Een poosje geleden begon de ANWB een actie rondom de ANWB Partnerpas. Mijn eerste gedachte was dat we eindelijk niet meer afhankelijk waren van waar de pas was, maar dat we allebei konden profiteren van de €140 die we elk jaar aan deze fijne vereniging overmaken. We zijn tenslotte ook in gemeenschap van ANWB lidmaatschap getrouwd. Of tenminste, dat dacht ik.
De week na mijn aanvraag viel onze nieuwe partnerpas op de mat. Verheugd opende ik de envelop om de pas aan mijn vrouw te geven, toen mij iets opviel. De ANWB vind mijn vrouw helemaal geen volwaardig partner. Hoewel we al 14 jaar samen gezellig de premie overmaken, ziet de ANWB mijn vrouw als een nieuw lid. Een glimmend blauwe pas staarde mij aan vanaf de brief. Overduidelijk verward door mijn gezichtsuitdrukking, leek de glans er ook een beetje af te gaan. Teleurstelling aan beide kanten. Zelfs het nummer is niet hetzelfde. Hoewel mijn vrouw en ik als een eenheid worden gezien door de staat, de kerk, de buurt, onze familie, blijkt dit voor de ANWB niet te gelden.
Natuurlijk klim ik dan in de telefoon, want ik wil natuurlijk dat mijn vrouw ook al een volwaardig betaler van onze premie gezien wordt. Een vriendelijke stem aan de andere kant van de telefoon legt mij uit dat het systeem alleen maar toelaat dat mijn vrouw als nieuw lid wordt ingevoerd. Vandaar de nieuwe pas. Na wat aandringen beseft zij ook dat dat eigenlijk vreemd is. Ik kan me voorstellen dat de pas alleen geldt voor de gezinsauto. Dat is voor ons overigens prima. Wat ik niet snap, is dat haar hiermee ook de mogelijkheid ontzegd wordt om te profiteren van alle voordelen die het gouden lidmaatschap ons zou brengt. Zij mag dus weer helemaal vanaf 0 beginnen en als ze naar de ANWB winkel wil, dan moet ze toch weer mijn pas meenemen. Dat vind ik toch vreemd.
ANWB, kunnen jullie nou geen beter excuus bedenken dan “het systeem kan het niet”? Natuurlijk kan ik me voorstellen dat het een hoop gedoe is om een extra persoon toe te voegen aan een lidmaatschapssysteem waarin blijkbaar elke naam een uniek nummer heeft. Dat kan wat werk opleveren. Maar zorg er dan tenminste voor dat het aantal lidmaatschapsjaren overeenkomt met de werkelijkheid. Want nu komt het over alsof mijn vrouw nooit heeft bestaan voor jullie. (Dat is duidelijk ook zo, maar dat hoeven jullie niet zo duidelijk te laten merken.)
Mocht u nou ook nadenken om een partner status te koppelen aan uw product of dienst, bedenk dan eerst even wat het partnerschap precies inhoudt. Niet alleen van uw kant, maar ook vooral vanuit het standpunt van uw klant. Daarmee voorkomt u dat het lijkt alsof u een partner op een heel ander niveau neerzet dan uw klant verwacht. Daar wordt uw klant gelukkiger van. En u uiteindelijk ook.
Kort nadat ik deze blog publiceerde, kreeg ik een reactie van de ANWB. Ze blijken er over nagedacht te hebben. Of tenminste, zij vinden van wel. Ik denk daar anders over:
You have seen that button at the site of your bank or your insurance company. The button that saves you the hassle of dialing the number. The button that gives you easy access to their personnel instead of having to wait ‘in line’. The button that you would love to have for your small business. A button that allows your clients to get in touch with you by a single click. Up until recently those buttons were quite expensive. But times have changed and I will show you how to get one for free.
*Warning: This blogpost does assume you have a basic knowledge of websites, plugins and forms*
Ok, that said, how do you get that button? Your first step is to get yourself an IFTTT account. If This Then That is one of the easiest ways to build simple actions based on triggers that you set. The first step is easy. Join them. Fill out your credentials and click “Create account”. Done. That is your first step.
The second thing you need is a website. Obviously you have one of those. And your website needs the possibility to publish forms and send them off to a unique email address with a unique subject line.
On your website, build a form that people need to fill out to get called back. Unlike the instant call back from your bank, it might take a message up to 15 minutes to reach you. That means that it would be a great idea to add a field on when someone would like to be called back. In the example you see, mine says you can be called back within an hour and a half, you can be called back during office hours or that evening after 8pm. Other than that I ask people to leave their name and number. Only the phone number is a required field in this example as that is the only information I really, really need to make that call. Think carefully about what you need from your customers. The more you ask, the fewer will use the option.
