Friday, November 21, 2008

Math? Whuzzat?

In Oklahoma City, a single pricetag at a Circuit City liquidation sale provides a clue why the electronics retailer is facing bankruptcy.

Thanks to Consumerist.

Advance Notice of the Next Surprise, Please

Here's an example of management foolishness: a true story contributed to Reader's Digest Canada.

A severe thunderstorm knocked out the power to one of our company’s buildings one night. The following day, after correcting the problems the power outage had created in the computer systems, a computer department manager made a request to our maintenance staff: “In the future, please give us advance notice when such interruptions will occur so we can shut down our system.”
--Bill Hartnett (from All in a Day's Work, 2001)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pepsi's breathtaking makeover is reporting that Pepsi has chosen a new logo. Another win for the branding industry, which the cynics at Gawker say "exists for the sole purpose of allowing graphic design majors to soak clueless corporate behemoths out of millions of dollars for what amounts to a few tweaks of a computer design template."

Why don't you decide if Pepsi is getting its money's worth? Above is the old (currrent) logo, below is the alleged new logo.

Adopting a new logo can cost an international brand hundreds of millions, as designers make over the company stationery, merchandise, trucks, billboards, ads, labels and so on. Was it worth it? Or should management have known better?

And is it just me, or does that bulging new swirl seem somehow... familiar?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Singin’ the Jet Blues

Passengers are sitting onboard JetBlue flight 644 in San Francisco waiting to leave the gate when the captain comes on the PA system. "Bad news, folks, there's weather in the New York area today. Practically shut down Kennedy earlier. We're looking at a delay of three or four hours."

The passengers deplane and wait. They're American air travelers. They're used to being treated like cattle. But not by JetBlue, which started life as the low-fare airline with the big heart.
Then came the kicker. Waiting passengers start mumbling, "It's not true. Kennedy was shut down for all of ten minutes, but it is accepting flights now. Just not from JetBlue, because their operations ran late. It's their own fault that we can't fly."

"Delta and Virgin America flights just left for JFK."
"This happens to me every time I fly JetBlue."
Passenger Mark Hurst, who blogs on the customer experience at, checks New York weather on his iPhone: Sunny and clear.

In the end, the flight was cancelled. 152 passengers were invited to stand in line to rebook their flights with two JetBlue gatereps.

What a way to run an airline. Founder and former CEO David Neeleman (who also helped launch a Canadian upstart called WestJet), originally described JetBlue’s mission as "bringing humanity back to air travel." But Neeleman left earlier this year to start a new airline in Brazil, and JetBlue's new management seems to be following a different flightpath.

The airline that boldly encouraged its passengers to “use the call button” now charges $7 for a pillow and blanket package, and $30 for extended legroom. Oh, the humanity!

Today, America’s low-cost airline hero calls itself a “value” airline, and focuses on a nonsense slogan, “Happy Jetting.” Its branding is muddled, and its service has suffered. And now it’s lying to passengers.

Rule 1: Never try to deceive your customers. It’s a dirty business. And you can't get away with it. (Today’s business travellers, armed with WIFI-equipped laptops and Blackberries and iPhones, have better access to information than the Pentagon. They’ll catch you out, as they did JetBlue. And they won't be happy.)

Mark Hurst, who wrote the Flight 640 story on his blog, says that angry passengers at SFO mobbed the gate desk before the sullen gate reps restored order. There was yelling and cursing and promises never to fly JetBlue again. Such vows are rarely kept, because consumers don't have much choice; but you can bet these angry flyers will avoid travelling JetBlue whenever they can.

They can understand delays and problems. They will cut some slack for a discount airline that saves them money. But they won't forget being lied to.

As recently as June 17, 2008, JetBlue was ranked 'Highest in Customer Satisfaction Among Low Cost Carriers in North America' by J.D. Power and Associates. But Hurst, who finally reached New York two days late, says he believes, “JetBlue is sick.”

As he wrote, “Let this be a reminder to anyone at a customer-focused company: customer experience isn't a one-time thing. It requires constant, constant, constant focus on the basics. A slick ad campaign counts for next to nothing, unless it describes the benefits of the customer experience...

