Friday, November 27, 2009

It's THE EMERGENCY of the year - Brain Cowen is kidnapped!

Funny the stuff that ends up in your inbox from some people, especially if it's a marketing ploy just to promote their very funny and topical new CD "Use Democracy Sensibly" available as a perfect christmas stocking filler now.

I'm giving some away that I, er, found, on here.

Use Democracy Sensibly is written and performed by The Emergency - Morgan C Jones, Eoin Byrne, Joe Taylor, Dermot Carmody, Karen Ardiff and Nick McGiveny.

I know someone who LOVES this clip from them:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Training Eircom's new online customer support team

I spent some time with Eircom's new online customer support team yesterday and Monday. Yes, that's right, Eircom are heading out into the big bad world of online and "engaging" in "conversations" with their customers on a new site to be launched, on twitter, on and wherever else is appropriate. Eventually.

It's a brave move for the company because let's face it, they're going to open themselves up even more to criticism and venting than they ever have before. It's very "easy" not to answer the phone but this is different. The whole organisation needs to be aware of that and I'm not sure that they are.

Now, when I say I'm "training", I don't mean I'm giving them the top 10 tips to be a customer service ninja or giving handouts drawn on posts by Godin, et al. Nor do I mean I'm advocating high fives when a query is solved, or recruiting advocates to ensure that only good stuff is said about you online. Because that sort of stuff is ultimately bullshit and there's far too much of that going on already.

This is about customer service, pure and simple. In real world terms it's someone coming into your shop with a problem and you solving it with a minimum of fuss and bother. Exciting the customer. One of the best books on customer service I've read was by Feargal Quinn about Superquinn - Crowning the Customer - and even then he just talks about how a good shop is well laid out with staff who are helpful, who anticipate the customer need and ensure it happens. Sounds simple, but a bitch to implement. Every part of the organisation needs to be bought into it.

I'm not saying either though that it's difficult to find the problems. A quick search on twitter yesterday morning brought us to Leo's tweets - and a quick reply and some fortuitous circumstances completely independent of us had the problem for Leo solved - but a valuable lesson taught. This isn't rocket science - it's just saying "Hello, I'm here to help, can I?"

I've really enjoyed watching the evolution of the talk to... forums, especially since Vodafone got involved (0ver 1,500 posts since September 20). Because I get emailed with every post as well as them, I get to see what's coming through. Some of it is quite harsh. Some of it fixable, some not. It is, however, valuable customer advice.

I watch how the feedback we receive on is - or isn't - implemented and I guess I'm lucky to be on at what I consider to be still the start-up stage of this company. Unlike massive companies like Eircom or Vodafone, I don't have a press office, a marketing team or a legal department to get things signed off by - that's me and Tom and Dav doing that between us. If something's wrong, we'll try fix it, if we can and it's fixable. If it's wrong but can't be fixed now, and isn't urgent (which is not the same as isn't "important") it gets added to the (long) list of stuff to be actioned. That's a really good position to be in. Enviable.

Will it be the same in Eircom? I don't really know how it operates at a management level. Do they know what people are complaining about? Do they look at the call centre logs, the emailed queries and say "Okay, we have a problem in this area, this needs to be fixed" and then go and actually use their authority in the company to fix it? My hope is that it's so, my gut feeling is it's not. I think people get tied up in call volumes reached, in tickets closed, in cutting call centre resources, in just answering the call and letting that be. This won't work for Eircom.

The moment someone in there starts looking at this exercise in terms of number of posts answered rather than how long it took to resolve an issue and why; the moment they're talking about standardised, templated answers, quick wins and not telling the whole truth, the whole project might as well be scrapped.

Certainly, if I were part of the management team over this effort, I'd be looking closely at the processes. How is a query received? How is it answered? What steps does someone have to take to get there? Are there unnecessary steps that can be removed? Where are the problems talking longest to resolve? Does my team have the necessary authority and buy in from the organisation to make sure that what they do, they do well, first time and every time?

I'd nearly have the people answering the queries and dealing with them and then one person looking at the issues that caused the query in the first case and how that could be resolved and feeding that back into the system. Would that work? Yes, I believe so. Would a company pay someone to do it? No. Why? Because you'd only get results after a year. That's a pity.

There's no easy win for Eircom. It's going to take a lot of hard work, determination, apologising and trial and error. It's going to cause a lot of disruption internally - if it's done right.

Rather than end on this sort of downer on a blog post, I wanted to just share some thoughts for anyone in Eircom who ends up reading this far:

  1. Once you start, there's no going back. No half measures, no shortcuts, no easy answers. DO it right from the beginning. If you can't do it alone, get help. Ask for advice. Get support. This is important and you have a great chance here to do something pretty damn good.

