Some Thoughts on the 4Ps and Customer Centricity

A cracking debate on the relevance of the traditional Marketing 4Ps in contemporary digital marketing has broken out in several places on the Internet. The pro-4P lobby believe that in the rush to get online, many organisations are forgetting some standard rules and good practice, citing the 4Ps as an element of the marketer’s armoury that should be introduced and taken on board. Writers such as Dave Chaffey and Paul Smith have long (in Internet Time) promoted an evolved model with changes to the meaning and number of Ps in the equation.

The anti-4P lobby claim that the evolution of social media means that the 4P model (and its descendants) are increasingly irrelevant because they are centred around the marketer and the product and not around the customer and their world (I won’t use the word “needs” because that is a contentious point). This lobby believe that in a social media world, companies need spend less time selling their product and more time working out what customers would like them to do, and that focussing on how the business broadcasts, and decides what it’s offering is, is an outdated and irrelevant concept.

It’s essentially a worldview difference between “This is what we do” versus “What can I do for you?” The first view will tell you all about brand value and product attributes. The second view relies on customers deciding what those values and attributes should be.

With this in mind it’s interesting to look at the use of Twitter by two organisations competing in the same marketplace – Northern Rail (Northern) and Trans Pennine Express (TPE). Northern (often nicknamed #northernfail is plagued by ancient rolling stock which is slow and unglamorous. There are often problems. TPE has new, fast express trains, but it too suffers from delays, cancellations, overcrowding and so on.

Casual observation of the two Twitter streams shows a marked difference in the use of the medium. TPE clearly have the 4Ps in their sights and use their stream to communicate promotions. Dialogue is clearly between winners and entrants to competitions. Nothing wrong with that (textbook you might say), but I would argue that the vast majority of customers might prefer the Twitter stream to engage with them on their use and valuing of the product. But it is all about “The Sell”.

Northern clearly use the channel to engage with people who complain or who have problems with their train journey. Indeed they’re clearly monitoring the channel for key hashtags and phrases where their customer base congregates. Dialogue is (sadly) apologetic but it clearly engages with audience in the points where they want. TPE are much slower to respond (if at all) and I would argue they are not monitoring the channel in the same way as their rivals.

A perfect (if such a thing exists) take on this is the T-shirt company Last Exit to Nowhere (LETN). With occasional tweets about product, LETN spend a lot of time engaging with their audience in non-promotional ways. Tweets are often about film trivia (or extreme film nerdery). Facebook updates often follow the same structure. Very rarely is a promotional matter with regard to product dealt with, although it does happen – and this often around new product often based on engagement with the community on the product’s development.

What LETN shows is there is a small space for the 4Ps, but it certainly takes a back seat. Concentrating on customer centricity is what drives their traffic rather than a sales drive. Because LETN have a strong empathy with their customers (as opposed to the customers supposedly having any kind of strong affinity with the LETN brand), customers clearly engage because it’s about what they’re interested in, not what LETN are interested in selling.

#Fail BT and a Failure of Customer Care

Bit of an epic this one – but if you persevere, you see a lesson for customer care. The lesson is train for consistency.

As many of you know, Mrs EB runs a successful online retail enterprise New Rooms Online (http://www.newroomsonline.co.uk). It’s her day job, it’s how she makes a living and she has many thousands of customers all over the world. If you haven’t bought a surprising little luxury from there yet, you should.

We recently moved house, wanting to take our phone number with us – we ‘ve actually moved closer to the BT exchange that covers our district (imagine the line speeds we’ll get – although more about that later) so under BT’s normal terms, that’s not a problem. I’m sure you can think of compelling reasons not to stay with BT, but to maintain the number through a house move, it SHOULD be the simplest option. Attached to that though is Mrs EB’s number for her business – an ancient product from a time gone by called BT Call Sign. When Mrs EB first started the online business, she asked BT what the easiest and cheapest solution would be – and they advised all those years ago that a Call Sign number would be best. Call Sign is basically a second phone number that comes in on your existing phone line – you know the second number is being dialled into by the a caller because it rings differently. Originally designed for families with teenagers who had friends ringing in all the time, it was quickly re-purposed and sold as a cheap second line for people who have businesses from their homes. Many business folk still use it. Even BT’s own page recommends it as a way of separating business and personal calls here and here.

In addition, I did not want to take BT’s broadband at the new property as O2 have a special deal for their mobile customers, reviews of service (especially customer service) are good and there’s a significant line speed offering.

In very simple terms (I have spoken to BT 4 times and have exchanged 10 emails with them. Here’s roughly how the story goes:

Mrs EB makes the first phone call request moving the phone line and Call Sign but dropping the broadband. The salesman wants to discuss options but she say I am the man with the answers and says they need to talk to me.

The second phone call requests moving the phone line and the Call Sign but dropping the broadband. Put through to second person. The salesman wants to discuss options. I describe the O2 offer. Salesman agrees it’s too good to miss but says I need to speak to home moves.

