Verizon’s “Room to Learn” Community

Today Verizon and Powered are proud to announce the launch [pdf] of a new “branded engagement community” called Room to Learn. It’s a big move for a smart company who operates in an industry that’s not known for it’s focus on customer service. In fact, the reason we’re so excited about this project is because we see this as a big step toward the future of the way customer service will get done in the future.

Podcast: Director of eBusiness at Verizon, Mark Studness, and I talked about the project in a recent podcast.

What’s unique about Room to Learn is that instead of waiting for customers to come to come to them with questions or complaints, Verizon is reaching out their customers with useful content. Content that will help them with all things media and home entertainment. Even better, the information and education that Verizon will provide it’s customers (and non-customers) doesn’t try and sell them anything. Imagine that?

Why would a company do this you ask? Because Verizon realizes that in order to maintain their leadership position in the market, they need to do something game changing. Something my colleague, Joseph Jaffe, likes to call customer service 2.0. It’s the concept of the “give before the get.” The results should be things like greater loyalty, deeper engagement, greater share of wallet and most importantly, referrals.

A few other exciting things to mention about this new branded engagement community:

  • The community manager will be none other than Becky Carroll, a seasoned social media professional who is well versed in blogging, podcasting and community.
  • A resident contributor in Alfred Poor. Yes, that Alfred Poor, the guy that has covered consumer electronics for 20+ years for the likes of PC World.
  • Community forums for customers to ask questions, talk with professionals or share ideas with one another.

What you’ll notice today is that the conversations on Room to Learn are just getting started. If you’re interested in joining, the good news is that you don’t even need to be a customer. Obviously, Verizon expects that if you participate, you’ll be respectful and will keep the language clean. But they are always looking for feedback to if you have constructive feedback or simple suggestions, you can let them (or us) know and we’ll be sure to work it into the mix.

Is your company following Verizon’s lead and getting proactive about customer service? If not, what’s stopping you?

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Samsung Encourages You to Join the Conversation

Apologies to my colleague, Joseph Jaffe, for borrowing the title of his second book, Join the Conversation [LINK], but in this instance, I just couldn’t resist. The “conversation” I’m referring to is one that consumer electronics giant, Samsung, is their asking their customers to “join” at the bottom of their home page.


At first blush, you might laugh and remind me that many brands these days are asking their customers to “join THEIR conversation” on Facebook, Twitter and the like. However, not so fast. In Samsung’s case, they are taking a clever and unorthodox approach to engaging with their customers. Let’s call it “reverse influencer outreach” where instead of asking bloggers like myself to reach Samsung’s customers (and prospective customers) via my Twitter, Facebook, blogs and podcasts, they instead are asking their customers to reach out to folks like me, Brian Solis, Mario Sundar and others. And instead of talking about Samsung’s products, we’re talking about the lifestyles that wrap around those products. Or in my case, more conversational topics like, “If you could write a best-selling book, what would it be about?”

Wait a second? Why would a Fortune500 company like Samsung who enjoys millions of visits a day to its website waste valuable real estate on frivolous conversation? Rather than speculate about why, I asked Samsung’s Social Media Manager, Esteban Contreras (the person that invited me to participate in this program) a couple of questions about the program. Here are his verbatim responses:


[Aaron] What was the impetus for your innovative approach?

[Esteban] Samsung’s strategy going into this exciting project was focused on creating an online environment that further engages with our consumers. We wanted to develop a customer-centric and socially relevant site that enhanced the overall brand experience.

Our new site provides opportunities for people to engage with us and with each other. From social elements on the homepage and “like” buttons on product pages, to consumer comments, reviews and Q and As.

[Aaron] Some people might say this is a waste of valuable space on Samsung US’s home page (I think it’s brilliant). What would you say to those detractors?

[Esteban] We are living in a world where consumers expect and deserve more. Being customer-centric means offering an authentic and human experience. That’s why you see photos of real people on our site and an easier experience to find some of our employees and official accounts on Twitter. It’s also why we’ve provided an area for our visitors to engage not only with us, but also with others that have similar interests.

The web has become a social web and all we’ve done is bring a small part of it unto our site. We believe that giving some of our valuable digital space to our customers is important because they are the number one reason why we love doing what we do. Our customers mean everything to us.

