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 Online Consumer-Generated Reviews Have Significant Impact on Offline Purchase Behavior

Friday, November 30th, 2007

Study Conducted by comScore and The Kelsey Group Reveals that 24 Percent of Online Local Service Review Users Purchase Service

RESTON, Va., Nov. 29 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — comScore, Inc. , a leader in measuring the digital world, today announced the results of a new study conducted with The Kelsey Group, a leading research and strategic analysis firm focused on local media and advertising, that examined the impact of consumer-generated reviews on the price consumers were willing to pay for a service delivered offline. The study, based on a survey of more than 2,000 U.S. Internet users in October 2007, revealed that consumers were willing to pay at least 20 percent more for services receiving an “Excellent,” or 5-star, rating than for the same service receiving a “Good,” or 4-star, rating.

The study examined the offline sales impact of online reviews for restaurants, hotels, travel, legal, medical, automotive and home services. Nearly one out of every four Internet users (24 percent) reported using online reviews prior to paying for a service delivered offline. Of those who consulted an online review, 41 percent of restaurant reviewers subsequently visited a restaurant, while 40 percent of hotel reviewers subsequently stayed at a hotel.

    Purchase Behavior Subsequent to Online Review Consultation
    October 12-18, 2007
    Source: comScore, Inc./The Kelsey Group
                                             Percent of Review Viewers
                                               Subsequently Making a
    Service                                  Purchase of Stated Service
    Restaurant                                         41 %
    Hotels                                             40 %
    Travel                                             27 %
    Automotive                                         24 %
    Home                                               19 %
    Medical                                            14 %
    Legal                                               8 %

Online Reviews Very Influential in Offline Purchase Decisions

More than three-quarters of review users in nearly every category reported that the review had a significant influence on their purchase, with hotels ranking the highest (87 percent). Ninety-seven percent of those surveyed who said they made a purchase based on an online review said they found the review to have been accurate. Review users also noted that reviews generated by fellow consumers had a greater influence than those generated by professionals.

    Online Review Influence on Purchase Decision
    October 12-18, 2007
    Source: comScore, Inc./The Kelsey Group
                                              Percent of Review Users
                                            Identifying Review as Having
                                             a Significant Influence on
    Service                                       their Purchase*
    Restaurant                                          79 %
    Hotels                                              87 %
    Travel                                              84 %
    Automotive                                          78 %
    Home                                                73 %
    Medical                                             76 %
    Legal                                               79 %
     * Based on responses indicating at least 4 on a 5 point scale

Consumers Willing to Pay at Least 20 Percent More for 5-Star Service than 4-Star Service

comScore asked the study participants how much they would be willing to pay for a particular service based on the quality of the service. The results showed that consumers were willing to pay between 20 percent and 99 percent more for an Excellent (5 star) rating than for a Good (4 star rating), depending on the product category.

    Amount Consumers Willing to Spend for 5-Star Service
    October 12-18, 2007
    Source: comScore, Inc./The Kelsey Group
                                             Excellent      Good
    Service (Suggested Average Price)        (5 Stars)    (4 Stars)      Lift
     Restaurant Meal ($20)                    $37.95       $25.44        49 %
     Restaurant Meal ($50)                    $59.93       $41.40        45 %
     Hotel ($100)                            $137.36       $99.73        38 %
     Home ($250)                             $252.15      $209.50        20 %
     Travel ($350)                           $366.72      $299.81        22 %
     Legal ($60)                             $104.36       $52.51        99 %
     Medical ($15)                            $29.67       $23.54        26 %

“These data show the importance of local service review sites in consumers’ purchase process,” said Steve Marshall, research director for The Kelsey Group. “With such a large percentage of review users subsequently purchasing, it’s vital that local service providers have a positive presence on these review sites.”

“This study underscores the importance of providing not just good, but excellent, service if a business hopes to generate positive consumer reviews which will result in greater sales,” said Brian Jurutka, senior director, comScore Marketing Solutions.

About this study

The comScore study was based on 2,078 survey respondents, including 508 who used online consumer reviews, conducted from October 12-18, 2007. Consumers were asked about their usage of online reviews and were also asked what price they would be willing to pay for a service given an average service price and an aggregate consumer rating.

About The Kelsey Group

The Kelsey Group is the leading provider of research, data and strategic analysis on directories, small-business advertising, online local media and mobile advertising. Founded in 1986, the company has built a reputation as the premier analyst firm covering the directory publishing community and the emerging local search marketplace, providing advisory services (The Kelsey Report(R) and Interactive Local Media), publishing (Global Yellow Pages(TM)), consulting (more than 400 individual assignments) and conferences (69 events).

About comScore

comScore, Inc. is a global leader in measuring the digital world. This capability is based on a massive, global cross-section of more than 2 million consumers who have given comScore permission to confidentially capture their browsing and transaction behavior, including online and offline purchasing. comScore panelists also participate in survey research that captures and integrates their attitudes and intentions. Through its proprietary technology, comScore measures what matters across a broad spectrum of behavior and attitudes. comScore analysts apply this deep knowledge of customers and competitors to help clients design powerful marketing strategies and tactics that deliver superior ROI. comScore services are used by more than 700 clients, including global leaders such as AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo!, BBC, Carat, Cyworld, Deutsche Bank, France Telecom, Best Buy, The Newspaper Association of America, Financial Times, ESPN, Fox Sports, Nestle, Starcom, Universal McCann, the United States Postal Service, Verizon, ViaMichelin, Merck and Expedia. For more information, please visit


Monday, November 26th, 2007

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 Comcast Must Die

Sunday, November 18th, 2007

Bob Garfield Crusades Against the Cable Provider

By Bob Garfield
Published: November 19, 2007 Bob Garfield’s jihad against his cable provider makes one thing clear: Companies ignore customer-service complaints at their own risk. From Land Rover’s Discovery debacle to Dell hell, the online insurrection is here to stay.