  2. While you're not in "control" of the conversation, you have no influence over what people say and you don't know what someone could come at you with, act like you do. Be calm, be friendly, be honest but above all find out what their problem/issue is and fix that as quickly and as best as possible. Easier than it sounds.

    It's the usual yaddah yaddah of how to talk online - don't jump in, listen first, be helpful with the advice, don't pimp your own stuff. Be the experts you are supposed to be - the experts you're paid to be.

  3. Trust the guys you've hired, Eircom. From what I know of them, they seem like decent chaps. They'll need support but ultimately they're the guys you've put on your online frontline. You've hired them to do a job, let them do it.

  4. Be honest. Be transparent. That will stand much better to you than just the brand guidelines. As lovely as your marketing and press people are, their message isn't what I want to hear - it's the truth about my problem and what you're going to do about it.

  5. Realise you're going to learn a lot that you don't know about. Realise you're going to have to change things. Realise that this will be a measure of you as a company.

  6. Don't take negative feedback personally. This is probably the biggest mistake people make online - assuming that what's written about them, their online work or the company they work for reflects on them personally. It doesn't. Not really. Not ultimately. Ignore the trouble-makers. If you can't ignore them, pity them. Their other problems are not yours. Solve what you can, when you can and be happy with the work you've done.

  7. Remember - a little goes a long way. One tweet yesterday, though it didn't solve any problems, didn't fix anything or wasn't really that helpful did cause one person, previously having an awful experience with that company to react favourably to an offer of help. Don't discount that. Build on it.
It's a long road ahead. It's going to be really interesting to watch the journey.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Interview for the Visually Impaired Computer Society of Ireland

I was delighted to be asked by Digital Darragh to contribute to a podcast for the Visually Impaired Computer Society of Ireland recently. We sat down in the Westbury and had a good chat. It's just gone live and can be heard below.

We discussed what exactly social networking is, what I get from the whole thing (that was a long segment), what people should be scared of, if anything, about blogging and about

I quite like that you can hear the buzz of people, the chatter of the place, the clatter of the cups and so on around us. I wish I'd been a better speaker but it had been a long day.

The interview starts at around 30:52.

(You'll need to let it (down)load)

I'm particularly impressed to see organisations like VICs Ireland using tools like podcasts to communicate with their members. I hope those listening learned something small at least!

Good morning to you #2

Hey Jude:

How to make a baby:

It could only be the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra:

This is a panda, born in Chiamg Mai zoo in Thailand last June, at eight days old.

4 June 2009: The cub, now eight days old, tries to stand on its feet, though it won't be able to crawl until it is about 75 days old. The panda's distinctive colouring is starting to form on the eyes, ears and paws

and then another eight days later.

I'm listening to Spamalot this morning. Love this track:

Sometimes not even English means anything

Stop motion sand sculptures:

From Japan - there's a right place for everyone:

2 fingers from a Shaolin monk - one of only two people in the world who can do this

Monday, November 23, 2009

It costs €20m to build 1 km of road in modern Ireland

I interviewed Fergus Finlay, the CEO of Barnardos Ireland on Friday about their current YES/NO campaign and how cuts in the upcoming budget would affect their work and the people that they work with.

Some shocking (to me) statistics emerged in our chat, including how Thornton Hall, the new prison currently being built will cost €1,000 million in the first 10 years of operation and how it costs €20 million to build 1km of road in "modern" Ireland.

Via the blog:

You can read more about the campaign in this PDF download and sign the petition here.

You might also like to see what exactly Barnardos are recommending to the Government - that presentation is below:
Barnardos Key Recommendations for Budget 2010

I've arranged advertising for Barnardos on to help them reach their target of signatures. I hope it has an impact. Given that interview, if it doesn't, we're all in a lot of trouble. Preventing that is worth at least a signature.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The day I interviewed Dustin the Turkey

From the blog:

Given the fact I talk to people a lot professionally, it's rare that I'm completely speechless in someone's presence. In fact, it's happened only twice recently - one when Terry Pratchett joined us for soup in Clare and the other was yesterday when Dustin started talking to me.

One of the cool things about my job with is what it allows me to do interviews like this. I find other people's questions are always much better than what I could come up with - especially if they have an emotional connection to the subject - it's how the soccer forum members came up with such great questions for John O' Shea and Damien Duff.

Setting up an interview with someone as busy as Dustin is a difficult one. Not content with everything he's done on TV, on the Eurovision, musically or politically, he's also just completed a trip to South Africa with UNICEF to entertain children affected by HIV/AIDS, unemployment and poverty and been in the recent RTÉ show "Dustin: Twenty Years A-Pluckin'" celebrating his own 20 years on Television. So, yes, it was a bit of an ordeal.

