Does @O2 Hate It’s Customers?

I’ve had another awful few days as a customers of O2. And this experience is not unique to me. 

I am a customer of 15 years at O2 yet they are incapable of providing a consistent quality of service. I wrote a similar post about O2 in February 2008 yet here we are again – and inbetween I could have written many more.

My biggest gripe is that their incompetence costs me money, time and a deep amount of stress. Yet importantly, there is no policy of fair compensation when things go wrong.

Hypocrisy

Companies make mistakes, because people make mistakes. Computers make mistakes because people that program computers make mistakes. This is life. Yet if I make a mistake and don’t pay my bill on time, I am penalised. Credit card companies charge late fees, telecoms companies cut you off.

What happens when a company who has committed to you to provide a service, fails to deliver? The answer sadly is very little, if anything.

oh-nooooooo

Problems, Problems, more Problems

My general complaint about O2 is that most months last year I had to call them to have data charges credited back on to my account (I have a older Blackberry tariff, which includes international data roaming, unlimited. Despite this O2 regularly charges me for data).

Additionally, I spent weeks in the USA last year with no data, where O2 bounced me back to AT&T blaming them, and AT&T blamed O2 saying it was an issue of barring with O2.

O2 when questioned claimed “we cannot guarantee service when roaming” …So what am I paying my £70 a month tariff for exactly then?

And OK, that’s fine. You can’t guarantee it. But since I’m paying for it, are you going to credit me a portion of my bill when I cannot use the service I am paying for? This would be fair. But of course, O2 refuses to.

O2 Promise To Compensate Me

Ultimately, after investing literally hours of conversation and correspondence, I was promised 3 months credit.

O2 Go Back On Their Promise To Compensate Me

The credit never arrived. When I chased up the credit, O2 claimed they had no record of the call. I refused to pay my bill until it was fixed, because last time the promise of a credit was made, it didn’t materialise.

O2 then cut me off.

After a few months of using my iPhone (registered with 3) I missed using my Blackberry (I find the messaging, the physical keyboard and battery life, all far more efficient).

In another exhausting effort to get to the bottom of the problem, I re-engaged O2 to have it sorted out. O2 then claimed “we have no records of calls after 6 months” Is this true? I suspect it’s a lie. I am confident if ordered by a court to reveal conversations prior to 6 months, OR if they wanted to use evidence of a call to their benefit, O2 would find the recordings of the calls.

In frustration, I capitulated, paying my bill in full in order to get back my global data roaming.

O2 Promise To Look At A “Good Will” Credit

I was promised that O2 would then look into providing a credit.

O2 Break Their Promise Again

I’ve heard nothing. On calling back an enquiring, guess what? There is no record of the call or conversation.

AND Another Problem This Week

That was all last month. This month again I’ve been charged data roaming when I should not. On Tuesday 20th August at around 6pm I called (at my own cost, from Sweden) to enquire about the incorrect data charges.

After I went through the usual process (of explaining that my account was an older account on their “DICE” system and that I had bundled data … 10 minutes of my time, and cost for the call I’m never getting back) eventually it was concluded that the issue would escalate the problem to Credit Control who would text (SMS) me within 5 days to confirm the credit amount. At that time I could then pay my bill.

I also double checked with her both that I would NOT be barred or cut off and also that as I was travelling to the USA I would also not be barred. All seemed well.

O2 Breaks Their Commitment And Promise, Again

Wind forward 48 hours later. Thursday 8am, guess what? I wake up my phone is barred. I can’t get data. Or call.

I try to dial out – the phone says “Your calls are being automatically transferred, please hold”. Instead of transferring me -as promised- I then get another message saying “The speed dial you have called is no longer available. Please call your team manager for help <hangup>”.  In other words, their call system was broken and I was arriving at an internal automated message.

I had to borrow a phone to call O2. I then had the usual 10 minutes explaining I have global roaming, that I on the DICE system, and that I should not be charged. “If you’re using your phone abroad, you’ll be charged for data roaming” says the woman. “No, really, I won’t, and I have not been for 5 years. Check my tarrif” I exhaustively retort.