To make the build as easy as possible, I will assume you have a Gmail account. If you don’t, you might want to make one just for this purpose. You don’t have to look at it ever again as it will only store an email that will be used as a trigger. But it is important to have one so we can use it as a trigger later on.
Have your form sent to your (new) Gmail address and use a unique subject line. Remember that subject line, because we will be using it a little later on. Content wise, make sure that the email you receive holds the fields you have asked to fill out. Mine tells me that “Name” wants to be called at “time set” on “phone number”. A decent smartphone will even make the phone number clickable for you to respond quickly.
Now that you have your form set up and sending emails (test it first). You can go and log on to your IFTTT account. Once logged in, you will see the dashboard. You can add loads of channels to IFTTT for you to use both as triggers as well as output channels. Click channels in the top right corner and you get the overview of all the channels that are available. Find the Gmail icon and click that. Google will ask you whether you want to grant IFTTT access to your email address. Grant access and the Gmail icon will now be all colorful on the site. Then you click the SMS button. Type your international phone number with all the extra’s. Mine should be written as 00653961138 for instance. Then have the system send you a pin code. Once you have received the SMS with the pin, type the pin in the field and you are connected.
Now everything is set to create your unique task with IFTTT. Click create task on the dashboard. Then click the highlighted “this”. The screen will now show all the channels that are available to you. Click the Gmail channel. You are now asked to set your specific trigger. I have built mine around a search for the unique subject line that I added to the email my form sends. Then click complete trigger.
With the trigger set, we need to define an action that IFTTT has to do when triggered. We need to have IFTTT send an SMS to our number. So, click the highlighted “that”. As a channel choose the SMS channel. You then receive a single option. Send me a text message. And that is exactly the one that we need. Click it and you get a new screen. Here you can set the message that is sent to you. On the right you will see a dark balloon. Click it to get extra options that you can add to your SMS. In my case I had cleaned up the form email so much that I just wanted the Email Body Plain to show in my text message. That gives me the name and phone number of the person I need to call and the time I need to call them at. Click complete action and you are done.
You can now name your new IFTTT task. And hey presto, you have just built yourself a form on your site that notifies you via SMS for free.
If you feel this might be too complicated for you, I can build one for you. (In Dutch as well.) Or you can use my IFTTT recipe.
This morning a friend of mine pointed me to a team of people in Serbia who do what I am always on about. Following their passion and trying to make an impact. Without David’s knowledge he pointed me to an area that has had my interest since the nineties when I met a friend from Belgrade.
This team is based in Novi Sad and wants to reach out in a positive way to the city and its people. How? By starting a Cafe and bike kitchen as they call it themselves. They want to offer great coffee, good food and great bikes. All of them with a sustainable twist to them. I particularly like that for every bike they sell, they are going to donate one to someone who can’t afford a bike.
Yes, it is a business with a business model. Selling coffee, food and bikes. But it is also focused on the community as they plan to make it a place for art, music, free classes and programs. This is an approach I love.
Yes, Google has added pages to Google Plus. And even though you might think that this is not that big a deal, I think it could have a lot more impact than you think.
Google has launched pages that are not that different from what we are used to in Google+. That means that, unlike Facebook, a Google+ page is just a single page. No extra fuss. No extra pages. They might come in the future, but for now your page only has a block of five pictures on the top, a timeline and three links to a limited About page and photo’s and video’s that you have uploaded. The good thing is that Google has incorporated the regular Google+ features. Obviously you can add pages to your circles keeping their communications where you would want it. However, what is much more interesting is the option to create a hangout on your page. So, if you run a celebrity page, you can now do an online meet and greet as easy as planning a time to open up the hangout. The Muppets did exactly that yesterday when you could chat with Kermit and Miss Piggy. And yes, this is to promote their new show.
Google+ Pages put the focus on people even more than Facebook does. Their point is that their pages are a great way to connect to the team behind the brand, the organization or the name. A valid point. And one that could explain the lack of extra pages. Though they might add the option to create extra tabs and create pages in the future.
So, with the parts they are missing, why would Google Plus Pages be even a remote threat to Facebook? Search, that is why. Even though more and more people use social search -asking friends a question- Google still holds all the cards in search. We have seen the impact of that with the +1 button which puts pages your friends have liked on top of your search results. And it won’t be long until Google Plus Pages will be doing the same. Their pages will turn up before the Facebook version will. And that will happen across the board. Whether on the computer, tablet or mobile, Google Plus Pages might become one of the most natural entrances to your brand from the search results. After all the effort you have put into your Facebook page, you might not like the idea. But it might all be for the best if you are a company that takes its customers seriously. Because the entrance through your Google page might become your key to individual success with your customers. Hangouts with key representatives will get potential customers to connect to your products and services much more than Facebook will ever allow you to. And purchasing stays at your own doorstep instead of Facebook’s.
