Archive for the 'Rants ‘n’ Such' Category

How Not to Win New Business

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

Warning-bad-content

Well, I’ve been thinking about some sort of a new angle for this blog for a while, now — perhaps reviewing the best nuggets from my email is one way to go. In any event, here’s a delightful little exchange from this morning. It starts off with an email forwarded to me by my sister. The site in question is the Kenneth Peters Center for Recovery.

Subject: Your Writing Isn’t What It Should Be

Hey Claudia,

When I came across your site, I was surprised to see a lot of unengaging text, poor phrasing, and even some typos. Your writing isn’t connecting with your audience the way it should, and that needs to change.

Producing writing that engages readers and spurs them to action is a struggle for most businesses. It’s a struggle that I’ve helped many overcome. What I’ve realized is that everyone’s doing something wrong, and with my unique experience and outside perspective, I can find those weaknesses in your site, marketing materials, and everything else that bears your message. And my client list even includes nationally-known brands like 1and1.com and The Art of Shaving.

I’m passionate about what I do. I love digging deep, finding what’s special about a company, and bringing that message to the world, and you deserve that kind of writer.

I like your company, but your current writer isn’t doing a very good job of selling you. I’d love the chance to fix that and improve upon what you’re already doing right. Let me know if it’s okay to send over some writing samples. Thank you for your time, Claudia, and have a great day.

Cheers, Trevor

P.S. At the very least, let me bring those typos and other serious errors to your attention. A business of your calibre can’t afford to ignore them, and I’d be happy to help you hunt them down pro bono, even if you don’t want to work with me beyond that.

IMHO, I thought my response was both measured and appropriate:

Dear Trevor:

Thank you for your email. I would be very interested in knowing where on my sister’s site there are “typos and other serious errors.” I appreciate your pro bono assistance in identifying them.

I’m also curious: Does an insulting email such as the one you sent bring you a significant volume of new business? As a copywriter and content specialist for more than three decades, I’m always looking for new ways to find clients. I’ve tried to take a positive and constructive approach to my work, but telling prospective clients that they suck is something I’ve never attempted in earnest.

Thank you for your time, Trevor, and have a great day.

Cheers,

–Craig

P.S. Your email hyphenates “nationally-known” – virtually every style guide I own says don’t hyphenate adverbs. I probably wouldn’t begin a sentence with the word “and” either, but I suppose that’s more of a personal preference than a serious error.

P.P.S. I can’t seem to find a website that provides additional information about your experience, skills and services. Having a quality website  that engages readers and spurs them to action can help you connect with your audience the way you should. With my unique experience and outside perspective, I can help you bring your message to the world. You deserve that kind of exposure.

If “Trevor” ever responds, I’ll be happy to share the next step in the exchange right here.

UPDATE: I was actually very surprised to receive a lengthy response from Trevor. I guess he’s not the spambot I anticipated he’d be based on his initial email. Our follow-up exchange:

I’m sorry to have offended you two. That wasn’t my intention at all. I should have been more careful with my language.

At this point, it’s obvious that you’re not going to work with me, but I’ll still uphold my word and give you some free advice. You can take it or leave it, but I do think there are some very simple things you can do to improve your website.

You have a lot of gems that I had to work entirely too hard to find. For instance, “On November 14, 2004, she received the prestigious 2004 Fisher of Men Humanitarian Award at the 15th annual Peter Sweisgood Breakfast,” is something that really differentiates you from your competition, but I only found it at the very, very bottom of page that already has probably 700 words. Instead of hiding it at the bottom of a page, display it prominently.

Another example of this is the beautiful story behind the origin of KPC. A recovering alcoholic makes it his life’s work to help addicts, and his daughter continues his legacy after his passing. That’s a very powerful and personal story. That’s the sort of thing that really sets you apart from everyone else, yet it was only briefly mentioned in two paragraphs in a corner of your site. Again, display it prominently.

I’d also suggest adding some testimonials to your site. Because of the nature of your work, you’ll probably just want to list their initials and city of residence. You could have a page of testimonials or just a few of them in a sidebar. That’s all up to you, but potential patients would like to see what your past patients have to say.

