In two recent articles, I commented on the failure of two companies' marketing departments to respond to customers' concerns. They were Nikon UK and The Camping and Caravanning Club.
In a spirit of scientific enquiry, I wrote to the PR departments of both companies to see what they had to say about the matters I mentioned.
Nikon said nothing for a while, so I prompted it. I then got a message from someone called Lily (no surname given), saying:
Unfortunately this is not something that we would comment on.
That is indeed unfortunate, as it now makes Nikon look wilfully unresponsive about what might have been an oversight. As I replied to Lily, "So your company is going to keep silent about its silence, with no explanation and no attempt at refutation or remediation?"
I asked her to tell whomever sets this policy that it's doing Nikon harm. There has been nothing in response to my second message.
The Camping and Caravanning Club
Tracking down the C&CC's PR manager took indirect methods. None of the pages on its Web site shows his name or contact details but I dug out a press release on PDF that did. I wrote to that person (Jon Dale) eight days ago. Nothing has come back.
His email address made me smile – it's email@example.com. That domain name is how the club likes to style itself. It's generally true, not that I've found employees of its rival, The Caravan Club, to be unfriendly. That's marketing for you.
Trying to find out anything about who manages what at the C&CC is hard. Only members get access to the names of the managers and committee members of this substantial organization (£65.5 million turnover; 670 employees). No email addresses are given, of course. Non-members probably find the organization completely opaque.
This might (just) be understandable if only members used the club's campsites but most are open to all visitors. The C&CC is concealing basic information from its customers.
Being a member, I get to see the annual report. It should be available to anyone, as the club is a company limited by guarantee. From it I see that expenditure on marketing and PR in the last financial year leapt from roughly £640,000 to just under £2,260,000. I wonder what it went on.
The business systems department was another winner in the money stakes. Annual expenditure grew from about £1,016,000 to just over £1,620,00. Ditto.
Keeping up with the times
All this pointless secrecy reminds me of the days before the Web. Then, if you wanted to know anything about an organization, the usual responses from its functionaries were: "Who wants to know?", followed by: "Why?". I used to tell them I was a shareholder.
After the Mosaic browser arrived in 1993, organizations slowly began opening their informational doors. They invited the unknown electronic visitor to browse upon acres of information previously hugged to the corporate bosom.
It seems normal to us now to be able to find out details of products, locations, trading partners, management teams and financial results just from a few mouse clicks. It has been a welcome and healthy change.
This new openness was little remarked on at the time but I believe it triggered a revolution in organizations' attitudes to information sharing, both publicly and internally. That change has not, as we see above, been universally accepted.
It's not as though I'm voicing an unusual expectation. As Jeremiah Owyang of the Altimeter Group put it in a recent blog posting:
Companies must respond faster to customer woes in public. Forever gone is [sic] the days of sweeping customer complaints under the carpet, as in an easily findable ‘Google world’ corporations must address customers in public as many watch on…
If only, Jeremiah.
I was reading today an article in McKinsey Quarterly titled "Inside P&G’s digital revolution" (free registration needed). In part of it, Robert McDonald, Procter & Gamble's CEO, recounted this story from pre-Web days:
In 1984, when I was the Tide brand manager, I would get a cassette tape of consumer comments from the 1–800 line and listen to them in the car on the way home. Then, back at the office, I’d read and react to the letters we’d received.
So it's not a question of the latest technology – it's a question of a willingness to listen and respond.
I have a profile of Yammer (including some words from its CEO, David Sacks) almost ready to post. It's away for fact checking at the moment. I'll put it up here once I get the results.