Why Marketing Doesn’t Deliver

October 26, 2016

Every organisation in the world spends a fortune on marketing, to the extent the DeliveryDemon would have to go entirely off the grid to avoid the deluge. With that volume, it’s not surprising that it’s easy to find examples of stupidity. One of the commonest marketing fails is when an organisation is so busy preening its corporate ego that it completely loses site of the real customer experience. Microsoft’s latest idiocy provides a classic example.

For most people, email is a utility – boring stuff but it needs to be there and usable, low key but reliable. It doesn’t have to look pretty or to keep coming up with new bells and whistles when a typical user ignores most of the facilities already in existence. Hotmail used to be a good utilitarian email. It popped up quickly on the screen. It was easy to skim through emails and get rid of the trash. Emails could be sorted. There were reasonable filters. It was pretty good at identifying spam. And, having been around for so long, a hotmail address was reasonably memorable.

For a good while after taking it over, Microsoft let Hotmail be. Then came the change to Outlook. Now Outlook on a business network has been a pretty reasonable utility too, but that wasn’t carried forward when Hotmail became Outlook. Loading became painfully slow. Months later it hasn’t improved. On an iPad it’s still totally unreliable, verging on unusable. First it displays a smug little picture showing how the floppy disc supersedes snail mail. Below that appears what the DeliveryDemon at first assumed to be a progress bar. Actually it’s a throwback to the 1980s, when time and again users would watch the blue bar inch painfully slowly across the screen, only to freeze when it reached a fraction from the end. Time and again it does this, with refresh and URL reentry making not the slightest bit of difference. The DeliveryDemon has left the progress bar for 40 minutes and it still didn’t display any emails, hit refresh over 100 times without anything useful happening. Sometimes there is a complete access fail because the site has failed entirely. And of course there are no updates from Microsoft to let users know what is happening.

That’s the user experience. How does Microsoft marketing handle it? With a classic demonstration of being blinded by focus on the big fat corporate ego, that’s how.

Several times during this (ongoing) fiasco, the DeliveryDemon has had emails from Microsoft marketeers. ‘Now that you’ve been using Outlook.com and some of its features for a while, we hope you’ll try one free month of Office 365 to see how much more you can do.’ Lets translate that into user experience.

Now that you’ve been using Outlook.com and some of its features for a while…. –
Now you have endured for a while the primitively slow response times and clunky user interface……

….we hope you’ll try one free month of Office 365…. – A free month is nothing but a cynical attempt to entice users into locking themselves into something which is barely usable and certainly not worth paying for when that month runs out….

….to see how much more you can do – If it can’t even do the basics at a barely competent level, it sure as hell isn’t going to do anything more useful.

In other words, Microsoft has made crap out of something useful and its marketing department are so enamoured of their own verbiage that they expect the world to be equally blind and shell out hard cash in response to that slimy marketing-speak.

Of course there may be another agenda behind this. Maybe the end of free Hotmail is in sight. Maybe Microsoft hopes that enough users will transfer to the paid for product so that any furore following the withdrawal of Hotmail will be minimal. If that’s the case, the marketing needs to be a damn sight more intelligent than the current efforts. And if that does happen, the DeliveryDemon will follow the oft-tested prudent advice. If something which works well is withdrawn, don’t blindly accept the offered replacement. Treat that replacement as just another product and evaluate it against whatever else is available. And of course, that replacement offering starts with an immediate handicap – it comes from a supplier which values its corporate ego over the customer’s need for continuity and reliability.

Advertisements

Aiding and Abetting Criminal Activity

December 9, 2014

That’s what our phone companies are doing. It is an offence to harass people. It is fraud to entice people into believing that they have money due to them when the caller has no evidence that that is the case. It is an offence to hold people’s data without their permission. It is fraud to lie to persuade people to reveal their personal information. According to a government task force, a BILLION of these crimes are committed every year, with the assistance of our phone companies.
Our telecoms companies are making money out of these crooks, one way or another. They are certainly making no effort to prevent their infrastructure being used for criminal activity, despite being fully aware of the scale of what is going on. All we get is mealy mouthed platitudes recommending that we take actions which are either unfeasible or ineffective. Let’s get a few facts straight on just how useless these recommendations are.