While the “join the conversation” program is too new to measure impact, I can tell you anecdotally that I’ve received a couple of dozen responses (and anticipate receiving hundreds more). More importantly, I can’t help but think that Samsung’s customers will appreciate the fact that a big brand is taking a few minutes out of the day to get to know it’s customers better (all of the inquiries come through as hash-tagged tweets with #samsung in the “@” replies I receive so Samsung can measure the traffic). Even smarter, Samsung is outsourcing the responses to subject matter experts versus tackling them all themselves — okay, I may not be a SME in book writing but I have supported the marketing/social campaigns around three colleagues’ books to date (We Are Smarter than Me, Flip the Funnel and now microMarketing).


What do you think of Samsungs’ approach? Is it worth the real estate they are using on their home page? Should Samsung themselves be getting more involved in the conversation? Or are they just being a good host, handing conversations off to the “experts” and then keeping an eye on what transpires?

Looking at the Future: Onstar’s Live On

It’s an OnStar kinda night at Stubbs — Austin, TX

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending a fabulous event at Stubb’s BBQ here in Austin. The host of the party was OnStar (a Powered client) and the purpose of the shin dig was to announce OnStar’s latest and greatest in mobile technology called Live On. Without getting into too much of a marketing pitch, the crux of what VP of Planning and business development at OnStar, Nick Pudar, walked us last night through focused on these four areas:

  1. Innovative technology
  2. 9th generation hardware
  3. Enhanced safety features
  4. New marketing campaign
Rewinding a little bit, I had a chance to try out some of OnStar’s technology a few months back when my colleague, Joe Jaffe, and I were in Detroit for the Future Midwest conference. Friend and director of social media at GM, Christopher Barger, was kind enough to lend us a Cadillac Escalade. In addition to it being a REALLY sweet ride, it was equipped with OnStar technology. What I loved about the technology (in addition to coveting the ability to remotely unlock my doors) was the fact that everything is done via voice. As someone that is married to their iPhone, I can tell you that I know how dangerous it is to try and text or tweet while driving. I also know how aggravating it is to not be able to enter an address into my GPS en route.

Joseph Jaffe, Powered and Christopher Barger, GM
Back to last night… what I like about OnStar’s thinking is that they are working hard to keep drivers safe on a lot of different fronts. Considering the fact that over 6,000 people died last year in texting or other smartphone related accidents — a number that’s destined to go up dramatically — allowing people to do the thing that they will inevitably do in a safer, smarter fashion makes a ton of sense to me. In fact, OnStar President, Chris Preuss said it best in yesterday’s announcement:
Giving our customers control of their vehicles with smart phone application technology is a key advantage of OnStar’s in-vehicle connectivity. This technology empowers drivers to make decisions about their travels well before they enter the vehicle,  meaning their full attention can stay where it needs to be – on the road ahead.

To that end, allowing for the ability to use your smartphone’s bluetooth capability to to perform text to voice OR using OnStar to be able to update your Facebook status (and listen to recent updates) is huge.

Inside a Chevy giving commands to Facebook via OnStar

The live updates coming from our car as we update from OnStar

On the “room for improvement” side of things, it does take a little doing to coordinate the Facebook updates. And once you do an update, it results in a voice >> text >> automated voice update on Facebook itself. However, this is OnStar’s first shot of the gate with this stuff so I imagine that the technology and capabilities will smooth out soon. I’m also envisioning that services like Twitter and location-based applications will be included in subsequent releases of this technology.

One other thing to note is the ability to go to OnStar’s site, enter in a location and then send it to your car is VERY cool and something that is a no-brainer. As I noted earlier, I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve gotten into my car, forgotten to enter my destination into the GPS and ended up having to pull over onto the side of the road.

So a big kudos to OnStar last night for pulling off a fun and informative evening (something they replicated across the country). Also, a great big thank you to my friend, Kameya Shows, who was kind enough to invite me to last night’s soiree. You can see other pictures from the event over on Flickr.

Simon Salt, Incslingers, Aaron Strout (that’s me) and Wayne Sutton, TriOut & OurHashTag

Hotel Nikko Asks: What Could We Do to Get You to Stay?