The perfect place for all of this is your home page. Your home page is the most important part of your site. That’s where a visitor decides whether they’ll read your site or move on, and they make that decision very quickly. Some studies say it’s as quick as three seconds. So instead of leaving all those great facts about your business hidden in distant corners of your site, put them on the front page. That way, a visitor can see, within just a few seconds, what makes your business special.

As far as grammar goes, there are a few minor errors that I noticed like missing commas. I didn’t see any huge mistakes, just a few small things that you’ll want to clean up.

You have a really great business here. My advice is just to make it easier for everyone else to see that. You’re already doing great. You don’t need to do any of what I just suggested, but if you did, I think your site would be better off.

Again, I’m sorry for offending you. Have a great day!

Best Regards,
Trevor

P.S. The phrase “nationally-known” in the sentence, “And my client list even includes nationally-known brands like 1and1.com and The Art of Shaving,” is describing “brands,” which is a noun. That would make it an adjective, not an adverb, so, yes, it should be hyphenated. Also, “and” is a perfectly fine word to start a sentence with in more informal settings.

Sorry, Trevor, I just can’t let the -ly hyphenation slide:

Thanks, Trevor. To clarify your P.S.: I do know the difference between an adjective and an adverb, but you may find page 329 of the 2007 edition of the AP Stylebook interesting:

COMPOUND MODIFIERS: When a compound modifier – two or more words that express a single concept – precedes a noun, use hyphens to link all the words in the compound except the adverb very and all adverbs that end in –ly.

As for the missing commas, that’s probably because we’re not using the Oxford comma on the site.

The site is about 3 or 4 years old, and is going to be updated at some point in the not-too-distant future. Testimonials and content revisions are definitely top of the ToDo list.

Still can’t find anything on the interwebs about his company or services, though.

Customer Service. Delivered With Apathy.

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

cvs

I was pissed yesterday.

I mean, really pissed … to the point where it was damn near impossible to get any work done.

All because of CVS Caremark.

Here’s the deal:

My wife needed a refill on her inhaler prescription. She needed it yesterday, because her previous refill had run out. We have a CVS Caremark plan through Aetna, who recently told us we had to switch pharmacies to CVS, so we did (the day before yesterday). Yesterday morning, I went to CVS thinking I could pick up the inhaler first thing in the morning for my wife.

“I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do; you need to get this by mail order.”

Wait … what?

Yes, mail order. For some inexplicable reason, CVS Caremark finds it more cost-effective to have someone package, handle, and mail a prescription to someone instead of having that someone pick it up at a pharmacy. It’s enough to make one wonder about the benefits of having a prescription plan that’s plugged in to more than 7,000 CVS and Longs Drugs locations.

Phone calls to CVS Caremark followed. Several of them … to no avail.

Me: “You mean there’s no way to get the inhaler today?”

Them: “That’s correct, sir.”

Me: “So my wife has to wait 7-10 days to get the medication she needs today?”

Them: “Perhaps the doctor can provide you with some samples.”

That’s when the blood really started to simmer … and reading the home page of the CVS Caremark site only served to turn up the heat:

At CVS Caremark we work hard to make sure your prescription benefits work for you. We want you to stay healthy. We also want to help you manage your medicines so you can save time and money on refills. After all, these are your benefits. Shouldn’t they be about you?

Yes, they should.

So while my wife ran a gauntlet of phone calls with her doctor, with Aetna and with CVS Caremark, I took to the computer and started expressing my frustration.

First stop: Facebook, where I posted the following on the CVS page:

SHAME ON YOU: What is the point of having a CVS prescription plan (through Aetna) if you’re mandating that my wife’s prescription — which she needs TODAY — needs to be delivered via mail order?!?!? APPALLING!!!

(Toldja I was pissed.)

To CVS’ credit, I received a response within an hour:

Hi Craig, please send us your contact info in a private message so a member of our customer relations team can get in touch. Thank you!

I did. Still waiting for the callback, but I expect that will happen in the next day or two.

Next stop: the CVS Caremark site and their “secure message center.”

