Thursday, March 29, 2012

Machine-generated communications should get more human

SMS signal woke me up today from a vivid dream at about 6:30 a.m. Expecting a news alert of some kind and even fearing an emergency call-back request, I went to the check the phone. Reading the incoming message made me laugh with relief. After a quick dialog with my wife, we both went back to sleep.

Last Sunday I pre-ordered a vacuum cleaner for my mother-in-law at a top appliances store in Moscow, from its website. Almost immediately came in confirmations on SMS and over email. A few hours later we arrived at a nearby store to pick up the item, since I chose the new “self-delivery” option recently introduced there. I showed the confirmation message with the order number and about twenty minutes we left the store with brand new vac.

I can recall some confusion on sales manager's face when I had shown him the order number on my mobile phone. He didn't bother to write it down. “Must have a good memory for numbers,” I thought.

Today's eye-opening message said:
“Dear customer! Your order #... for self-delivery has been canceled since the item went out of stock. We are sorry for any inconvenience.”

By the way, the message was replicated by concurrent email in a shorter version, which lacked the reason for cancelation.

So the sales manager didn't complete my pre-order and wrote a new one instead. Who knows, maybe he'll get higher commission this way. Apart from the store's apparent internal communications problem, there is definitely an issue with its customer communications.

To sum up, good customer communications should be:

  1. Timely. But not necessarily delivered to bother (frighten) at day's dawn.

  2. Relevant and accurate. Re-check all information before communicating.

  3. Non-redundant. Why replicate messages on SMS and email? Use one medium as a priority one.
Machine-generated communications should thus get more human. But let's not forget that their elements are written and programed by us, humans.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ailing members leaving their trade associations: sign of weak PR?

I don't want to generalize things, hence the question mark in the title of this short post. Is weak PR to blame for the fact that members of trade associations voluntarily leave in times of their crisis?

In my job I deal with various media and communications associations. Many international news agency associations are peculiar as they feature one corporate member representing a particular country. Statutes of European Alliance of News Agencies (EANA) impose such a limitation together with an exception: “Only the leading news agency from any internationally recognised European country can become a member of EANA. Exceptions can be made by the General Assembly so that EANA has more than one member from a country.”

These limitations surely give odds to country-representing members. And that's OK when a member is truly a leader in its country. They also eliminate possible counter-productive behavior of the competing members, most likely to come from the same country. But what if things start going different and a local competitor suddenly eats in to the leader's market share? What if a leader is overthrown by such a competitor?

Ethically speaking, associations should stand by their members. And they generally do, unless a member stops paying its annual fees. However crisis-hit members often leave at own initiative. I've seen this happening few times at different media associations, including Russian ones.

Being a successful news agency is difficult enough due to ownership and limitations of b2b business in media sector. Most news agencies can't just leapfrog over their traditional media founders doubling as clients into the thriving b2c sector. Please see my other post dedicated to the issue.

Trade associations such as MINDS International, which has been growing intensively, help news agencies benchmark themselves, buy and sell complementing expertise, work on common product standards. Top management, strategists, marketers, IT, and sales managers are usually involved in the dealings. PR experts are generally left behind. So could this really a reason ailing news agencies prefer to save on annual fees and quietly leave their associations instead of openly discussing their local market issues with the other members?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Building International Financial Center in Moscow: A Task Requiring BigTeamwork

Here is a summary of my tweets with additional comments from day one of a strategic session on building International Financial Center (IFC) in Moscow. I was invited to the session as a participant.

Plenary panels at the session featured some well known Russian businessmen and foreign experts.

Charles Wyplosz: Easier to build International Financial Center in Moscow than prevent financial crisis that might destroy it.

Evert Verhagen: Is it (Moscow IFC) a place or is it an idea? There should be both software and hardware... Moscow successful in attracting talent from Russia but not as much with the talent from abroad.

Ruben Vardanian: VTB's IPO, failure to timely introduce IFRS are Pandora's Box evils sending wrong signals about Moscow as IFC.

Hubertus Vaeth says Frankurt accounts for 85% of Germany's Internet traffic. Don't think such uneven distribution is good

Stability seems to be the word most repeated by international speakers at the Moscow IFC strategic session.

"The more practical and frank your suggestions, the more grateful we will be," Alexander Voloshin said in parting to 5 workgroups, at the end of the plenary sessions.

Now, tweets from Workgroup 1, dealing with Strategic Marketing (yours truly a simple visitor there). The idea was to draw a vivid picture of Moscow as a global IFC in 2032 and define steps to get there. Sounded easier than done.

Doris Naisbitt: We are discussing strategic marketing of a product [not yet defined] next door [by other workgroups]. Me, thinking to myself: Quite a strange way, indeed.

Gor Nakhapetyan (who moderated the workgroup discussion and was last to give his opinion): Moscow has a clear advantage [over other cities]. The higher is your intellect, the more interesting people you can befriend.

Overall, the discussion in my workgroup drowned in little details and vague predictions for the future. I wonder how day two will proceed.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Foreign business journalists to be distinguished by Russian award

PRESSZVANIE, a prominent business journalism award, will once again choose the best foreign journalist among those accredited in Russia in the special Topical Theme nomination.

UPDATE: Three journalists have been shortlisted for 2012:

- Florian Willershausen, WirtschaftsWoche Heute
- Gerald Hosp, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
- Ben Aris, Business New Europe.

The award's name comes from the words PRESS and ZVANIE (Russian for 'rank' or 'title'). When pronounced, it also resembles the Russian word for 'vocation'. For 2012, the 8th regular season, there will be nine industry-based nominations and five special nominations, including Topical Theme.

Each nomination has a backing partner to advise the award's Jury on shortlisted candidates. Topical Theme is backed by RIA Novosti, Russian multimedia holding. Previous winners in the nomination included:

2011 - André Ballin, Moscow bureau chief of WirtschaftsBlatt;
2010 – Zhao Jialing, Moscow economic correspondent of Xinhua;
2009 – Cristina Giuliano, Moscow correspondent, then Apcom;
2008 – Gisbert Mrozek, Director, RUFO;
2007 - Emmanuel Grynszpan, Moscow correspondent, La Tribune;
2006 – Peter Fischer, Moscow correspondent, Neue Zuricher Zeitung.

PRESSZVANIE is managed by the same team that runs Silver Archer, Russia's largest PR award. The business journalism award's ceremony will take place on 20 April in Moscow.