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Verizon’s pleasant surprise

Waiting For an Important Call
Creative Commons License photo credit: Sister72

Thursday was the first day of retail, walk-in Verizon iPhone sales in the U.S.

Normally a visit to our VZW store is guaranteed to consume 60-90 min, even here in rural Montana. They’re usually busy, so you sign in on a screen and they call your name in the order you arrive.

If you set your expectations at that 60-90 min, you’re not so annoyed when you finally get to leave.

Fast forward to the end of Thursday. My wife comes home, saying she wants to go get her phone.

I’m thinking “Oh man, its the first day. Its gonna be nuts.” Based on past history, I expect at least 2 hours.

The Surprise

We walk in and they are hammered. Even so, they still have 3-4 people standing around freed up, waiting for wanna-be hipsters.

We get someone right away. We pay, the Verizon guy moves her contacts from her Blackberry to the iPhone 4. The phone activates in 27 seconds and we leave in a total of 10 minutes.

TEN MINUTES. Someone put some logistics work into this rollout.

I’m FLOORED that we got in and out of their store with a phone switch in 10 minutes on the first day of retail sales, especially given that a normal day takes an hour on most occasions.

I talk to someone later and find out that after several hours in line, a guy in Seattle called to say he was still 8 blocks from the store.

10 minutes = Montana fringe benefits.

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Where were you when the iPhone and Kindle were being designed?

Indian Sign
Creative Commons License photo credit: truedudi

As we discussed yesterday, anti-competitive businesses sometimes do “unfair” things.

Occasionally, they commit illegal acts to gain an edge. Commonly mentioned examples include bribing officials to get contracts or have them look the other way on enforcement or quality issues.

Sometimes the unethical things are illegal, such as refusing to sell spare parts to repair shops that compete with the manufacturer’s repair department.

The CPSIA/Mattel inspection situation is an example that surely makes you wonder. Legal (perhaps), but unethical handling by both Mattel and the CPSC.

Ultimately, competitive behavior has two sides. Let’s discuss a few examples…

Where were you when Pittsburgh, Tokyo and Guangzhou were investing in internet and manufacturing infrastructure?

  • Were you talking about how your infrastructure/facilities were “good enough”?
  • Do you (or did you) laugh at the quality of products that say”Made in China”? Do you find better alternatives locally?
  • When other companies moved call centers to India, did you follow suit in order to cut costs? Or did you follow suit because they provided better service to your customers?

Where were you (and what were you up to?) when Apple was designing the iPhone? When Amazon was designing the Kindle?

  • What – besides stare and/or cuss – have you done to respond to those “threats”?
  • If you aren’t the most strategically advanced vendor in your market – what have you done about that this year? Next year, will you be in a higher position strategically than you are now? How will you get there?

Where were you in the 90s when Amazon was investing in the long term, developing their e-commerce platform and despite their youth, doing e-commerce far better than anyone else? Note: “investing in the long term” often called “losing tons of money” on Wall Street.

  • Did you spend any time figuring out how your business could incorporate e-commerce – or if it even made sense to do so?
  • When the Kindle came out, did you buy one to better understand the competition that just popped you in the mouth with a right cross?
  • When Costco and WalMart started offering best sellers at or below your wholesale cost, did you complain about unfair competition or did you do something to make your business a better place for readers to buy books?

Where were you over the last 30-40 years as Wal-Mart laid the foundation for today’s domination? (and then continued to improve upon it – and did so right in front of your eyes)

  • Were you making it easier to buy?
  • Were you making it easier to park and enter your business?
  • Were you making is easier to pay your invoice, shop, ship, get a refund, repeatedly place an identical order, or talk to customer service?
  • Were you giving your customers more reasons than ever to come to your store instead of the local box store?
  • Did you start to build(or enhance) a high-value relationship with your customers that no minimum wage employee in a blue vest could *ever* break?

Where were you when Mumbai built business centers out of slums, trained tens of thousands of workers, and built a modern communications infrastructure?

  • Were you enjoying your existing legacy, built 40-50-60 years ago? (Ask Woolworth where that got them).
  • Were you letting your city or your manufacturing plant rot while holding out for another government bailout or sweetheart contract with a government entity?
  • Did you spend more on lobbyists in the last 5 years than you did on educating your employees?

Where were you when colleges and secondary schools in China and India were ramping up the quality and technological level of the training they deliver?