“Never pick a fight,” Mark Twain is reputed to have observed, “with a man who buys his ink by the barrel.” It was certainly true.

Comcast Must Die
Photo illustration: John Kuczala

A powerful publisher, if he was irritated enough, had the wherewithal to bury any adversary. It’s still true, actually, although the truism needs to be slightly amended. In the digital age, never get in a dispute with someone with access to a computer.

Because if he is aggrieved enough, and righteous enough, and persistent enough, and connected enough, he can bury you. Or at least make your life miserable for a long, long time. He doesn’t need to have a chain of newspapers; all he needs to have, basically, are fingers and rage.

For people with anger issues, the internet is a cathartic godsend and/or lethal weapon. You know the type — people who might accept the ordinary indignities of life with reasonable equanimity but become suddenly radicalized when lied to, cheated, bullied or otherwise personally abused. This kind of person will cheerfully invite a shopper with two items to move ahead of him in the checkout aisle but will pointedly confront the jerk who butts into a movie line — even if it means a loud squabble. This sort of guy might hypothetically even be disinvited from a trans-Atlantic flight on security grounds were an airline-counter employee to mishandle visa documentation, then lie to his face about seating availability, then, caught in the lie, choose to regard his resulting swearword and general seething as a sign of imminent violence and bounce the poor s.o.b. from the flight. And the next one.

In other words, a guy just like me.

Setting things right
Some of us — no matter how generally sweet-natured and generous, no matter how friendly and thoughtful, no matter how empathetic and transcendently kind — are simply not to be screwed with. Because when we are wronged, we will go to rather extreme lengths to be righted. Back in September, this was something Comcast Corp. did not know.

When they just plain pissed me off.

My story, sadly, is not especially unusual. Since personally being victimized by the company I call Qualmcast, I have read hundreds and hundreds of similar horror stories, so I will therefore not afflict you with the details of the arrogant, highhanded, dishonest, incompetent, inhuman and fundamentally asinine treatment I suffered at the hands of the cable monstrosity’s “customer service.” Just lots of not showing up, lots of broken promises, lots and lots of hold time, and an installer who left in the middle of a job “to get a drill bit” and never came back. So, in the spirit of the book I am writing on adapting to the digital age — I call the process Listenomics — plus maybe just a touch of vengeance, I fought back. It was just a brief post on my Ad Age blog. In it, I summarized the events recounted above and added a few personal thoughts:

Is this company so frantic to seize market share on voice and broadband that it is willing to disrupt customers’ lives, fail to appear, repeatedly lie to them, walk out on them and then treat the customer as if he or she is a nuisance? Well, we shall see. This is the Listenomics age. We will not take it quietly.

Probably more notable than the text of the rant, though, was its headline — which, in my view, had a nice ring to it: “Comcast Must Die: Seeking Ideas for a Consumer Jihad.”

This apparently struck a nerve; within 24 hours there were 60 comments, which compared very favorably to my previous average of zero. Some were long-winded recitations of incidents far more egregious than mine. Some were words of encouragement and support for a holy war against the whole Co-axis of Evil. Yet others wrote in to give me exactly the help I solicited. Within an hour, someone had called my attention to a YouTube video of a cable installer asleep on a customer’s sofa, where he had lapsed into slumber while on hold with his own company. And another had this to say:

“Perhaps what should be done is to buy the web domain and establish a blog so that all of the folks that have been screwed by Comcast can tell their story. You could put a link to the new Comcast Jihad website and release a press release to drive traffic to the site. The anger and disgust expressed there would be huge.”

Melrose’s Place
Hmm. Using the web to galvanize consumer anger and disgust. An interesting idea. Of course, as I well knew, it had been done before. In November 2004, an English gent named Adrian Melrose bought a brand-new Discovery 3. It was a lemon. But his dealer, and Land Rover itself, were insufficiently responsive. So he began a blog called “Discover the Truth About Land Rover Discovery 3″ and took his complaint public. For weeks, Land Rover ignored the blog even as Melrose began to accrue hundreds, and eventually thousands, of sympathetic comments. The notoriety became so embarrassing Land Rover replaced the man’s car — whereupon the replacement immediately broke down too. Then, while they were fixing that, a loaner broke down. Then a second loaner broke down — and the whole misadventure was chronicled, of course, on Melrose’s blog.

Finally they refunded him his money, triggering accusations that he had blackmailed — or, shall we say, blogmailed — the company into submission. But it wasn’t blackmail at all. Melrose was simply exerting the leverage the digital age has bestowed upon consumers to make lemonade out of lemons. To this day, if you Google that model, you encounter Melrose’s blog on the first page — at God knows what cost to the company in showroom traffic. Yet, incredibly, the brand still has no online forum for FAQs and service bulletins, much less complaints. Melrose offered to turn over his blog for that very purpose, but the company declined. As he put it in the summer of 2007:

Land Rover U.K. needs an efficient platform to listen and care for their customers. The reason I am getting 700 hits to, mostly search engine driven, is because their existing customers want to talk to one of their favorite brands — just like me. They want to be loyal — but they are frustrated ’cause they think nobody listens.

