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Posts from July 15, 2018 - July 21, 2018

Mess Up My Uber, Please!

Hey Uber riders now Uber wants to you to dirty, soil and leave trash behind. At least that the impression of a few Uber drivers I spoke to about the deal with consumer products promotions company Cargo. I actually wish I had video recorded my conversation with Antonio, one of Milwaukee's highest rated Uber drivers yesterday.

Think about this. You are being asked to either sample (Cargo is providing products from package goods companies and compensating the drivers) or buy something you may need. While things like car chargers, or power adapters are always needed by someone on the go, imagine if you're the drive selling what the TechCrunch story reported:

Cargo works by giving drivers free boxes, filled with goods like gum, phone chargers and snacks, to sell to passengers from the center of the car console.

Think about this. A slightly tipsy passenger takes the driver up on the offer of free gum. Decides to drop it on the floor of the car. Out the passenger goes and the next passenger steps in it. Worse, it ends up on the seat and someone sits in it. Oh, snack food. As Antonio and I discussed, there's no way he wants passengers munching away on chips or cookies, leaving crumbs on the seats, wrappers on the floor or starting food fights in the back seat.

The whole model is based really on one of the most effective marketing programs available. Sampling. For those who don't know how sampling works, companies like Cargo, NewsAmerica Marketing and others secure "real estate" inside high traffic retail locations. If you ever have been inside your local supermarket and offered a sample by a nice person smiling behind a stand, that's sampling, likely done by News America Marketing or in the past by Catalina Marketing. While they also have moved into digital, smart shops like Cargo are looking at opportunities in the market, and the Uber idea has merit, but not at the expense of the driver.

As one driver said yesterday, "I spend enough time keeping my car in good condition, but I doubt the money I'll make extra each day will pay to clean the car more." This extra cleaning may be needed to remove gum, ground in cookies or suntan lotion spilled on a seat.

Ironically, Uber has as of yesterday forgotten to inform drivers, as not one I asked about the promotion yesterday or today, knew about it. This is an example of poor communications in the channel. Driver adoption is important to Cargo, and the money the drivers may make could be important to them. It underscores one of the drivers biggest complaints. Poor communication from Uber. As a matter of fact, no driver ever heard of the phrase "Greenlight Hubs" either, further underscoring how Uber doesn't maintain consistency from city to city. Likely, and not told to TechCrunch's reporter, or not reported, this is likely a test market program being phased in from city to city.

At Comunicano, and a sister agency I've formed, we talk about the idea of the buyer journey, or as it is also known, the customer journey. In Uber's case they have two customers. The drivers, who they do a regular job of making life difficult, and the consumer, who has to put up with inconsistent experiences from town to town.  What's more, Uber's CEO is being distracted by the claims of some employees of execs lacking sensitivity, gender bias and more. The leadership needs to focus more on those two audiences, not the distractions they face from unhappy employees (fire them) and disgruntled municipalities (find ways to work with them.)

On face what Cargo and Uber is setting out to do, has merit. The idea of putting more money into the hands of Uber drivers makes total sense. But, the right way to do this though is to make it a more complete experience that benefits all sides.

  1. Educate the drivers one on one with Cargo ambassadors taking rides*
  2. Offer them cash upfront to join in with a monthly per car fee
  3. Include a "guaranteed" car cleaning for any damage at Cargo's expense
  4. Offer a weekly "interior" cleaning at the Greenlight Hubs so the cars are fresh and tidy
  5. Provide sample kits to the drivers so they know what's in the box and become extensions of the brands (i.e. driver ambassadors)*
  6. Offer in car trash bags on the backs of seats, branded by the product companies.
  7. Have coupons for redemption for purchase of the products elsewhere**

*Fifteen years or so back, we did a promotion in Las Vegas around a cigar convention. We distributed via the different taxi company garages hats branded with "Ash Puro" to get visibility around the convention. Each driver was told that wearing the caps would earn them money if our reps saw them wearing them when we took cab rides.

** Back in the 90's in partnership with Pace Concerts and News America, a company I co-founded, proved with the help of Myers Research, that exit sampling with couponing pulls more than even in store sampling does. 

We then had five people with $500 in cash go out and take taxi rides and reward any cab driver with $50 we saw wearing the hats each morning and again in the evening. Back then taxi cab radio was heard by all the drivers, so the word quickly spread that the money was flowing. The caps were worn all over town and were cheap promotion for a new brand. The Ash Ambassadors talked to the cabbies about the brand. While the brand was more of a rich man's idea to make really cool cigar apparel, at the end of the day, we did build brand identity that quickly and drove people to our booth, because the word of mouth, coupled with the in car visibility was a cheap way to spend $10,000 (cash plus caps) vs. the cost of the promotions through the trade show organizers. Cargo can accomplish the same with driver ambassadors.

At the end of the day, Cargo and Uber can do something good for drivers and passengers, but the idea, and its' execution just needs more work.