  • Register with TPS? It’s a waste of time.
    • TPS doesn’t actually do anything with complaints
    • The crooks ignore TPS anyway
  • Block callers?
    • The crooks are spoofing numbers so blocking one number has little effect
  • Don’t answer if the number is withheld?
    • There are, unfortunately, some genuine companies which call from withheld numbers, ignoring good customer service for their own administrative convenience
  • Don’t answer if you don’t recognise the number?
    • Few if any people have complete knowledge of all the numbers they could be called from, whether personal or business. A child whose phone battery is dead could borrow a friend’s phone to call so no parent can afford to ignore unknown numbers. A friend can change phone number. A business contact could call from a landline when you only have their mobile number recorded. There is a host of reasons why a call from an unknown number could be both valid and important.

There are various reporting mechanisms – the ICO, Action Fraud, TPS, Ofcom, to name but a few. All those websites are badly designed. Their automated responses are uninformative and, in the case of Action Fraud, hide the content of their response in a dubious looking attachment. There is little if any evidence of any use being made of the information provided by these routes.
It would not be unreasonable to expect phone companies to make significant and meaningful effort to prevent their infrastructure being used to harass people, commit large scale fraud, and commit widespread identity theft. It would not be unreasonable to expect legitimate organisations not to behave in a way which emulates crooked behaviour.
Here are a few suggestions for the Nuisance Call Task Force.

  • Make it an offence to spoof a number
  • Make it an offence to deliver a call with a spoofed number
  • Make it an offence for a commercial organisation to withhold their number
  • Make it an offence for any organisation to sell or give away the personal details they collect
  • Limit the period for which an organisation can retain personal details and use them for sales and marketing
  • Create a single, simple, effective means of reporting the numbers used by scammers
  • Use the scammer reporting facility to create and maintain a single database of numbers recognised as being used by scammers
  • Make the database publicly visible
  • Flag numbers which are consistently being used in a criminal manner – say after 10 reports of the number as one which makes scam / harassing calls
  • Make it an offence for a phone company to issue the scamming number to anyone
  • Make the ban on reissue of scammer numbers meaningful – say a 10 year ban on their reissue
  • Make use of existing legislation to prosecute scammers for harassment as well as data protection and telecoms offences
  • Hold the directors of those companies responsible – directors of the calling company, its parent company, and any company on whose behalf it makes outbound calls
  • Since the crimes are being committed in this country in the homes of those being called, ignore the country of residence of those responsible for the scams and arrest any responsible directors who set foot in this country
  • Recognise that it is individuals who are responsible for encouraging / permitting these crimes and hold all directors responsible and liable to prosecution
  • Set penalties so that they automatically include both default and a significant fine

So why does the DeliveryDemon thinks this would work?

  • It will create an incentive for phone companies to take responsibility for the way in which they allow their infrastructure to be used
  • It would prevent genuine customers from being issued with numbers which people have blocked because the numbers were being used for scam calls
  • It would prevent banks from grooming their customers to give away security information to people who call them – for over a decade banks’ cavalier attitude to customer security has been demonstrated time and again when they make outbound calls to customers and proceed to ask for passwords and other sensitive information
  • It would encourage organisations to start to take data protection seriously
  • It would do away with the loophole which allows all the enforcement organisations to abdicate responsibility for scam calls originating overseas
  • A mandatory penalty of imprisonment would prevent those responsible from buying their way out of loss of liberty
    Significant fines for every offence would start to undermine the business model which makes scam calls profitable.

Let’s face it, we are talking of 32 crimes every second of every day. If our politicians and legislature and police and regulators aren’t prepared to take this seriously, the DeliveryDemon wonders what the hell we pay them for.


Harassment – The Crime Committed By Nuisance Cold Callers and Similar Scammers

November 6, 2014

We’ve all had it, the persistent calls at ridiculous hours, with recorded or spoken scripts riddled with lies. The smarmy sleazy voices. They pretend to represent or be authorised by government departments. They pretend they know about a claim or right you have. They pretend you have to do something because of new legislation. They lie and lie and lie. They want your money for some dubious product, and people have been scammed out of thousands of pounds this way. They want your personal information, and giving them that is a large step on the way to the hell of ID theft and further fraud.

They got your data from somewhere illegally, and once one bunch of these crooks have your data it gets sold around. Try as you will, you can’t stop it. It’s not just data breaches. It’s not just small naïve organisations not being good enough with their data security. It’s not just all these marketing offers. Government departments have been publishing sensitive personal data for years, and two of the biggest are doing their damndest to start selling it on a large scale to all and sundry – step forward HMRC and the NHS. We have in the space of a few short years been forced into dealing with constant harassment within our homes.