  • Were you complaining about your school taxes or local school boards?
  • Were you complaining about the parking problems caused by the local university?
  • Were you whining about the foolishness of having a local community college?
  • Did you sigh in disgust after interviewing yet another unqualified prospective employee?
  • Did you complain to your CPA or another business owner about the cost of training your staff?
  • Were you still running Windows 95 in your schools?
  • Were you ignoring the fact that most of the local school’s students are more technologically savvy than their teachers or administrators (much less their parents)?
  • Have you ever looked at the budget for your local school board? For that matter, do they make it readily available?
  • Have you thought to yourself “Yeah, but we can’t do that here, this is *your town’s name*?”

When things go south

When things go south, our culture (I’m speaking of the U.S., primarily) is to find someone to vilify…to blame. Generally speaking, we must point the finger at someone because it can’t possibly be our fault.

You’ll be glad to hear that I can save you some time there.

If you insist on laying blame, the person who can pull you out of it is the same person can blame: You.

Tomorrow, we talk about that and the ROI (return on investment) of blame.

After 3 days, we’re finally going somewhere positive and useful with all of this.

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King for a Day: Verizon

Waiting For an Important Call
Creative Commons License photo credit: Sister72

I‘d like to introduce a new series called “King for a Day“. For the acronym-challenged, you might see me refer to it as KFAD now and then, so don’t assume I’m talking about a local radio station.

King for a Day is a series that will discuss some steps I’d take or issues I’d address if I was to become what else… “King (of a particular business) for a Day”.

The idea is to use big companies that many are familiar with and allow you to extrapolate from there to your business – whether its a good or bad thing they’re doing.

You should expect the discussion to center around the consumer for what I hope are obvious reasons.

If you’d like to nominate a business, add a comment and I’ll add your suggestion to the list.

I’ll be publishing KFAD on the first Friday of the month, so stay tuned for future episodes. Because these posts might get a little long, I will also podcast them. You might find a little bonus content in the podcast, so subscribe via iTunes, Google Reader or whatever you use to listen online.

One last thing to repeat before we start this exercise. This is not really about the companies that we discuss. All of this is just another way to get a point across that it’s about you, your company and most importantly, your clientele.

When reading the stories in KFAD, you should expect to:

  • Search for parallels in your business
  • Identify takeaways.
  • Implement change for the good of your clientele – which will bring good things to you.

So let’s get started …

Focusing on the wrong thing

While it would be easy to start this out by being the King of the Airlines, I’ll mellow on that just long enough to give Verizon the treatment. The reality is that most of my comments would fit any cellular carrier, but Verizon is the one I’ve used for the last 5-7 years and thus am most familiar with.

Negative consequences

When I find a business in trouble, or simply annoying the heck out of me, it almost always seems to come down to them focusing on the wrong things.

For example, Verizon recently announced they would double their termination fee. How does this help their customers? Is it about punishing the customer? That simply won’t work.

Focusing on negative consequences completely ignores the customers who stay – and aren’t they the really important ones?

In fact, it marginalizes these customers because you’re clearly focusing on things they aren’t even doing. You’re focused on things you don’t want to happen instead of the things you *do* want to happen.

So not only do you tick them off, but your business is focused on the wrong, wrong, wrong thing – which doesn’t serve your customers.

Engage me in a Cinnabon-inspired lovefest

If I’ve made up my mind to leave you for an iPhone, a $300 termination fee isn’t going to stop me. In fact, it’s likely to tick me off and incentivize me to ramp up the goodness that I plan to milk from my new strategic communications device (no, it’s not just a phone).

Think about it: If *I’m* willing to put up with AT&T, I must have a *really* good reason to do so.

Instead of threatening me with doubled cancellation fees, you should be giving me a reason to stay. Give me lots of compelling ones, in fact. Give me things that make me want to write long, lilting caramel-covered blog posts about you that are as sickeningly sweet as a slightly under-cooked airport Cinnabon with extra frosting.  Hint: A good start would be to make it possible for me to buy a Verizon-compatible iPhone.

Focus on making changes that make your service so valuable that I *cannot* leave you. Don’t focus on things that cause you to waste management and technology resources – such as new ways to punish people who are likely leaving you anyway.

A man’s got to know his limitations

I have a 400 minute call plan. Rarely do I go over, but over the last 2 months, I’ve gone way over. I didn’t find out that little tidbit until the $400 bill arrived.

Any cell company that was interested in keeping their clients happy would tell me before that happened.

Any cell company that really cares would do what is reasonable (or do MORE than is reasonable) to see that their customers don’t make mistakes using their product. Common sense says that providing good customer care includes telling your clients when they are approaching an overage. Even banks do that.

