Short post, Wired Magazine has an article on the Transparent CEO (see through they call it) which got recently published.
Read more about it here.
It is nice to see that one does not talk just crap, or at least that others speak as much about it as you do.
So... e-commerce grew 100% during 2006, in case your math is not that great, it means it doubled in one year. Studies before 2006 estimated a growth of 20-40%.
A couple of weeks ago, another article, also at La Nacion, stated that broadband internet connections had grown 66% over the same period.
Over 9 million people use the internet to search for products, and although only 60% of those searches end up in an online purchase it is still an impressive figure.
For 2007 a 40% growth is expected, again, which probably means it'll be higher...
Now, I'll end my post here... Some food for thought, right?
For some time now I have been sporadically working on some "personal" project of mine. Although I gave birth to the idea almost 5 months ago I couldn't quite find enough time to devote myself to it.
I don't want to give any information away, but I think "Phase 0" is almost completed; I will probably end it by the weekend. This means the project will be open for closed testing and "collaboration invitations" will go out. After that it'll be a matter of how much the people invite will be willing to contribute.
Enough said... Oh... this has to do with "web" in case you wondered.
A Step Forward.
Now, I have already went trough the most relevant points regarding the transparent company. Now I'll try to establish the kind of corporate mindset that is needed to take the move in this direction.
For starters an open mind set is required. Any radical changes require those in charge to have an open mind towards change and evolution. This is important for every company, as a sort of mantra, but that is a matter for another post.
A second condition is a willingness to give away some secrecy. While opening up some things must get out of the core of the company, and be shared with the public eye. For instance the whole customer support back-end process will have to be crystal-clear, with different roles and policies that would otherwise stay behind the curtains well exposed.
I think most companies today have learned that they should be customer-centric (with customers being either individuals, partners, small business or huge corporations) more than ever before. An unhappy customer can create a big deal of negative press through blogs, YouTube, forums or other social media. Surely enough all companies will get hit one time or the other by an angry customer spreading his message. No one can make all people 100% happy all of the time, but if a company shows its efforts towards solving issues and shows it's shame when they are unable to do so in a particular case people will tend to look at how many positives and negatives there are (such as when you buy on e-bay and look for the sellers reputation) and make their own call.
If you are the only company with such an approach you will be having the exclusive, and that is good altogether. If your competition takes the same approach, you'd better be making them happy, and if successful, it'll pay more than a million dollar ad campaign.
Some concessions must also be made. It is no easy task to expose a company's shortcomings and problems; people have a tendency to look at the negative side of things; you might have a thousand positive reviews and only one negative rant, guess what will be most popular? Yet, I believe (sorry to use the word "believe", but having no background on a full open and transparent policy I have no certainties) such open approach and such unfiltered way of exposing this kind of reviews might have a very positive effect, even when what is shown is not positive 100%.
It also takes money. It is an investment; and any bold approach such as this will surely generate quite some resistance from the most conservative members of a company. It might also be quite challenging to accurately measure ROI, since it is based on many "social" and "perceptive" variables. That being said it might be interesting to measure support and sales before and after implementation.
The transparent company idea would also require a long time to "grow roots" upon implementation. It would take quite some input to effectively build a knowledge base, and even longer to generate confidence from the customers and associates. Besides, doing something of the sort would be under close scrutiny by the competition and media, I'd say any slip on the road might prove to be almost fatal if the system has not mature enough amongst customers. Once everything is settled and the approach is well recognized it might be bullet proof, but while growing it would be as delicate as a crystal glass.
IF a company were to take such approach, it should be decided to go all the way. There would be no room hesitation.
What about partners associates and vendors?
This system also applies to them, and it's core to their interaction with customers and the main brand. All sorts of associates are key in relation with customers. Most of the time they own functions which are front face to the customer. If you buy a product from company A, in store B, store B relates to the customer, but should go wrong it is company A that gets the bad reputation. For all parties' sake all involved should take care everyone is taking care of their part of the process in an appropriate manner. Although sometimes it might not appear so, everyone's on the same side.
So, if everyone is on the same side, it seems only natural that everyone uses the same sort of tools. It is just a matter of compromise; sure, sometimes partners of the same company are direct competitors, but sharing information is beneficial for everyone. Say some customer buys from "A" for the first time and from "B" the second time. If "A" did it's share, "B" knows part of the customer's purchasing (and even service & support) history and they might be able to get to do a better sale.
The same happens with support, many companies have 3rd parties as support and service providers, customers might be assigned to one or the other depending on variables such as geography. So, say a customer moves or is mobile or is far away for whatever reason from their usual service provider; that should be no problem if the information is centralized and public or semi-public, they'll know the history and be able if the particular case is a recurring incidence or something completely different.