Why is it NECESSARY for medications to be distributed in 90-day doses under the Caremark plan? In many cases, drugs aren’t needed for 90 days — and those unneeded drugs may be costly. For example, my wife needs to get an inhaler — a 90-day supply (all of which she will probably never use) is a nearly $250 co-pay. I (along with countless other benefits recipients) am being FORCED to pay more than necessary for drugs I don’t need. This is nothing but a blatant handout to the pharmaceutical companies. Why not allow 30-day and 60-day doses when called for?

A bit of background: This was actually sent before the mail-order-only revelation; at this point in the two-day stressfest with CVS Caremark, we were being told that we could get the refill, but that it had to be a 90-day supply. in the interest of  full disclosure, I want to include all the email back-and-forth.

CVS Caremark replied:

Dear Mr. Peters:

Thank you for contacting CVS Caremark. We strive to provide quality customer care to every one of our plan participants.

CVS Caremark receives all your benefit information and coverage directly from your benefits office.

You are welcome to see how medications are covered under your benefit plan on-line by following the steps below:

At which point there are 241 words (yes, I counted them using Word) of instruction about site registration.

My response:

We strive to provide quality customer care to every one of our plan participants.

^^^^^If this is the case, then please tell me: Why, when my wife needs an inhaler prescription TODAY, am I being told that the prescription can ONLY be filled via mail order? What is the point of having insurance that is connected to a network of countless CVS locations when you won’t fill my prescription at a pharmacy? This is one of the most absurd health care situations I have ever encountered. And when I call, the “help” I get is, “well, maybe the doctor can give you samples?” … shame on you all.

CVS Caremark replied:

Dear Mr. Peters :

Thank you for contacting CVS Caremark. We strive to provide quality customer care to every one of our plan participants.

We take the privacy of our plan members very seriously. We have developed our website to be compliant with the guidelines set forth by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which states that permission must be given by the patient before sharing information, even if it is a family member.

Your spouse and each dependent age 18 years old or older must be registered with a separate username and password. Once registered, you or your family members can give another family member, who is covered under your insurance plan, access to your prescription information under the Family Access link.

The following steps will allow you to grant another family member access to view your records.

Followed by … well, you get the idea.

My response:

Your reply is insulting: I am NOT asking about my wife specifically, I am asking about the CVS Caremark policy. Let me try it this way:

Your home page says: “At CVS Caremark we work hard to make sure your prescription benefits work for you. We want you to stay healthy. We also want to help you manage your medicines so you can save time and money on refills. After all, these are your benefits. Shouldn?t they be about you?”

Yes, they should. So why is it that CVS Caremark has a policy that says, “no, you can’t have your prescription now, even though you’re at a CVS counter. You need to order it by mail. You need to wait 7-10 days, and you can’t have the medication you need today until a week and a half from now.”

This is a policy that makes sense? You’re right: These are my benefits. So why can’t someone who needs the Rx TODAY get the Rx TODAY? Why do you force someone to wait 7-10 days?

It makes no sense to me: Isn’t it better for CVS to have someone pick up an Rx at a pharmacy (no postage cost involved) vs. mailing it to someone? (postage costs involved) … not only is the policy more expensive to CVS, it is significantly inconveniencing patients.

Why? 

CVS Caremark replied:

Dear Craig Peters:

Thank you for contacting CVS Caremark. We strive to provide quality customer care to every one of our plan participants.

According to your benefit plan, you are allowed a maximum of 2 refills at the retail pharmacy. Once this number has been exhausted, you are required to utilize your CVS Caremark Mail Service benefits.

You are currently logged into your inactive account, and your current prescription information and refills will not be available under this sign on.

We apologize for any inconvenience, but due to the change in your prescription benefits, you must re-register on Caremark.com in order to access your active prescription information.

We require that members 18 years or older register individually to view and manage their prescription information.

To register please:

Then a lengthy explanation of the steps, which led to the following response on my part:

Thank you for yet again failing to answer my question. You might want to try actually answering questions instead of cutting and pasting boilerplate B.S. into your replies — that’s just bottom-line insulting and dismissive.

If you’re trying to maximize profits by increasing the blood pressure of your customers so that we all need to go on high blood pressure medication, you’re accomplishing that goal quite nicely.