Need a revenue source focus for this conversation? It’s a great opportunity to ask someone to upgrade their plan, even if only temporarily. Imagine that, getting paid for taking proper care of your customers.

Perhaps you might have a 3 day/week/month “Bump” plan that gives you an extra 100 minutes a week for when you’re out of town unexpectedly. Perhaps you could turn it on by dialing “*bump” and then go about your business.

When you do this, Verizon would automatically add the charge and 100 minutes per week (month, whatever) to your plan. Likewise, it would automatically terminate it after the 3 weeks/month/days or whatever.

No doubt, someone might say “we don’t have the ability to upgrade your plan, or sell temporary “bumps”, because our systems don’t allow for that”. I say – that’s an easily solvable problem in your billing system.

Same idea for text and data plans that near overage points.  (apologies to Clint for the heading)

Data plans (required)

Recently I took my 17 year old to the Verizon store to get him a new phone. His last one met with an unfortunate end of life scenario and this time, he was buying the phone himself.

Unfortunately, out of 20-30-40 phones (however many they had), only TWO could be activated without a data plan.

Now tell me, what 17 year old really *needs* a data plan? Can you justify $30 0r $60 a month additional for that? The salesperson’s line is that they aren’t allowed to sell the phone without a data plan.

For an iPhone, I get that. For a smart phone that is designed to be totally integrated with email such as a Blackberry, I get that. For a regular old cell phone, whether it has lame web capabilities or not, the customer should have the ability to get service without requiring an additional $400-$700 a year data plan – particularly for a teenager.

The iPhone (the official line vs reality)

Every time I go into the local corporate Verizon store, I ask when they are getting the iPhone.

I do it mostly to see what kind of response I get. Clearly they’ve been indoctrinated by corporate, because I get the same response every time. It’s something along the lines of “We don’t want the iPhone. It’s putting AT&T out of business and making their network too busy. Have you seen AT&T’s stock lately?

Yeah, whatever. Have you seen AT&T’s churn rate lately? It isn’t because they offer the best service and customer care in the business.

Advice to whoever is training these folks: Get over yourself. You *want* your network to be hammered. Sure, you want it responsive, but you want more, more, more demand. You want the problem AT&T has, ie: “How much capacity can I build this year?” The more demand, the less likely you’ll ever lose them.

The source of the “Why would we want the iPhone?” attitude might be Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg himself. In 2008, Seidenberg’s childish response to iPhone question included calling the iPhone’s success a “conspiracy”.

Late in October 2009, it seems that 2 billion app store downloads and a 1% AT&T churn rate might have tempered Seidenberg’s attitude a little, as he responded to questions about Verizon selling the iPhone by noting that they were certainly interested and that it was “exclusively up to Apple“.

Disabled GPS chips

With the exception of the Storm and the (new) Droid, Verizon disables API (programming) access to the GPS chips in phones – *except* for their extra services/products. For example, you can’t use certain Google’s Mobile Maps features because Google can’t get to the GPS chip to say “Hey, where am I?”  How is that customer friendly?

It isn’t. You should be.

You get the idea by now I hope: It isn’t about you, your products or your services. It’s about all the things those products and services can do to benefit your customers.

Update: Karmically enough, the same day I post this, Apple Insider reports that a Verizon iPhone is on the way. That would keep me on Verizon.

Update: More on the topic from Digital Daily, including a reaction from Verizon.

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What is reasonable?

Good question.

The answer? Depends on who answers the question.

Slide over to Scott McKain’s blog for one company’s answer.

Hey, you’re back.

To give AT&T a little bit of credit, you have to admit that trying to predict what was going to happen (and plan infrastructure) for the iPhone release was just about impossible. Especially, as Andrew G says, if you weren’t expecting the runaway freak hit that the phone has become (and continues down that path. He has a point.

Time will tell what seems reasonable in urban areas affected by this issue. Regardless of what’s reasonable, there are a lot of folks out there in these areas that are pretty grumpy about the service they’re getting.

What’s this got to do with you?

What do your customers think is reasonable of your business’ behavior? Maybe you should ask (you should know, but asking beats guessing).

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Does your staff *really* know enough to sell your product, even to early adopters?

iPod Touch Unlock
Creative Commons License photo credit: DeclanTM

Yesterday, I was in a box store (cuz no one here in Columbia Falls carries the items I needed) and sauntered by an iPod Touch on a whim.