O2 Magically Loses All Call Records Again

I then also explained that I had a call only two days before, dealing with all of this. The lady said there was no record of my call “The person has not tagged your account” she said. Unbelievable.

“Didn’t you ask her name” said the O2 operator; “No” I replied, because even if you do, the operator will not give their last name, so you have the first name of someone who could be in any one of numerous call centres who is impossible to track.

The Incompetence Is Laughable

Not only that, but gallingly, O2 had sent me a text customer satisfaction survey to ask me my opinions of the call, which I had responded to. Yet, now, despite sending me texts from the number “24442” asking me about the success of the call, this very call was untraceable and did not exist!

So just to clarify: O2 say there was no call, or at least, there is no record of it. Yet they are sending me SMS texts asking me to complete a survey on the quality of the call they have no record of.

Eventually she passed me to her supervisor who explained that something on my Blackberry was doing something routing data the wrong way, that they couldn’t tell me what, but that if I carried on doing whatever it is I was doing, I would be charged.

I am not tethering (I appreciate this attracts charges) and I am only using the regular BB services I have always used.

I understand that Blackberry, having their own proprietary international network integrated with the telcos use their own APNs etc so that yous have to use Blackberry’s conduit to carry data. But I have not changed what I’m doing in 3 or 4 years. I still simply use email, the inbuilt browser, Twitter and my Facebook apps. And Google Maps. That’s pretty much it.

The Crux

None of these things should be my problem. O2 have now raised the bar, temporarily, while the credit team look at my account (which they were already looking at, allegedly). But I have no recourse if they don’t, or if they cut me off again.

O2 owes ME money

And meanwhile, as a consequence of the call (which I had to do as I needed my phone for meetings first thing so needed it unbarred) it has meant I missed a train, which meant I missed an appointment (£45), the attendance of which I’d lost half a day of consultancy (a few hundred pounds, which ironically is on an mobile app project for O2!), paid train fares to get to Cambridge from London the previous night, and back this morning (£35) for an appointment I missed. Not to mention the costs of calling from Sweden two days before, which O2 will no doubt bill me for (another £10?)

Who is going to pay for my time and expense, dealing with O2’s incompetence?

Yes I can take my business elsewhere, only to run in to the same problems across all the mobile networks.

Competitive Pricing, Awful Service

“Competition” for quality of service, is not working. Pricing, may be. But there is no recourse for the average customer.

I must be in the top 3-4% of O2’s customers in terms of expenditure. Over the years I’ve been called an “O2 Select” customer, or “O2 VIP”. My bills are frequently over £200, despite the bundled roaming data (even when O2 don’t charge me!). But I’m sick of being promised a reliable service and being delivered the contrary. I’m sick of the contract I enter in to with O2 and other corporate business not being a two-way street. I’m sick of being treated like I’m an idiot. You can’t track that there was a call? Balderdash. Your computers have a record of my incoming call two days ago, your computers are recording my survey answers which I’m STILL answering, and I’d be amazed if actually, you only keep call records for 6 months.

No engagement by people who will solve the problem.

Worst of all I’ll get no response from this complaint, even if I send it to the head of customer service, let alone the CEO.

Today were I running Fortune 500 company with 1000’s of staff, I’m so annoyed I’d switch telco. At least that business might impact O2’s bottom line. Instead, as a lone mobile subscriber, there is no recourse to taking my business elsewhere except to another telco that will care equally little and I won’t even have the retort that I’ve been a customer for over a decade.

All I can do is post here, to my Twitter feed and to Facebook, which is a combined reach of 12,000+ excluding reposts or RT’s. I’ll put it on LinkedIn too, and the MomoLondon list – a list of telco industry luminaries.

The Cost To Shareholders of Bad Customer Service

It’s a sad day that companies who spend so much money to convince customers to purchase or switch from another provider, have such a poor ethos to supporting their existing customers.

When was the last time a large company caused you to react “Wow, what amazing customer service?”

This is caused by many things, but includes a lack of ownership of problems by the staff at the coal-face, those dealing with customers directly. That in turn is because the leadership at O2 and other corporates favours ignorant process over staff who have real authority to make sensible decisions, who have been devolved responsibility, and thus would care more about what they do, when they do it, why they do it, and for who.

