There is only one HSBC, one Nokia, one Ford, one Leica. That's fact. More important than fact, the customer only sees there being one.
Which is the straight forward unquestionable reason why it upsets anyone at all when we interact with a representative of a company, or have any kind of communication with a company, and the response effectively belies the fragmentation of the organisation, the fact that the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing and actually doesn't care.
I put "they" in quotes, because we can learn two almost contradictory things from our use of this pronoun. First off, it indicates that we all recognise in natural language that an organisation is simply a collection of people. Just because the 20th Century bred organisations with tens of thousands of people making up "they", doesn't detract from the fact that it is still just people. Like you and me.
That's why we use "they" as the pronoun for a company more often than not in place of the grammatically correct "it".
Secondly, the "they" also indicates what's known as the reification of an organisation. In other words, we teach ourselves to consider the organisation as an entity in its own right, a thing, a tangible thing that lives and breathes of itself. We have abstracted it away from being the collection of individuals that it actually is.
This is often apparent in water-cooler chat in large organisations, when two or three people have a good old gossip about "the company" and about what "the company" is doing to them, or how "the company" is treating them, or how "the company" works, and why John or Jane is or is not a "company person". This transforms into "they" when referring to the layer of management and above that's beyond the individuals' usual level of contact. "Why have they done that?" "They don't understand the shopfloor."
This has some interesting ramifications for internal communications, but for now I'll carry on as I started by looking at how external perceptions can pivot on how joined up that organisation's people and systems are.
And what better way than by example? And what better example than one that will work cathartically for me as I will get to let off some steam at the same time :-)
TWITTER: "I'm not going to use the NokiaMessaging [NM] account to talk about non NM issues"
So said a direct message over Twitter from @nokiamessaging. Apparently, @nokiamessaging is not a Nokia Twitter profile, but a Nokia Messaging Twitter account. Wow, OK, sorry about that! Silly of me. But how about pointing me to someone who could be just a little more helpful, say a response like...
"Hi, I'm the expert on Nokia Messaging, so @nokiacalendar please get back to @sheldrake"
Perhaps I'd have better luck on a suitable forum, and what better forum than the one Nokia themselves have set up. (Or is that "Nokia itself has set up"?).
But no, it appears Nokia doesn't view the forums as a place to chat much with its customers. Unfortunately, when you do that... or rather don't do that... when one part of your organisation sets up a place to converse but another side of the organisation refuses to engage, you end up incubating little but bad feeling. Put it this way, I've circulated the following URL, that links to the forum thread in question, as far and wide as I can:
How many people does the Nokia team wish to see the thread of disgruntled customers, let alone the wording of this short-url?
The real world
How about the new shop on Regent Street? "The Flagship London Store" according to the press release announcing its opening Feb 2008. I've been able to speak with two different people there in the same day. Very nice people, and definitely ready and willing to sell me on the new hardware. Unfortunately, I am already a customer and it's the software I have a problem with.
"Oh, we don't do that here."
I don't need to go on for one simple reason... You have undoubtedly experienced exactly this same kind of thing. So imagine the competitive advantage that can be wrought by organisations like Nokia if they got their game together and started to act like "one" to you and me.
The first thing they need to do to start acting like "one" is to recognise me as "one". In other words, they have to link my twitters, my forum contributions, my email, my phone calls, my instore visits, with me. Whilst we all like to think of ourselves as people not numbers, I know numbers can be assigned uniquely when names are rarely unique, so I'd have no problem with being known primarily (the "primary key" in database terminology) by a unique customer number, closely followed by the secondary fields of name and email address.
It is then incumbent on Nokia to link my communications channels with this customer record. Moreover, the most effective way for them to do this is to entice me to do it for them by offering me some benefit I could not otherwise secure. Say, oh I don't know, off the top of my head, GETTING NOKIA'S MOST ADVANCED MESSAGING PHONE EVER TO SYNC FULLY AND RELIABLY WITH GOOGLE MAIL, CONTACTS AND CALENDAR.
Calm down Sheldrake. What I mean is... they could offer me three quick response support tickets or something like that.
Influence and be influenced
The strapline for my soon to be launched new consultancy is "influence and be influenced". We help organisations (and their agencies) gear themselves up better to exert influence and, importantly, improve the organisation's porosity to feedback from customers and other stakeholders, whether direct or indirect, implicit or explicit.
I wrote an open letter in a Nokia forum thread to Nokia's UK Marketing Director Will Harris inviting him to meet up so I can share my frustrating experiences dealing with his company over a coffee, and possibly a biscotti if I'm feeling generous. I still hope he might take me up on the offer. I'll let you know.