A Business Technology Place

The Ackerman Security Wireless Communicator Upgrade Letter

Last week I started a two-post blog about examples of marketing communication letters to customers. I chose two examples that show when a marketing group is out-of-synch with the operations group of an organization. The letters are good case studies about syncing instructions, or the call-to-action, to a customer to provide a better customer experience. Last week was the Takata Airbag recall. This week is about a letter I received from Ackerman Security Systems.

Quick background.

I use Ackerman Security for my home security and monitoring system. I’ve been a customer for over six years and thankfully I’ve never had to use them in a real emergency. Several years ago, when we removed our home phone land-line, I switched to their wireless monitoring service.

Fast forward a few years. One night our security panel made a noise we had never heard. It wasn’t an alarm signal, but it wasn’t normal. When I called for service, they told me my wireless unit had malfunctioned and needed to be replaced. When the technician came on-site he told me I also needed to upgrade from the 2G to the 4G receiver to be compatible with the new carrier systems. The upgrade was installed.

The Letter.

This month I received a letter from Ackerman telling me I must upgrade to the 4G digital cellular communicator because my existing model would soon no longer function on the carrier’s network. It’s a two-page form letter telling me I must buy the upgraded equipment to continue service.

Click for full size

Click for full size

Click for full size

Click for full size

But I had already changed my device two years ago.

Just to be sure, I took the cover off the central communicator unit to look for the model number. I found it labeled Honeywell GSMX4G. I searched online and found a few other complaints about this letter from Ackerman Customers. When I tried to call them to verify I listened to music for 20 minutes before hanging-up. I sent their customer service group an email letting them know I already had a 4G cellular communicator and to please update their records. No one acknowledged my email or contacted me after this.

So what’s the lesson here? I am giving the company the benefit of the doubt this is not an intentional practice and they are not charging customers to upgrade to equipment they already have. I assume the real issue is they don’t have accurate records of the device installed at each customer location. If true, then my suggestion is to word the letter slightly differently with the understanding you “may need to upgrade your cellular communicator.” The letter could include some simple instructions about how to find the equipment type. As-is, this process leads to confusion and mistrust.

Onward and Upward!

 

The Takata Airbag Recall Letter

In my next two blog posts, I’m taking a couple of businesses that I buy from to task. I received a letter in the mail from each business that did not properly describe what I should do as a consumer of the product/service. The letters are good case studies for marketing communication groups about syncing the instructions, or call-to-action, of a message with the operations of the business.

This week is about a letter I received from the American Honda Motor Company. I will preface my Honda letter experience by saying that I’ve purchased multiple Honda vehicles in my lifetime. I am a repeat customer for Honda with no plans to change.

In March of this year I received a letter about the Takata airbag recall. The letter has many strong points:

  • “Important Safety Recall” is in an enlarged point size that is all caps and red. – That caught my attention. I wanted to read the details.
  • “What to do if feel this notice is in error” – This was good because I may no longer own the vehicle. They were sending this to the address of record for the vehicle VIN. They enclosed an update form and envelope in case their records were wrong.
  • Information is included in the document about how to contact Honda if I have further questions or feel the resolution is inadequate.

But the letter has a flaw.

In bold letters it states “The defect in these vehicles could kill or injure you or other people in your vehicle”. When I read about the fatalities caused by this part defect I understood just how serious this issue is.  

Directly following is the instruction of what to do. It essentially says that I will be contacted with another letter when parts become available. I highlighted this statement and set it aside on my desk so that I wouldn’t forget about it. A few weeks later my daughter received the same letter for the Honda vehicle that she drives. The instructions were the same.

Click for full size letter

Click for full size letter

Fast forward to early August. My daughter is getting ready to go back to college. I wanted to make sure this part replacement was completed prior to her departure so I decided to call a local dealer. What surprised me is the answer I received was “that part just went on back order but I can order you a new one and it will be here in a couple of days.” I called an Acura dealer about the other vehicle I own and received the same answer. I made appointments for both vehicles and had the recall part replaced.

What if I hadn’t called?

As I think about the problem, I understand there is a huge supply and demand situation to replace the airbags. The Takata airbag recall affects more than Hondas. I know the supplying plants are trying to keep up with demand for new vehicles while at the same time trying to make replacement parts for older vehicles. If Honda had told me to contact the dealer right-away it would have created chaos and a backlog of requests.

When I read the history of events about this recall in the updates of that blog, I can see that auto makers are scrambling to cover their affected vehicles. Perhaps a better way to set expectations would be to have a schedule of availability based on production capacity, year/model/make, and location (high humidity zip codes first). Then provide the affected consumer with an estimated availability date. That approach may not have sat well with consumers in the back of the line, but it would have provided a better estimated time of replacement. The message of the existing letter is both open ended and for me didn’t accurately communicate when the parts were available.

I spoke with a couple of friends who received a similar letter from a different manufacturer and they had the same experience. In fact, both of them were still waiting on the letters, months later, to confirm availability of the part. As it stands right now, you may want to call your local dealer if your vehicle is part of the recall.

Onward and Upward!

 

Well played Amex

AmexEmail

This week I received a useful email in what I call my Spam Hole inbox. It’s the second email account that I use for anything outside of personal correspondence. The message came from American Express. It stated that based on my past purchase history they knew that I had an upcoming trip planned. There was no need to call them to flag the account for travel because they had already noted it on file.