I discussed this corporate customer service problem years ago here and how it actually how problems provide an opportunity to create a more loyal customer.

Company Culture (and Customer Service) Comes From The Top

The biggest problem is that if you’re aiming to capture the mass market, giving bad customer service -even pro-actively rude and contemptuous service- often works. Just look at RyanAir (who I refuse to fly with on principle!) and the attitude of Michael O’Leary.

The culture of a company comes from the top. And not getting a response of any kind, or a true resolution, or the financial credit that I deserve as a consequence of the incompetence of O2, is atypical of corporate customer service today.

Long may the social media revolution grow – and power to the people in doing so. We pay your wages César Alierta (CEO, Telefonica ..who of course isn’t on Twitter himself). You should be doing everything in your power to make us feel good about doing so, not hating your brand; because THAT is the way to maximise your share price and shareholder return, not the equivalent of slash and burn.

Meanwhile, if you want strike a blow at corporate greed and incompetence, and champion the voice of consumers, why not re-post this blog CC-ing O2 ..and do me a favour in the process! 😉

New MySpace Design Makes Facebook Look Old

Back in December 2010 I predicted that there would be a design shift the following year, toward cleaner lines, sharper less fussy – less “Web 2.0” – designs.

It’s taken longer than I thought but apparently we’re still moving in that direction!

The imminent Windows 8 is all about this, continuing the theme from it’s elegant (if a little Ux flawed) younger Windows Phone UI cousin. But also, MySpace is joining the fray, as my office neighbours at VentureBeat have just demonstrated publishing a video of the new MySpace UI.

As you can see it’s remarkably clean and utilises the vast screen real-estate which most desktop computers and many laptops now have. Why people are still designing for 1024 width is beyond me; or at least they should have sites which shrink gracefully and optimise for at least 1366+ and as an aside, there are some startling similarities to our new UI design for The Taploid (launching next week)… great minds think a like perhaps!

But I digress…

In terms of colours I’m unsure whether the darker shades may become tiresome after a while – certainly I find that the Adobe CS5 and CS6 suit which has switched to a dark style UI can be annoying. That said many Adobe Air products ended up like this, such as Tweetdeck and I was happy using them.

The whole MySpace UI video can be seen here.

I wonder what is next, a return to IBM PC Green?

Virgin Atlantic: how one of my Lovemarks hurt me today.

Knowing I would be tight for time this morning after returning from a film premier in Harrogate, I tried to check in online last night for Virgin Atlantic VS003 to New York, but Virgin Atlantic’s website was broken.

As predicted this morning I was cutting it fine for time and tried to check-in online again; a similar problem, I couldn’t check-in. An online error.

Undeterred I ran on to the Heathrow Express, through Terminal 3 up to a Virgin Atlantic check-in terminal, to arrive right on the one-hour before departure deadline.

All the terminals were out of order.

The Human Touch

Five minutes later I was speaking to a service agent who was trying to be helpful.

Realising I was hand-luggage only she said it would probably be OK and she spent five minutes trying to get through on the phone to someone. Finally getting through, before she could even explain I was hand-luggage only, she was told the flight was closed and I wasn’t allowed through.

This was strange as it was before 9:55am. This is significant because Upper Class check-in closes 40 minutes before departure although today (courteous of a client) I am travelling cattle class; the economy check-in closes 60 minutes before departure.

It was only 9:45am (50 minutes before wheels up) so the flight could not have been closed because if it were Upper Class passengers would not be able to check-in.

The helpful desk agent apologised, looking a little perplexed.

I always try hard not to take it out on staff at the coal-face. Often these days they don’t have the authority or decision making power to help you (that by the way is another business problem I discuss here.)

So, off I go to the ticket desk to get pushed on to the later flight at 2pm (which incidentally is a nightmare for me because with only five hours in New York before flying on to Dallas, my stop over and meetings are ruined).

Show Me The Money

Andrea a pleasant South American chap says the good news is that they can put me on the next flight VS045, but at a cost of £120. I protest politely but Andrea can’t do anything.

