Monday, April 10, 2017

United Airlines Redefines "Bumping", Setting New Low Bar for Customer Service

Dear United Airlines,

Given your recent public relations and social media fiascos (see: Code, Dress; and Removal, Forcible), please consider the following three points:

1) ICYMI, smart phones are everywhere. People (including your dwindling customer base) use these devices to record audio and video, which they often share on this phenomenon called "social media." (You might have heard of Facebook? Twitter? YouTube?)

2) Passenger proximity predisposes patrons to complain about everything. Unless it's First Class or Business Class, customers are crammed into your planes like so many sardines in a can. Passenger comfort is directly proportional to passenger complaints: The more comfortable you can make your passengers, the less likely they are to complain.

3) The public doesn't want to hear your dress code rules or your "selection" procedures. Outrage has its own momentum; it's like an avalanche. Viral is as bad online as it is in confined spaces like planes. When your lawyers respond to public outrage, you've lost the battle for the publics' hearts and minds. And asses.

The good news is, you forcibly removed a passenger while the plane was on the ground and not in the air. The bad news is, everyone saw it. Good luck explaining this boneheaded move. #boycottunitedairlines #FlyAnyoneElse #BoycottUnited #Flight3411

- Sue'em! Sue'em all!
- Postjacking medals:
Bronze Medal: Mike Merriman
Silver Medal: Dean T. Carson, CPA
Gold Medal: Think Progress

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Guest Columnist Sarah Lockwood Shares "Three Ways to Celebrate St. Patrick's Day"

Being Irish, my friend Sarah Lockwood has a lot to say about her ancestry and traditions. She doesn't love the drinking associated with St. Patrick's Day, and asked me if I'd feature her article on Three Ways to Celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Being married to a half-Irish lass myself, I of course said aye. Enjoy!
* * *
The first thought generally associated with St. Paddy’s Day is chug-til-you drop drinking. While that may be a good time for the masses, some people want to celebrate "the luck of the Irish" sans alcohol.

Whether you are underage, in addiction recovery, or a parent looking for more family-based activities, here are some fun, unconventional ways to celebrate St. Patrick’s day.

Host a Sober St. Patrick’s Day Event

Sober St. Patrick’s Day is a nonprofit organization that offers family-focused events to celebrate the Irish holiday. It was created by television producer William Spencer Reilly, who almost lost a family member to addiction in 2004. Their motto is to “reclaim the true spirit of the day” and honor Irish heritage, rather than using St. Paddy’s day as an excuse to get drunk.

These events are gaining popularity as they have been celebrated in NYC, Dublin, Philadelphia and Richmond, VA. Typically an event consists of entertainment from world class musicians, singers and dancers. If this event has yet to be hosted in your city, no worries! The committee members of Sober St. Patrick’s Day welcome organizations and individuals to host these events worldwide. For a nominal licensing fee, you will be granted permission to use the Sober St. Patrick’s Day name. Visit the organization’s website to plan an event in your city.

Host an Irish-themed dinner party

Why not use St. Patrick’s Day to learn and cook a few new recipes? Have fun and dig into the tradition of the Irish by eating Irish food--which is much more than corned beef and cabbage. 

In Ireland, they enjoy dinners served with roasted potatoes, peas, carrots and gravy. Apple tart made from scratch with local apples and homemade pastry is a great end to a fabulous dinner. A quick online search yields plenty of results for dishes you can make to celebrate the holiday in a way more traditional to the Irish.

After you and your guests have indulged in a hearty meal, burn off a few calories by playing a few St.Patrick’s Day-themed games like pin the tale on the leprechaun, or have a dance-off while listening to a few Irish Folk tunes.

Read Irish myths and legends

Storytelling is a rich tradition in Ireland, and many stories are compiled into book form. The Druids and Celts believed ferociously in the power of magic; many of those beliefs spread to the legends that are told today. Cozy up with your loved ones and embark on a fun-filled storytelling journey. There are even tales for the kids.

With a little planning on your part, you can start a new St. Patrick’s Day tradition that's a part of your family tradition for years to come.


Friday, November 18, 2016

Savvy Service Organizations, Not Rhetoric, Will "Make America Great Again"

America's contentious election has us on edge, uncertain about what comes next. One widely acknowledged result of the election acrimony is a palpable post-election sense of "disconnectedness" Americans feel from our elected officials, from our communities, from our neighbors and even from our families.

