Friday, July 22, 2016

Semicon Booths and the Diminishing Resource Customer Service Problem

If you've seen my Twitter feed, you probably saw my most recent round of disgruntled ranting about Semicon and the booth rebook process this year. While it's worth briefly talking about my issue with Semi and the way that they organized rebook this year, what I want to focus on is the inherent customer service problem -- what do you do to make your customer happy in an environment where you're dealing with diminishing resources?

First, lets revisit my Semicon rebook problem for some background. The first thing that you have to know is that Semicon West typically takes place annually in July at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Historically, it has been the premier event for semiconductor equipment manufacturers and their suppliers to exhibit. Since about 2008 or 2009, the show has partnered with the Intersolar show to occupy Moscone South, North and West halls during the event. However, because there is a large construction project to upgrade the Moscone Convention Center, the South hall will be closed during next year's Semicon West. This means that, for a show that has often had many companies booking their space in the same basic location year after year, the playing field was being upended.

For 2017, the Semicon West show will be located in the Moscone North hall and in the first floor of West, while Intersolar will occupy the second and third floor of West. Now, here are a couple of caveats that may shape your perception of the problem. First, you must realize some things about the layout of the exhibit halls. There are three entrances into Moscone South; however, there is really one entrance for the North hall and call it 1.5 entrances to the West hall, so if you've been located near an entrance, the available options have declined significantly. What's more, depending on the location you were considering, many of the larger booths near the entrance in the North hall actually faced away from the entrance -- unlike many shows, the minimum size for an island booth at Semicon West is 20'x40'. Anything below that, and you're in a peninsula, so the direction you face is a consideration.

But there are some additional considerations as well. The Semi people informed us that registration would only be located in the West hall, so theoretically everyone who picked up a badge would go through West. Another factor that is often worth considering, traditionally Semi has segmented the show floor into "Wafer Processing" and "Test and Assembly". For 2017, they decided to scrap that -- they still collect the information from your company, but there is no segmentation on the show floor. So, if you're hoping to locate near similar businesses, there is no longer any guidance to direct you where to go. It's like offering customers products with no differentiation or segmentation.

As someone with an early selection, I watched as some of the most ideal North hall spaces were taken. Then when it came to my time to pick, I had a choice between some less than ideal North hall spaces or what could potentially be a much better spot in West. I opted for West, only to watch as more and more of the companies that we wanted to be around selected spots in the North hall. Increasingly, what it looked like was that I had selected a premium spot in a location that with much fewer related businesses. I could consider changing my selection, but that would have resulted in a worse selection that I would have had initially. So after complaining about it on Twitter for a while, I decided to go in and complain to the staff at rebook. And this brings us back to the diminishing resource customer service problem -- while the guy that I spoke to could talk to me for a while and try to sooth me and tell me that he expected that it would all work out, realistically, he had limited options to provide relief.

Like the Stubhub problem, if they cancel your transaction or for some other reason it doesn't go through, there is no guarantee that there is a comparable replacement for that. So what do you do?

In the case of Stubhub, they fixed the account problem and waived their fees on a replacement transaction. While that might not have worked for an event that was in high demand, it worked for mine. Airline overbooking is another example of this customer service issue. The airlines usually resolve it by things like offering vouchers as an incentive to people who want to volunteer to get off the flight. In the case of Semicon West, well, there is still a significant amount of time between now and next year's event, so things may change.

Do you wrestle with customer service and diminishing resources? How do you address this kind of issue?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

LinkedIn: Goodbye and Good Riddance

Oh how I have grown to loath LinkedIn. What once was the most useful social network has devolved and deteriorated. What was once a site that I visited once per day has become a site that I may visit once a month. And it's not just that I don't like what I find -- or fail to find for that matter -- on the site. It's that when I go there looking for specific content that used to be available, it isn't there. Or it's nearly impossible to get to -- certainly not intuitive.

Remember when the contacts you linked to was almost like an address book in the cloud? This feature has gone through waves and waves of changes, sometimes making it next to impossible to contact people.