“Meeting the basic, key unmet needs of the customers in your niche is everything. Do it today, do it tomorrow, do it every single day of your operations, and then (and only then) you'll have a good chance to succeed as a customer-focused firm.”

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Keystone Cops

Five dangerous prisoners escaped this week from the Regina Correctional Centre in Saskatchewan. Perhaps it was their way of protesting stupid management.

The Regina Leader-Post reports today that management had just lifted extra security restrictions that had been in place on the “secure remand unit” due to earlier security concerns.
And that's in spite of the fact that management had recently been warned of an imminent escape attempt.

Corrections staff are now saying they weren’t even informed about the possible jailbreak. According to the newspaper’s source, such information is normally passed on to staff, even when there aren't any more details. "It's time to err on the side of safety and security," he said.

Police continue to search for the five inmates, some of whom face a range of serious charges, including murder.

Even the messaging of the jailbreak has been a mess. The PR experts at Toronto-based Veritas Communications note that the first official announcement of the escape came a full 15 hours after it happened: “More than enough time for information to leak and rumours to begin.” Public Safety Minister Darryl Hickie didn’t even learn of the escape until he turned on his PDA the next morning.

Authorities then hastily convened a press conference which caused more problems. The RCC and the Mounties didn’t get their stories straight, so they offered differing takes on the situation. According to Veritas, “The lack of proper preparation led to poor communications and diminished the public’s confidence that the situation was being handled effectively.”

Dangerous crooks on the loose and the Keystone Cops in control.
New Management Welcome.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Burst of Bland

Have you heard the buzz about Walmart’s new logo?

Out with the mean old military-looking logotype.
In with a friendly, lower case, unhyphenated look – finishing with a flowery starburst! That should get people excited about shopping at Walmart again.

While I find the new look underwhelming, the best part of the story is the way it slipped out. The Memphis, Tennessee municipal planning department got a look at plans for a new Walmart and noticed the new design – and soon it was in the hands of the Wall Street Journal.

Redesigns such as this are usually handled intelligently. Press releases, press kits, and lots of flossy blather about how the new logo reflects the new spirit of the brand, etc. It’s supposed to be a managed launch.

Walmart rushed out a short, bland press release that was even more underwhelming than the logo itself. It noted that “for the past two years, a customer-focused transformation has been taking place in Walmart's U.S. business.”

The new logo reflects Walmart’s “renewed sense of purpose to help people save money so they can live better.”

Surely the world’s largest retailer could have had a more compelling explanation ready than that?
New management welcome.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Why so stupid?

‘The new Batman movie is out, and like the last one (Batman Returns), this is not a movie for the young kids who enjoy the animated Batman on TV. "The Dark Knight" is gloomy, violent and complex, and features an acclaimed performance by the late Heath Ledger as the vicious psychotic killer, The Joker.

Ledger’s Joker “is the sort of character that could give younger kids nightmares,” writes the Washington Post. “This is not a movie for teens younger than high-school age, let alone grade-schoolers.”

So kudos to Nestle and General Mills, for giving away free Joker toys in cereal boxes: General Mills (Lucky Charms, etc.) in the U.S., Nestle in Asia. Psychopathic murderers go so well with cereal and milk and little leprechauns.

Sure, Batman is a comic book character, and comics have always been associated with kids. But it’s been clear for two years that Ledger’s Joker was going to be edgy and frightening and adult. All you had to do was look at Ledger's makeup to realize this was not Jack Nicholson from the 1989 movie – and certainly not Cesar Romero’s fun-loving Joker from the old 1960s TV show.

Parents groups are already up in arms. Yet this debacle could have been avoided if anyone in a position of responsibility, at the companies or their ad agencies, had actually thought through what they were doing.

How could they miss this?

Unless General Mills intends to distribute action figures of Hannibal Lecter next?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Routing Rogers

It’s iPhone day in Canada. And what should have been a coup for Rogers has turned into a disorderly rout.