Dell Hell
Adrian Melrose achieved Google perpetuity more or less by accident. In what may have been a defining moment in Listenomics, someone else contrived to do the same thing on purpose. This was on June 21, 2005, when blogger Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine finally got fed up with computer seller Dell.

One Dell of a commotion: Jeff Jarvis took the computer maker to task after a poor customer-service experience.

One Dell of a commotion: Jeff Jarvis took the computer maker to task after a poor customer-service experience.

“I bought a Dell laptop, and it didn’t frigging work,” he says, but that was just the first part of the problem. The second part was Dell’s handling of his complaint — which was, for want of a better term, sadly Comcastic. “Too many e-mails, too many phone calls, too much frustration. I went on my blog, and I created a post headlined ‘Dell Lies, Dell Sucks.’ That wasn’t just an indication of my immaturity. It was search-engine optimization.”

Yes, Jarvis knew that his blog was so widely read and, more important, widely linked to that any subsequent Google search for “Dell” would yield a results page prominently displaying “Dell Sucks.” In fact, the last line of his post was: “Put that in your Google and smoke it, Dell.”

Eventually, like Land Rover and Comcast, Dell intervened, and Jarvis got his refund, but not before the situation got far beyond its control. Even now, if you type “Dell sucks” into a search engine, you will get back more than 30,000 results. One man tapped a deep vein of consumer frustration — frustration that in the internet age can rise, like a geyser, to the surface. As Jarvis puts it, “If you go online and type in your search engine ‘[any brand] sucks,’ you will find the real Consumer Reports.” Yet for a long time, Dell ignored the controversy, a lapse that cost the company mightily in public image and most likely on the bottom line. Correlation isn’t causation, but it’s worth noting that 17 months after Jarvis’ post, the company lost its world leadership in computer sales to HP.

Breeding ground of rage
Jeff Jarvis, of course, no more invented online bitching than I did. From its earliest days, the internet has been a breeding ground for the culture of complaint. Technorati, the blog search engine, claims to scan 109 million blogs. On Oct. 27, it tracked 1,232,853 posts using the word “sucks.” On Blogdigger: 234,448. On BlogPulse: 641,682. And on Google Blog Search: 3,264,834.

That is a lot of sucking.

Line of site: Within a week, 200 people had left comments here.

Line of site: Within a week, 200 people had left comments here.

Among the items of suckitude: Bill O’Reilly, PayPal, school, skateboarding, milk, “Survivor,” cancer, Facebook, everybody, Garfield (no relation) and — hilariously enough — the Morphy Richards pod bagless compact vacuum cleaner.

That’s from about 50 of the first few entries. I can’t speak for most of the other 3,264,784, because very quickly all that whining gets a little tedious. One blogger, demonstrating perhaps the world’s highest threshold of satisfaction, found fault with orgasm. That is a person whom Bill O’Reilly, PayPal and Facebook might find difficult to please.

Obviously, whiners are a category of consumer that has always existed. There have always been chronic malcontents out there, in addition to the loudly, legitimately aggrieved. Till recently, however, their audience has been limited to the offending party and a few unfortunate intimates. Now, thanks to the internet, their audience is potentially everyone. Therefore, nobody anymore need depend on critical judgments from astonishingly perspicacious elites such as myself. Opinions are like parathyroid glands: Everybody has one. About politics, about sports, about mouthwash …

Bad taste in mouth
“Listerine was chugging along nicely from its introduction as the first over-the-counter mouthwash in 1914, killing germs and tasting like shit until 1992,” blogged a fellow named Stegmann. “This is when Cool Mint Listerine was introduced, probably to combat that sickly sweet but non-antiseptic upstart Scope. The latest variety of Listerine is Vanilla Mint. It’s advertised as being ‘less intense.’ Does it taste good? Sure, I’m drinking a glass of it right now, poured generously over ice. Yum. Listen … I don’t want my Listerine to be delicious. I want it to taste horrible and kill germs, just like it did 100 years ago. What sissies we’ve all become.”

God bless Mr. Stegmann, and duly noted. We’ll mark him down as against Vanilla Mint Listerine. What makes his post remarkable and revolutionary, though, isn’t that he thinks what he thinks. It’s that he took the trouble to inform the world at large, and that at least one member of the world at large took the trouble to listen. Multiply that times a billion, and you grasp the Listenomics world. The following is excerpted from a letter sent to the British cable company NTL taking issue — as it happens — with precisely what infuriated me about Comcast. It is what diplomats call “a frank exchange of ideas,” so I warn you on language grounds. But it’s a classic that eventually became an internet viral:

Dear Cretins,

I have been an NTL customer since 9 July 2001, when I signed up for your three-in-one deal for cable TV, cable modem and telephone. During this three-month period I have encountered inadequacy of service which I had not previously considered possible, as well as ignorance and stupidity of monolithic proportion. …

My initial installation was canceled without warning, resulting in my spending an entire Saturday sitting on my fat arse waiting for your technician to arrive. When he did not arrive, I spent a further 57 minutes listening to your infuriating hold music and the even more annoying Scottish robot woman telling me to look at your helpful website. … HOW? I alleviated the boredom by playing with my testicles for a few minutes — an activity at which you are no doubt both familiar and highly adept.

The rescheduled installation then took place some two weeks later, although the technician did forget to bring a number of vital tools — such as a drill bit, and his cerebrum …

I thought BT were shit, that they had attained the holy piss-pot of godawful customer relations, that no one, anywhere, ever, could be more disinterested, less helpful or more obstructive to delivering service to their customers. … You are sputum-filled pieces of distended rectum incompetents of the highest order …

Have a nice day — may it be the last in you miserable short life, you irritatingly incompetent and infuriatingly unhelpful bunch of [this expletive definitely deleted].