Speak to home moves. They say I need to cancel Broadband before I move phone line. Get put through. Broadband cancellation person asks why, I explain the above. They say I will need to pay a broadband termination fee of £25 “for administration and the removal of equipment from the exchange.” I am surprised and can find no obvious policy about this online (http://www.productsandservices.bt.com/consumerProducts/dynamicmodules/pagecontentfooter/pageContentFooterPopup.jsp?pagecontentfooter_popupid=26746&s_cid=con_FURL_termcharges) as we have cancelled well outside the minimum period. BT have yet to show me the information publicly about the £25 fee. I have no choice but to agree. The man presses buttons and I ask to be sent back to home moves…..

…Who then say I have to wait 24 hours before putting a home move order in because you can only have one order on your account at any time – and I have one cancelling Broadband.

I ring the next day asking to move our phone number and the Call Sign. I seem to speak to several people including an officious lady called Linda. She says in no uncertain terms that a Call Sign number cannot be moved as they are generated randomly by the Exchange (don’t ask). At this point, I feel it’s becoming personal. I tweet @BTCare with frustration (http://twitter.com/groovegenerator/status/15328631100)

@BTCare write back and ask me to send them an email – they say they can fix it, but hours later they let me down with this email:

Thank you for your e-mail.

I am sorry that you have had problems with my colleagues and trying to get the order placed to move your landline service to your new address.

I can confirm as advised by some of my colleagues that you cannot carry your call sign number over to your new address as this is just an add on to your landline number. The reason that you are being charged £25 to remove the broadband service from your line is because you do not wish to continue with the service and once a request is placed to cancel broadband we as an isp are charged to remove the service from the line and we therefore have to pass the charge on to you as the customer, the charge is to remove the BT equipment as the new owner may not want to have BT and this is why it has to be removed and if it is not it causes problems ordering broadband with BT or any other isp.

When an order is placed on an account to cancel or modify a service may not be then possible to place another order until the original order closes as this may cause either or both orders to fail. I can therefore confirm if you do move premises we cannot provide you with the call sign number at your new premises.

But whilst that email is being sent, Linda (our lady from earlier) leaves this message on 1571 (even though we don’t live at the house any more) : have a listen to this gem: @BTCare Caller

So two conflicting stories from @BTCare.

I email @BTCare and send them the audio from the phone call. This is the reply:

Thank you for your email dated the 08/06/2010 including the sound clip from BT. I tried contacting you by telephone however I have been unable to reach you so I left a voicemail informing you that I had called.

First off all Mr Edmundson Bird I want to begin by saying how sorry I am for any incorrect information you may have been given in the past.

I can confirm that if you do choose to continue your telephone service with BT when you move property that you will be able to carry your existing telephone number and call sign number with you.

As there is currently an order on the system to cease your broadband service on the 16/06/2010, you will need to wait until after this date to place your homemove order. I am very sorry that we are unable to place your homemove order at the moment however the broadband order will need to complete first of all.

After the 16/06/2010 please do not hesitate to contact me back and I will be happy to arrange the homemove order for you.

So – good news but I have to wait a week before they can move the phone number. I think we’re moving in a direction of sorts. I decide to go on holiday for a week seeing as there won’t be much in the way of movement. When I come back, I send an email to @BTCare asking them to move the two numbers. Here’s the reply:

I can confirm that I have placed an order to move your line. Order reference VOL011-34793031384. Your line will close on 25/06/10 at 1, Greenway, Fulwood, Preston, PR2 9TJ and it will activate at 16, Victoria Road, Fulwood, Preston, PR2 8ND on 28/06/10. All of your calling features will also activate on this day. I have checked the call sign part of your order and I can confirm that I can not guarantee that this number will activate at your new property. I can appreciate that we have given you conflicting information on this matter and I am very sorry for any confusion. However your order does include the number for call sign at your old address but does not have this information on the new address part of your order and this alarms me, as I am unable to allocate your call sign number to the new address. Our records state that this order is only possible on a home move to the same exchange and I can appreciate that you are staying in the same exchange. Please be advised that I will do all that I can so that you can so that you can retain your call sign number.

There are some alarming words in there aren’t there – words like “I am unable to allocate your call sign number” and “I will do all I can”? And on the 28th of June, our normal phone number is live but there’s no line for the business number. I drop BT a tentative email just in case it’s delayed or something. Here’s what come back:

I have checked the order that was placed by my colleague to move your services over to your new address and can confirm that the order has now fully closed off. Unfortunately having now checked the account it appears that when your services were moved to your new address a new number has been allocated to the call sign number. As my colleague advised we would do our best to retain your number however it has unfortunately not been possible to do in this case and i am sorry for any inconvenience this may cause.

Not really what we were hoping for. I write back, reminding them that they had committed to keeping the number on several occasions. I mention I’m not happy and feel that I need to engage with their formal complaints process – I’m not getting anywhere with the frontliners. This is what come back:

I appreciate that there was conflicting information given in relation to you being able to keep the call sign number and I can see that Paul advised you that it would be possible, however the last e-mail you received by my colleague that placed the order clearly advised you that it may not be possible to keep the number as in his e-mail he stated “I can confirm that I can not guarantee that this number will activate at your new property” .