However I got to meet Dustin in Kite Entertainment's offices yesterday. I was nervous - I knew he'd go for me but it wasn't until he popped up from under the desk and started talking that I was completely awestruck.

There's me, as part of my job, getting to sit in an office, to look at Dustin, to see his beak, his eyes, to hear the click of his lower beak on his upper beak, the Louis Copeland suit, to just be in the presence of someone who has been on my screen on in my ears so much - magical.

The interview itself went as well as any of mine do - I'm trying hard not to laugh, I'm reading the next question to make sure I neither stammer nor stutter and I'm trying to act professional, rather than just laughing along. Poor Niamh had to hold the camera and put up with his amorous advances. It was a brilliant experience.

Dustin the Turkey and another turkey (me) sitting beside him. Both with beaks :-P

You know, there's times that I feel very very lucky. As does the lovely Niamho.

You can follow Dustin on Twitter here.

You can see what members are saying about the interview here.

You can hear Dustin's entire back catalogue of albums (and buy them) here.

A huge thanks to all the members, to Darren in Kite Entertainment and of course to Dustin. You legend :)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Charter for Compassion -

This site - - landed in my inbox today. It's a TED initiative from TED prize winner Karen Armstrong.

This is a document created by thousands of people around the world. It is capable of enabling a new dialog between the major religions and between religious and nonreligious people.

Please take out two minutes to read it. It's just one page. If it speaks to you, please add your name.
Here's the text of the charter.

Have a look at the acts of compassion here.

It's quite a worthwhile idea. I hope it succeeds.

"The next word is Mother Flippa" - rap and dance classes for the elderly

Meet Marian, aka DJ Hip Op.

I LOVE this video for Age Action Ireland, created by Richard Doyle over at Creative Productions. One of the funniest I've seen in ages - fo' shizzle!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A podcast about Irish blogging, bloggers and events

I've been thinking and talking about the idea of doing a podcast around blogging, blogs and the people involved in Ireland. It will be a lot more of the latter than the former but it's certainly something I'd be interested in trying at least.

There's a lot that could be done there - interviews, readings, highlights, regular slots from contributors, advice on starting up, comedy sketches and talking about upcoming events that those listening might want to know about.

My idea would be a fortnightly "show", with presenters, contributors and segments. There's such a wealth of talent from the various people interacting on blogs, on twitter and generally online that I'm sure that something interesting can be found there.

I wouldn't even say it's purely "business" or "entertainment" or anything as focussed - perhaps a mixture or perhaps themed shows. I've liked how the podcasts went (I need to get to doing those as well) and it would be hugely open to collaboration, input and suggestions - just structured and regular.

I've had a few people express interest to me via twitter already but if you have any suggestions, ideas, requests or indeed think it's an awful idea, please do let me know.

People have their say about the Get Up Stand Up National Day of Protest

I was sent this by Paula Geraghty, the filmmaker who made this short film (5:18) about the ICTU National Day of Protest and the Get Up Stand Up campaign on November 6.

Lots of people on the streets being asked for their views on the matter. The next question apparently is "What do we do next?"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The new Beta Twitter Retweet feature

This just popped up on my screen:

Click for bigger

So it's a symbol instead of an RT and a handy way of seeing how popular a link is - kind of like the Facebook "Like" feature...

There's also a new button beside the "Reply" one:

Monday, November 02, 2009

Vote for your favourite Irish social networking site

That's what the Golden Spiders want you to do. They've just announced their shortlist for the Best Social Networking site and now it's up to the public to vote.

They are:

From the press release:
Members of the public are invited to cast their vote for one of the shortlisted websites by 6pm on Wednesday, 18th November 2009.

Votes can be made by sending details of your chosen website to

The winner of the “Best Social Networking Website” will be announced at the eircom Golden Spider Awards Ceremony in the Burlington on Thursday, 19th November 2009.

What should you think about before voting for your favourite social networking site?

INFORMATION/CONTENT – Does the site provide users with entertaining, informative and gripping content? In addition to the user-generated content does the site make the most of externally developed add-on applications which further encourage communication between members?

USABILITY – Does the site make efforts to accommodate non-standard visitors, for example: mobile visitors, visitors with text-only browsers, touchscreen visitors, users with screen readers and other alternative devices and a variety of screen resolutions.

DESIGN – Does the site make the best use of graphics, animations and interactive elements? Is the site designed to enable users to interact with the content and information in an easy and enjoyable manner?

RELEVANCE – Does the site clearly understand the needs and aspirations of the communities it supports? Does the site provide specific tools and services to meet those ends?

INNOVATION – Does the site provide new and interesting ways for users to collaborate and communicate?

I'm particularly delighted to see and in the list, as well as Well done :)