Why Twitter is so unbelievably awesome

Anyone who’s witnessed a typical weekday for me will have noticed my slight addiction to Twitter, a service that simply can’t be explained and has to be experienced.

But in my attempt to justify the thousands of updates I’ve posted on it, I’ll highlight a few amazing ways Twitter has helped me and those around me this week.

  • It helped me discover how other bloggers felt about being accosted by PR agency, resulting in an article for The Blog Medic called “Marketing Ethics: Ten ways to piss off a blogger”.
  • An ad hoc conversation led to a friend getting a job offer, and the entire conversation up to scheduling an interview call happened over Twitter.
  • It allowed me to find a couple of new contracts for Pepsmedia redesigning blog templates & site launches.
  • Since SXSW, I’ve managed to stay in touch with many of the lovely people I met there without going through the usual “ok I’ll reply to that email later”, where later becomes never. By keeping it bite-sized, Twitter makes it easy to stay in touch.
  • I’ve found amazing support for the idea of SocialMediaCamp in London in July through fellow Twitter users who are interested and can provide skills and contacts I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.
  • A few people offered sound advice with regards to the process to setting up a limited company, again calling on the experience of others.
  • It was the fastest channel through which I heard about Russell’s decision to stop developing Mowser on Monday night.
  • It’s a great way to swap kitty photos with Mel Kirk 🙂

So there you go, it’s a business resource like no other, a great communication tool and an entertaining place to have water cooler conversations with like-minded people.

Ford Marshall Service: Don't let them wash your car

I’m really miffed with Ford in Cambridge. This week, I took my fab little red Ford Ka, which is about to turn one year old (7,000 miles on the clock, running like a dream) for its first yearly service.

I bought it last year, got a great deal (literally, 25% off the original showroom price) on a brand new 5-miles-on-the-clock Ka, just weeks before I passed my driving test. We’ve taken great care of it, Andrew’s been the only person cleaning it – both because I’m a lazy cow and because he puts such love and care into it. He uses these fancy shmancy cleaning products acquired through a friend who’s a professional detailer (really high class valeting) and it always looks amazingly shiny.

As a rule of thumb, when he gets his car serviced at BMW, he always asks them not to wash it. I didn’t do the same when I went to Ford, which was a stupid move, because they cleaned it. The paint finish now looks like a bunch of children cleaned it with dish soap and gritty sponges. In the space of 3 hours, my car went from looking brand new to looking pretty averagely scratched.

Trying to discuss with the car valeting service manager, Brian, at Ford was pretty pointless. He wasn’t having any of it, “my boys didn’t do this. We clean 200 cars a day and they don’t do it that way.” Well… if you clean 200 cars a day, you probably don’t give each one much attention or carefully rinse your washing mitts in between, do you? He offered to polish it “as a good will gesture”, but still didn’t admit he was in the wrong.

Andrew’s taking on the job of polishing as much of it out as possible, and I’m in two minds about getting his detailing friend to come and machine polish it properly. But one thing that’s for sure is that I’ll get Ford Marshall in Cambridge to annotate my file to say never to wash it when it goes in for a service, thank you very much, we’ll do it ourselves.

I know a lot of people will roll their eyes at this and say “well, your car still runs, doesn’t it? What’s the big fuss?” but I care. I like my belongings to still look good over the years, especially when it doesn’t require huge amounts of extra time and it means it lasts that much longer without needing to be replaced. My iPod is scratched to high heavens after living in my handbag, and that’s fine, it’s so disposable. But my iPhone has a nice red case to avoid it getting damaged. And my car doesn’t go through Tesco carwash.

So if you’re in the Cambridge area and get your car serviced at Ford, think twice before letting them give it a clean while you’re there. And if you’re that Nissan 350Z owner who also complained about scratched paintwork a few weeks ago, I’m sorry, we still haven’t got through to them.

Now, I hope this post gets right up there in search engines when someone looks for Ford Marshall. Not because the rest of the service is poor, it’s great in fact! But it’ll be a word of warning for those who like their paintwork scratch-free!

Gary Vaynerchuk: Tech World 2008 = Hip Hop 1985

Gary Vaynerchuk, for those who don’t yet know him, is the guy behind, in front and all around Wine Library TV. He’s a raving looney, a totally loveable geek but most of all, a rough diamond of community relations amongst the world of overly polished marketing bullshit. He says things as they are and has marked me enough during SXSWi this year that I’ve got a couple of things he’s said up on my board of inspirational quotes in the office. (Thank you Gary, genuinely!)

He also agreed with me that making your own wine is a bad idea, mmmkay dad?

PS – I want my own WLTV sweatband bracelet thinger!

Your call is important to us: Seven tips to use when dealing with customer service

We’ve all had situations where we’ve needed to call the customer service number for a product or service where either something’s gone wrong, Angry call centre workeror we’re dissatisfied with what’s happening. It’s normal for that to happen considering the amount of goods and services we consume in a year. Some products are bound to be duds sometimes.

What’s not normal or acceptable is to have to fight uncooperative call centre monkeys, who have no notion of service and no interest in helping you.

To help ease the pain of this process, here are a few tips to expedite the process and get to a resolution to your problem as quickly as possible.