The divisiveness of our election has many Americans feeling unmoored and adrift; lacking a map, we face an opaque future.

We can solve this feeling of disconnectedness. This post suggests that service--to each other, to our communities, and to our country--can be a compass that helps us navigate these tumultuous times.

Service can reconnect us to our communities, our neighbors, and our families. Leading the way could be civic and social organizations who are present in and already serving our communities. Many of us are familiar with their names and brands: The United Way, Salvation Army, YMCA/YWCA, Goodwill Industries International, American Red Cross, Boys & Girls Clubs of America. With their strong reputations and rich tradition of engaging citizens in service, these organizations can--and should--play vital roles in filling what I call the "affiliation vacuum."

President-elect Trump's simple message to "Make America Great Again" tapped America's historical aspirations for greatness. But when asked what greatness means, many Americans cite what greatness is not than what greatness is.

Our nation's greatness is rooted not in words, but deeds. The cornerstone of our great deeds has been laid through service.

For all America's faults and flaws, we are a nation founded by, and grounded in, service. Service connects us to each other, to our communities and to our country. Service transcends race, creed, color, socioeconomic status, geographic location, sexual orientation, political affiliation. Rich, poor, North, South, Black, White, Gay, Trans, Questioning: Each of can, and many of us do, serve. Those who serve inspire us. Joining them, service unites us. Our service strengthens us.

Since the mid-20th century, coinciding with the establishment and expansion of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, we have grown more reliant--some say dependent--on the government than on each other and our communities.

There's certainly some truth to the saying, the nine words you least want to hear in a sentence are: "We're from the government and we're here to help."

As the government has become more active in "helping us", we have become less active in helping each other. We're less about "giving" and more about "getting", less about helping each other than helping ourselves, less about "serving" and more about "being served." Viewed from that lens, it is painfully obvious why service organizations are competing more aggressively in an increasingly resource constrained environment.

The "affiliation vacuum" is a hole that smart, nimble and innovative service organizations and institutions can fill, leveraging their traditional emphasis on engaging and uniting people to serve others... and responding with specific programs to help us feel more connected to our communities and neighbors.

These organizations and institutions are the architects of rebuilding trust in each other. By providing us tangible opportunities--beyond writing checks--to help others, we can volunteer in these organizations to heal and strengthen our communities.

Robert Ingersoll reflected that "we rise by lifting others." Service that inspires, connects and unites us generates uplifting results and authentic relationships that will help us rise above the current uncertainty.

By involving, influencing and inspiring diverse audiences in the communities they already serve, organizations like The United Way, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, will fill a need among our citizens to feel valued, important, wanted and interconnected.

I too wish for America to be great again, That's why I'm volunteering to serve others in organizations that reflect my personal passions. I encourage readers to do the same. 

Because rhetoric won't "make America great again". Service will.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Proposing a New Ad Campaign for the U.S. Army: Highlighting Benefits of Service & Veterans' Contributions to Society

The U.S. Army spends roughly $200 million a year in advertising: The lucrative account is held by Interpublic Group of Companies' McCann Worldgroup, which has been the lead ad agency on the account since 2005. McCann introduced the successful "Army Strong" campaign in 2006, replacing the well-trod and indelible campaign, "Be All You Can Be."

As a U.S. Army Veteran, and based on 20+ years in marketing, communications and advertising, I'd like to offer some free advice for the personnel in the Army's Marketing and Research Group.

I propose a new campaign that represents the ideals upon which the United States Army was founded, that explains to the American public--specifically to the target audience the Army is trying to recruit--the long-term benefits and impacts of serving our country.

Almost every veteran you meet (Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard) has at least one story of how they've applied in their civilian life the professional, personal, leadership and ethical skills they developed in service to our country. These lessons extend from the classroom to the boardroom and beyond.

In fact, according to a Korn/Ferry International report, "Military Experience and CEOs: Is There a Link?":

1. Military officers are well-represented among the ranks of CEOs. Chief executives who served as officers constitute over 8 percent of all CEOs in the S&P 500, which is far above the average percentage of the entire U.S. male population who served in the military (3%).

2. CEOs with military experience have longer tenures as CEO than those without. The average tenure of a CEO with military experience is over seven years, while a CEO without military experience averaged under five.

