Thursday, July 21, 2011

Minor flaws in service miscommunicate the brand

To prove the headline and lead to a suggestion of more proactive involvement of PR execs in setting up services, I would like to present to you two recent cases involving me as a humble customer.

Case 1. An insurance company affiliated with a retail subsidiary of a major Russian commercial and investment bank. I have been a client for that company for a quite a few years. And yet, each year there are surprises when it comes to renewing insurance contracts for the car and property.

My main concern - they never call first to propose a renewal. I bring in altogether about $ 1,000 in cash every year - isn't that good enough for a call or two? So it's quite annoying to waste time on calling those hotline numbers when people take in your request and don't call back. Then they can't find some of your personal details so you have to spend even more time explaining and searching in your own archives.

The slogan of the company, as featured on the website, could be translated as “From acquaintance to perspectives”. Well, we’ve been acquainted for a good number of years – where are the perspectives if each time I’m treated like an anonymous first-time shopper?

Case 2. A Hyundai car dealership and service in the quiet Western outskirts of Moscow. I have been servicing my Tucson SUV there ever since it was first repaired some five years ago by the insurance company mentioned above. Nice and cozy, not too crowded, friendly advice and good quality service. One thing however spoils the whole experience – paying the bill.

It’s not a simple cash desk at the dealership – it’s a cash desk branch of some obscure bank. A bank which accepts only its own cards. To pay for a repair job you have to wait for the cashier to fill in applications for cash transfer between you and the legal entities representing the dealership. Yep, to make things even more slow, there are two legal entities – one for the repair service and the other for the spare parts and expendables, such as engine oil and other liquids.

There are two applications that need to be filled in, in two original copies, requiring my passport and signatures. Plus the inconvenience and even danger of carrying moderate amounts of cash. Now, why should I suffer because of this internal optimization of cash flow? Which may be good for the dealership and improves the balance sheet of the obscure bank. All, at the expense of my time, convenience and even safety.

The dealership’s website boasts the corporate slogan of “New Thinking – New Possibilities”. I would say with a settlement service like that, the dealership requires some fast rethinking to sync with Hyundai.

It's clear to me that such minor flaws in the service can easily undermine PR efforts my colleagues put into their respective brands. PR executives should therefore participate in sign-off of any service procedures just to make sure their efforts are not diminished.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Real likes - the power of TV in Russia

I have recently participated in a Russian version of the Oprah TV show called Let Them Speak. The objective was to deliver the official position of my employer on possibly the first ever case in Russia where a journalist had to leave over breach of ethics code caused by an extremist blog post.

The show, hosted by the talented Andrey Malakhov, was aired last Thursday at 8:00 p.m. Moscow time, not Tuesday as planned, due to a change in schedule because of the mourning day.

Friends, former colleagues and relatives called me during the many commercial breaks of the program. On Friday quite a few colleagues came to my glass silo one by one to congratulate on the occasion of participation in the show I have barely watched in its 10 years on the air.

Radio programs, interviews in magazines, occasional quotes in daily newspapers and more often so in online media could not compare with such once-off TV exposure. It's therefore reasonable to assume that appearance on major TV channel in Russia yields "real" likes as compared to the mostly virtual likes of publicity in other media.

While that's still the case, ad revenues in the "zombie box" media - as the TV is called by Russian bloggers - are surely to beat those in all the other traditional and new media.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

50 more years to break a nasty Soviet habit?

This year will be remembered in Russia as the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union. First class pupils of 1991 will have turned 26-28 years come 1st September. I can consider these adults the youngest generation to have duly experienced life in the Soviet times.

On the one hand, this is a positive sign. Young adults of contemporary Russia will increasingly feature people who have never directly been involved in a very nasty hypocrisy of the old days. The kind of hypocrisy which made people think, say and act in three different ways. As well as read between the lines. All or most of which came in self-defense and could be justified ditto, looking back.

On the other hand, it will take another 50 years or so before the last Soviet life witnesses pass the baton to their kids and grandkids. And the old hypocrisy, now a side effect habit and hindrance to building a true democracy in Russia, will likely be still deeply rooted in our minds for years to come. Making my foreign colleagues do the guesswork.

This means, the true transition period for the country could be almost as long as the duration of the Soviet regime itself. Let's just hope the younger generation is accepting this and will steer clear of the older people's addiction from the past.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Taking the freedom of expression to extremes in Russia

One week ago experienced journalist and blogger Nikolay Troitsky wrote in his Russian language blog he dreamt of blowing up all the gay people with a special bomb. If you haven't heard of this, please refer to this post in my journalism-related blog.

Probably the most surprising was the polar feedback coming from Russian journalists, bloggers, officials and social activists. However most feedback dealt with the context of Troitsky's reasoning, not the extremist and obscene way in which he expressed it - in fact the main reason for the journalist's dismissal which led to contract termination by mutual consent.

Apparently warmed up by such hypocritical public reception Troitsky eventually put the blame of his job termination on a whistleblowing blogger  who filed a complaint with the journalist employer's press office. And again, quite a few fellow bloggers and journalists supported Troitsky's angst, fearing the return of the age of delators.

Since the worst days of the Soviet era, the delators of the good and the bad have been frowned upon in Russia. Quite often people turn a blind eye to what they witness and hear, pretending that's none of their business. We have a long way to go to learn of the difference between giving a social service heаds up and plain acting as a mole.

My American colleague wrote in a column he felt almost embarrassed to have known Troitsky. Well, I feel almost embarrassed I haven't come across his blog earlier.