  1. Always document your interactions: Even if you’re sure you’ll remember, write down the name of the person you spoke to, the time/date at which you spoke, and the status of the issue when you hung up. It’ll quite likely help you resolve your dispute quicker.
  2. Keep the phone number handy: The first time you use a new service, add their customer service phone number to your address book. If they “streamline” their website and remove all trace of their customer service number, you’ll still have a copy of it. Doubly good if you sync your address book with your phone.
  3. Letters still work: Sometimes, nothing will get the message across better than a firm, well-written, snail mail letter to customer relations. Clearly state the context in which the problem occurred, give detailed accounts of communications to date and end with a statement of what resolution you expect. The clearer your letter, the more likely they’ll answer it promptly.
  4. Send your letters by registered mail: Don’t allow them to pretend the letter was never received by ensuring it’s signed at the other end.
  5. Send a copy of your letter to Public Relations: Whether by email or post, copy the Public Relations department. They have to deal with public flare-ups all the time, and if yours looks like it might cause them hassle, they’ll try to nip it in the bud and might even beat Customer Services by responding first.
  6. Most importantly, be patient, polite and have a sense of humour: You’re talking to someone who’s most likely doing an 8 hour shift in a bleak, crowded pigpen of a call centre. If you shout at them or act aggressively, they’ll tune you out and maybe even mislead you to get you off the phone. Being nice pays off in situations like this one.
  7. Bonus tip – Do not swear: Ever. Even if you’re the sweetest, nicest office manager around, don’t say “f*cking weather today, eh?” followed by a couple more expletives, because they will respond with “I’m sorry mam, but you used foul language three times, I’ll now have to end this call. Good evening mam.”

[Credit to Dan Says, in Merlin’s Flickr comments, for striking some ideas that led me to finally scrapping this post together after talking about it many times.]
[Image borrowed from Think Geek]

Email marketing software: The good, the bad and the downright ugly

Back when I worked in email marketing, I kept meaning to write about what it’s like to work in that field and what applications have blown my mind, or been the bane of my life. In March, I wrote an article for the Digital Web magazine about the Seven Deadly Sins of Email Marketing, but it focussed more on list management and attitude.

Spam is bad!Today, I received an email from an old colleague asking for tips on the best email marketing software to use in her new role. Instead of responding via email, I thought I’d turn it into a post, since it isn’t the first time the question comes up.

The first step in deciding what type of email marketing application to use is whether you’re looking for a one-off-cost downloadable application or an online service-based application. At first glance, the downloaded app will appear to be the best option, and by far the cheapest. That’s the one big pro about it – it’s a one-off purchase. Now, I’ll be perfectly honest and say I’ve never used one of those apps, so the only recommendation I can make on that level is to look for reviews before you buy.

However, I can explain the cons of using a downloadable app.

One of the greatest challenges in email marketing is deliverability. By this I mean the percentage of total email addresses on your mailing list who receive your newsletter to their inbox.

Think of the process as a funnel:

  1. Total number addresses in your list
  2. Delivered emails
  3. Opened emails
  4. Clickthroughs to your site
  5. Your reader taking action on your site

On that second level of the funnel, if you’ve chosen to use a downloadable app, you have to count on your ISP and your domain name, cross your fingers and close your eyes very hard when you hit the send button. Why am I saying this? It’s because you don’t have the online service’s great ISP relations squad behind you. You get no help whatsoever from your app to ensure your email is delivered, rather than wiped by the server or treated as spam.

If too many users flag you as spam or the ISP recognises your IP address as being troublesome (not necessarily by your fault, could be due to a previous owner of the address or because you’re sharing it on a network), you might find your whole domain blacklisted. This includes your entire sales team’s email addresses – and that can’t be good for business! Establishing relationships with masses of ISPs worldwide and ensuring nothing goes wrong is a full time job and a very difficult process, which small businesses can’t really manage on their own.

So there, that’s one of the many reasons I support online email marketing apps. They’re the guardian angels of deliverability.

No matter what, online email marketing services also vary wildly in quality. I’ve used a few of them, ranging from the extremely user-friendly Campaign Monitor (my preferred choice) to the awfully antiquated and highly aggravating Epsilon DreamMail and Axciom Digital’s Impact dinosaurs. [It should already raise a big red flag when the service is only usable in IE 6 on Windows…]

Services like Campaign Monitor suit the vast majority of small/medium businesses with to their simple and slick user interface, and are still priced very reasonably. The team does everything in its power to offer great email templates, and gives some of the best email marketing tips I’ve ever read on its blog.

Quite at the other end of the scale, services like DreamMail and Digital Impact give me a rash. They’re from a completely different school of thought, offering far too many radio buttons and tick boxes*, resulting in some very costly mistakes over my time doing email marketing. The service is slow, unreliable – often down “for maintenance” at peak times, unbeknownst to our assigned (and unreachable) account manager. Sure, the cost per email sent is lower when sending very large mailouts (to the tune of 3-4 million emails a month) but the service is dire and the time spent fighting with the system is disproportionate to the benefits gained from the cost-saving exercise for a business any smaller than that.

You might think I’m drawing a grim, black and white picture of the older and more traditional services, but speaking on behalf of those who’ve used it before and after me, we’ve gained a full head of grey hair between us from using them. Go for small, human services who are in tune with their users’ needs. Aren’t they the ones we want to see flourish anyways?

[* I once asked my account manager what some of the tick boxes did and what mysterious options were for. His answer? “Oh they’re deprecated, don’t use those. We should remove them but nobody’s done it yet. We’ll have a new product for Europe at some point but this is the US service, minus a few features.” Yeah, mate. That makes me feel like we’re very important customers… And we’re not talking about 2-3 small tick boxes, but nearly half the interface not being functional for us.]

Oh hello there!

I'm Véro - a crafty, knitty, spinny gal who enjoys making (and drinking) a cocktail or three. If you've stumbled here, you might enjoy browsing some of my older posts with the tags over to the right or finding out more about me.

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