The message was timely, because in years past I have called credit issuers to alert them about personal travel. This time, through a simple scanning program that searches for keywords about travel they could tell what I was about to do. It was convenience to me and saved a phone call or visit to my online profile to look for the setting. It’s better for them because it reduces labor to answer calls and provides them with consistency for how they flag card member travels.

Is this an invasion of privacy? I more consider it a good use of technology. The card company already has my personal information when they reviewed it for credit.  I think it’s great that they are proactively searching for ways to prevent fraud. Ultimately that means less hassle for me dealing with fraudulent purchases and better service from American Express.

These days when we receive electronic messages like this our first thought is to not trust the email. This communication from American Express was crafted in such a way that it reduced my concern for fraud. It was more informative and less action oriented. There was nothing in the email about clicking a link to change a password or to view important details in my account. There were no attachments. The email offered information about my account and also gave a couple of suggestions about communication paths they like to use with customers (app and mobile phone).

So Kudos this week to American Express for proactively flagging my account for travel purchases and crafting an email that didn’t give me concern that it contained malware. Sometimes the simple things mean the most.

 

Onward and upward!

 

Finding spaces with different views

This week my son ended his baseball career after 13 years of playing the game through spring, summer, and fall. Our high school does a nice job with the senior recognition ceremony. It includes a lap around the infield to shake hands and hug the freshman, JV, and returning Varsity players. Then the player meets his family and walks to shake hands with the coaches while a player bio is read over the PA system. Next, a recorded message from the senior is played over the PA system. It’s a message the player leaves for their teammates, coaches, and family. The ceremony ends with each player making one final baseball toss to a family member.

Our school has a volunteer photographer who no longer has a son that plays baseball (8 years removed). He goes to every game home and away. He arrives before the game to take warmup photos and stays until the end. Then he posts probably 900-1,000 photos of each game online for parents and family to download. All of this free of charge. He takes pictures of other high school sports as well.Baseball1

At the end of the year, I was talking to him about the love of the game. Obviously he wants to find ways to stay around game long after his son was a player. It’s personal to him. He told me that taking photographs at the games fills a need in his life. It’s an outlet for a hobby. But on top of that, he told me,

“Taking pictures during the game allows me to find new spaces with different views.”

He is energized by seeing a game from different angles than what a fan sees in the bleachers. He sees the facial expressions of the boys, their body language, the dugout conversations, and even the silly moments. He often captures angles of a play that reveal new insights. His photos capture technique that can be used for instruction and learning. He is constantly probing for new angles and thinking about how to position himself for a different look.

Having an inquisitive nature to find new spaces with different views at work is a trait we all need but few exhibit. In IT and Operations, most attention is given to creating repeatable and predictable processes. Employees are focused on improving efficiencies by incrementally reducing lead times and delivering work faster starting from the same processes. Thinking about different views if often left for the process engineers or visionaries.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Just like my friend taking pictures of a game, we can all look for new spaces and different views. But it requires that we fully engage with the subject matter of our work.  It means getting out of our box and thinking about the customer, the equipment, the service, and the people from different angles. It means getting out of our offices and cubes to experience the business from another place. It means using the telephone to hear a customer or colleague instead of emailing them. My friend has to move around to take pictures of the game. He searches for places to stand and examines the view. He takes photos and then examines the results before adjusting to the next angle. That’s the rush of the experience and the involvement with the subject matter. If we aren’t excited about our jobs and careers to do this then it could be we are playing the wrong game.Baseball2

Go find your new space. Stretch out!

Onward and upward!

 

When being unpopular is part of your job description

A colleague told me a story this week about their involvement in a software development project. If you make software for a living you know there is always a desire to produce working software faster. Her story was a tale about requirements, servers, browsers, bugs, and other types of gremlins we find while making software. There was angst from the team, including me, to go faster to complete the working version. But she was entrenched with her position to get the software completely correct. Then she said something unexpected and paused for effect:

“It may make me unpopular. But that’s why I’m here; to make life easier for the customer.”

 

The statement stuck with me into the evening.

Is customer advocacy a distinct position and role on the team or does everyone share responsibility for thinking this way?

What is the distinction between quality focus and customer focus?

My team has been bitten multiple times in the past by rushing to produce “must have” and ”mission critical” software releases only to have the customer not use the software.  In each case there was a customer advocate. But in each case the customer didn’t connect with the software to produce the intended results. The software worked as requested but the business model for the trading of goods and services didn’t work.

Those projects left a bad taste in my mouth. But don’t blame the customer. Blame our ability to connect the potential customer with a solution they would use.

It’s the job of the solution designers to create a bridge between the customer’s desire and the customer’s use because the customer cannot. It’s the job of the testers to cross the bridge the solution Bridgedesigner creates because the designer should not. It’s the job of the customer advocate to cross the bridge like the customer would move across it. Maybe that’s skipping, running, or even sliding. That may make the customer advocate unpopular because the designers and testers tend to think about crossing with the design of the bridge in mind whereas the customer thinks about what’s on the other side.

Then I realized that the customer advocate may have to play an unpopular position to the customer as well. Sometimes the customer doesn’t know exactly what they want or how to describe it. Sometimes the customer has unrealistic expectations about delivery. The customer advocate may find themselves saying something like “We can’t do that….but what we can do is this…..” There’s a risk in throwing out a statement like that. The customer may walk away completely. But I believe in most cases it creates a deeper conversation. One in which the customer becomes more engaged. It’s a conversation that goes closer to defining the bridge between the customer’s desire and the customer’s use of a product or service.

So if you know a customer advocate on your team that is unpopular at times then they’re probably doing something right. Show them some love this week.

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: Quapan – Creative Commons