Do I think Google Plus Pages will be a success? Yes. By the sheer size of the Google Plus network? No. But by the integration that Google is rolling out into every single one of its products. And by the personal nature in which you can start interacting with your audience.
This morning, I am typing this on a bench at a train station while I am waiting for my connection. I have a place where I want to go, but there are no straight trains to get there, nor has getting there been fundamentally changed over the past fifty years. Or even longer. Let’s face it, the last great boost in technology for public transport came when we traded steam for electricity or diesel for areas where they couldn’t be bothered to put the wiring in. And in the meantime, we are sitting in traffic jams with all their negative side effects. Something is wrong here.
I know I am probably not the first one to say this, but where are the personal transportation pods? The Netherlands is reasonably covered in rails. Trains go to most of the country, and there are many well situated stations. But very often our train journey takes us along the route of the majority rather than suiting our personal needs. A transportation pod could solve a problem here. Today I am traveling from my home to a city about an hour and fifteen minutes away by car. The journey will take two hours by train. Most of that extra time is taken up by waiting to change trains. So what if we would change all of that?
Imagine I wake up in the morning and I decide where I need to go. The new train system allows me new choices. I choose to travel to my destination in a standard transportation pod. It is a small unit that can hold four people and their luggage that can be pre-reserved or taken from a station based on availability. The fare you pay depends on the way you book your pod. If you pre-reserve, you get immediate availability in a timeframe of 15 minutes around your chosen departure time. And you get a small discount on your trip. You also pay a pod price, that can be shared with your passengers by swiping a card or NFC enabled device within the pod. That way it will become cheaper and easier to provide group transportation for companies or for a day out with the family. The pod then runs along the rails of the train network at high speeds, being constantly guided by a local and central computer system. This takes you to your destination in almost the time as it takes to take your car. A good start.
Now look at it from a business perspective. It offers traditional train travellers the experience they are used to, but without the smelly neighbour. It also offers drivers the individual transport that they claim is their main reason to stand in traffic jams. You can offer multiple sized pods with four seats being the standard and other sizes designed to suit needs. A two seater pod for romantic outings or a twelve seater pod with alternative seating arrangements for meetings on the road. Hooligan pods that have nothing destructable in them, or festival pods that offer a place to pre-party with groups. And all these pods can be priced differently based on the needs of the client, subscriptions, time of day, distance and many other factors. And you can even decide on running very large pods, just like a current train, on busy routes at busy times offering travellers a significant discount for traveling in a group.
Are there no challenges? Yes, there are. Pod availability at stations will be a problem. However, travellers often wait fifteen minutes to get on their train now. Central storage locations at a maximum of fifteen minutes from a station could solve the availability problem for travellers that did not register a pod. However, special pods can only be reserved beforehand. A technical problem is the issue of passing at stations. At smaller stations there might only be two rails available allowing two way traffic. Another ‘parking rail’ ought to be installed so that passengers can easily get in and out of pods without stopping other traffic. And then there is the issue of level crossings. Personal transportation pods might be keeping the booms of the level crossing closed all the time due to their number and irregular schedules. From a business point of view, the biggest trouble lies in the investment. Individual transportation pods need to be built, old trains need to be scrapped and contracts to build new trains need to be cancelled. But the transition does not need to take much time. You can even allow for a bathroom or coffee break button in a pod, allowing new business at stations. And you could think of a million things you can do with a pod on the road when connected to wifi and social networks.
I honestly believe the individual transportation pod on rails has a future. But it’s main advantage is it’s main disadvantage. It is new and disrupts a business model public transportation firms have been using for decades. And obviously there will be problems I haven’t even considered. But I am sure there are ways to solve them without breaking the bank.
You can run a good business and offer great customer service. That will make your customers love you. However, they are basing their love for you on how you solved a negative situation. There is no argument about whether this works. Because it does. People enjoy a good solution and they will share it with their friends.
There still is an issue though. Every story will start with where it went wrong and they had to ask you for a solution. You can not rule out problems altogether. After all, we are all human, so we make mistakes. But try to be ahead of your customer. Be pro active about it. Talk to them as soon as you notice the problem, even though they haven’t said anything about it. Tell them what went wrong, how much you regret it and offer them a solution.