3. CEOs with a military background are more likely to deliver strong performance. The Korn/Ferry study found that companies led by military veterans as CEOs delivered higher average returns than the S&P 500 index over one, three, five, and ten-year horizons.

The report emphasizes: "Without exception, the CEOs interviewed emphasize that the military offers an early opportunity to acquire hands-on leadership experience that cannot be found in the corporate world or at a similarly early stage in people’s careers."

The unique leadership training young Americans receive in the military is manifested not just in the Boardroom, but also every day. It's no exaggeration to suggest that the strongest case to serve in the U.S. Army for any period of time is found in today's headlines. Here's a sample of The Army Values in action:

Veterans at Home, on a Mission of Compassion

Vet Saves Woman's Life En Route to Be Honored For His Service

Army Vet Helps Develop Life-Saving Device for Treating Battlefield Wounds

Army Ranger Helps After Boston Marathon Bombings

And my favorite:

Former Army Officer Helped Victims

The Army's new ad flight, 'Defy Expectations,' "seeks to motivate prospects to take a deeper look into the Army," said James Ortiz, director of marketing, Army Marketing and Research Group. "By challenging current preconceived notions, we want prospects to pause, seek out our online platforms or an Army recruiter, and really consider the Army for what it is--a unique life-changing career and education opportunity and an incredible foundation for success today and tomorrow."

From personal experience--through developing emerging leaders in the Gordon Engineering Leadership Program at MIT, and from my decisive actions at the 2013 Boston Marathon--I know that the skills to which I was exposed, and which I developed, in the U.S. Army, helped to form the citizen I have become.

Ask other veterans and they'll say something similar. Even if they didn't remain in their respective military branch, the character, strength, fortitude, and commitment to contributing to our nation during their service remained--remains--within them.

The Army Marketing and Research Group is spending millions when the elegant solution may well be to convey a simple message: "You Might Not Stay in the Army, but the Army Stays in You."

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Final Mariden Update

OK, friends, here is one final Mariden USA update. After this, I promise I will extricate my teeth from this tasty flesh and move on to other topics.

Recall from my previous post that my friend Mark Friese in the DC area had a similar encounter with the unscrupulous Mariden folks--he actually went on his trip to Spain but--like our experience--that wasn't the end of his troubles with Mariden. Here's Mark's tale of woe.

First I want to thank you. Your contacts helped me talk to many other people that have had to deal with the poor management of Mariden. I did strong arm them to get me tickets at the last second. I had to visit Augustine at his home and leave messages on Nina’s door. As with some others when we arrived in Spain no arrangements for hotels had been made. In fact the hotel they first sent me to had dealt with Mariden in the past but wanted nothing to do with them in the future. After calling our guide I was directed to another hotel that was supposed to be paid for. The reservations had been made but no payment sent to the travel guide. He said that he could not help me until Nina approved the expenditure. Nina had evidently made some kind of side deal with the rest of our group coming from a different location. They had to pay for travel because she did not have the money and she would cover the hotel, meals and excursions, unbelievable! They bailed at the last moment. I never found out what happened.

In my international email correspondence with Nina to get my hotels and guide paid for she told me she was mad at the other group for bailing on her and that she had to pay all kinds of penalty payments (THAT sounds familiar). Payment was finally made by Nina and our guide proceeded with our tour. Having just two clients rather that 13 it was abbreviated. He did not travel with us, go on tours or dinners with us (except once). I would imagine that he was expecting a big group and the equivalent big tip rate of 7 euros a day( 1,000 euros in total), instead he just had us.

I thought you would enjoy the story. Hopefully Mariden is done. There were murmurs from Augustine of bankruptcy. I know they are being sued in Virginia by the other families that we were originally suppose to travel with. I have been asked to testify. Because of you I had at least ten conversations with others that have been treated poorly by Mariden. Many are willing to write letters or perhaps testify. I applaud you for your persistence and continuing to get the word out to others. Many of these trips were paid for with hard earned sweat by the kids that were supposed to attend. The entire situation is just sad.

So you see, friends, online reviews work. Social media connects us in ways never before possible, and forces companies to be accountable to their customers. Those that aren't... perish. And that's for the better, for all consumers.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Mariden Update (or, The Power of Online Reviews... Proven Again!)

If you read my post from 5/1/12, you're familiar with my crusade to bring Mariden USA to justice (if you didn't, please read it--you'll be amazed and appalled).

