hand, as a Spurs fan, I certainly think manager Martin Jol could do with some help.

Press Release: The First Web 2.0 Football Club in the World

Bald-headed Britney and the Lost Art of Linking

I think we’ve missed a big trick with links. You know, those underlined words on a web page that take us somewhere else. They’ve been around a while now, so you’d think we’d have explored them a bit, built a little etiquette around them, what to do, what not to do when you link to something else. After all, by turning a word, an image or a button into a link you’re building a door into another world, sort of.

Links are great, it’s just we don’t know how to use them. When we come across a link like this, we’re automatically thrown into confusion: Where does the link go? Do we click on the link and stop reading what we’re reading? Do we not click on the link and keep reading and make a mental note to come back and click on the link later and yet never do? Do we click on the link and open it in a new window? A new tab? A new computer? And then what happens?

Sure, something similar happens in newspapers. You come to the end of the page, and there’s a link to what we professional journalists call The Jump. As in DRUGS, continued on page 4. CARS, continued on page 5. TEDIUM, continued on page 7. UK satirical magazine Private Eye realised these links’ comic possibilities by adding Continued on page 94 at the bottom of its sillier pieces until the term entered the lexicon itself. Wikipedia explains the phenomenon with its usual literalness (“No issue of Private Eye has ever run to anywhere near 94 pages.”)

But this doesn’t induce the same confusion as online. What are we supposed to do when confronted with a link that doesn’t explain where it’s going? When I insert a link under the words “Wikipedia explains” above, you don’t have to be a genius to figure out I’m linking to the Wikipedia entry on Private Eye. But most of the time that doesn’t happen. Most of the time we have no idea what words are linking to what. Don’t bother clicking on any of those links; I was just trying to make a point. Which is this: Words or phrases with links on that aren’t clear where they’re going would be like marking doors with obscure labels like ’open’ or ‘Ffortescue was here’ or ‘door’. (And don’t get me started on those links that look as if they’re going one place and actually go to another internal page, like the company links in this page at Webware.)

Which is why I like MTV’s website and their coverage of Britney Spears going Rehab AWOL again. OK, so the links don’t go outside the site but to other MTV stories, but I both admire the fact that MTV explains what they’re linking to in the link, and the, er, clarity it throws on Britney’s recent lifestyle deviation.

This time, her family and manager intervened, and announced yesterday that Spears had voluntarily entered rehab (see “Britney Spears Checks Into Rehab”).

Now that’s a link that explains itself. Actually it explains itself so well you don’t really have to click on it. Plus it really bolsters the bald (sorry) assertion that precedes it. You’ve got to hand it to MTV . No silly, teasing but vague headlines for them. These guys probably moonlight at Wikipedia.  Like this one:

After returning from her first trip to rehab, Spears made a shocking public appearance Friday night, debuting her newly shaved head at a tattoo shop in Sherman Oaks, California (see “Britney Spears Shaves Head, Gets Tattoo”).

or my personal favorite (The combination of story and the title of the link would not look out of place in Private Eye itself):

“She is obviously in a lot of pain and needs help immediately,” agreed Doreen Seal, the mother of Jason Alexander, a longtime family friend to whom Spears was briefly married (see “Britney On Her Marriage: Vegas Made Me Do It”).

Maybe it’s just Britney’s story naturally lends itself to links that make sense. But I would wager that it’s more MTV’s excellent linking that leaves us in no doubt of what we’re clicking on. I’m going to take a leaf out of their book and practice safe Link Labeling from now on (see “Loose Wire on Linking: Britney Made Me Do It”)

Technorati tags: , , ,

The Blog-Browsing Worker

Is blogging kept alive by office-bound shirkers?

Some blogs get huge amounts of comments, which always makes me wonder: When do people actually find the time to write these things? I can understand folk adding a comment if it’s something work related, but if it’s a blog about soccer, this can hardly be considered vital to the office’s wellbeing. I was gobsmacked (UK English for ‘knocked back in my seat’ or ‘you could have knocked me over with a feather’), for example, to see nearly 250 comments on one blog posting over at The Guardian’s sportblog on whether or not Liverpool’s manager Rafa Benítez is “making a dog’s dinner” of his team. Vital stuff, as you may imagine, but 250 comments?