Meanwhile, these days, the main feed runs more like Facebook, with people posting "brain teaser" puzzles, "inspirational" posts. Oh, and ads. A rough estimate is that your feed has become 90-95% crap. Remember how the feed used to contain status updates for your connections? That's moved to an annoying click-through widget at the top of the screen that tries to force you to engage with it to see all of the actual "updates" on your contacts.

Most recently, I found myself on the Jobs page. Years ago I created several saved searches. It used to be a great way to lock down parameters. Now, what do you have?
  1. A new search bar, so you can start all over again
  2. Links to your saved searches that crash, telling you your search has expired and delivering no results
  3. A "browse these jobs" picture interface similar to "people you may know" -- because, hey, that's a great way to look for jobs.
  4. An ad for their premium tier.
  5. And finally, more "companies you might recognize that are in your network" picture listings. Apparently, you can shape this list by setting up some preference parameters.
The bottom line? The only thing that LinkedIn was theoretically even remotely useful for -- job searches -- it's just killed that functionality.

It's mind-blowing!

And it's little wonder why they needed to sell the company -- that ship seems to have a laser-like focus on hitting every iceberg it can. But it's not like I expect Microsoft to return the utility to the software. As surprised as I am to say this, especially considering what it was even 5 or 6 years ago, I think LinkedIn is toast.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Brexit: Micro Decisions in a Macro Economy

With the Brexit vote and the surprise decision of the UK to leave the EU, for most of us here in the states, the biggest immediate impact is probably the market trouble and the financial uncertainty. And yet, as you watch your 401k value drop, like many macro economic shifts, there's not much you can really do. But over the past couple of days as I've had time to reflect on Brexit, I've discovered a really significant business impact for myself and, depending upon the size of the business that you work with, you may find yourself in a similar circumstance.

We run multiple web sites on Rackspace Cloud. We have also discussed building a globally centralized web site architecture, something that would enable us to centrally manage a number of localized regional sites. At the same time, running sites for different global regions can present some legal challenges, specifically in the areas of privacy and data retention -- the difference between European and US laws. One approach to help address the European legal restrictions is to operate the European web site in Europe.

For us, this was an advantage with Rackspace Cloud. Rackspace has multiple data centers here in the US, and they also maintain a data center in the UK. Initially, when we looked at this international architecture, our strategy was to simply replicate the core framework of the site across to the UK data center and, in a matter of minutes, have a European compliant site up and running.

Brexit calls that whole plan into question.

Sure, the UK is part of the EU right now. Sure it may take a couple of years for the change to take place. It's even possible that the UK may negotiate the to maintain a similar level of legal equity on privacy issues. However, and this is the big one, with the Brexit vote they've created an environment of uncertainty. Uncertainty makes a poor foundation for architecture.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Enterprise Rent-A-Car: Mistakes and Credits

So, I've written a lot about Enterprise Car Rental lately. Part of the reason why I took this up again was that, after my contact with Miami regional manager Jose, I expected to receive some sort of communication, either explaining the issue, something confirming that they had credited my account -- something.

Just to check, I went back and looked at my credit card statement and there was a charge of $-54.87 on my card from Enterprise on June 2. Since this charge was in the same date range as some of the hotels that I had stayed at during my trip, I thought that this was the disputed charge.

This morning, after more attempts to get a response from Enterprise customer service, I finally decided to call my credit card company in order to dispute the charge. The customer service agent at the card company informed my that the June 2 number was a credit of $54.87, and that the prior charge was in May for $54.89. Essentially, they had credited me back the entire charge. Or rather, the entire charge, less two cents. I told the agent that I was okay with the two cent charge and we had a chuckle and left it at that.

In some respects, I owe Enterprise Customer Service an apology. They did actually credit my account and respond. At the same time, considering the back and forth that we had -- and the number of times that I tried to follow up with them -- I'm surprised that they didn't email me some notice that they'd credited my account. It would have saved me a month of albeit misplaced frustrations and it would have saved them from the stuff that I posted online.