We don't want to focus too much on Rogers in this blog [(a) it’s such an easy target for customer-service complaints, and b) the other telecoms aren't much better]. But the cable/wireless giant, flying so high over its iPhone monopoly, fell to earth with a thud when the user base revolted against its high prices – and forced Rogers last week to change its tune.

Why didn't Rogers see this coming? The target market for the iPhone is affluent, sophisticated, always-on information junkies: if there’s one thing they know how to do, it’s communicate. More than 50,000 customers and prospects signed an online petition protesting the announced package prices. Perhaps Rogers' vast history of monopoly protection has blinded it to the fact that consumers have choices now.

As the PR experts at Toronto’s Veritas Communications put it this week, Rogers regained some credibility with its new (albeit time-limited) lower price package. But it was too late to undo all the damage already caused:

“Rogers failed to see the backlash coming despite the incredible amount of online chatter on blogs, social marketing sites, you name it – in other words, all over the geekosphere where the iPhone’s bulls-eye target market lives. Responding prior to launch is good, but not letting the wave of discontent get as huge as it did... would have been much, much better. Witness Thursday’s Globe & Mail, which ran a huge piece on the front of the ROB equating Rogers’ iPhone stumble to New Coke, Super-size McDonald’s meals and other legendary PR gaffes.”

Dare we hope Rogers management have learned from this debacle?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Travel 1,000 miles to go bowling!

Yesterday I was planning our family vacation and looked up the website of a city we’ll be passing through to see what there is there to see or do. So I was pleased to find a page that says, "Things to See and Do."

The first listing on the page? Bowling.

I have nothing against bowling. But there are bowling alleys everywhere, and I was kind of looking for something more special.

Reading through the rest of that page, I found drag racing (not my cup of tea, but again not the sort of thing one travels a long way to see), marinas and movie theatres. Zzzzzzz. In between were a few listings for farmers' markets and galleries, but only two of them had writeups relating to local foods or regional art forms - the sorts of things that make for worthwhile stops.

You had to read down a long way before you found the really interesting stuff, like the specialty music venues, the Wharf sector, an interpretation centre for local native culture, and the lodges, tours and cruises that really make that area special.

Why was this such a problem? Because most web surfers have no patience. Most would click away long before they got to the good stuff. And why was this material presented in such a stupid, boring way? Because the chamber of commerce put their listings in alphabetical order!

Perhaps they never heard of thinking like the customer – or just putting your best foot forward. New Management Wanted – and a little more creativity.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Why Service Matters

Attention companies that still don't get it: Canadians demand good customer service. According to the second annual TD Canada Trust Customer Loyalty Poll, 95% of Canadians say their experiences can make or break a relationship with a particular brand or company.

That figure is up 10% from last year's survey, showing that Canadians are getting even more serious about service.

When asked which form of appreciation they are most interested in receiving from retailers and suppliers, 49% of consumers ranked "just good customer service" as number one. Loyalty programs and gifts followed far behind, at 18% and 17%.

There's another benefit to delivering good service. Says Tim Hockey, President and CEO of TD Canada Trust: "Good customer service has a ripple effect... our poll shows that 89% of people will share their positive stories with their friends and family."

All this sounds obvious, righ? So who isn't getting it? The utilities (think phone and cable).

The poll finds that consumers think retail stores and financial-service companies (29% and 28%) offer the best customer service. Utility companies are perceived to have the worst (42%) - even higher in Ontario and Quebec.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bell's Bafflegab

Ottawa security professional Eric Jacksh has found a hole in Bell Canada’s security – and is getting the “we really care” runaround.

When he input his unlisted phone number into a Bell WiMax webpage to find out what services are available in his area, up popped a map showing the location of his home. Since he already knows where he lives, and he’s been paying for anonymity for years, he’s miffed that Bell is now offering thieves and telemarketers a path to his front door. He sent them an email requesting them to delist the service.

A few days later he received this helpful reply.