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak at the Social Media Marketing 2010 Conference in San Francisco which happened to be held at the Hotel Nikko. If you haven’t visited/stayed at the Nikko before, it’s a nice hotel. Centrally located (just a few blocks off of Market), bright and clean with all the charm of a boutique hotel. The rooms are well-laid out with large flat panel televisions, wet bars and bathrooms that offer separate bathtubs and showers.

Of course I enjoyed my experience at the Hotel Nikko (in fact, this was my second time staying there) but my main criteria for choosing it had more to do with location (it’s where the conference was being held) and price (about $200/night all in) than anything else. While I was there, however, an interesting thing happened that led to the eventual writing of this blog post…

I was riding up in the elevator when a young woman who was interning at the hotel asked me if I was attending the conference. I said that I was which prompted her to ask me why I thought more of the attendees weren’t staying at the hotel. This was a fairly easy question to answer given the fact that I knew a lot of the speakers/attendees lived locally and thus didn’t need a hotel that night. It was her next question, though, that really piqued my interest. The intern asked, “what could we do to get you to stay here next time?”

At this point in the conversation, I started thinking to myself, either this is a very clever young lady who will go far some day OR Hotel Nikko may be taking an innovative approach to their customer research. Either way, I told her I had exactly the answer she was looking for… but she would need to do a little homework. I gave her three names that I told her to write down: The Roger Smith Hotel in NYC,  Brian Simpson aka @bsimi (their director of social hospitality) and Brian’s sidekick, Adam Wallace aka @adwal (new media director at the Roger Smith).

[NOTE: if you don’t know the story of the Roger Smith and how unbelievably successful they’ve been through their customer-centric AND social media efforts, be sure to listen to my colleague, Joseph Jaffe’s interview or read Chris Brogan’s glowing post about their efforts]

Being as diligent as she was curious, the intern took out her notepad and wrote all this information down, obviously intrigued by what a hotel in NYC and two guys with hip hop sounding Twitter handles could have to do with getting me to stay at her hotel. At this point, she thanked me for the information and we parted ways. Upon our separating, I got thinking more about the question she had asked me and decided to write a prescriptive post about five things I liked about my experience at the Nikko along with five ways they could improve.

The good:

  1. I arrived at the hotel at 8:30 AM and asked if I could check in. While many hotels are strict about their early checkin policy, the woman behind the desk was very polite and let me check in early without even batting an eyelash.
  2. This may not be a big deal for most people but as someone that travels a fair amount AND is married to his laptop, the fact that the electrical outlets were easily accessible and that they had reliable wifi was much appreciated.
  3. Anyone that follows me on Twitter will understand how happy I was that there was a Starbucks in the lobby.
  4. There was a bottle of water on my bedside stand.
  5. I’d like to think that the Nikko was the impetus behind their inquisitive interns line of questioning, even if they didn’t explicitly tell her to chat up guests in the elevator. If that wasn’t the case, they were still smart enough to hire a smart and motivated intern.
The “could use improvement”:
  1. When I arrived to checkin, I was as little surprised that they didn’t acknowledge the fact that I had stayed there before (level of difficulty from a CRM perspective is about a 2 on a scale of 1-10). This also required NO knowledge of social media whatsoever.
  2. The “reliable” in-room wifi was $15/night. And while it was provided by AT&T; (a network that usually allows roaming via my Boingo account), I wasn’t provided with a “roaming” option in spite of the fact that the FAQs on the site said that I could.
  3. Corollary to number four in the “good” column above… while there was in fact A bottle of water on my bedside table, the aforementioned bottle was not a FREE bottle of water. I am of the strong belief that every hotel should offer at least A free bottle of water, even if it’s the cheap, no name kind.
  4. While I don’t expect that many businesses will make an attempt to use or even experiment with location-based services like FourSquare, Gowalla and Whrrl, restaurants and hotels are foolish for not tapping into this capability now. To that end, I was disappointed that the Nikko did not acknowledge of my FourSquare checkin given the fact that I cross-posted it on Twitter for all to see.
  5. They weren’t the Roger Smith
All in all, you’ll notice that my “could use improvement” column isn’t too scathing. While I travel a lot, I have simple needs. And maybe I’ve been spoiled by my stays at the Roger Smith but I am really surprised that more hotels — boutiques AND chains — haven’t done a better job at embracing social media.
How about you? Have you had a good or bad experience at a hotel that you’d like to mention? Please include it in the comments below.