The good thing about The Guardian’s blog system is that each comment shows the time when the comment was posted and where the author is located. (This latter bit of information could be faked, of course, but let’s assume for the sake of argument it’s not.) So when do these people post their comments — on their own time, or their bosses’? (Perhaps this question has been better addressed in surveys elsewhere; if so, I’d love to hear about them, and will just regard the following experiment as a midly diverting pastime. I’ve seen less focused surveys by AOL, Advertising Age, CNET, Websense and The Guardian, but nothing that specifically mentions blogging or commenting.)

Allowing for time zones, and based on precisely one blog entry, I’d say the latter. Commenters generally seem to be doing it from work. Assuming a work day from around 8 am to 12 pm, a lunchbreak of around two hours (yeah I know that’s laughable, but we have to assume that someone reading and commenting on a blog between 12 pm and 2 pm may be on their break), then working from 2-6 pm, that’s where most of the action is, whatever timezone you’re in (this blog entry also has comments from as far afield as Canada and New Zealand.) Then for the hell of it I divided the rest of the day between 6 to 10 pm, as a sort of recreational period, and then 10-12 pm as a sort of post-pub haze, when we used to watch crazy kats on Open University but now surf the web. Then there’s the midnight to 8 am period, a twilight zone for commenters.

This is what it looks like, starting at midnight:

0-8       6.6%
8-12    20.3%
12-2    16.2%
2-6      39.0%
6-10      7.5%
10-12   10.4%

Or as a Sparkline:

Based on this very limited example (where comments — as usual — deteriorate into a slanging match between a few individuals) it’s clear that most commenting is done on work time, with the Post-Prandial Surf the most popular period. Despite the generous two-hour lunch window offered in the survey, fewer people made comments during that period than during the pre-lunch morning period, suggesting lunch time is too important to waste on reading blogs. And even if you only take the 8-12 and 2-6 periods as worktime, that still accounts for nearly two thirds of the comments. I’d say, based on this, the workplace seems to be the preferred blog-reading/commenting locale.

The World Cup Walls Come Down

The more I see and read about the “sponsorship” behind the World Cup the more appalled I am. Ever since I heard that MasterCard (briefly) exerted a monopoly over buying tickets to the finals with a credit card, and men were told to take off their lederhosen, I realised that although it claims to, sponsorship never works to the benefit of the end user. But until I read this post from the excellent Paul Mason of BBC Newsnight, I hadn’t really linked what was happening to my supposed field of interest, the Internet and new media:

This, therefore is turning out to be the first “user-generated-content” global sports event. Much of the content is pretty scrappy but it shows the potential of the medium and how hard it’s going to be for Sepp Blatter and co to defend their intellectual property (image rights for individual players, no Visacards allowed etc).

Up to now football has managed to ride the big business waves of the 1990s: paid-for content, pay-TV, below the line advertising budgets and sponsorship. How will it cope with a world where all intellectual property rights are under threat? Right now the monopoly on images is easy to defend but the monopoly on sound commentary is effectively broken because you can see numerous people in the crowd giving commentaries to their mates live.

(If you’re an England fan you’ve got to read his other post about what the manager should do, a post that has attracted, at the time of writing. more than 120 comments. Last night when I looked it had about 20.)

Going back to his intellectual property post, it’s a good point. From folk taking video of their TV to others at the game shooting the scene with their camera phone, it’s going to be impossible to ring-fence what is and isn’t seen or heard in the future. (It doesn’t mean they didn’t try.) This isn’t as clear cut as Napster file sharing, where original digital content is copied and shared. It’s about individuals mashing up what they see and heard with their own creativity. It’ll be interesting match to watch, as an increasingly sophisticated (and avaricious) marketing industry faces off against the user-generated anarchy/cooperatives of shared content.