At this point, I'm unsure as to whether I will rent from Enterprise again. Prior to our trip to Miami, I was raving to everyone about the great rate that we had received from Enterprise. We were excited. I was an evangelist. Now, I just don't know.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Enterprise Car Rental: Customer Lip Service

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I was finally contacted by Enterprise Car Rental. Back at the beginning of June, I spent some time on the phone with Jose, who claimed to be a regional manager for Enterprise in the Miami region. Jose listened, he was apologetic, and he told me that he would take care of everything for me. He also asked for my home address, the implication being that he was going to send me something as a symbolic apology. I also asked for a complete postmortem in an email.

And so, I left it there, waiting to see what Enterprise would do, what their response was. And, as things happen, I was very busy over the next couple of weeks. But I didn't forget. A week or so ago, I even called Jose on the cell number that he provided me, and left a voice mail requesting follow-up.

Since we first spoke, however, I have not heard anything nor received anything. Enterprise still has not credited my card for the incorrect charges. In short, they haven't done anything.

Earlier this week, I tweeted multiple follow-ups to @enterprisecares. They told me that they would follow up with Miami. To date, I still haven't received any response.

As I mentioned on Twitter, Enterprise Car Rental has inspired me to add a new tag to my blog, Customer Lip Service. This is one of those when they say that they'll take care of you in an attempt to make you feel better, but don't actually follow up with any real action. Remember when Iomega customers actually had to sue the company (and win) in order to get support for their ZIP Drives?

If you're considering renting a car, you should seriously consider this customer experience horror story as a cautionary tale.

Salesforce.com Data Importer - Customer Support Stories

As I've written about previously, I've had lots of issues with Salesforce.com's new Data Importer tool. Recently, while importing a number of leads, I came across an issue that I wrote about on Twitter -- namely, that when you import records with the new tool, if you set "Record Type" in the interface, the import doesn't actually respect that setting, instead assigning the records to the default record type. If you're importing a lot of records, this can be a real pain in the ass.

And so I fired out a series of tweets. Salesforce.com's Twitter customer support replied back suggesting that I create a case. Sure enough, when I did, Salesforce customer support contacted me back and informed me that it was a known issue -- and how to subscribe to updates for when it would be fixed.

The workaround, he informed me, was to use the legacy Data Import tool. I didn't think that was still available, but he directed me to a link at the top of the "Import Leads" page. It's subtle, and it would be nice if they included a more prominent button in the interface, but the good news is that the old tool is still there. Until early 2017.

Helpful Customer Service -- When They Talk To You
Overall, discussing the issue on the phone with the customer support rep worked out well. Much better than some of the responses that I've received online in the past. My favorite is when the Salesforce.com Twitter customer support sent me a link to "How to Configure Your .CSV file" in response to my complaints about the new Data Importer.

While talking with the rep on the phone, I also took the time to complain about how the new Data Import engine forced you to add a "Lead Status" field when you imported leads. His explanation is that the legacy tool didn't bother to verify whether required fields were populated or not and that, technically, the new tool works better. From an engineering perspective, I understand that this is a technically valid point. However, as I mentioned during my call, if you're importing LEADS, it's reasonable to assume that they are "OPEN". If not, you could easily add a Lead Status Field and import them with a different status. While it is technically operating closer to defined rules, it's not operating smarter.

We even spent a bit of time arguing about whether the Data Import Wizard would allow you to continue through your import if you left some fields unmapped. He adamantly swore that it would. My experience tells me that it doesn't. But your mileage may very.

Perhaps my biggest take-away from the experience is a reminder of just how much better it is to actually talk to a customer support person at Salesforce. It's a reminder that that aspect worked much better in the past, when they did more to support their customers before the days of expensive tiered customer support and the need to spend a ton of money just to access the human infrastructure.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Marketing Foods with Nutrition Science

Here's an interesting article about the industry for nutritional studies, How Candy Makers Shape Science. It's a deeper dive into how nutritional studies are funded by the food industry and a look at why you get studies like, "Children who eat candy weigh less than those who don't," paid for by candy manufacturers.

For me, one of the most significant quotes in the piece is, "The only thing that moves sales is health claims." It's worth a look.