Hello Eric Jacksch,
Thank you for visiting Bell's web site. My name is Colin and I am pleased to assist you with your inquiry.
I understand your frustration. Please note that, unlisted service will remove your phone number from the directory. Bell Store Locator and other satellite images will display the images of earth as it is and it is not possible to unlist the same.
Eric, we appreciate you using Bell Canada's eContact Centre and I look forward to serving you again.

I was interested to read that it is not possible to unlist the earth. But that doesn't seem to address Jacksh’s complaint.

A story on the issue in the Ottawa Citizen evoked this reassuring response from Bell PR person Jacqueline Michelis: "Certainly protecting the privacy of such customer information is of prime importance to Bell and our strict privacy practices and policies consistently rank among the top corporations in Canada." As Churchill used to say, Bell offers “all aid short of help.”

Jacksh has since complained to the CRTC and the Privacy Commissioner. Maybe they will get some answers. In the meantime, new management would be welcome.

You can read more on Jacksh's quest on his blog, The Jacksh Report.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Replace Yourself First

Here’s a sad story from the ranks of retail.

A young friend, Bob, works for a mid-sized retail chain in Toronto. Recently, his sister was in an accident, so naturally he was called to the hospital to join the family vigil.

The call came to Bob at work. When he told his supervisor he had to rush off to the hospital, she was taken aback. This wasn't a good time, she said; the store was very busy and short-staffed.

Bob couldn't believe his ears. “I have to go,” he said. “My sister has been badly injured.” I would hope that most bosses would immediately say, “Go. Do what you have to do.” But not this boss.

“All right,” she agreed, reluctantly. “But first, you have to call up your co-workers to find someone to come in and finish your shift.”

I guess Bob needs the work, because he did as she asked. In the middle of the day you don't find a lot of people at home doing nothing, so it took him more than half an hour to find someone to take his place. He was still at work phoning around while the rest of his family arrived to worry together at the hospital.

Fortunately, Bob's sister will be okay. But his relationship with his boss will probably never recover.

New management – and a new attitude towards the needs of employees – would be very welcome at this chainstore. Perhaps they haven't heard there's a talent shortage?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Of course PayPal cares

Eclectic Montreal blogger Stephen David Wark posted recently about an eBay purchase that went wrong.

To sort things out, he e-mailed PayPal about the situation. They weren't much help, since he had missed the 45-day deadline for taking action. (He had spent much of that time trying to deal with the seller.)

Even so, he was slightly shocked to receive the following e-mail from a PayPal rep:“Thank you for contacting us. I am sorry to hear about (briefly repeat member’s situation).”

As Wark notes, "It’s good to know that Paypal is supposed to pretend to care, but they’re just too lazy."

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Stupid Mistakes Managers Make

HR expert Susan Heathfield, who covers Human Resources for, focuses on the many ways that organizations mess up in dealing with people.

“They treat people like children and then ask why people fail so frequently to live up to their expectations. Managers apply different rules to different employees and wonder why workplace negativity is so high. People work hard and infrequently receive positive feedback.”

Heathfield has written an article on “Twenty Dumb Things Organizations Do to Mess Up Their Relationship With People.” Here are 10 of them:

· Add another level of hierarchy because people aren’t doing what they want them to do.
· Appraise the performance of individuals, and provide bonuses for the performance of individuals, and then complain that they cannot get their staff working as a team.
· Add inspectors and multiple audits because they don’t trust people’s work to meet standards.
· Fail to give people clear expectations so they know what they are supposed to do. Then they wonder why they fail.
· Create hierarchical, permission steps and other roadblocks that teach people quickly their ideas are subject to veto. (Then they wonder why no one has any suggestions for improvement.)
· Ask people for their opinions, ideas, and suggestions, and then fail to implement their suggestions or empower them to do so.
· Make a decision and then ask people for their input as if their feedback
· Find a few people breaking rules and company policies and chide everybody at company meetings rather than dealing directly with the rule breakers.
· Make up new rules for everyone to follow as a means to address the failings of a few.
· Provide recognition in expected patterns so that what started as a great idea quickly becomes entitlement.