Another example: if a sales rep knows certain product line has some issues with a certain type of use, he'll be able to sell a different product, since that information is public. Of course it takes some homework, but every sales-person must do a share of work to ensure good sales. This benefits both the salesman (who would make a knowledgeable sale, have a happy, issue-less customer), support and help desk (who will not have to face support due to a poor sales strategy), and the main brand, since a happy customer is the best marketing campaign.
I have already stated the transparent company is Customer-centric, but I believe it's noteworthy to say that the side benefits for partners, vendors, service and support people are substantial. It will sure take a company some hard work to get all its different associates to use such tools, and get them convinced that such policy is beneficial for everyone (many companies are very reluctant to share any kind of information, even worst if that information is shared with the competition).
I'll end up this 3rd part with the obvious: happy customers help everyone; from top to bottom, from left to right.
Who can take advantage of such approach? Customers for starters. I'd be rather happy to see that every interaction is stored, and if things should go wrong that the company publicly posts it's failure. People would loose that sense of impotence they have after a customer support call gone bad. Even if such would be the outcome people would be a tad unhappier to see that the company acknowledges it couldn't quite solve things. On the other hand it would force support teams to become more efficient, treat customers better and actually try to solve issues.
The advantages for the company come hand in hand with trust. If you trust a company to be honest, even what it makes them looks bad, in a sense, customers become more loyal, since there is a relationship based in mutual honesty.
A side advantage to the approach would be reducing costs in support. Reducing costs? how come? if help desks are under the public scrutiny one would expect them to have more personnel to give better support. That might be the case, but you might forget the fact that with the public support cases a knowledge base might be built, and common issues solutions would be out there for everyone to see. I am a particularly "do it yourself" type of guy, so I usually search the web, forums, and blogs for ways to solve whatever issue arises it is only if I can't solve something on my own that I call in for help. I know there are plenty of people who act this way as well. If given a proper tool, (this knowledge base could be just one of many, I've already mentioned how forums would help as well in the past), many people wouldn't call unless they had real issues.
The downsides come also from the hand of customers. Although most people, most of the time are good, there are other cases which could provoke some "false negatives" on the system.
On the other hand there is the issue of privacy, and how to handle that. On the introduction I mentioned how each customer should agree to have it's case displayed or not, and even if displayed a lot of data should be hidden (such as contact information, even the serial numbers of products, and other things) to avoid people faking they are some other customer, spam and other enjoyable annoyances of on-line world.
Altogether, if privacy is handled properly the advantages outnumber the disadvantages, and the gain in public perception should be more than enough to try such approach.Another thing that must be taken into account is the legitimacy of things. People are suspicious by nature, look at comments on most corporate blogs, when people rant, they usually start "I don't know if this will ever be posted" or "let's see how long this comment stays visible". In order to gain confidence and for the program to be actually transparent, all data displayed should be a honest reflection of things going on; even when they might seem negative, the public perception effect should balance this.
Inspired by Mark, who was later provoked by me, I felt the need to write a little bit about the "transparent company" concept and what it might involve.
The name speaks for itself in a great extent; it involves a company which is transparent to it's customers, at least in its interaction with them. How can this be possible? Is it desirable? what are the advantages and disadvantages of such approach? This are some of the questions I made myself and which I will try to address on this post.
To first introduce the reader into this concept I shall quote Mark, who could understand my interpretation of his original post much better than I did myself:
A company’s core functions still operate upon a myriad of different systems, and getting on “the glass” is just one more layer of technology and process. I think Esteban is proposing a complete immersion, a fusion in which those back end systems are phased out and the entire business, from suppliers all the way to the customer is executed on the web. Not just published to the web, but on the web. The apps are all web based.
I'll further expand the idea a little bit. The main aim is getting applications on the web and accessible not only to the inside people, but to customers, suppliers and partners. The first half of the statement is already partially true, at least for big multinational companies. On a daily basis more and more applications have web interfaces; this can span from human resources to pricing, including back end support and project managing. In most cases this applications are behind a firewall or only accessible through IDs and Passwords.
Naturally then the second part of the statement would only require a corporate decision, a bold one, but almost natural in todays "the customer is the king and he has a voice" culture. It would boost confidence in the company, and generate a sense of involvement from part of those accessing to such services.
Let's exemplify for a second. We'll use the cliché of customer support and how it works nowadays. Usually a customer calls in a help desk, he inputs some data through the telephone's keyboard, and then is asked to speak orally what he has just inputed. Then, its time for the usual "what is your problem?", "I'm sorry I can't help you, I'll pass you along to some other guy who has a different speech on his screen" and so on until some enlightenment (or not) hits the people on the other side of the line and they finally and up actually helping you. Let's say the problem pops up again. You call in once more, and you face a difficult decition, you either A. go all over the drill and end up explaining that you went all over it before and that it didn't friggin' help, or B. loose your temper from starters and ask to talk to a manager, after which you end up in A anyways.