We’ve talked a few times about the productivity that some custom iPhone applications would have for your business. You might not know that there are no Montana cell carriers that can offer the iPhone (yet), so the iPod Touch is a reasonable alternative if cell-driven applications aren’t important to you. 

Ok, so maybe it wasn’t entirely a whim:)

As you might expect, a salesperson walked up to me and asked if I had any questions. Trouble was, I actually did:)

I suspect that I’m not your typical user of tools like this and I don’t think he was prepared for my not-too-mainstream questions. 

I asked about syncing the iPod Touch’s contacts and calendars list with my Outlook. He wasn’t sure if that worked or not, but he thought it might. 

As you might imagine, I don’t spend $300 on “I think it might”. 

Next, I asked if it does do syncing with Outlook, does it require iTunes to make that sync happen.  He wasn’t sure. 

Note: I’ve since found out that both of those questions are true. It does sync to Outlook and it does use iTunes to make that happen.

Are you ready to service the early adopters?

The problem: If you’ve read Freakonomics or Crossing the Chasm (written for software companies, but applicable to all businesses IMO), you know that the early adopter types are instrumental in exposing new products like iPhones and iPods (and new services) to a much larger group of potential customers. 

If your staff isn’t prepared to deal with the not-always-mainstream questions that these early adopters have, it’s likely that they will lose the sale. 

These days, many people walk into the store with model numbers, prices and specs in their phone or on a note. They know what their choices are. Reviews and every other possible piece of info is available to them BEFORE they arrive at the store. 

What this means is that when the prospective buyer enters the store, it’s less about selling them the item and far more about helping them choose *which* item fits them best. 

You don’t know what you’re missing

The scary thing is that you’ll never know about the customers you lost because a question like this didn’t get answered.

All it takes to make this a really expensive problem for you is something like this:

One owner of a business (or the owner’s tech guru) walks into your store and asks the same type of questions (and perhaps more). You have no idea that their business has 100 salespeople and technicians in the field. You have no idea that they want to find out if the iPod Touch would work for their remote staff as a custom business application they’ve discussed for deployment on the iPod Touch or iPhone.

Depending on which model they were going to buy, that’s a $30,000 or $40,000 sale. 

This sort of thing happens far more often than you’d expect. 

Training your sales staff is expensive, but not training them is even more costly. Even if two or three of your staff are “ultra-trained” and can be the resource for the remaining staff, that would be an improvement.

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What do a turkey and an iPhone have in common?

Old istanbul
Creative Commons License photo credit: Atilla1000

Plenty, if you’re thinking and paying attention to what other businesses are up to. 

We had a Hutterite turkey last week, but in the process of digging around, I came across some innovative things that Butterball is doing to make life easier for their customers. 

Things like text messages to remind you to start thawing the turkey. Simple, helpful, smart. 

Who HASN’T forgotten to start thawing the turkey on time at least once in their life? We sure have. 

Learn more about Butterball’s mobile tools. 

Now…salt to taste for your business. What are your takeaways from what they’ve done?

PS: You can learn about Montana’s Hutterites here and get some additional info here.

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Small business + iPhone app = opportunity

Disclaimer: I simply have to admit that it’s unlikely that I would buy an iPhone until Apple decides to discard AT&T, or Steve Jobs’ gang adds a better cell carrier to the mix. I’m simply not willing to deal with those guys if I don’t have to.

And yes, I’d probably get over it if the right opportunity (or idea) came to me.

My AT&T issues aside, your business could benefit a great deal from taking advantage of the fact that there will be even more iPhone users out there – with what appears to be the best mobile application platform built to date.

Let’s talk about a few possibilities.

Let’s say you own a restaurant. Imagine if an iPhone owner, their spouse and another couple are driving around deciding where to go for dinner.

They call up an app called TonightsSpecial on their phone. Because the iPhone has a GPS in it, it knows where you are. It displays the current specials at restaurants within a 15 minute drive (or 5 or whatever the iPhone owner decides) of their current location.

It shows the wait time for seating (if you so choose), price range, cuisine, and how to get there from the iPhone’s current location – again, since your phone knows where you are and where the restaurant is.

And with a touch, it tells the restaurant to hold a table for 4 for seating 15 minutes from now, because you’ll be right over.

Or maybe you own a motel. And some poor, tired traveler has been driving all day to get to Mount Rushmore, the kids are tired, their spouse is after them to find a motel and everything is full because it just happens to be the first weekend in August – ie: the Sturgis motorcycle rally.