I’m actually surprised that telecoms companies aren’t protesting about this. There’s been a lot of recent publicity about people giving up on landlines for the simple reason that the bulk of calls come from fraudsters autodialling or using illegally obtained information. At least with a mobile you can cut the call off. When it comes to the primitive technology of landlines, the caller has control and can block your line.
With elections coming up we’re getting mealy mouthed platitudes from politicians about doing something to stop this. Why haven’t they done it before? The legislation already exists. These calls easily fall within harassment legislation and it is a criminal offence.
• It certainly distresses people to be constantly interrupted
• Frequently numbers are withheld, which is intrinsically threatening since the caller appears to be untraceable
• Many of these calls are silent, which is particularly threatening.
• A frequent tactic is to pretend that there is legislation which means the called person must do something
• The callers refuse to say where they obtained the personal information they so clearly have, which is a tactic of intimidation – ‘we know about you, we won’t say how’
• Buying or selling or passing on illegally obtained information is certainly harassment since it perpetuates and escalates the distress being caused.

The CPS provides the following definition of harassment:
‘the term harassment is used to cover the ‘causing alarm or distress’ offences under section 2 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997…. The term can also include harassment by two or more defendants against an individual or harassment against more than one victim.
Although harassment is not specifically defined in section 7(2) of the PHA, it can include repeated attempts to impose unwanted communications and contact upon a victim in a manner that could be expected to cause distress or fear in any reasonable person.
A prosecution under section 2 or 4 requires proof of harassment. In addition, there must be evidence to prove the conduct was targeted at an individual, was calculated to alarm or cause him/her distress, and was oppressive and unreasonable.
Closely connected groups may also be subjected to ‘collective’ harassment. The primary intention of this type of harassment is not generally directed at an individual but rather at members of a group. This could include: members of the same family; residents of a particular neighbourhood; groups of a specific identity including ethnicity or sexuality, for example, the racial harassment of the users of a specific ethnic community centre; harassment of a group of disabled people; harassment of gay clubs; or of those engaged in a specific trade or profession.

Well, distress is being caused on a large scale. There are very clearly repeated attempts to impose unwanted communication, and there is no realistic opt out – the so called opt out option on automated calls has long been recognised as being used as confirmation that the person called is gullible so a good target for further harassment.

As to evidence, since these scammers are being allowed by telecoms providers to withhold numbers or display numbers, there’s not a lot the victim can do. But the information is flowing through the telecoms companies. They make money from these calls. In effect they are abetting fraud and harassment by doing this. Let’s see them forced to take some responsibility.

Are individuals being targeted on the basis of ‘protected characteristics’? Look at the age profiles. Ask people who have hit 50 or 60 or 70. Ask people who have started getting a state pension. Age is a recognised trigger for increasing volumes of scam calls. The fraudsters assume that older people are easier to intimidate into parting with information and money, and sometimes they are right. It may be the targeting of people who grew up in more innocent times and who, by retiring, are predictably likely to be at home at times to suit scammers. It may be people who are vulnerable through bereavement, particularly if the late spouse took responsibility for financial matters. It is more common for elderly people to be confused, through dementia or medication, so less resistive to scams. It sure as hell means that these scammers are targeting people on the basis of the protected characteristic of age.

Of course the people doing all this cannot help but be fully aware that they are following a course of conduct which amounts to harassment. It takes little intelligent thought to recognise the conduct as unreasonable. In fact it takes a highly determined effort at self-deception to find even the flimsiest framework which shows the conduct as anything other than deceptive, dishonest, unreasonable, and intimidating.

They know all of this when they buy data without checking it has been legally obtained so the defence of legitimate trade does not apply. They know it when they sell the data on illegitimately. They know it when they autodial. They know it when they phone TPS registered numbers. They know it when they write and approve scripts full of lies. They know it when they train their staff.

They? The Board of Directors, obviously, and also those in senior management who promote and collude with harassing behaviour. That covers operational management and strategic decision making. It covers HR when they set targets which depend on harassment producing results. It covers those who accept financial reports based on results obtained by harassment. It covers auditors who turn a blind eye to the way a company generates its profits. It covers those businesses which provide outsourced outbound calling services and pretend that they have no responsibility for the legitimacy of the data they use for calling. They are all executing or colluding with institutionalised practices of harassment.

There is of course Data Protection legislation, but that is too weak to be useful, more so since it relies on civil prosecution by the victim, and the harassment is executed in a way which prevents the victim from getting access to the necessary proof.

