Her: “Welcome to OnStar, Mr. Beaman. I’m Tracey, your navigation advisor. Where can I take you today?”
Me: “Los Angeles—Cole’s restaurant and bar.”
Her: “Certainly. I will now download directions to your nav screen.”
That was a great experience. No fiddling with the nav touch screen—just a quick conversation and I’m on my way to a French dip and refreshing beverage. There’s a lot that isn’t technologically great in my car. There are at least four different female voices involved in setting the car’s preferences (five, including my wife’s). The voice commands are painfully inaccurate. Setting up a Bluetooth device without any screen input is a fail. But asking for directions and getting them sent to the nav screen is fantastic.
The OnStar experience works because it doesn’t rely too heavily on the car’s computer’s having to be great. It is a service. It can be upgraded without touching the car’s technology. GM can tweak OnStar’s back end as much as it wants and then deliver the service when it’s tested and ready. A car’s computer, on the other hand, is essentially obsolete the minute it boots up. There are no upgrades, no cracking it open to add more RAM. Seven years down the line, the dashboard touch screen’s icon for the iPod will still have a click wheel on it.
External services such as OnStar have a much longer shelf life and are more satisfying for consumers. As connectivity to networks becomes more ubiquitous, automakers increasingly are going to shift services into the cloud. And we’re not talking only about new flavors of OnStar.
Google has an autonomous car that has been driving around California for weeks now. The car has been using a series of cloud-based data sets, radar sensors, and video cameras to direct itself down Lombard Street in San Francisco and along the Pacific Coast Highway. Google believes that the self-driving car will be available to consumers in eight years. Core pieces of car functionality are not only being taken off the dashboard, they’re being taken out of our hands entirely. That’s going to require a huge shift for the auto industry—and a fundamental change in the way we live. I, for one, can’t wait for OnStar to take the wheel.
A recent Zócalo event at the California Endowment has me thinking. How many people does it take to kill a good idea?
The event was called, “How to Imagine a More Integrated L.A.— Why transforming the Los Angeles River would revitalize the city and bridge east and west.” At the center of the discussion was a plan commissioned by FOLAR (Friends of the L.A. River) to revitalize a 125 acre site in downtown Los Angeles known as the Piggyback Yards. Imagine downtown having its own Millennium Park, connecting Lincoln Heights, Boyle Heights, Union Station, and places, like the USC Medical Center and the Brewery Arts district. At the center of the project would be a revitalized Los Angeles river—complete with Steelhead trout.
The projects architects and designers did a lot of ground work engaging in a bit of guerrilla planning by going to each agency with a stake in the project. The Army Corps of Engineers was on board. Union Pacific, the current owner of the property had been consulted. L.A. Metro was in on it. Leaders from the surrounding communities had been consulted. In the end the planners came up with a design that was not only remarkable, but also viable.
Great idea, right? Who wouldn’t want this? Turns out—everyone. In my post event straw poll no one believed that they would see this project in their lifetime. Because A. they we’re cynical about government bureaucracy, and B. they didn’t believe the community would provide support required to pull it off. Bummer.
I often think that for every one good reason to do something, there are one thousand reasons why not to do it. In civic terms a massive park in this part of L.A. would be amazing for the city, but if no one believes the government can do it and no one believes it can be done with popular support—all the imagination in the world won’t make it happen. If all of us Angelenos put our heads together I’m sure we can come up with 10 million reasons to kill Piggyback Yards. But that doesn’t mean we should.
The act of attempting such an ambitions plan is an act of courage on the part of the project planners. The crowd in attendance was prepared to imagine living in a city where such a massive project could happen. So its some comfort to know that in L.A. good ideas will continue to integrate the city in ways that infrastructure never will. Kudos to Zócalo for providing a forum for this kind of thinking. As long as there are places where people can challenge assumptions there’s a one in 10 million chance that something truly great could happen.
I’m in a middle seat on a flight into LAX. I wake up bumping knees with the guy next to me. He’s been poking me since takeoff, so I don’t even apologize. We’ve spent the better part of three hours in a passive-aggressive battle over the armrest. Now he’s put on a cable-knit sweater that prevents him from noticing that he’s touching me — but he is. Sweater fuzz is simultaneously pleasing and repulsing. This is not fun.
Economy-class seats are 17 inches wide. Seat pitch (the distance between seat backs) is typically 30 to 32 inches. Add 10 inches of legroom and we essentially travel cross-country in a mini fridge. It sucks, but it’s what we expect.
Low expectations are an opportunity. It’s one thing for an airline to announce an additional 2 inches of legroom in coach; it’s another to invest real R&D money into blowing away customer expectations. That’s exactly what Air New Zealand did when it introduced the “Skycouch” coach seats that fold out into beds:
Not only did they innovate on seating, but they also came up with an inventive pricing model to ensure that those new skycouches would be full of passengers. What I like about the Air New Zealand approach is how radically they addressed the customer need. The three-year project not only looked at ergonomics for a single passenger but also for how families and couples utilize space together. Competitors may be able to shift seats forward and backward to create more room, but most will be at least two years behind on radical innovation.