Except that this traveler’s iPhone has an app on it called EmptyRoom that tells them where all the empty hotel room inventory is within 30 miles of their current location. And since you registered your hotel with EmptyRoom’s service, it knows when you have a vacancy.

Instead of that family driving past Rapid City because every hotel they checked was full, they turn left just past the airbase and follow the directions on a phone to a room that cancelled 23 minutes earlier because a biker got held up by some rain (ok, ok, that wouldnt happen with a REAL biker, but I digress).

Rather than having a room-night go up in smoke, you just did 2 things: Rented a room for the night that was probably going to go to waste and 2, pulled a tired driver off the road and made their spouse and kids a lot happier and safer.

Or, you’re a Realtor. And you have built an iPhone app that automatically notifies a client on their phone when a home that matches their needs comes on the market.

You’re busy, out making a sale, or at a closing – yet your iPhone app is telling the client where the newly-listed home is, how to get there, what the price is, and if they tap a button in the app, it’ll make an appointment using the open times in your shared Google calendar (or, or whatever) to tour the place.

And of course, it’ll only do that for people you have under contract, if that’s how you want it to work.

Or, you belong to a network of independent coffee shops. Starbucks is your arch enemy, other than the nice thing they did to sell everyone on how cool it is to buy $4 cups of coffee:) So when you join the independent coffee shop network, your shop appears on someone’s iPhone when they open that app.

Again, since a GPS is built-in, it can show me the closest independent coffee shops to the iPhone’s current location. This one can be cloned for just about any independent business. Bike retailers. Pizza shops. Dry cleaners, etc.

No matter what business you’re in – and especially with service, retail, restaurants and lodging, there are a pile of iPhone application possibilities here to make your business even more personal, to deliver even more value and to take advantage of an opportunity that most competitors wont even recognize.

Sure, all of this can be done now, from a web page, or the Yellow pages. You have a chance to bring it into their hand, without extra effort, so you can draw them specifically to your business – and that’s exactly what they want, otherwise they wouldnt be using that iPhone app in the first place.

Pre-sold buyers. Everyone likes them.

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Who cares about the iPhone?

If you own a small business, you just might start to care.

First of all, set aside some time to watch the video of Steve Jobs’ iPhone keynote yesterday morning at the Apple Worldwide Developer’s Conference. Apple QuickTime (a free download) is required to view it.

Pay close attention to how well Apple appears to have listened about when people asked for REAL business support. In the video, the discussion is “enterprise”.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking this only means big business.

Even if you don’t watch the entire video, watch the first 5-6 minutes until they show the cover of Fortune magazine and share who participated in the beta testing for iPhone 2.0.

Between March 6th and June 9th 2008, 250,000 people joined the free iPhone 2.0 developer program. In that same period, 25,000+ applied to the paid beta program. 4000 of those were accepted.

Included in these 4000 testers are:

  • the top 5 commercial banks
  • the top 5 securities firms
  • 6 of the 7 top airlines
  • 8 of the 10 top entertainment firms
  • 8 of 10 top pharmaceutical firms
  • the U.S. Military
  • and the Who’s Who in higher education (Duke, Harvard, Stanford, etc)

All told, 35% of the Fortune 500 participated in the beta.

Remember, this is an Apple beta. Why is that a big deal?

Mostly because Apple has never been known a friend of business, much less small business.

Their response to the enterprise’s demands of the first iPhone is a very clear sign that things have changed at Apple. They’re not just for elementary schools and artists anymore.

Even Mister Spock would be impressed with the example applications they showcased. If you watch the video, the musician app was particularly interesting – though not from a business perspective. Also represented were the medical industry, music, Major League Baseball, blogging, education and others.

I’m sitting here watching these demos and the ideas are flying through my mind for clients, much less for friends who are in medicine, forestry, retail, hydrology, you name it.

Take another look at that list of markets above that were in the paid beta program. Do you compete with or work within those fields?

No doubt, one of thoughts going through your mind is “How does he expect me to do this too, when I can’t keep up as it is?”

Look, I’m simply bringing it up, thinking it might spark an idea that generates your next great way to serve your clientèle. That’s not keeping up, it’s staying ahead. You’re either staying ahead or you’re falling behind.

Speaking of keeping up… In an unrelated geeky conversation, a friend of mine said “boy, does it ever illustrate how hard it is to keep up”.

My reply to him: “Its even harder to stay behind.”

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about how you might consider using the iPhone to make your small business more personal to your clients.