Yours psychotically,


John may or may not have been driven insane by his cable company, but he was decidedly an angry loner, one who just happened to find a larger audience. Others are a lot more organized. Having reckoned that consumer appetite for information and the impulse to venture opinions are both bottomless wells, a number of businesses have undertaken to host the give and take. Amazon and eBay both solicit user ratings of books and products but also of the sellers who trade on their sites. Angie’s List solicits ratings of local plumbers, roofers, and other contractors and home services and charges members a monthly fee for access. Yelp and Citysearch are advertising-supported sites for rating restaurants, stores, nightlife and local media community by community. Epinions does the same on a national level, mainly for national brands.

These mechanisms are so much part of the landscape that they’ve become a target for parody. In 2006, The New York Times discovered that hundreds of people had posted Amazon customer reviews of a gallon jug of whole milk. Among the comments sifted out by the Times: “I give this Tuscan milk four stars simply because I found the consistency a little too ‘milk-like’ for my tastes.”

Snark for good
OK, granted, the criticism culture does sometimes verge on the absurd, but it can also yield some remarkable stories. After all, what is drama but conflict? The confrontation of Big Powerful Forces by righteous Everyman can be quite riveting, quite satisfying and sometimes even quite funny. This is the premise behind the Consumerist, a gossipy, ad-supported site in the Gawker blog empire, founded in 2005 as a forum for exposing substandard goods and services in the Gawker tradition of persistence and snark. “Basically,” says Editor Ben Popken, “to inform, empower and entertain consumers.”

This is where a fellow named Vincent Ferrari became a national icon by doing nothing more than trying to cancel his AOL account — and recording the phone conversation. The Consumerist posted the audio of the AOL employee working his way down the customer-retention flowchart to the point of hilarious obstructionism. An excerpt:

AOL: Is there a problem with the software itself?

Vincent: No. I just don’t use it. I don’t need it. I don’t want it. I don’t need it anymore.

AOL: So when you use the computer, is that for business or … ?

Vincent: Dude, what difference does it make? I don’t want the AOL account anymore. Cancel it.

AOL: Last month was 545 hours of usage.

Vincent: I don’t know how I can make this any clearer, so I’m just going to say it one more time: Cancel the account.

AOL: What’sa matter, man? I’m just trying to help you here.

Vincent: You’re not helping me. I’m calling to cancel my account. Helping me would be canceling the account.

AOL: No. It wouldn’t actually.

Vincent: Cancel the account. Cancel the account. CAN-CEL THE AC-COUNT.

And so on. As a result of the Ferrari tape, AOL changed its retention procedures to make it easier for customers to cancel. It also fired the employee, loyal and dedicated though he was. That’s what happens when consumerism becomes a spectator sport.

Nazi paraphernalia?
The Consumerist mounted another mini-crusade against Wal-Mart, when it discovered that the world’s largest retailer was selling T-shirts emblazoned with the skull-and-crossbones insignia of the Nazi 3rd SS Division, the so-called Totenkopf division dedicated mainly to guarding concentration camps. The story surfaced on another blog, but the Consumerist flogged it for all it was worth — even after Wal-Mart promised to pull the merchandise. Because, as it turned out, people kept finding the T-shirts at Wal-Mart long afterward.

Teed off: Consumerist crusaded against Wal-Mart over shirts with a Nazi insignia.

Teed off: Consumerist crusaded against Wal-Mart over shirts with a Nazi insignia.

“We have infinite pixels to spend,” Ben Popken says, “so we were able to follow it — day five, day 27, day 97 of the Nazi-recall watch. We can follow it along to doomsday. It levels the playing field. … The determinant of who gets heard is not who has the most media dollars but who has the most interesting thing to say.”

One more player in the burgeoning e-grievance industry is, which has a smaller audience than the Consumerist but a bolder promise: to explicitly shame the company you don’t like. The site boasts of employing the Jeff Jarvis strategy of search-engine optimization. As its home page proclaims, “Often, a single complaint posted to about a business appears higher in the search-result rankings than the home page of the business that is the subject of the complaint.”

Funny. That was just my plan for Comcast.

More to the story
Once again, though, — aka the Bobosphere — is no BuzzMachine. My daily page views were in the dozens or the hundreds but by no means the thousands — until I commenced a holy war against my cable company. That’s when things started jumping. So I kept plugging away at Comcast Must Die: Parts 2, 3, etc. This is from my third post, from Sept. 14, headlined “The Fix Is In,” about a company spokeswoman’s claim of being appalled by my experience, considering Comcast’s dedication to providing the best service to all of its customers:

Not too bad. She didn’t actually lie till the last clause of the last sentence. As the comment traffic has made abundantly clear, Qualmcast is not working hard to ensure that its customers are receiving the best possible service. It is working hard to reduce costs to be competitive with the other telecoms, who also treat customers shabbily, in order to compete with Qualmcast.

But the other stuff was true. They have taken actions to correct my problems, which may be lucky for me, but in no way pacifying. On the contrary, as a jihadist bent on destroying their corrupt system, I am angrier and more zealous than ever. Customer service doesn’t mean kissing the ass of VIPs and putting everybody else in the hold queue till Groundhog Day. It means treating all your customers with dignity and respect, and investing all necessary resources to see that problems get solved immediately — for everyone. Which, if institutionalized in company culture, would eventually cease to be an expense and instead be a priceless differentiator in a commodity category.