Yes, I'm like a pitbull. I continue to fight Mariden because they destroy kids' dreams. I continue to fight Mariden because it proves a point--online reviews ARE powerful and DO make a difference. Plus, as I declared in a recent job interview: "I was in the Army. I don't quit, and I don't lose."

This latest update is more positive for the victims of unscrupulous travel operators like Mariden--and one which underscores the power of social media.

I was contacted recently by Mark, the father of a student who had invested in a Mariden trip to Spain--which Mariden canceled at the last minute (no surprise)--without communication to Mark or his family. Mark had read my review of Mariden on Yelp and reached out for some advice on how to proceed. Sadly, the saga he related wasn't surprising.

Thankfully, Mark is a tenacious fellow (takes one to know one). As he lives in the same city where our nemesis, Mariden, is based, and he wasn't getting any response from Mariden, Mark visited Augustine (the Mariden rep) at HOME!

Here's the scoop, as Mark relayed it to me via email:

"I met with Augustine today. I looked up his address and surprised him at home because no one will return my calls email, etc. The owner is Nina with her husband they both own 50% of Mariden and Mariden Canada. They are in the middle of a bad divorce. The woman named Dagmar is the sister of Nina. They have not filed Chapter 11 yet but are considering it. I will mention on a positive note that you were mentioned as someone that had substantially damaged their incoming business. I am suppose to hear tomorrow if the trip will happen. If not I have been referred to their attorney. Hopefully it will not come to that but we will see."

Naturally, I am helping Mark strengthen our legitimate campaign against Mariden International, by providing him not only my own correspondence, but that of others who were similarly exploited by Mariden.

The key line in Mark's synopsis is "I will mention on a positive note that you were mentioned as someone that had substantially damaged their incoming business."

Let this be a lesson to ALL businesses operating deceitfully: You WILL be discovered. Your deceit WILL be disclosed. Your business WILL suffer. Your only solution is to apologize, compensate the victims of your perfidy, and pledge henceforth to be transparent. Go on the attack and you'll be vilified. The world is a small place; people communicate.

If you've been a victim of unscrupulous business owners, share your story online. Share it widely. It DOES make a difference.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

JetBlue Succeeds in Social Media: A Case Study

There's a lot of clutter in the social media world, and--although "the experts" say consumers can pick and choose the feeds they want--it's increasingly confusing to sort through the social media static. But when a stream stands out, it's worth stating.

Such was my Twitter experience yesterday with JetBlue. Whoever's in charge of JetBlue's Twitter feed should be commended for their responsiveness and customer service... And other companies should learn a lesson from how JetBlue does it.

Our flight to Boston was delayed out of BWI; we finally landed about 90 minutes past our scheduled arrival time. In my rush to deplane, I left behind my Nook. I didn't realize I was reader-less until I was on the Silver Line into South Station.

I immediately called JetBlue; they gave me the number for the Lost and Found office at their Logan headquarters. I left a message with all the details. Standard approach.

Enter social media: At 10:24 PM yesterday night I tweeted, "Without my #Nook I am readerless! #JetBlue please find it and return it!(Lost tonight on flight 1326, BWI-BOS)". Less than 15 minutes later, at 10:37 PM, JetBlue Direct Messaged me: "@brm90 Please speak with the Baggage Services office in BOS before you leave the airport, or call the lost and found at 617-716-3549."

Of course, I'd already called and left a message. That's the "old media" approach.

As a "new media" pro, what matters to me is how quickly JetBlue responded to my plaintive cry, and how they provided clear, specific instructions in 133 characters. That's the takeaway for brands that seek to use Twitter to connect meaningfully with customers. JetBlue’s brand page on Twitter shows that they use Twitter as a customer service platform. Almost every tweet is an @ reply.

I did some further research and discovered that JetBlue has a dedicated person who continually interacts with social media, especially Twitter. With almost 2 million followers, that's a challenging job.

Here's the lesson for brands: If your brand is on Twitter for customer service, it’s important to be committed. According to JetBlue,

“Our goal would be to make ourselves available, help whenever possible, and to show that our brand is built by real people who care about our customers.”

JetBlue goes to where their customers are and they're helping customers resolve issues. They're not flogging their brand by routinely pushing press releases. On Twitter (I can't speak for their other social media platforms) JetBlue promotes their brand--and builds brand allegiance--by having great customer service.

JetBlue may not find my Nook, but they certainly found a follower.