Remember when your mother used to yell up the stairs to get you to turn your music down? Sometimes, in the age before sensitivity awareness, dad would do the yelling and he’d substitute noise for music. Ah, the good old days. Too bad they aren’t here right now yelling at vendors.
ConsumerAffairs.com is the brainchild of James R. Hood a former Washington, D.C. journalist and public affairs guy. It’s website says the org is located in Lake Tahoe, so I’m just guessing that it’s the retirement project for Mr. Hood. At one point before writing that last sentence I thought perhaps retirement project is a bit harsh but then I remembered what I was actually writing about and decided that retirement project might or might not be correct but that the research just published might suggest a person or organization with, shall we say, time on his hands. Incidentally, much the same can be said of me since I took the bait and wrote this. Whatever.
ConsumerAffairs.com did a little project to compare and contrast hold music at some major corporations. That’s right, they called up, got put on hold, which is not hard, and recorded the music and then wrote about it. I write about it because I see it as my duty as a CRM analyst, which is my job and not some dreamed up project, so there.
That said the analysis is surprisingly insightful but perhaps not all that surprising when you think about it. Hold music is part of product dress, which is a legal term for the accouterments of a brand that are not exactly the brand and that may not be independently branded, trademarked, or copyrighted. The example I have heard is the Coke bottle. I do not believe it is copyrighted or trademarked but it is part of product dress and nobody even thinks of copying it.
In the long running legal battle involving smartphones and billions of dollars pitting Apple against Samsung, part of Apple’s complaint had been that its competitor used some of the iPhone’s product dress in designing its smartphones. That’s product dress and in my mind, hold music is part of a brand, so choose it carefully.
Coke vs. Pepsi
At any rate, let’s look at a few examples, first up is Coke vs. Pepsi. Coke presents itself as the market leader and above the fray by providing classical music. I don’t know what pieces the company plays, it might have been Vivaldi or Hayden or Handel, but the music was mostly strings and soothing. By the way, this is a good time to say what terrible sound quality all of the vendors that I sampled provided. All of the music sounded like it was being played through a washing machine.
On to Pepsi. This company has positioned itself as the choice of youth since John Sculley was driving marketing but what youth? Pepsi seems to be targeting people who remember the 1960s and ‘70s with a jingle sounding like something Nancy Wilson would do followed by a bad imitation of The Rolling Stones. Talk about covering your bases.
Home Depot vs. Lowes
This was interesting. Home Depot uses your attention while on hold to advertise. The clip I heard talked about their gift card, you know, so you can get exactly what you want. That’s what I want for my next birthday. Lowes defaulted to serenity and classical music uninterrupted by a voice. Perhaps the different positioning of the stores reflects blue-collar construction vs. home decorating even though both carry lots and lots of the same merchandise. Personally, I am bombarded with advertising all day and a chance to avoid it makes the choice obvious, at least for me.
American Airlines vs. United
Talk about Coke vs. Pepsi, the two legacy carriers’ music sound the same to me. American plays Adele’s hit “Love song” but the sound quality is so bad that whoever is singing sounds like she’s being drowned in that washing machine. United plays something that sounds like a supermarket circa 1970 and both airlines interrupt their music with announcements.
CVS Health vs. Sears Holdings
You might be wondering about the validity of this one but ConsumerAffairs.com lumps them together as big retailers. CVS fills more prescriptions in the U.S. than anybody and Sears is the icon of retail going back well over a century to a time when it sold through a catalog and rural free delivery, the equivalent of the Internet today if you think about it. CVS sounds like electric piano interspersed by soprano sax in some light jazzy riffs reminiscent of Kenny G. Sears sounds like an imitation of Herbie Hancock doing “Watermelon Man” or “Cantaloupe Island.”
In all cases the hold music sounds like it’s aimed at a middle-aged person like me. That’s no surprise when you think about it. Who else sits on hold calling into a contact center? Gen X-ers and Millennials might also pull out their phones but it’s to surf over to the vendor and make an automated inquiry.
So what’s this all mean? I think it’s proof of the importance of a multi- or omni-channel strategy in CRM. These vendors have a pretty good idea of who their customers are and the channels they use and that’s Job #1 when you’re trying to figure out what CRM to buy. So this was quite useful research even if initially it seemed fluffy.
Windows 8.1 is beginning to make the pre-release rounds with the influencers as this post by Ed Bott in ZDNet documents. Version 8.1 brings me back to the 1990s and 1980s for various related reasons because it is not unlike what happened with Windows 3.0 when it was followed by version 3.1.
In the Windows 3.0 era Microsoft could do little wrong. It was before the Justice Department and the European Union started wondering how they could continue to monopolize the market legally. But back in the 1980s it was all good. Windows 3.0 liberated us from monotonous green screens and multiple confusing attempts at application level user interfaces; so what if there were bugs? That’s the environment that 3.1 was launched into and it’s not unreasonable to say that version of the OS launched the company on a decades long trajectory that helped build the industry and made Bill Gates the richest man in the world.
This time with 8.1, the tide has turned. There are many critical voices about version 8.0 and it’s shortcomings and the 8.1 release is more of a rescue mission than 3.1 ever was. But Microsoft isn’t the only company to fall from grace with its critics and the experience can do a lot to help a company grow we saw that in spades in another instance from the 1980s — the introduction of New Coke.
You may not be old enough to remember that one but on April 23, 1985 Coca-Cola decided almost unilaterally that it had to change the Coke formula. The recipe had been almost unchanged from the company’s founding in the late nineteenth century and the company was famous for efforts to protect it that made the Atlanta headquarters look like Fort Knox.