To which CVS Caremark, after all the email communication above, after clearly seeing that my level of frustration had broken through the roof, responds with:

Dear Mr. Peters:

Thank you for contacting CVS Caremark. We strive to provide quality customer care to every one of our plan participants.

We apologize for any inconvenience, but due to the change in your prescription benefits, you must re-register on Caremark.com in order to access your active prescription information.

We require that members 18 years or older register individually to view and manage their prescription information.

To register please:

…and yet more irrelevant copy about registration.

Live Help Now has a terrific blog post entitled, 10 Golden Rules for Providing Successful Customer Service. You can read the whole post by following the link, but here are the rules:

1. Provide quick responses and solid answers.

2. Listen well

3. Acknowledge that all cases are not equal.

4. Learn how to apologize well.

5. Appreciate your customers and show respect

6. Remember them.

7. Say yes, whenever possible

8. Invite feedback & accept criticism

9. Revise tactics based on feedback

10. Value and empower your customer service employees

As a result of my experience, I would give CVS Caremark a 0.5/10 grade: They did provide quick responses, but beyond that they accomplished nothing else other than to fuel my anger and frustration.

The really frustrating thing about all this, though, is I have no option to go elsewhere. I’m stuck. My health coverage is what it is, and I can’t say, “Well, this is lousy customer service, I’m going to go to another service provider.”

But that goes beyond customer service to the issue of health insurance, which is a whole ‘nother kettle of albatross.

(Note: While navigating the gauntlet, my wife found someone at Aetna who embraced far more than 0.5 of the 10 Golden Rules. Somehow, a switch in the system was toggled so that we can get her prescription at a CVS location. She also got about two months worth of samples from her doctor. So she’s good. CVS Caremark customer service, though, is not. Not at all.)

UPDATE (June 4, 3:54 p.m.) I received a call from CVS Caremark asking for some detail about the situation. I assume this was the result of my Facebook posting. I reiterated that I’m not looking for resolution to my wife’s situation; that had already come from Aetna and her doctor. However, I did want an explanation as to why a prescription plan with 7,000 retail outlets forces someone to receive something in the mail vs. being able to get it at the retail location. They said they will investigate and get back to me in about 7-10 days.

UPDATE (June 11, 3:05 p.m.) I received a call from CVS Caremark: Glenn in the Service Recovery Unit, which handles customer service calls that are escalated to the office of the President. To his credit, he spent some time on the phone explaining policies and processes as best as he can (he had no insight as to why CVS would prefer to spend money on mailing prescriptions vs. having customers retrieve them at retail), and noted that my particular plan–while it requires 90-day refills after two 30-day refills–allows for prescription filling at any retail location. So why did no less than four people provide me and my wife with erroneous information? Glenn had no answer to that one, though he did say that all the calls my wife and I made to CVS were pulled, summarized and reviewed with the individuals we spoke to on the phone, with possible retraining to come on this specific issue. I have to give a thumbs up to Glenn–but I can’t shake the feeling that my experience is more the rule rather than the exception. Oh, and by the way: Had I accepted what any or all of the four CVS Caremark customer service reps were saying, and we waited 7-10 days for the prescription and something horrible happened during that time? The subsequent lawsuit would be fugly beyond description. Just sayin’.

Dear Facebook …

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

royl

I think we need to have a talk.

Don’t look so scared, there’s really no need to get upset. But I’ve been thinking a lot about my social media life and where I am lately with my online self.

You’ve been a rock for me since we first met, back in November 2006, and I can’t tell you how important our relationship has been. You’ve been so supportive of me, it’s hard to put into words everything you’ve done and all the times you’ve put yourself out there for me.

I mean, you know practically everything there is to know about me. You know where I’ve lived, you know what music I listen to, you know what movies and TV shows I like, you know what books I’ve read, you know my hobbies and interests, you know my friends, you know what music my friends listen to, you know what movies and TV shows my friends like, you know what books my friends have read, you know my friends’ hobbies and interests, you know my family, you know what music my family listens to, you know what movies and TV shows my family likes, you know what books people in my family have read, you know my family’s hobbies and interests … you know me and my world better than I know it all myself.