Under Protection From Harassment legislation, a perpetrator can be imprisoned for up to 6 months and fined up to £5000. The legislation for punishment exists. The cases exist to prosecute. The data is available to prosecute. Yet there has yet to be a prosecution. Not a single politician has risen from their backside to ask why there have been no prosecutions.

The DeliveryDemon, like a lot of people, is pretty quick to recognise scammers and tell them where to go. They are still a bloody nuisance and their calls are still harassment. She would dearly love to hear just one actual or prospective MP actually stand up and ask – loudly – for action to be taken using the ample legislation which is already in place.

Yes, let’s see the Action Fraud database being used to collect details of these harassers. And Data Protection reports. And Ofcom reports. And TPS reports. All the data collection mechanisms exist. Let’s see a campaign encouraging the victims to report their harassers. Let’s see some pressure on the telecoms companies to take responsibility for ensuring that their networks are not used for harassment. And let’s see the data being used for prosecutions.

We have seen a few prosecutions in other sectors for blatant criminal activity. Doing the same to the decision makers in nuisance cold calling organisations just might prompt an improvement in their behaviour.


Delivering Libellous Content

March 17, 2014

The DeliveryDemon had to chuckle at this article http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/content/dont-let-internet-linked-stories-land-you-libel-writ

The law has certainly been working hard to catch up with technology, and the impact of this sort of libel is very real to those who are libelled. But the legal profession is missing a trick here. Behind the scenes, there is technology which looks for keywords and tries to interpret them. By and large this software is still remarkably primitive. It has yet to get to grips with the ability to interpret the context. Basically it lacks ‘intelligence’. It is designed to provide an answer at the expense of providing a sensible answer.

Google predictive text gives some good examples of what can happen http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/6161567/The-20-funniest-suggestions-from-Google-Suggest.html and various mobile phone predictive text engines can be even funnier. The automated parsers used by recruiters cannot distinguish between Coral the bookmaker and Coral the programming language. Amazon’s ‘you might like’ suggestions suggest you buy an identical item to a recent purchase, with a different brand name.

To some extent, many of these tools are designed to depend on data which is not quality-controlled in any effective way. Certainly an Amazon vendor will enter the keywords likely to maximise search hits. that can mean the entry of keywords with little relation to the product being sold.

Google is one of the more sophisticated players since its product depends on understanding what a searcher is likely to want, but the Telegraph article shows how primitive the logic is. Asking users to log in and relating searches to their search history has the potential to improve search result quality, but people are becoming increasingly sensitive to the amount of their data held by large corporations, and legislators are starting to respond to those concerns, so relying on users logging in may not be the most fruitful development path for this type of tool.

The examples in libel article certainly have merit. Either the tool is not fit for purpose, or it is being used unintelligently. A fairly obvious solution would be for the news website to flag articles as being either positive or adverse, provided the tool refrains from coming up with links to ‘similar’ articles unless they were also flagged as adverse. If the tool can do this, the web publisher is at fault. If the tool can’t do it, then there are two potential breaches. The tool may be inadequate for the purpose for which it is being sold. Or the web publisher may be making inappropriate use of the tool. Of course, when a payment model is based on click throughs, the incentives tend not to favour anything which limits the number of links displayed.

A fruitful approach for legislators would be to look beyond individual libels and examine the capabilities of current tools, and the processes which web publishers use to to mitigate the risks arising from tool limitations.


Delivering Over the Web

October 29, 2009

The DeliveryDemon is becoming fascinated by marketing and PR, particularly the ways of achieving a balance between appealing to the aspirations of potential customers, and providing those customers with the comfortable feeling that they are dealing with a supplier who can be trusted to fulfil those aspirations as promised. When it comes to marketing over the web, the press regularly has a field day with scare articles which, I am sure, many of us read with the smug assumption that we would never be so foolish as to fall for such a scam.

But how can we distinguish between a genuine seller with poor website skills, and a website thrown together by a scammer who knows that, if they can drive sufficient traffic to the website, enough people will unthinkingly enter their personal or financial details for the scammer to reap a profit? The answer is that there is no foolproof way to distinguish between the scammer and the amateur.