Turning Back the Telecommuting Tide

Good piece in the MercuryNews.com on HP’s decision to cut back on telecommuting: “HP believes bringing its information-technology employees together in the office will make them swifter and smarter. The decision shocked HP employees and surprised human resource management experts, who believe telecommuting is still a growing trend.”

Speaking as a telecommuter still in his morning sarong, I’m disappointed. But from a manager’s point of view I can understand. Telecommuting inhibits the natural transfer of skills and experience from the old timers to the newbies: The piece quotes the architect of the HP division’s change, Randy Mott, as saying that by bringing IT employees together to work as teams in offices, the less-experienced employees who aren’t performing well — which there are “a lot of” — can learn how to work more effectively.

Then there’s the problem of folk abusing the telecommuting option:

[O]ne of HP’s former IT managers, who left the company in October, said a few employees abused the flexible work arrangements and could be heard washing dishes or admitted to driving a tractor during conference calls about project updates. The former manager, who declined to be identified because he still has ties with HP, said telecommuting morphed from a strategic tool used to keep exceptional talent into a right that employees claimed.

Shame, because reversing telecommuting in a company that may have attracted better talent because of its telecommuting opportunites is not as easy as HP may think:

By August, almost all of HP’s IT employees will have to work in one of 25 designated offices during most of the week. With many thousands of HP IT employees scattered across 100 sites around the world — from Palo Alto to Dornach, Germany — the new rules require many to move. Those who don’t will be out of work without severance pay, according to several employees affected by the changes.

As one employee tells the paper’s Nicole C. Wong: “I like my flexibility. The only reason I’ve stayed with HP this long is because I’ve been telecommuting.”

A New Concept In Storage, Or Too Small To Matter?

It’s finally arrived: the USB flash drive that thinks it’s a floppy disk.

It was like this: For years stuff — data, programs — was moved around via a floppy disk. First they were big 5” things, then they shrank to 3”. Iomega tried to win people over with ZIP drives but they never really penetrated much deeper than a few suckers like me who invested hundreds of dollars in stacks of them. (Tip: Never buy a storage device where the intellectual property is held by one company.)

Then the CD-ROM came along, and got so cheap it became simpler to just burn data onto them to hand around as one would a floppy disk. The problem is that they’re not all reusable, meaning lots of CD-ROMs sitting around useless and old. Then the USB flash drive started making headway, getting smaller, easier to use and cheaper. Folk started carrying them on a keychain, or around their neck, and swapping stuff like in the old days. But they were never so cheap that you had more than half a dozen of them, so they never quite became floppy drives. A sentence you rarely heard was: “Here copy the data onto my USB drive and take it; I’ve got thousands of them in the cupboard.”

Now you might. Verbatim/Memorex has today launched the 16MB FlashDisc. At £14 or $20 for a 3-pack, the “new media is set to revolutionise the way in which photos, music and other digital data files are exchanged,” the company hopes.

It certainly looks cute. I can immediately see problems plugging one into crowded and cramped USB ports but the circular thing and colors make it appealing. And there’s some sense in making these things so cheap that people will stock up on them in the same way we used to stock up on floppies. Indeed, “we’ve brought this new product category for sharing digital files to market because our research shows a significant demand exists for low-capacity storage media at a reasonable cost,” Hans-Christoph Kaiser, Verbatim Business Unit Manager, is quoted as saying in the press release. “512MB, 1GB and larger USB drives will remain popular but with FlashDisc we’re providing an entirely new flash-based solution at a low cost that’s within everyone’s reach so providing an ideal solution to everyday needs for storing and sharing electronic data.”

I think the problem is whether 16 megabytes is enough. Nowadays that doesn’t get you very far: four MP3 files, say, or 10 photos of questionable quality. Given the old floppies could hold 1.4 megabytes, the size sounds generous, but that was back in the days of 100 megabyte hard drives. Nowadays they’re 100 gigabytes, meaning these FlashDiscs should store about a gigabyte to make sense. Or is my math all wrong?

Either way, I don’t expect these to raise eyebrows until they come out in capacities that make sense: at least 100 megabytes and I think we might start to listen.