Comcast had indeed put the full-court press on my particular problem. Shortly after that item was posted, there were five Comcast vans parked by the cable hub nearest my house for something like 18 hours. (And now my phone-cable-broadband service is just exquisite, thank you very much.) But, as you see, that just made me madder — implying that my jihad was just an extortion attempt to get my phones attended to. It was no such thing. Comcast Must Die was an extortion attempt to get everybody’s phones attended to.

Two weeks later …
Things were moving along splendidly, with Comcast Must Die getting the attention of bloggers and bloggees alike and comment traffic in the Bobosphere picking up apace. But then came two incredible strokes of good fortune, pretty much back-to-back. You’ll recall that on day one, somebody suggested reserving the domain name By day four, somebody had done just that. His name is Bart Wilson. He is founder of a company called Voyager International in Santa Fe, N.M., and he was fed up with Comcast too. Then it was but for me to find someone to actually create the site and a dedicated blog linked to it. Soon they materialized too, and two weeks into my jihad, Comcast Must Die went live with the following manifesto:

Actually, I have no death wish for Comcast or any other gigantic, blundering, greedy, arrogant corporate monstrosity. What I do have is the earnest desire for such companies to change their ways. This site offers an opportunity — for you to vent your grievances (civilly, please) and for Comcast to pay close attention.

I advise you to include your customer number in your post; this will give Comcast the chance to contact you and work on your problem. If it does so, I encourage you to post an update, giving credit where credit is due. …

Congratulations. You are no longer just an angry, mistreated customer. Nor, I hope, are you just part of an e-mob. But you are a revolutionary, wresting control from the oligarchs, and claiming it for the consumer. Your power is enormous. Use it wisely.

In the first 24 hours, there were 70 comments. Within a week, there were 200 — not site visits, not page views. Comments. People taking the trouble to move from mouse to keyboard and leave their thoughts — most of them, predictably, excoriating Comcast. Some even came from Comcast employees, as miserable at their workplace as we customers were on the other end of the cable. A few other Comcasters defended their company, in some cases heaping ridicule on stupid and/or hostile customers. Comcast PR executives even posted a few official comments, declaring themselves sensitive to consumer complaints and heavily invested in making their already dedicated efforts more robust still.

Those comments were met with some skepticism, including many famous-name vulgarities.

Enter the Hammer
But then came lucky break No. 2, a news event so delicious and unexpected that when I heard about it I momentarily suspended my air of preternatural sang-froid and cackled maniacally while dancing an improvised jig. I refer, of course, to the criminal behavior of one Mona Shaw. On Aug. 17, having been subjected to a typically outrageous chain of Comcast abuse and neglect over four days, Ms. Shaw sat at a bench outside a suburban Virginia customer-service center, where she’d been sent to wait to speak to a manager. After two hours in the baking sun, she was informed, sorry, the manager had left for weekend. This somehow got under her skin.

Hammer time: Mona Shaw was so frustrated by her experience she took up arms against two phones and a computer at a Comcast office.

Hammer time: Mona Shaw was so frustrated by her experience she took up arms against two phones and a computer at a Comcast office.

Photo Credit: Anan Pimsler

“I think they got so bloody big,” she told me afterward, “they thought they were completely immune to everyone, they could do anything they damn well please.”

The indignity, heaped upon the previous week’s worth of indignities, rankled her all evening and all day Saturday and Sunday. On Aug. 20, she went back to the service center with her husband and a means of avoiding another tedious wait: a claw hammer.

This she used to pulverize a computer and two telephones, at which point she wryly remarked, “Have I got your attention now?” She had, indeed. But she knew that already. This was a premeditated attack committed not for a hatred of consumer electronics but for the righteousness of indignation, on the theory, as she put it, “If I can’t have a phone, OK, let’s go after yours.” The police had a slightly different legal theory and immediately arrested her — although almost as quickly the handcuffs were removed so she could be attended to by ambulance personnel. Ms. Shaw has a heart condition, and her blood pressure following the incident spiked out of control.

No wonder: She’s 75.

Mona thus became the Barbara Fritchie of cable rage. To paraphrase John Greenleaf Whittier: “Bust if you must this old gray head, but fix my freakin’ phone,” she said.

Riding the wave
Next thing you know, she was featured in The Washington Post, on “Good Morning America” and all over the media all over the world. People sent her money to pay her fine. (She donated the cash to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.) She received, via parcel post, three hammers. And wherever Mona Shaw was reported on, so was Comcast Must Die. At this writing, there are north of 1,000 comments on the site, including plenty an infuriating tale of woe, quite a few employee mea culpas, some union organizing and some corporate-PR boilerplate about how hard the company is working on behalf of all 25 million of its customers, blah, blah, blah.

But the most satisfying of the traffic to Comcast Must Die was from Comcast itself. The company was reading every single entry and, as I’d proposed, following up on every one it could. For example:

Update on my Oct. 12 posting at 9:49 a.m. … This site is fantastic. Quickly after making my post, I received three phone calls from Comcast: (1) a fellow named Mark called from corporate, left his number and told me I would be contacted by someone from my local office; (2) a call from Gwen, who was at the local office letting me know who specifically would be handling my case; and finally (3) Rebecca, who was handling my case. … I was able to connect with Rebecca today who had gone through my bill, corrected all of the charges and let me know my new monthly balance.”