The situation at this time is that we cannot provide you with the number that you previously had at your old address and the choice that is currently available is that you continue to use the call sign service with a new number or you can cancel the service of your account. There is nobody in BT that can get this number back as the department i work in has the best facilities to deal with enquires and resolve issues but it is not physically possible for us or anybody else to get the number for you. We do not guarantee any numbers or orders as all orders are subject to survey and availability as our services are used for residential use only as outlined in our terms and conditions it is breach of policy to use residential services for business purposes.

I have raised a complaint on your account in relation to your unhappiness that you could not keep your call sign number but as advised as it is not possible to get the number back there is nothing we can do to get it back.

That’s it. Note the corporate buck-pass with “….services are used for residential use only as outlined in our terms and conditions it is breach of policy to use residential services for business purposes.” More alarmingly, what happened to Rodney and Linda’s guarantees that I would be able to keep the number. And the finality THERE IS NOTHING WE CAN DO TO GET IT BACK.

It’s disappointing that simple customer care on a simple everyday matter for a telecomms business proves too difficult for @BTCare. The lack of attention to detail and the conflicts in understanding by the customer care team suggest very poor training – and BT should have no excuse given that they charge significant sums of money for their still relatively monopolistic position in the residential market.

Customer care are the frontline marketing force for a business, and when they don’t know what’s marketable, they present a risk to the rest of the organisation. With the rise of social media and organisations like BT taking on (allegedly) the social network view of customer care, things are going to have to change – especially as the opening up (unbundling) of the comms marketplace continues.

In other news – I can’t get broadband yet – but @BTCare’s David assures me I’ll be able to choose from a plethora of providers in 48 hours.

Twitter status and Facebook status: fussiness & following

Whilst we all get to grips with Twitter and try and find ways we can monetize this channel, I thought it might be interesting to look at a few ideas that seem to be circulating amongst the Twitterati (love this new word).

What do you use your status in Facebook for? Many put how they feel or some witty riposte. Twitter as a status seems to be used for far more informative reasons, like asking a question of your Twitter constituency or for providing a useful nugget of content that you’ve produced or that you’ve seen elsewhere. It seems quite a place for viral distribution of info (retweeting) and it happens in real-time. I’ve noticed that people rarely openly tweet the mundane, beyond possibly pointing out what project they’re working on at the moment (with a view to solicit useful advice/input from their constituency).

I’ve noticed form my own followers/following, and from talking to other Twitter users, that unlike my Facebook constituency, my Twitter constituency is far more cognate: given the subject of my research, teaching and consulting, many of my following are working in the industry – people following me perhaps less so – but an interesting conversation with fellow twitterers led to a conclusion that we’re very fussy who we’ll twitter with, and that many twitterers regularly weed and cull their following/follower lists, particularly if they’re a daytime business user. Many block a follower who doesn’t have much of a bio or whose bio seems quite irrelevant tor their professional or personal interests. Others stop following a twitterer who, despite initial impressions, is simply a self publicist and/or a twitter spam merchant. On the other hand, these fellow twitterers had hundreds of “friends” on Facebook  – many of whom they did not know.

So my growing opinion is that Twitter constituencies are perhaps more tightly knit and a lot more fussy about who they involve. A great example of this is how Twitter users like to introduce a new Twitter user to their followers on the basis of trust – “I know this person, I think you’ll find them interesting and appropriate in your Twitter world.”

I’ll follow Twitter culture with interest, because I think it says quite a lot about how people feel about privacy.

FAIL: It’s Time for Facebook to Die

So – here we are on the edge of the precipice.

If you’re looking over the edge, you’ll notice that some things have already gone over. Old world companies, famous banks. You might even see the remnants of the Dot Com boom (and bust) down there too.

But – and here’s the extraordinary thing – we might be about to see a global phenomenon pass by too.

I put it to you, that Facebook is about to die.

Why?

  1. It seems like ages since anything new has happened with Facebook. There’s no obvious new features since the palaver with the new interface. I’m sure new stuff has crept in but where’s the fanfare?
  2. Spend on on-line ads (banners, PPC) is declining slightly, which is a market saturated with content publishers means there’s less ad revenue to go around an increasing number of sites. This has got to hit a business 100% reliant on ad revenue hard.
  3. A true social network like Facebook often resents corporate communications, so a number of advertisers have stopped placing ads there.
  4. The ad mechanism seems really clumsy in Facebook and relies on content scraped from individual profiles and not on Facebook user behaviour (I can write any old garbage as content on Facebook, but why not observe my attendance at events or look at things “I do” within the network?

So – with this in mind, I can’t imagine how Facebook can be making enough money to survive. Flickr can monetize through it’s $12 annual fee (small but what a long tail of professional photographers you can pick up). Ning groups can monetize themselves because of their distinctive niche audiences.  Google Groups are really adept at having very contextually driven ads inside them as part of the overall Google ad network (yet another channel).

I give it a year.

And while I’m at it. What’s gonna pay for Twitter?

Will Google buy it? Or someone else? Or wil it die off?