He asks his manager. Computer says no.

I ask at least if I could have my favourite seat in economy. No. I’ll need to pay for that too.

May be at least then, Virgin Atlantic will grant me as a Silver Flying Club member ( soon to be Gold) lounge access so I can have the New York meetings I will miss somewhere quiet on Skype? No.

Err, OK. Can I pay for lounge access? No.

I keep calm despite my frustration and seek out the Virgin Atlantic floor manager, who I’m told does have the power to grant lounge access.

After politely waiting for her to finish dealing with a staff issue (a quick gossip about another staff member) I start to explain, but she cuts me off mid-explanation:

“We don’t give lounge access unless you’re Upper Class?” …her intonation is as though I’m asking the location of the holy grail. She’s all out of empathy today then and it’s only 9:45am. I pity the afternoon customers.

Practicalities

By 10.05am (the flight takes off at 10.35am) I have:

  • Queued to pay the extra charges to bump flights
  • Complained to the delightfully unhelpful floor manager
  • Gone through security
  • Am sat in Chez Gerard (another brand I have a history with) and have just ordered breakfast.

The fact I’ve done all this and the gate is yet to even close irritates me further, but thankfully Chez Gerard deliver on my brand expectations this morning: A warm polite welcome, good coffee, warm perfectly crispy croissants and soothing music.

Has this every happened before?

Those who know me will know I try and pack a lot into my life. That means sometimes I’m late. On the whole it is of course my own fault if I’m late, in so far as we are all responsible for our own decisions and planning.

Similarly it is definitely a passenger’s own responsibility to check-in by the deadline set; but it is also a brands responsibility to deliver on the service which customers rely on and arguably especially your regular customers.

  • I knew I would be short on time, so I tried to check in online. Twice. The web site was broken.
  • Then I tried at terminal 3, within the 60 minute limit, but the kiosks were broken.
  • The check-in clerk recognised the situation and asked to send me through, but was prevented by someone else.
  • The flight couldn’t have been closed, I only had hand luggage and were I Upper Class I’d have sailed through.
  • The ticket agent recognised the problem, but had to charge me anyway (he even left notes on my account to that affect)
  • The Virgin Atlantic manager was abrupt and had a naive approach to customer relations (perhaps how she got to be a manager..!)

Good customer service is about recognising a customer’s problem and empathising. That should be true whatever level of customer the person is.  Today’s $1000 customer may be tomorrow’s $1b customer.

More importantly, monetary value is not the only consideration. Some customers affect more influence regarding your brand than others, as my post here about the new economy of influence explains.

I do not expect any brand to do the impossible.

I recognise a flight has to close at some point, no matter who wants to get on board, but when rules are adhered to via blind process (or in order to make a quick buck, like Ryan Air) rather than for logic or good reason, that pisses me off.

And I’m going to tell people. Lot’s of people.

Brands become lovemarks for me because they exercise effort, common sense and actively behave as though they genuinely care about me – even though I realise it is in order to make a profit from me.

Pret (the British chain of sandwich shops) are a superb example of this. From their always polite staff, to sending a customer £70 for payment of his “time using the Pret brand”, to letting me off £3.45 for my lunch when I realised I’d left my wallet in the office (I repaid the £3.45 the next day) they always make me feel cared about. I also feel that the employees are empowered to make their own decisions and understand what the Pret brand stands for.

In the past I’ve found Virgin Atlantic to be more pragmatic than I have today. On top of this, I must have flown 15+ times with Virgin Atlantic in the last 3 years from London to San Francisco. I have a Founders Card which gives a discount (although I’ve yet to claim it) and I’ve met Richard a couple of times.

As a brand the important thing to realise is these things make my experience today all the worse not better.

Why? Because if you are dating someone for a month and they do something unpleasant, it hardly touches the sides. You can laugh about it in the pub with friends.

If you are dating someone for 10 years and you love them, then they do a similarly unpleasant thing, you can’t laugh about it. It hurts. It goes against your expectation and trust.

Loyal customers with your brand, which may be a Lovemark to them, are no different.

It’s ALL about me.

These brand ambassadors will sing your praises, but they’ll also be the first to call you out.