Yes, as per my premise, the blog was doing for Comcast what Comcast itself should have been doing all along. Could it be that the soulless juggernaut was taking its first baby steps toward redemption? Others have. Consider the suddenly reflective General Motors, for decades the quintessence of corporate arrogance. Its vice chairman, Bob Lutz, hosts sprinkled with comments from those who despise GM products and say so — even accusing the company of a worldwide conspiracy to suppress electric-car technology:

GM’s “Volt” … is the traditional auto industry’s latest attempt to misinform the public about the viability of EVs (electric vehicles) and PHEVs. Most corporate media outlets covered the story and repeated GM’s propaganda that the battery technology is still not ready and that it will be very expensive. All the media outlets also specifically cited the Volt’s limited 40-mile electric-only range. This is also GM’s attempt to implant in the public mind the idea that EVs and PHEVs only have a 40-mile range. The truth is that the extremely reliable heavy-duty NiMH battery technology … is 10 years old and was bought by GM and then sold to Chevron, who is now sequestering the battery and refuses to sell it to small start-up EV manufactures …

Why expose yourself to such flak? Because it’s being fired up all around you anyway. Lutz thinks it’s better to have the conversation in your own airspace. Better to harvest valuable insights about your products and brands. Better to be able to influence perceptions than to be a helpless bystander. Yes, sometimes, miraculously, the scales fall off of corporate eyes.

For instance, if you were to ask Jeff Jarvis today, he would tell you that, no matter what you might have read online, Dell doesn’t suck. In fact, he told his readers two years after the episode, his erstwhile nemesis has catapulted “from worst to first.”

It has achieved this with a multipronged Web 2.0 assault on the status quo. It began with a corporate blog, Direct2Dell, which invited all comers to weigh in on all matters — including suckitude. This came in handy when Dell laptop batteries started to spontaneously combust like a Spinal Tap drummer. Here the company also learned, in bloodcurdling detail, just how inefficient its customer-service infrastructure was. By focusing on (apparent) cost, managers had outsourced call centers too far and wide and empowered too few employees to divert from their scripts to actually solve customer problems. The actual cost of the system revealed itself after Jarvis lost his temper and Dell lost market share — and market value. Once again granting that no correlations can be proved, in the year that followed, Dell’s share price was carved in half. While it’s possible to ignore your Google results, it is impossible to ignore Wall Street.

The tiger’s new stripes all culminated in Dell IdeaStorm, an online repository for customer suggestions and interactions about all things computing. It is part complaint box, part suggestion box, part social network, and it has transformed the culture of the company from blind cost cutting to dialogue. Of course, it’s impossible to really know anybody’s motivations, but the once-recalcitrant corporate colossus sounds for all the world like a True Believer. As Chief Marketing Officer Mark Jarvis (no relation) puts it, things have changed. “I would say radically. The big revelation from us was that customers did want to interact with us. It’s changed our support and our services organization. It changed our product-development organization. It’s absolutely changed marketing in the company. … Traditional marketing no longer works. The most important marketing vehicle right now is the consumer. Things have pretty much gone bottom up at Dell.”

Open ears … finally
And Jeff himself feels quite certain this is the real deal: “Note that the company is following suggestions that customers make. At the behest of the geekier geeks among them, Dell is now selling Linux computers and is reducing the bloatware that constipates new machines. Michael Dell acknowledged that the customers’ suggestions may not be economically rewarding, but he can’t know without trying. Dell even talks about collaborating with his customers.”

On Nov. 8, I got a post on Comcast Must Die: “I work for Comcast. Sorry, Bob, you are pretty much off the radar now.” That might be true. After an initial burst of activity, comment traffic had decidedly slowed. Perhaps Comcast believed that the novelty had worn off, but there are things Comcast doesn’t know.

One is that online insurrection isn’t a novelty; it is already a fact of business life. Secondly, I am by no means finished. As this piece goes to press, I am deep into planning for a national podcast event I hope will hold the corporate feet to the fire of mounting consumer rage. And finally, as I observed 5,000 words ago, I’m pretty easily pissed off but not so easily discouraged.

For instance, this is not my first media crusade. Long ago, in the first Clinton term, I tried to take my kids bowling one Saturday only to find every local lane filled up with league play. This rankled me, because I knew there was a perfectly good bowling alley sitting absolutely idle just 20 miles from my house in suburban Washington, D.C. It was then that I decided I would take my kids there.

Just a lane
That was sort of a quixotic tilt too, given that the alley in question was at the White House for the exclusive use of the first family and their friends. And I didn’t know the Clintons — or, at least, they didn’t know me. So I set out calling on friends, acquaintances, acquaintances of acquaintances and anybody I could think of in or around the corridors of power — from my congresswoman to James Carville to the head of the American Bowling Congress to Ralph Nader — to wrangle an invite. This was done for NPR’s “All Things Considered” as a sort of parable of political influence in Washington. In fact, it was essentially the mirror image of Comcast Must Die, which is about gaining influence not by being politically connected but simply by being digitally connected, about having lots and lots and lots of friends in low places.

But there’s something you should know. The bowling crusade was meant to last an entire summer, but the family and I got inside the bowling alley within two weeks. It was fun. I think I wore Nixon’s shoes.

Today, if I were in Comcast’s shoes, I’d be readjusting my radar.

 Spread the News: Word of Mouth Worth $1 Billion

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

Arguably World’s Oldest Form of Marketing Is on the Rise as Advertisers Pour More Into Discipline

Published: November 15, 2007

NEW YORK ( — What’s consumer word-of-mouth advocacy worth to marketers? Try $1 billion.