Want more? You can read about all 20 blunders here.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

"We may know, but we don't care"” is a sister site of American Airlines that exists mainly to promote its slogan, “We know why you fly.” The site doesn't really do anything significant – it’s just trying to build customer relationships. It offers a few interactive games for the terminally bored and an ad archive for people who like to look at recent airline ads.

Recently the site included this weird little typo (circled). If you look in the square headlined “Vancouver,” you’ll find a parenthetical statement that was never meant to see the light of day. It looks like a fact checker queried the use of the phrase “Coast Mountain” (rightly pointing out that “Coast” refers to a range of mountains, not a single peak). Instead of fixing the error, the web editor approved the wrong copy plus the query.

That’s a blunder, but it’s not serious. These things happen all the time and are easily fixed. The problem is, when I spotted the error, I thought I would contact the site and point it out to them. But when I went looking for a “Contact Us” page or even an e-mail address, I found nothing. There was no direct way to contact them.

This is where management blundered. They built a mini-site to build relationships – but left no way for the customer to join the conversation. It’s a typical, top-down solution: We talk, you listen. It’s short-sighted and totally out of step with today’s interactive Internet world, where marketers are supposed to be listening to consumers. There’s lots of valuable info and strategic advantages to be gained from listening to your customer – but first you have to make it convenient for them to talk.

American may know why we fly, but they're obviously not interested in what we think.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Same Stupid, Different Day

Is there no end to the idiocy?
Last month we had a Tim Hortons franchisee fire an employee because she gave away a 16-cent piece of fried dough to calm a crying infant. The company later apologized – but only after a firestorm of criticism (which suggests they were really only sorry that they got caught.).

This week it’s a waitress in a restaurant in Owen Sound, Ont., who was laid off after she shaved her head as part of a stunt that raised $2,700 for the charity Cops for Cancer. Stacey Fearnall, a 36-year-old mother of two, was apparently told to go home after she refused to wear a wig.

The owner defended his decision by saying his restaurant has "standards." He apparently requires employees keep their hair at a reasonable length. He says Fearnall can return to work once she grows her hair back.

He also claims some customers have said they would have been "appalled'' to be served by Fearnall.

Fearnall’s father died of cancer five years ago.

An official at the Bluewater Cancer Society said she's never heard of an incident like this. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, "It apparently has not happened anywhere across Canada.”

The local paper, the Sun-Times, notes that Cops for Cancer is a huge deal in Owen Sound. It says the owner has blundered badly:
"It is difficult to find words to describe the magnitude of the mistake that was made in sending her home, essentially until her hair grows back. Her presence, sans hair, would be an asset, not a detriment to this or any other restaurant.
If there's a lesson here, it's that decisions like these should not be made in isolation. The interests and the concerns of the community always must be part of the process for businesses, as much as for the public sector."

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Rogers' "Vision" Sucks

There's good customer service, and then there's the cellphone company.

In a biting blogpost this week, Ottawa entrepreneur Alec Saunders lambastes Rogers for its high prices and ever-shifting offers. His complaints, in order:

* He feels he has to call a Rogers rep every month to find out if he's paying too much for the services he receives. "They tell me whether there are any better new deals available. It’s the only way to make sure I’m not getting raped by Ted 'Jolly' Rogers' pricing."

* He complains that Rogers is raising prices "when the rest of the world has data rates that are plunging like a stone."

* He refuses to lock into a "deal" that requires a three-year contract. "As the only game in town, your only option is to agree to their terms," he laments.

Alec finishes by expressing the hope that increasing competition will force companies like Rogers (and Bell and Telus) to be more consumer-friendly.

You have to wonder about companies that consistently alienate their best customers. History teaches that you can only get away with this stuff for so long.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Office Worker Goes Postal

What better way to kick off my new blog about mismanagement and business blunders than with actual video of an unknown office worker going postal?

This video was sourced from video site, but it allegedly originates in Russia. The first few seconds are kind of dull, so use the time to figure out who is about to suddenly lash out at all around him (especially the computer monitors).

Click on the arrow to watch human behaviour at its worst.

Office Worker Goes Absolutely Insane - Watch more free videos