And maybe that’s what got me thinking about all this, but I have to say that I’m really beginning to question our relationship. I just don’t think we should be spending so much time together anymore.

I truly enjoyed the good times we had together. I really did. For most of our time together, you satisfied so many of my social media needs. I have wonderful memories of our times together, but I just don’t seem to have the feelings for you that I had when we first met … and I believe you don’t have the same feelings for me that you once had, too.

I know you’ve been trying, but honestly: I don’t think you understand me the way you used to. For example, I really don’t need you to help me find out what kind of dog, cat, frog, cupcake, sandwich, handgun, planetnew wave bandHarry Potter wand or Martin Scorcese movie I am. Really.

Also, you keep trying to sell me stuff, most of the time stuff I already have. I mean, if I’m on Amazon (now, don’t get jealous, but we do spend a lot of time with each other, me and Amazon) and I buy something, all of a sudden you’re showing me tons of ads begging me to buy the same thing that I’ve already bought. It feels a little like Fatal Attraction, and seriously, begging is never a good thing in any kind of relationship.

Please don’t take this the wrong way, but you have to admit, you can be a little creepy sometimes. Like when I upload a photo on Throwback Thursday and you’ve already tagged the people in it without even asking me. And it’s a really old photo. And the people in it have changed a lot over the years. And you still get the faces exactly right. Seriously, that’s like something out of 24. What’s up with that?

Then  there’s that instant personalization thing. I know you have your own life, you have your own needs, but do you really have to spend so much of your time telling others about what we do? I’m really not into exhibitionism, but when you keep telling so many other people about what we’re up to, it kind of devalues what’s special about us, don’t you think? I really would rather that you keep more of us between us.

Oh, and one more thing: I don’t think you trust me. Seriously, what else do you expect me to think when your app reads all the texts on my Android phone?

So you see, there’s a lot going on between us, and frankly I think it’s all stressing me out a bit, and I’m not really sure what to do about it. I do know I need less stress in my life; I think that’s something we’re all looking for.

As disappointing as this probably is for–well, for both of us, actually–I guess I simply don’t have the time to invest in this relationship right now. I have to put my family and my work first, and in all honesty, I think I feel a little worse about myself after we’re together; that’s not a good thing in any relationship, don’t you agree?

I guess what I’m saying, too, is that I’d like to see some other social networks. I’ve been thinking about spending some more time on Google+ and  LinkedIn. I don’t know if they’re what I’m looking for, either, but I think I owe it to myself, and to them, to find out.

Look on the bright side, okay? I’m not saying it’s over forever. I just need a little space. A little breathing room. A little time for myself. I need to step back and think about who I want to be online and what we mean to each other. This is not about you or about me winning or losing, or about one of us being wrong, it’s about two ways of being online that maybe don’t always fulfill each other all the time.

I hope you can forgive me.

Can we still be friends?

Attention Humans:

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

I recently spent most of an entire day at something called a “Human Era Language Summit.” As you might imagine, the topic of the day was: How do we make our corporate communications sound more human?

Several very well-known agencies were represented, and the event was held on behalf of a Fortune 50 company. The names aren’t important; the point I’m about to make applies to anyone in the same type of scenario.

There was the obligatory parade of PowerPoint presentations and before-and-after examples and rewriting exercises, of course. But what struck me most was that when I asked a simple question to about a half-dozen of the key presenters and organizers — Have you read The Cluetrain Manifesto? — the response was universal: “The what? Huh?”

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. Levine, Locke, Searls and Weinberger don’t have a patent on the idea that companies need to communicate with people in a human voice. But they were among the very first in the modern digital age to articulate the idea in a way that predicted how companies everywhere would try to embrace that idea. For example, let’s review the first six of the 95 theses put forth by Cluetrain:

1. Markets are conversations.

2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.

3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.

4. Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.

5. People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.

6. The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.

But there’s also this:

14. Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.