That’s how much marketers spent on WOM — as it’s known to its practitioners — in 2006, according to an independent research report on the field that will be unveiled during a session at the annual Word-of-Mouth conference in Las Vegas today. The analysis, believed to be first in-depth look at word of mouth, reports that spending on the emerging discipline has increased from $76 million in 2001 to $981 million in 2006 and is expected to grow to approximately $3.7 billion by 2011.

“It’s starting to be recognized as an established industry,” said Leo Kivijarv, Ph.D., VP-research of PQ Media, which performed the analysis.

Meteoric rise
It’s been a meteoric rise of late for word-of-mouth marketing, defined by PQ Media as “supported by research and technology that encourages consumers to dialogue about products and services.” Still, the discipline accounted for just 0.4% of the share in the $254 billion marketing-services category, a grouping that includes direct marketing, branded entertainment and public relations, among others. If PQ Media’s analysis is correct, however, word-of-mouth marketing won’t stay small for long: The field grew 35.9% in 2006, far more than both the overall marketing-services category (7.7%) and the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (5.7%).

Though perhaps the world’s oldest form of transferring messages, word-of-mouth marketing began in earnest in the late 1990s, when brand marketers began grappling with the fragmented media and were actively seeking ways to break through the cluttered landscape. But it has taken off of late due to the industry’s focus on proving it provides a measurable return-on-investment for marketers.

“The new media industry axiom, ‘Only what gets measured gets bought,’ has led to a discernible shift in media spending from traditional to alternative advertising and marketing strategies,” Patrick Quinn, CEO of PQ Media, said in a statement. “The word-of-mouth marketing industry is capitalizing on this trend through its ability to provide ROI to brand marketers in a highly cost-effective platform.”

Research points to effectiveness
Equally important to the success of word-of-mouth marketing may be the research suggesting it is more effective than other forms of advertising. For instance, a recent Nielsen Global Survey of over 26,000 people found that nearly 78% of respondents trusted “recommendations from consumers,” a total 15% higher than the second-most credible source, newspapers. And this trust, according to Mr. Kivijarv, leads to more sales at the cash register.

“When you compare word-of-mouth as a strategy [to other methods], trusting a friend or influential person is the most determining factor when someone decides to purchase a product,” he said.

 Don’t Forget About Customer Service

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

Wednesday, November 14, 2007 

By Cory Treffiletti

In marketing, there are certain rules that must be adhered to if you’re going to be judged successful, especially in a culture that is becoming so dependent on digital media! In digital media we witness consumers in a position of control and news travels fast, especially news regarding brands and products. According to an estimate I saw about a year ago, when consumers have a positive experience with a brand, they tell half as many as those consumers who have a negative experience with a brand (around 12 with a negative and around 7 with a positive experience). With all of this information, I find it disturbing and very surprising that in this digital economy, we tend to overlook one of the most fundamental elements of marketing: customer Service.

Remember what happened to Dell when the company ignored a lonely blogger who started writing about his poor experience with it? Dell had to spend millions of dollars to respond later because it ignored him initially — and it turned out that his experience was more the rule than the exception.

I recently had the same experience with Best Buy — and I am now rabidly against anyone buying from them. I had a business account with Best Buy and spent a fair amount of money outfitting our new company with computers and software and additional elements necessary for our business. In the last interaction I had with Best Buy, I was informed that due to their error (they lost the original software discs for installing Windows Office 2007), I had to go out of my way and bring in one of my strategists’ computers for a day to replace the software with new software. All because they lost the original software and refused to take responsibility for it.

It may sound like a simple thing — but if you are a small business owner, you know how bad it can be to take someone out of the field for any amount of time, even if only a day. When I asked for assistance and proposed other options that would lessen the impact on my business, the manager I was speaking to told me, “That’s all I can do, there are no other options.” I responded by closing my account on the spot, returning over $1,600 in merchandise that I had just purchased in the last 45 minutes, and telling him that I would no longer do business with his company. I asked him if this was the course of action he wanted, knowing that I was a business account who had spent a significant amount of money in the last 45 days and would be continuing to do so? He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Thank you for your business.”

This all may not sound all that bad — but it happened after I’d spent 20 minutes waiting for someone to help me in the first place – and when I finally got someone’s attention, he wasn’t knowledgeable about the products that I was asking about. Talk about poor customer service!

If you’ve ever purchased anything from a Best Buy, you would know that they are pushy at least and semi-knowledgeable at best. They are always trying to add on service plans and they generally have a poor customer service rating. If you think I’m a single complaint in the sea of customers serviced by Best Buy, do a search for “customer service rating Best Buy” or just check out this example here:

The reason I bring this up in today’s article is simply to make a point: Customer Service is the single most important element of a marketing campaign — and unfortunately, most partners and agencies forget to consider it. You need to experience the product you’re marketing and you need to walk the floors of the retailers you promote. You need to buy something from them online and you need to speak to their customer service people in order to experience the full scope of the brand! We spend lots of time talking about conversational marketing and buzz marketing — but much buzz centers around the customer experience. If the promise doesn’t match the actual experience, then your brand will almost certainly hear about it!

Don’t overlook these elements when you begin work for a client — or you might be doing them a real disservice. Then, no matter what you do to reach the target customer, the target customer will take a pass on the opportunity.

 Shoppers Want More Customer Reviews

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

November 12, 2007
By Joan Voight


SAN FRANCISCO Consumers are turning to customer reviews on marketers’ Web sites regularly as they narrow their purchase choices, and they want to see those reviews for a wider range of products, particularly toys and specialty foods.