As you probably know, whenever a call to a help desk happens everything is loaded into a database, with a case number, some details, the people who read their pre-programmed speeches from their screens and how everything worked out. Now, let's involve the public web into this. After asking if you'd rather have your case public (with customer data hidden) or not. Either case an incidence number will be sent to you, with a URL, in which you would have access to all those notes, the exact same notes people on the inside have access to (this is core to the concept). Thus next time you call in with the same (or other) problem you can point the guys in the right direction or ask directly for that guy who's inspiration helped you the last time.
Let's take the example one step further. Let's say such all public systems are integrated. So, if you bought through web, or through a vendor (remember they have access to the same tools), you have a profile. You can point out your profile, and people on the help desks would know what your historical purchases have been, solving much of the fuzz of detailing all you customer IDs, serial numbers, invoices, warranties and so on. As you would have access to the exact same data those guys have you could even point out if there were any issues on such profile. Every ticket you open on any issue you have would be associated to your profile and the product on that profile.
For quite some time I've been wanting to talk about two of my all time favorites amongst cars, and, so it happens one is a "redesign" (or tribute) of the other. So, we'll better start with the "oldest" of them.
BMW 507 - 1956
The 507 was the reply to Mercedes Benz and Jaguar's sports cars success. Up to that point the company had focus on post-war cars, after rebuilding itself by selling smaller and lower end cars. During sometime in the mid 50's it had become increasingly obvious that the wold's economy was in recovery and that people were willing to spend good money in more luxurious cars, with Americans heading this trend.
It was Count Albrecht von Goertz who headed the design of this classic. It must of been quite surprising that after designing the very pre-1939 looking 502 and 503, he was able to pull this design; quite iconic and ahead of its time (it looks 1960'ish).
After a couple of years in production, it became obvious that the market wasn't all that ready fur such car, and the company lost money upon it. I personally think that the overseas sales should have been more in focus at the time, but BMW failed to gain the heart of Americans. If Porsche hadn't been successful I'd be tempted to blame that to anti-German feelings after the war concluded, I guess it was just good old poor marketing. Either way BMW went full throttle to build cheaper cars to save itself from bankruptcy.
Only 252 were ever made, and that is the main reason why such cars can hit the 300,000 US dollars on auction this days. One of it's most noteworthy owners was Elvis Presley.
BMW Z8 - 2000
The Z07 was meant for production. But not as quickly as it happened. The car was a concept (named after the 507, and the year of it's creation: 1997). It all quickly shifted after 1997's Tokyo auto show, where the car was highly regarded and admired.
BMW was already looking for a refresh of it's highly successful Z3 (and it's variants), but the Z8 was in a higher price range; it is a fully featured sports car, by nature. Going from 0 to 100km/h in 4.3 seconds is no joke.
It's concept car birth gave the Z8 some unique features, such as being the first production car to feature neon headlights, and the single spin command that would make it into the 5 and 7 series a couple of years later.
Born a classic, the car is as expensive used as it was out of factory, and with only 5,700 cars ever to leave the production lines, one can only expect prices to go higher.
Although the 507 was never a commercially viable, it has payed off BMW over time. It proved the company could still make sports cars which were highly desirable (although the company would take a long way to return to roadsters) high quality and everlasting. It followed the line of pre-war cars such as the 328 (remember my grandpa's car?) and it set the ground for such cars as the M1 and Z1.
The Z8 was also a proof of concept, and, although the Z4 is not as high-ended or "sportsy" it follows the same line.
I only hope to be able to see the next BMW to feature this sort of detailing:
507 Side detail.
Z8 Side detail
I thought I'd share some of my interests with the audience... Why? just because.
The list in no particular order:
- Internet & Web:
-Races (formula 1, Argentine TC and TC2000, Rally)
-Football (that sport that Americans call "soccer", River Plate in particular)
-Tennis (I don't play... but I watch)
-No Macs, sorry... only former IBM PCD department, now known as lenovo
-Computer Generated Graphics (Terragen, 3dStudioMax (if I could afford it!))
-Computers and music
-Playing it (I play bass, guitar, flute, some clarinet... and I'd like to acquire a double bass)
-Listening to it (the list would be just too extensive)
-Composing it (whenever I get back to it)
-Did I mention BMW already?
-If its electronic and new... I'm interested
-Spreading the word...
-Science fiction and Fantasy (I'm a geek)
-Latin American Writers (Borges, Sabato, Garcia Marquez)
-I even read my bus tickets!
-Movies such as Brazil, 1984, the wall...
-Middle East history
-Ancient Rome and Byzantine Empire
-World War II
I know I'll edit this post because I forgot something... but I needed to end.
Now a lame attempt to make this viral, no tags, though, if you want / like / wish you can come up with a list of your own...
Short post, watch for yourselves:
I want both the car and microsites like that!
If that is not generating desire I don't know what could.
(Thanks to Silvio for the pointer to this one!)