The short story is that customers didn’t simply express displeasure or talk about having to get used to it, they spontaneously rebelled to the extent that the company had a public relations disaster on its hands. New Coke made a graceful exit under the circumstances and became Coke II but whatever it was called the company learned a few things about its position with its customers.
First, customers liked Coke just as it was, an important finding. Most importantly though this may have been the first time in history that a company discovered that its brand wasn’t exactly its exclusive property. Customers have a great deal to say about a brand and what it means and for me some of what we understand today about brands can be traced directly to that moment when the customers effectively told Coke, “We’ll tell you when something’s wrong and in need of fixing. Otherwise don’t fix what ain’t broken.”
Fast forward to 2013 and version 8.1. Perhaps this is Microsoft’s New Coke moment. It’s not that the company has never before faced customer displeasure over a release of the operating system. Vista was a notable moment in customer disappointment and parenthetically it made me a Mac user and I expect it had that effect on others too. This time, Microsoft is responding with something approaching customer empathy.
The long list of fixes that Windows 8.1 will deliver is an interesting mix of making the user interface easier to work with and bringing back things that worked and that people had come to expect from Windows — I am talking about the Start button.
One of the more puzzling aspects of Windows 8.0 was the way users started using it. Over a period of years and several generations of the OS, people had come to rely on the start button. It was familiar and regardless of whether Microsoft had found a better way to use the product, customers had figured out that the start button was fixed in the firmament.
Version 8.1 is an important moment, maybe even a New Coke moment for Microsoft and not a moment too soon. I think the real learning from this experience is that the operating system is no longer the center of the customer’s universe. With so much computing going on line and on so many different hardware platforms, the idea of a PC based operating system acting as the gateway to all things online seems quaint. In fact the idea of software living and running on a local machine is becoming old school.
So perhaps this episode will say something to Microsoft about customer expectations and the value of tinkering with things in the product that many people had considered settled issues. It might even give Microsoft the freedom to deploy resources to pursue other business rather than focusing on re-inventing the PC operating system every few years.
I am indebted to my friends at the Enterprise Irregulars, for the links in this piece. The IE’s, if you didn’t know, are a rag tag group of certified smarties who know all kinds of stuff about the greater tech industry and I am flattered that they let me hang out with them.
The aftermath of the verdict from the patent infringement lawsuit between Apple and Samsung initially generated more heat than light. But the last few days have made up for the light that failed to emanate from the weekend’s id fest and Armageddon prediction Internet confab.
Reuters is running an interesting story about Apple CEO Tim Cook and Larry Page of Google keeping the hotline open — you really need to be a child of the 1960’s to fully appreciate this metaphor. Suffice it to say that it is the origin of the little red phone. But also, there was this really interesting post at ZDNet by Jason Perlow about Samsung and Google’s collective need for a new dress.
I particularly recommend Perlow’s article because, while the idea of product dress might seem weird to some people — especially those who take issue with the look and feel aspects of the Apple suit — it might interest you to know that product dress is a legal term.
Without giving away Perlow’s point, let’s just make the observation that the classic Coke Bottle, which has nothing to do with how the stuff tastes, is part of Coke’s dress and its IP, as much as its secret recipe. Only Coke has Coke Bottles, for a good reason. So go read that article.
My point here, other than giving a shout out to the IE’s and trying to enlighten others, is that Apple might have, at least momentarily, hit on the only look and feel for mobile devices that will ever be widely accepted. Tapping, swiping, pinching — things that come natural not only to the members of our Genus but also our Family and, who knows, maybe even our Order — might be so hardwired into our beings that coming up with an alternative might be a waste of time. Holy $%^& Batman that might mean that Apple could end up owning the mobile UI and someday soon be in a position to make a few pennies on every Samsung or HTC device running Andriod for ever.
Believe it or not, such an outcome would not be unique in the annals of business or manufacturing. It might have something to do with cross licensing (I know, but don’t confuse it with dressing mentioned above). That’s when more than one company asserts ownership rights to an invention that each came up with the old fashioned way (you know, R&D?). But rather than fighting about it for years, the two (or more) companies come to terms, some money and possibly other patents are traded and then it’s back to business.
The best example of this is the car industry. Car radios, V-8 engines, automatic transmissions, how heating and air conditioning systems work, how the controls are set up and lots more, all have patents and if all cars look more or less alike in some basic features and functions, it might be because their makers went to the same patent swap meet. Yes, patents expire so don’t go looking to fund the fifth generation grand kids college even if you have lot of patents.
So this brings us back to Larry and Tim and the hotline. May we be informal for a moment and simply refer to each other using first names like they do in the music biz (Elvis, John, Paul, George, and especially Ringo; but also Bono, Sting, Eric and many others)? So, Larry bought Motorola (early car radio patents, BTW) at least in part for its stable of patents to ward off just the kind of suit that Tim’s company is making famous in the mobile industry (Tim should file a patent! hahaha!). And Larry, Tim and their minions are keeping the lines of communication open as they say.
What are the odds that the verdict put the discussions into high gear and that there’s an informal-formal patent swap meet happening out in the Valley between these principals? Nothing would surprise me but I think that if both sides remain reasonable and use their inside voices and big words, that there will be an announcement in the not too distant future that they’ve struck a deal.
If so, the deal would create the stack of the decade. Just as Wintel described a stack of Windows OS and Intel chips that made the personal computer; or as LAMP stands for Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP for cloud application servers, some standard that combines Mobile/Google/Android/Motorola/Apple might emerge from all this chaos for mobile devices.
Let’s see, MOGAM? MOGA? GAAMMO? AGAMO? AAM? AA? Who knows, naming might be the stickiest part of the negotiations that aren’t happening on the hot line at the moment.