Those are among the findings of the 2007 “Social Shopping Study” of online consumers conducted in September, after a summer of toy recalls and food safety problems, and released today.

“When parents and others have concerns about the quality of the products they are buying, they are more likely to pay attention to recommendations by other shoppers like themselves,” said Jay Shaffer, vp, marketing at PowerReviews, the customer reviews agency that conducted the study in partnership with E-Tail Group. He said in many cases the content of customers’ reviews has focused more strongly on safety ratings and health issues in recent months.

The online “Social Shopping Study” found two-thirds of regular e-shoppers almost always seek out customer reviews before making a purchase decision. Most of that group of “social researchers,” as the report calls them, research products online no matter where they buy the product—whether a store, Web site, catalog or elsewhere.

In a wake-up call to brick-and-mortar stores gearing up for the holiday season, the survey also shows that 82 percent of the social researchers said they found reading reviews better than researching a product with a knowledgeable sales associate in a store.

Customer reviews on the e-commerce sites of national brands began gathering steam in mid-2007 as more brands overcame their fear of giving consumers a platform for negative comments about their products. This strategy is primarily used by electronics companies, such as Toshiba, Dell and Hewlett-Packard, and specialty clothing companies, such as Fair Indigo and Eastern Mountain Sports.

Since then, various studies, including the “Social Commerce Report” conducted by Bazaarvoice and E-consultancy in June and July, have shown that online customer product reviews increased e-commerce orders and site traffic. As a result, brands such as Wal-Mart, Toys R Us and REI have hopped on the customer review bandwagon.

The “Social Shopping Study” takes those surveys a step further by outlining which specific categories customers want to see feature more customer ratings and reviews. Almost 70 percent of the survey respondents said they would find reviews very helpful on sites selling toys and videogames, and about 55 percent said they wanted reviews on sporting goods, gifts and specialty foods sites.

The survey polled 1,200 consumers who shop online at least four times per year and spend $500 or more annually on their online purchases.

Among the specialty food and beverage brands ahead of the curve is Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, which launched a review system on its e-commerce site in August 2006 and has gotten about 1,000 reviews, according to Ken Crites, director of the company’s consumer-direct division. “We find the marketing content and feedback way more valuable than the quantity of reviews. We are using some of the quotes in our print catalogs and asking some reviewers to send us pictures of themselves with the product,” he said.

“When we review what new products to launch or how to improve certain products, we look at the online reviews every time,” Crites said.

As part of its customer review form, Green Mountain asks reviewers to click on the term that describes them: “chef,” “foodie,” “frequent diner” or “simple tastes.” It also allows them to write in their own description. In a sign of shifting customer values, so many reviewers described themselves as “health conscious” in the last year that the site has added that description to the list, said Shaffer, whose agency worked on the site.

Some companies are turning one-way user feedback into a two-way dialogue by publicly responding to reviews. Eastern Mountain Sports often posts a response to complaints by reviewers right next to the negative review. “Not only can a reply to a user review improve that customer’s experience, but others will see this genuine dialogue and be more likely to stick around,” said CMO Scott Barrett. In some cases the negative reviewers are also sent another product to replace the undesirable one, he added.

In other survey findings, many people said they shop seamlessly back and forth between physical stores and Web sites, and they do not examine customer reviews until midway through the shopping process. Most of the respondents said they start their shopping process at retail stores and then seek out online reviews as they near their final choices, looking at the reviews of only a handful of possible purchases. Specifically, 81 percent use customer reviews to decide between two or three products or to confirm that their final selection is the right one and only 40 percent actually start the shopping process using reviews, according to the study.

 Funny video

Monday, November 12th, 2007

 Study: Customer Service Should Be Central To Strategy

Friday, November 9th, 2007
Study: Customer Service Should Be Central To Strategy
AS ANYONE WHO WILL NEVER visit a store or buy a product again because of a mean, ignorant, unutterably contemptuous, (choose your adjective here) sales staffer knows, customer service can hurt more than the customer.

That’s common sense, but Retail Systems Research has codified it with its new study on the predicament, “The State of Retail Workforce Management.” The study, sponsored by software services company Kronos, Inc., shows that with Internet retail taking business from retailers who don’t focus on strong customer service, the spoils of the brick-and-mortar business will go to those who make good service central to their business strategy.

The study surveyed 160 retail executives and managers in August and September. Retailers participating in the study operate in Asia/Pacific, Europe, Latin America, Middle East and/or Africa, and North America.

Sixty-six percent of respondents said they were “focused on providing high-touch customer service strategy.” Also, 24% of them conceded that employees–at all levels, regardless of skill–play an important role in customer service. Only 9% said they have a “low-touch” customer service strategy in which employees play a supplemental role.

Seventy eight percent of the respondents said quality and consistency of customer service, and driving store sales are the top business issues they are looking to improve through tactics designed to orient the workforce toward customer relations skills.

“Retailers need to fix the disconnect between their offerings and customers’ priorities. Such a disparity is a major threat in an age where customer service is valued over price,” says Nikki Baird, managing director of Retail Systems Research. “Shoppers have choices like never before. Therefore, understanding customer needs is essential–and serving them accordingly is critical.”

The challenges to all of this, per respondents, include finding good employees, keeping them, and maximizing labor productivity.

 Facebook’s Big Ad Plan: If Users Like You, They’ll Be Your Campaign

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

Sounds a bit like Measuredup but a year later then Measuredups idea

Zuckerberg’s Big Unveiling Leaves Some Marketers Salivating at Access to Social Graph

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