State of Customer Service with Zipcar

I've been using Zipcar for almost ten years. When it first started the customer service was like what you experience with venture backed companies that want to grow. They lived by the rule that the "customer is always right" and their field force was on top of vehicle maintenance. Along the way, Zipcar proved how disruptive the car sharing model could be. It was to many of us, the long term rental alternative to Uber and Lyft, and it still is. Eventually AVIS bought the company, and unfortunately, the brand is not the same.

The benefits of Zipcar that far outweigh traditional car rental options still remain. Every car comes with a Gascard, so gas is free when you need to fill up. The car is equipped with an E-Z Pass so tolls are free. You don't have any paperwork, as all you need is your ZipCard which you swipe on the car to unlock and drive the car. There's no lines, no waiting, and if your fellow Zipcar community members do their required duty, the car is clean inside and has enough gas for the next renter.

Unfortunately, over the last five or six rentals, not one has been as good as the pre-Avis ownership days.

The first bad rental experience was at JFK Airport. The Zipcar wasn't properly checked in when it was returned, so when I went to claim it, the car wouldn't recognize me, as the last renter was still the official user. The Avis team was clueless to how Zipcar worked and I ended up spending an hour working with the team to get in a car and on my way. The next rental was in Miami and the previous renter didn't return the car to the Zipcar spot, parking it in an adjacent garage, with a different exit gate that required a pass. Beyond wandering around trying to find the car, and having Zipcar support "honk" the horn so I could locate it, as GPS was only "close" not dead on accurate underground, another hour was spent locating the car, then when I found it, seeing all kinds of trash including a bunch of opened soda cans, water bottles, receipts, and discarded tube of lipstick. More recently, in Los Angeles the two of my recent were dirty outside, and low on gas. The coup de gras though in L.A. was a rental where the cars are in a valet section of a garage that is full of regular monthly parking residents. Even though I showed up ahead of some "regulars" I found that they were getting their cars ahead of me, and when I asked the cashier why I was waiting, her comment was "we take care of our regulars first as they take care of us and Zipcar doesn't." 

Each of these is a "people" problem. People rent the cars, and in the "car sharing" model, we are responsible to one another. The facility issue in L.A. is one of where management is paid by Zipcar for the rental of a space, but their staff is left to take care of the renters, who take away tip money they receive from the regulars. Compare this to the Zipcar location in SF I like to use, where the car is stored in the garage of my favorite hotel, and where the doormen and valets pool tips, (and every stay the head doorman is tipped by me.) I get the car exactly when I need it, as does every renter simply because their behavior reflects on the hotel, not Zipcar.

This week, in Milwaukee my Zipcar Gascard didn't work. I used my own credit card at Zipcar's instruction to put gas in the car (again the gas level was below the car sharing suggested "always leave half a tank or more paid for by Zipcar" level. The agent who approved the use of my own personal credit card and said he would a) give me an hour of future credit (he didn't), would send me instructions on how to receive a credit back on my credit card (he didn't) and would move me to another car the next day as I had reserved the same car for the next day at the same price but at a different location (he did.) When I arrived Friday to grab the replacement car the local Zipcar ground force was examining my rental that had a cracked taillight and a dented trunk.  They agreed that I should not drive the car and swapped me to another car. That's when the next round of fun began that I found out when my bill arrived.

The bill was almost double the day before's cost. There was no "hour of credit" and the rate was higher, which in turn kicked in higher taxes.  This morning I called Zipcar and spoke to Christopher who took all my points of concern down, said he was going to give me two hours of credit and raise my dispute to the right people. He understood the issues and wanted to get them corrected, but was powerless to resolve the matter. 

Sure I could keep the bill at $20.00 more and not deal with it, but the issue isn't the money only. It's the time wasted on each rental, which is why I hope the powers at be at Zipcar return the brand to what made it. A very customer oriented one that cares first about their renters, makes sure cars are properly maintained, not only about the bottom line. 

If companies like Bird and Lime can hire chargers to check in the scooters each night, Zipcar should have "agents" who over night check out cars, make sure gas is in the tanks and the cars are free of cash, not only have their ground force do their best to check on the cars once a week, which is the current model. Heck, I bet those Bird and Lime Chargers could be their night force.

Why is the Earned Media Biz So Bad?

Everyday, Monday through Friday, I put out a newsletter entitled, The COMUNICANO. If you want to subscribe, it's totally free, and you can easily sign up to receive it. The newsletter is an eclectic mix of stories affecting the changing technology landscape that effects us. Each edition can vary in length from about 8 to just over twenty stories that have caught my eye in the past 24 hours (72 for the Monday edition) and today, I ended it with an item from SPINSUCKS about Earned Media and company execs not taking time to talk with reporters.

The article got me thinking, a bit about the state of the industry, and a bit about my past.

For those who don't know, as much as I say "I'm not a PR guy" well I am and have been. What I'm not is a publicity flack as the craft of Public Relations is so much more than chasing the media to run the most recent news release. An therein lies a big problem today. Too much of PR is thought of as only publicity, and when an opportunity knocks, like the media calling you, as Gini Dietrich column points out, you better darn well talk to them.