Making big improvements in customer experience during an economic downturn takes guts. It will be interesting to follow Air New Zealand’s business curve over the next two years. Given my most recent travel experience, I’m thinking: Auckland is looking like a pretty sweet destination.
After a decade of push advertising and heavy-handed CRM programs, many marketers are failing to grasp the potential of social media. The true value of connecting with customers socially is the realization that value itself can be co-created.
Here are four principles to help marketers co-create value with their customers.
Customers, partners, and employees — we’re all in this together. As I have said before on this blog, the stakeholders in your brand conversation extend beyond end users. Enabling dialogue between your customers, employees, and partners can create value for everyone. Twitter can help you engage in conversation in real time. But with Vivox voice chat coming to Facebook, customer service calls are about to explode socially. Companies that are good at co-creating value will harness voice-to-voice interactions with customers to create positive word of mouth in social arenas. Given the potential for volume-driven social customer service, it will have to be a collaborative effort.
Being considerate of people’s time and effort is critical. Failing to remember frequent users’ passwords while constantly bombarding them with CRM campaigns makes your company appear soulless. One of the basic tenets of social engagement is, “Be human.” It might come down to a few simple things: remembering user preferences; not spamming long-time friends; rewarding loyalists; providing extras for über advocates. Ask your company what is preventing you from being human with your customers; then work on those areas immediately.
We’ve become used to a certain amount of ad randomness in our online experience. But within social media, we are beginning to expect messages to reach us targeted to our specific area of interest. Start by identifying the social ecosystem model that works best for your company. Include customer insights. Ask where they are expecting to see you and build from there. Content that is tailor made for your target social ecosystem is more important than any banner ad you run. Nobody passes along a Flash intro — I guarantee it.
Linking into and out of key customer arenas such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc., allows the conversation to grow organically and creates word-of-mouth opportunities. If you are determined to collaborate with your customers, you have to be willing to broaden the technology discussion within your organization. Tools like Facebook Connect need to be integrated in collaboration with your IT department. Not sure where to start? Take a look at the Altimeter Group — they can help you understand the best technology strategy for your enterprise. It’s hard to collaborate if you don’t integrate.
There is a company that will sell you 5,000 friends on Facebook. It will cost you roughly $700. An Australian marketing firm can deliver the same number of Twitter followers for even less.
Body count is only one measure of social media success. It’s the easiest to grab onto because it’s the one that everyone can see. Here are 5 additional goals for brands that are looking to go beyond body count.
1. Shareable content.
Delivering a product message that will be used on Facebook, Twitter, or Meetup is different than writing package copy. Make it a goal to be associated with content that gets traction on Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit, or Twitter. It may be a PR effort or a story pitched to a prominent blogger. Do it well and you’ll be gathering mind share — not just bodies.
2. Real-time conversations. Start offering more than a “contact us” link.
In social media, a customer can share a bad experience instantly with all of their 5,000 friends. There are some Twitter apps, such as Twittdom, that can be bought as a package, but they require staff to provide answers to tweeted customer problems. We like the Southwest Airlines approach: heading off the consumer at the pass. By capturing a cell phone number when passengers buy tickets, Southwest is able to call them before they . . . pack the car, round up the kids, drop the dog at the sitter, turn off the gas, arm the alarm, and drive 40 minutes to the airport. We can only imagine how many complaints this system has warded off.
3. Being physically relevant.
It’s old school, but there is a reason why campaigning politicians physically touch as many people as they can. Tweetups got a lot of press a couple of years ago for bringing groups together in the physical world. We like Foursquare. It allows users to automatically associate themselves with physical locations at specific times. It has the potential for creative event activation. It could be as simple as creating a Foursquare account and having employees check in to their favorite brand-related locations — Foursquare can be set to deliver those check-ins as tweets — or as elaborate as creating an entire event around a specific popular Foursquare location.
4. Internal participation.
You can’t be part of the conversation if you don’t join it. Encourage employees to be active on the social networks. Your team members have the biggest stake in your success as a company. Ignoring that they have a POV on your business that they already share with their friends is willful ignorance. Embracing the platforms that your team members participate on, and giving them an opportunity to identify themselves as part of the organization, sends a positive message to the whole team.
5. Shifting the conversation.
Sentiment is key to understanding your social efforts. Make it a big goal within your organization to understand and change the conversation around your company. Get a baseline measurement from Social Mention or one of the other sentiment readers out there, then set a big goal to move the needle. Encourage everyone — employees and customers — to enroll in this task, and get everyone pulling in the same direction. Remeasure the sentiment after a month and celebrate the shift.