Anyone who wants a commercial website to deliver results needs to deliver a professional presentation in order for the customer to feel confident about buying. The DeliveryDemon has been surprised at how often she considers buying from a website then decides not to because something generates a feeling of mistrust. If you find that potential customers are dropping out half way through buying on your website,  have a look at http://www.thinklikeauser.com/sell-more-online-by-ditching-the-red-flags-on-your-website/ It’s surprising how many websites ignore these ways of building in customer confidence


The UK isn’t delivering

March 4, 2009

This is a bit of a consumer rant, but with a delivery focus. The UK isn’t delivering at the most basic levels. Being a customer in this country is a battle through marketing hype in a vain attempt to get the goods or services you want to buy or are already paying for. With businesses struggling you would think that some effort would have been diverted to delivering to customers and improving the bottom line. But not in this country. I’ve wasted half of this morning on the phone as a result.

T-mobile is having network problems. OK, technical problems happen. But when the network is down, customers need to find out whether the problems they encounter relate to the phone or the network. When it’s the network they need to know whether the problem is local or widespread. For a technology company with a large website you might expect some sort of network status on the front page. Not with T-mobile. You can’t contact them from the handset of course, so you have to find a landline. Once you get through, you might expect a recorded message to the effect that the network is down. Not with T-mobile. You get stuck in an interminable queue for 20 minutes, listening to some dire muzak selection. At the end of all that it takes about 20 seconds for someone to say the entire network is down, but by this time the customer has wasted the best part of half an hour.

Wake up, T-mobile. If you have problems delivering the network service, there’s no excuse for wasting the time of thousands of customers this way. Use the technology available to you to deliver information to the customer in 3 seconds, not 30 minutes.

And Keyline aren’t doing any better at delivering shampoo to customers. They talk about brands, not products that customers want to buy. It took numerous emails and phonecalls to find that they had bought the Henara brand from Schwartzkopf. Keyline customer services don’t want to get involved in anything so mundane as telling customers where they can obtain a particular product. All they do is pass the customer on to their wholesaler. The wholesaler doesn’t seem to know what they deliver, all the will say is who they deliver to. This leaves the customer ringing round individual pharmacies to find out whether they stock the particular product.

There’s a pattern emerging here and it’s not an encouraging one. For a long time there’s been a focus on branding and marketing. That’s not a bad thing in itself as it makes the product recognisable and visible. But all the branding and marketing in the world doesn’t bring in a penny if the customer can’t buy the product or access the service. And a customer service department is a complete waste of money if they can’t tell the customer what the customer needs to know.

It all comes back to delivery. In hard economic times customers naturally take more care of their spend, and money will gravitate to the companies which deliver the goods. It seems obvious, doesn’t it?  But companies are surprisingly slow to learn the lesson.


Marketing vs Delivery

February 27, 2009

Not to put too fine a point on it, marketing is there firstly to make us aware of stuff, and secondly to make us want to buy it. On the way, it may amuse or annoy us, pique our curiosity, give us ideas, leave us with a mental image. In summary, it’s a commercial tool which can add a little sparkle to life. At some point the consumer wants to come face to face with the real product, or concept, or whatever is being marketed. That’s when the marketing has to be backed up by the ability to deliver.

Recent events with a pretty mundane product started me thinking about the links between marketing and delivery. The product is a shampoo, and it became obvious a few years ago that the marketing people had lost interest in it. It disappeared from big stores and the customer service email address wasn’t bothering to reply to questions about suppliers. Eventually I tracked it down in an independent shop and bought in a stockpile. When the stockpile ran out I tried customer services again. No reply. The phone number was only manned a few hours a week. Eventually someone answered – ‘we sold that brand last year’.  ‘Brand’, note, not a product which needs to be delivered to customers.

Armed with the name and phone number of the new ‘brand owner’ I tried again. Interestingly, the first question I was asked was whether I had already phoned about the product – there’s obviously a market for the stuff if others are making as much effort as me to track it down. The new brand owner couldn’t name an outlet, either physical or online, and passed me on to their wholesaler. The wholesaler could say which outlets they supplied but not whether they supplied the shampoo to those outlets. In the event, neither of the outlets named stocked the shampoo.

A simple view of the world suggests that if customers are making an effort to track down a product, then that’s a *good thing* It’s marketing itself and all the manufacturer has to do is get it out there in the shops, and maybe give it a bit of a boost from time to time. And it’s a lot cheaper to retain existing customers than to attract new ones. So what’s going on here? With companies failing all around, surely no manufacturer can afford to ignore the existence of a product with such a loyal customer base that it requires no marketing to make people seek it out.

A look at the Keyline website offers no help to the customer, it’s all about marketing and brand acquisition. There’s a huge disconnect here. Physical products need physical delivery to customers and if that doesn’t happen, the marketing is a complete waste of time. There’s a lesson to be learned here.