  • They’ll get very pissed off, very quickly.
  • They feel they should be treated differently.
  • They feel they should be treated with extra care.

“Should” is the key word here.

Actually ALL customers should be treated with extra care; but what matters here is how these people feel, not the reality.

Your job with your brand is to manage your customer’s perception of a situation without pouring petrol on the fire.

Preferably, you want to be the guy wielding the fire extinguisher and without spraying it in your customers face.

The psychology of loyal customers

I buy in to the “poor little Virgin Atlantic” versus nasty British Airways myth because I choose to, not because I necessarily believe it.

It feeds my potential pleasure of a brand I generally enjoy.

It adds to my personal identity to associate myself with e.g. Virgin Atlantic, instead of British Airways. Therefore:

When you as a brand behave poorly I feel you’re attacking not just me as a customer but me as your brand.

Your bad performance means subconsciously I feel like I’ve performed badly, because a little bit of your brand has become me.

What is this lovemark stuff again?

The simplest definition of when a brand becomes a lovemark to a customer is when they make irrational decisions to choose that brand over another.

I’ve often in true Lovemark tradition gone against logic when booking my flights. Virgin Altantic are usually more expensive and I had an unlucky run in the mid 2000’s where seemingly every flight I went on had no entertainment system working. Until my last flight, I recently had a run of crappy seat locations, whatever class I was in.

Despite this I stayed with Virgin Atlantic; but now I feel like our relationship is on the rocks; but hey, as they say, better to have loved and lost than never loved at all.

The moral of the story is that a Lovemark is a double edged sword, both for the company and customer.

Handle with care Mr Branson, and now I’m off to get my VS045 flight.

I Love You, I Hate You: The New Influence Economy

The world of customer relationship management and brand management is changing fast; again. This is going to be a shock to many companies.

Some businesses have only just started to remember that their customers might actually be right, others have only just got their heads around CRM and being “online”. Others continue blindy on trying to save money by passing the leg work on to their customers and annoying us all in the process.

Entering your mobile number at a call centre in a cue, only to be asked it three more times once you get through, is just one great example.

Rude retail staff, telephone operatives and n employees who can’t speak basic English or empathise with customers are others.

The Enlightenment: 2011

The more progressive companies are waking up to the new economy of influence – better known as social media.

Klout and PeerIndex as businesses both exist for a reason. They purport to measure “influence”.

The passionate and vocal devotees (or detractors) of your brand online are fast becoming the kingpins of the next 10 years of successful brand building.

Ratings scores like Klout and Peerindex will become a new currency in a world of social networking, online endorsement, virality and brand reputation. Even some credit score companies are already experimenting these scores in to account and providing third parties this data alongside traditional scoring methods.

Brands need to wake up fast to the fact that the price of a ticket is no longer necessarily the most reliable indicator of the “spending power” of a customer.

Klout and Peerindex scores are fast becoming the standards of "reputation" online; but how do they compare and what do they really mean? It's early days...

What is the on-going endorsement worth of a customer with an influence score of 59 but who travels economy, worth over an Upper Class passenger who keeps quiet and never endorses your brand?

I don’t have the right answer, but it’s certainly the right question.

Who do you think you are?

I’ve flown with Virgin Atlantic since my first ever transatlantic flight age 22, to sunny Los Angeles. Since then I’ve been a devotee; but as this article attests, last time I flew I was very disappointed.

I’m was left wondering if my friend Milo had been with me, whether I’d have had the same experience.

That time around a train had broken down or something, but despite my arriving very late we sailed through check-in just 30 minutes before departure and were upgraded, although at least he had got there on time. I however, had not, nor was I checked in. The difference is, at the time he was working for The Telegraph.

However in my own way to my own audience – and certainly in my industry – I have some influence:

  • I write for WIRED and do guest blog posts
  • My Klout score is reasonable as is my PeerIndex score.
  • I’ve invited friends to join Virgin Miles.
  • I can identify specifically at least 25 people who I’ve directly influenced to fly VA over other airlines in the last 24 months, because Virgin Atlantic has been a lovemark of mine.