And this:

33. Learning to speak with a human voice is not a parlor trick. It can’t be “picked up” at some tony conference.

34. To speak with a human voice, companies must share the concerns of their communities.

35. But first, they must belong to a community.

36. Companies must ask themselves where their corporate cultures end.

37. If their cultures end before the community begins, they will have no market.

38. Human communities are based on discourse—on human speech about human concerns.

There’s more, of course (95 theses in all, plus a lot more to the book), but you get the idea.

My point is this: The Cluetrain Manifesto, which was released in 1999 and rereleased in 2009 in a 10th anniversary edition, is one of the seminal digital marketing books. The idea that no one at this day-long “Human Era Language Summit” had even heard of it was stunning — akin to someone in the theater world having never heard of Shakespeare. Or Andrew Lloyd Webber.

As Michael Jordan once said, “You can have all the physical ability in the world, but you still have to know the fundamentals.”

But don’t just know the fundamentals, go back and refresh them once in a while. The best writers go back and reread The Elements of Style every year or three. Business leaders tend to reread books like Wooden on Leadership and The Art of War every so often.

Anyone and everyone working in the realm of business communications on any level needs a copy of The Cluetrain Manifesto — and needs to read it (or, for God’s sake, at least skim it) every once in a while.

Just sayin’.

Takeaway for marketers: Reading The Cluetrain Manifesto won’t cost you a dime: It’s available entirely for free right here.

Read This Post. Or Don’t. I Really Don’t Care

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

wolverine2

In psychology, desensitization is defined as the diminished emotional responsiveness to a negative or aversive stimulus after repeated exposure to it. It also occurs when an emotional response is repeatedly evoked in situations in which the action tendency that is associated with the emotion proves irrelevant or unnecessary.

Don’t believe me: Read all about it on Wikipedia.

Here’s the point, though: I’m sick of media screaming to me. Every headline is jam-packed to bursting with insistent superlatives. The Huffington Post is a particularly horrid case study, as evidenced by just a few of today’s headlines:

“This 3D Printer, Capable Of Building A House In A Day, Could Change Construction Forever” (Forever? Really?)

“This Guy Will Forever Change The Way You Think About The ‘Friend Zone’ ” (Forever? Really? Oh, and WTF is a friend zone?)

“The Way We Watch Video Will Soon Change Forever” (Forever? Really? What, we’re gonna watch through our sphincters?)

My email inbox is another irritating case study:

“This changes everything!” (It’s an ad for the eM14 conference in San Francisco. Nothing changes.)

“Super-charge your logo with this awesome techie gift” (It’s an ad for portable USB chargers. Yawn.)

“Clarity 2.0 – The Best Advisory Board Ever Created” (It’s an ad for … oh, never mind.)

Then there’s all the articles on my LinkedIn feed:

“Best way to get a job nobody’s using” (Really? Nobody’s sharing passion?)

“5 Free Apps No Salesperson Can Survive Without” (Really? I bet plenty are.)

“Will Link Building Soon Be A Thing Of The Past?” (Really? You have to ask? No, it won’t; don’t be a dolt.)

Let’s not leave out my Twitter feed:

Facebook pokes holes in Princeton research with a hysterical parody (Sorry, it’s really not that funny.)

10 Examples of Amazing Viral Marketing Videos (Sorry, a couple of them are okay, but amazing?)

An unbelievable marketing resource! (Sorry, it’s actually quite believable … and relatively common.)

Everything everywhere is screaming READ ME! READ ME! READ ME! The problem, of course, is that the imperative reason stated for having to read the content in question is virtually never fulfilled.

Sorry, HuffPo: Your article will not change my thinking forever. Sorry, advertiser, your event or product will not change me forever.

Collectively, this sort of messaging hurts everyone. Readers, as a whole, are becoming desensitized to the idea of headlines having any meaning whatsoever. The rhetorical arms race is rendering language ineffective.

I fear it will get a lot worse before it gets any better — but in order for it to begin to get better, communicators need to unilaterally disarm by shelving the extreme superlatives.

Takeaway for marketers: Enough, already, with over-promising and under-delivering. Don’t you get pissed off when you’re on the receiving end of that one? Try under-promising and over-delivering … and think for a minute how you feel when you’re on the receiving end of that one.