Yesterday I had lunch with a friend at a great restaurant near the beach. My friend ordered the fish salad. After all, we were looking at the sea. During our lunch she noticed a piece of plastic in the salad. She didn’t make a fuss about it, moved it to the side and finished the salad. Some time after, we asked for the bill and when it was brought, the waiter told us that he was sorry to see that we had the piece of plastic in the salad. He told us that he had ordered the cook to throw out the rest of that batch of fish and as an extra he gave us a ten percent discount on the bill. As you can imagine, we left the place more than satisfied and happy to eat there again. And over time, what will remain will be the gesture of the business, not the plastic. Because we never thought that was much of a problem anyway.
Be pro active. When something happens that you would consider to be a problem, solve it. Solve it before your customer makes a problem out of it. That will make you a winner with that customer. And with every friend he will tell it to.
Let’s be honest, most companies go for the sale of their product and then that is it. A good company then sorts out it’s customer service, just in case a customer has something that they want you to deal with. That is usually the end of it. But your customers are worth much more. Your customers often care about the products they bought from you and use them daily. So why stop there? If you are a technology based company, over time your products will become outdated. That will annoy your customers and they will have to go and look for a new product. Great, you might think. Another sale. Well, it might be, but it might not be the easy money you thought it would be.
Over the past weeks I have been watching from the sidelines as a premium brand for audio equipment became the prey of it’s once loyal customers. The reason? The lack of firmware updates for their multi-thousand euro machines. After keeping their customers at arms’ length, the company decided to cut customer communication altogether and publicly announced that it would not discuss anything with its user base anymore. That did it for one of their loyal customer. An enthousiastic programmer by day, he spent the rest of his time figuring out their firmware and wrote his own update, incorporating the techniques found in newer, more expensive models and released it through an independent forum. Within a couple of days the manufacturer responded, dooming all users that would have the evil courage to use the updates. Within hours many disgruntled users voiced their opinion and vouched to turn away from the brand for any future purchases.
The lesson to be learned? Upon asking a number of members of the forum, it turned out that many of them would have been very willing to pay decent amounts of money to acquire an official firmware release. However, the company chose to force them to purchase new products. A strategy that seems to have lost them many very loyal customers. If only they had released a firmware update that could have been written within a working day, they would have kept their customers and raised their turnover more than they have done now. In contrast, look at Sony Ericsson, who’s X10 has received an HD camera courtesy of a software update. Now that is caring for your customers.
Vrijdagochtend om acht uur stond ik bij de slager in Goes. Voornamelijk om een belofte in te lossen bij Lucien Burm in Amsterdam. Al een aantal keren hebben wij het namelijk gehad over “Zeeuws spek”. Iets waar hij erg van houdt en waar ik als Zeeuw natuurlijk eenvoudig aan kan komen. Tenminste, dat dacht ik. Maar niets blijkt minder waar. “Zeeuws spek” blijkt namelijk helemaal niet te bestaan. Mijn opgetrokken wenkbrauwen waren het teken voor de slager om van wal te steken. Om te vertellen over oude Zeeuwse boeren en Groninger collega’s. Of West-Friese zo gewild. Over de eigen smaak van elke slager en de eenvoud van het recept die het zo makkelijk maakt voor een slager om zijn eigen versie naar zijn eigen smaak te maken. Daarna ging het al snel verder over mijn activiteiten en over contant geld, pinpassen en andere zaken. Leuk, gemoedelijk en heel vriendelijk.
Deze slager nam de tijd voor mij. Iets dat veel bedrijven missen. Zo was ook zijn eigen aanklacht in de richting van zijn bank. Hij had ook efficiënter te werk kunnen gaan. Mij snel een stuk van zijn versie van het spek toestoppen naar aanleiding van mijn vraag en dan terug naar zijn eigen producten. Sneller en makkelijker. Maar niet effectiever. Want had hij dat gedaan, dan zou ik er waarschijnlijk nooit meer komen. Nu ligt dat anders. Ik ben nooit eerder bij die slager geweest, maar de volgende keer dat ik wat speciaals nodig heb, zal ik zeker bij hem langsgaan. Want voor mij is hij het toonbeeld van wat een slager moet zijn. Iemand met passie voor zijn product en de wens om mij te helpen aan dat waar ik eigenlijk naar op zoek ben. Een instelling die elke onderneming zich eigen zou moeten maken.
Voor sommige mensen is de klant soms gewoon lastig. Als zij lekker aan het werk zijn moet een klant ze niet storen met triviale zaken als vragen of verzoeken. Er wordt gezucht, gesteund en soms erger. Er wordt gezegd dat mensen er niet zijn, omdat dit interne stuk eerst af moet. Voor mij is het een ergernis. Uiteindelijk is het de klant die de organisatie bestaansrecht geeft.