As with most things we love, we naturally endorse them and want them to prosper. They represent part of me. As I said in this post about brand relationships and lovemarks:

.. when you as a brand [a lovemark] behave poorly I feel you’re attacking not just me as a customer but me as your brand.  Your bad performance means subconsciously I feel like I’ve performed badly, because a little bit of your brand has become me.

It is true that influence scores have their problems and on these the two specific companies mentioned (here’s another bloggers overview of PeerIndex and Klout) although they are the current market leaders, the jury is still out.

The Context of Influence Matters

Who are they the influencers of? If I have 10,000 followers on twitter who are all unemployed, or worse all spambot fake accounts, how influential is that? ..the answer is of course not very.

Both services (PeerIndex top radar image, Klout bottom list) try to work out WHAT I'm influential about. Klout lists me as influential about "Germany" ... clearly there is still some work to be done!

These things are changing though. They are becoming more sophisticated. This is inevitability; they will become more accurate.

Smell the coffee anyway

Consider where we are today in reputation scores as the AM radio of the early 20th Century; rough, low fidelity, all a bit hit and miss. We’re not going to have to wait 100 years for it to improve before we get to DAB digital Stereo radio. Try 5 years.

So listen up Virgin Atlantic when next time you give me crappy service, or maybe I’ll respond to that Executive Club email from British Airways, or maybe I’ll send tweets, or write a blog post. The inherent viral nature of social media means these outbursts can have disproportionate impact.

Not significant perhaps you might think, given that I’m just one passenger and I’ve probably only taken nudging thirty transatlantic flights in my life; and they weren’t even all Upper Class?

However, you must also consider the influence of the people I influence

To fully measure influence you need not just context but to understand the TRUE reach of an influencer. That becomes both computationally challenging and inherently hard.

What is my endorsement for the next 15 year’s worth to your brand?

What is it worth to your competition?

If your company’s brand does not get its head around the new economy of influence now, you’re at best missing an opportunity and at worst inviting persistent damage to your reputation; and therefore your profits.

On the horizon are even more advanced interpretations of brand popularity which take the influence of individuals and brands, combine it with a sentiment for popularity, public opinion or value within a virtual currency and publish it for all to see. Empire Avenue is just one of these new indexes, entirely virtual in nature based upon 1000’s of peoples social networks, virtual investments and reputation.

Microsoft is using Empire Avenue to profile the popularity of it's Xbox brand in Empire Avenues Social Stock Market

Brand ambassadors are the future of your business and will disproportionality impact your bottom line – that fact is here to stay.

 

Nokia: “Yuk, my grandma has one” or why chasing pure profit is bad for your brand

When a 6 year old reacts to your brand by saying “old Nokia, that’s bad [as a choice of phone]” you should know you’re in a lot of trouble.

I believe in Capitalism

I believe in Capitalism mainly because at a simple level, it prevents a lot of wars (you can’t fight people you want to sell to and make money from).  That’s a good a good thing of course; but many parts of entirely unrestrained capitalism are bad.

By un-restrained I mean profit generation devoid of other considerations: social impact, ecological, moral (etc) and the obsessive chasing of that profit.

What’s this have to do with a mobile phone brand which is perceived as irrelevant by children?

Slavery to the stock market (or your shareholders) via quarterly reports builds companies which do not perform as well as they could. This short termism, is actually the opposite trait needed by a business which wants to become a dominant global player or a brand loved – ultimately irrationally – by it’s customers. A lovemark.

Failure to see inevitable changes on the horizon (even by previously innovative brands) seems to be rife in the corporate world. The mobile and technology industry is no exception.

Blinkered In The Boardroom

I believe much of this stems from the board room, where quarterly figures – and bonuses for those C-level staff – usually get top priority. Why else would once innovating start-ups become rigid behemoths?

Protecting the share price is the remit of a traditional corporate CEO, no responding instead to the market changes and customer’s demands (and I mean the customer who is your market, not the stock market). Arguably, Nokia’s brand is failing for lack of responding to customer’s wants and needs.

Long before the iPhone was released, the Nokia N95 promised a revolution; but was too slow, too hard to use and without interesting applications. It was an evolution of every previous model, not a revolution.