This culture of being too busy to talk to the media doesn't help you, it hurts you. Too often I have seen clients beg off of media time and time again to "be in a board meeting" or "have a sales call then I have to do" or "I'm on my way to a conference." Sorry, but everyone of those excuses is lame because "being in the news" or having a comment surrounding a story a reporter is writing will only enhance your company and you in front of your board, customers and audience.

Today, media wants to hear from the CEO. So if you're a CEO, you better answer the call. If you're the PR person for the CEO, you better media train, and more importantly, relationship train the CEO to cultivate and maintain the rapport with the reporters and editors.

I learned to talk to the media at age 14. I was fielding questions, getting them answers, chasing down pro athletes (my first job was in PR with the Philadelphia Wings). I sat in the press box, ran to the locker room to line up players for reporter, called in scores to the radio and TV stations and even was "the voice" on radio reports. Reporters came to my first mentor, Sy Roseman, and I to ask questions and get answers. We were never quoted, but the story was often "our story."

A few years later the Philadelphia Flyers came calling and I took a position promoting youth hockey for them. We were called Hockey Central, and were a media dissemination service, but really we were a marketing entity that did everything from distributing information, plan and stage events and be a resource to the community. It was the foundation of future fans and is a reason why the Flyers have always been sold out. And that was the vision of the late Ed Snider, and it was my job to make that a reality.

What made us so successful was one thing. We talked to the media. Everyday. Everynight. Every weekend. When high school hockey became an everyday item in the newspapers and on the 11 o'clock TV news it was all because of what I started to do at age 14. Talk to reporters. This went up the ladder. Often I would talk to the reporters and that would lead to "can you get us the President of the Flyers" to talk to us or the President of The Spectrum. But over time, I became that spokesperson (around age 19 or 20) with the launch of The Flyers Cup and my role on camera with The Pepsi Shootout.

By the time I left the Flyers in 1988, I was talking daily to over thirty members of the media. I was on a first name basis with print reporters, talk radio hosts, sports anchors, producers and even camera crew members. We were so tightly connected that when I would pitch the story to come out to a City of Philadelphia ice rink at night, I knew what kind of sandwich to offer for each reporter and their camera crew from Koch's Deli or Lee's Hoagie House...yes, we fed the press dinner and the story. And we scheduled the events to start after the 6 o'clock news was over, so we could be on the 11 PM news or at 500 PM to make the early news cast and have the story rerun on all the nightly newscasts  

Today's PR people often don't answer their phones. Some companies have removed the phone numbers from their Media page on the web site. And those who are listed rarely call back.  But the blame is not really only on them. Reporters today are harder to reach than ever before. They are slammed with publicity chasers who are taught to "smile and dial" but not really build relationships. Inboxes get filled with pitches, but at the end of the day, it's all about relationships.

It's time to put the "relations" back into PR and stop thinking the P for Public is short for Publicity. 



Dialpad, 8x8 and Skype In The News

Today Dialpad announced they raised $50 million more from a group of prior investors and one new one. Skype, which is seeing a flattening on user growth, announced a more mobile like version for the desktop, while giving the prior version an end of life date of September 1.  At the same time 8x8, a perennial player in the VoIP world, announced the general availability of their new X Series platform. 

With all this news you would think that good old VoIP was back in vogue. But it's not. What we're seeing is the staging of the future unfold before our eyes. While Skype may be stagnating at 300 million monthly users, and not seeing much forward progress, what Microsoft is doing is establishing the long time disruptor as being the front end to their blend of cloud based TEAMS and Office 365 offerings, being the unification of real time interaction via voice, video or text. 8x8 with X Series is looking to pull together the pieces of Calling, Collaboration and Contact Center, all into one homogeneous platform, after years of siloed existence. And for Dialpad, the raise basically offsets the money spent to acquire VoiceAI player, TalkIQ., if it was all cash, and now provides the powerhouse with enough in bank cash to grow and expand their AI based platform (Note I am a Dialpad investor/shareholder.) 

The news though from Skype, 8x8 and Dialpad serves to show how different the VoIP world is getting. There's those in the real cloud like Dialpad which uses Google Cloud and Skype which rides now on Azure, those like 8x8, Vonage and Ring Central who provide cloud services and then the rest of the bunch who basically run a hosted service in the cloud.

To accomplish what Dialpad, 8x8 and Skype are doing means having all the smarts in the cloud to handle the interaction with other services like Office365 or Google's G Suite, SalesForce, ZenDesk, Service Now and more while keeping the voice traffic on the more terrestrial level as the cloud is not yet ready for real time calling due to latency issues that will go away in a few years.

Add in AI to voice, text, collaboration, and call center activity which RingCentral, 8x8 and Dialpad have all announced, as has Skype surrounding events, and you begin to have the next generation of what "a call" or "session" will become.

Let the games begin.....