Revolutions are not popular with shareholders, because revolutions create uncertainty. We all know you can’t have innovation without risk taking, an element of uncertainty and a healthy dose of revolution to create the next big thing.

Yet even today, Nokia still remains with it’s head in the sand – delusional even – about the realities in the market place. The new CEO preaches to the stock market, desperately trying to halt a further share price fall, instead of taking the drastic steps required to revolutionise the business.

When a child of 6 is saying:

“Quite old, 90 or something” or “My grandma has one”

and when 20-somethings are saying:

“It was cool when I was 14” or “it used to be good”

..that is who you should be listening to, not the stock market.

Children on the BBC's "Secrets of Superbrands" being asked what phones (thus brands) they think are good. Click to find this on BBC's iPlayer.

In fact, screw the stock market. An obvious and understandable course of action is the last thing you need to be doing. Unless shareholders are panicking about your change of course, you’re probably not doing enough to have any hope of getting your company back in the game, let alone leading it.

Other brands also struggle to escape their corporate stagnation.

Asked on the BBC’s recent Secrets of Superbrands documentary “if Microsoft were a person who would they be?” a 20-something replied:

“They would be old”

Another said

“Microsoft is like someone who has been divorced recently; settled down and is dull; but then is thrust out into the world after their divorce and has to pretend to be young again”

As the program suggests, they’ve even had to hide their brand from some, asked “Who makes Xbox”? the response from Xbox owners was “errr, dunno”. Presumably this is also why Microsoft created “Bing” and not “Microsoft Search”.

A fallorn looking Bill Gates during the 90's monopoly hearings. He's now long gone as CEO, instead doing great things for the world with his Foundation; but has Microsoft got the right stuff to be relevant in 20 years? Shareholders today probably don't care.

You Can Run But You Can’t Hide

I believe that running away from the inevitable will simply persist an enevitable decline. You need to fight it head-on . Microsoft should have called it “Microsoft Search” and then focused efforts on changing the entire core brand perception – instead of diluting efforts into a new brand Bing which won’t feed into the street-cred of other parts of the same company.

Sony was described as a “Middle class” person … “like all the other bank workers” or  “a reliable elder statesman”. Probably not the vision of a cutting-edge technology brand they’d prefer.

The reasons for these brand perceptions are complex and multiple; but business is driven from the top – by the CEO. The leader. The board.

They are the ones responsible for authorising and enabling radical change or at least, aggressive evolution.

Perhaps that is why Apple, was described as

“the type of person who invites you to their birthday party, but they you have to do exactly what they want to do all evening”.

Personality is important for leadership and for the brand. In Apple’s case, that’s Steve Jobs.

Steve Jobs's Apple was compared to a religion. It does, however, seem to be led by someone who believes in giving customers what they want, not what the stock market expects or demands

Listening to the stock market on a monthly – if not daily – basis might mean the CEO get’s his yearly bonus and makes the company look wonderfully successful short term …but only right up until it falls over a cliff into free-fall decline.

Groupon (allegedly “the fastest growing company in history”) is a great example of the fallacy of the markets, ropey reported earnings and the smoke and mirrors of financial reporting.

SME’s are not allowed to get away with such accounting hijinx, it seems so wrong that the corporates are – and everyone goes along with it (the Morgan Stanleys, the Goldman Sachs’s) because they have a vested interest. It’s all a big game for the major stakeholders and those taking these giants to IPO.

I wrote a post recently on where Groupon might be headed in the future; but if @DHH’s Groupon post is accurate then they may have to get there quicker than one assumes.

The stellar share price of Google and Apple are at least, on the whole, based on genuine risk taking, a real business model and a radical approach to solving problems and creating innovation.

In order to maintain their position, they’ll need to continue to look to their customers, not to the stock market or their short term share price, in order to maintain that success.

Perhaps Larry and Sergey recognised that, which is why Eric is no longer CEO.

How To Avoid: Yuk My Grandma Has One

Whatever your company size, don’t try and please your angel investors, your shareholders, your board members or your VC backers.

Please your customers alone and do what you think your customers will want. They are your real shareholders.