Recently, two ridiculous, antiquated requests have been made of me in order to verify my identity to two companies that I like: Twitter and Target. I somewhat understand the fax requirement for a Twitter impersonation report so I’ll focus on Target. (FYI I’m the real @emilybinder and @adoreajabakery and @thedigitaldive_. If any other handle claims to be me, it’s not me: I wouldn’t set up a handle that required a number on the end because my desired name was taken. I would find another handle. I don’t do numbers on the end.)
A couple weeks ago, I signed up for a Target RedCard in-store. I applaud Target on the convenient offering of quick sign-up with the cashier by providing a blank check and a driver’s license: no forms or visiting guest services.
Annoyance #1: Lack of Internal System Network Cohesion
The RedCard account must be set up with the address on the customer’s driver’s license. Mine happens to be my old address. The cashier couldn’t enter another address or update it after setup. She instructed me to call the RedCard 800 number immediately afterward and request an address change so that Target wouldn’t mail my new card to my old address. My blank check — tied to a bank account with what is necessarily a more reliable current address than the one on a driver’s license which doesn’t expire for years — should have sufficed for proof of address.
Annoyance #2: Human Error Followed by Outsourced Customer Service Giving Dangerous Instructions
I called the RedCard 800 number and asked to change my address. The lady in India asked for my driver’s license number, which I read aloud. It did not match my account: the cashier had mistyped my DL number. The lady said that since she could not verify that I was the account holder, she could not change my address. For that to happen, I would need to send a letter in the paper mail to Target headquarters including:
- old address
- current address
- driver’s license number
- social security number
- last four digits of new Target RedCard
She did not instruct me to explain the situation – just to list these things.
A of all, that is a joke if you think I’m sending my social through the paper mail to your PO box.
B of all, I told her that, and she said, “Okay, you can exclude it.”
But her protocol was to tell the customer to send the above and nothing else. That would be a great formula for
1) no action due to lack of context
2) identity theft with that piece of paper floating around Minneapolis
Some customers are ignorant though, and would have followed those instructions. NEVER GIVE YOUR FULL SOCIAL unless you truly need to and you’re dealing with a trusted government entity or a bank, for example. Every single time a company or office has requested my social, I’ve refused and they’ve said it wasn’t necessary after all. Comforting. Keep it secret keep it safe. -My high school
I couldn’t print that day. So I, Emily Binder, hand wrote the letter. To make a petulant point about how ludicrous this was. After filling two sides of a page (many details to cover by this point) I finished with, “Please call or email me to confirm your receipt and processing of my request.” (That never happened.)
Two weeks after sending the letter, no card. I called the main Target customer service number. The system required entry of the last four of my RedCard and social. The lady who answered sounded like she was in Minneapolis. Great, maybe she will actually be able to update her own company’s system that she is staring at right now. She said the account showed my current address and that my card was just mailed. So my handwritten letter worked, which blows my mind. (I hand wrote it because I expected my request to fall into the void and I planned to later complain that I was merely providing information in the 1800s format they requested.)
Why couldn’t the outsourced RedCard 800 number customer service rep use the same credentials to verify me and change my address on that first day?
My letter provided no new (or verified) information that I wasn’t telling her over the phone or that I couldn’t email. At least with an email, the sender’s identity is somewhat traceable. USPS does not require a return address. Anyone could have sent Target a letter from “Emily Binder” and given any address where my card would then be sent to a scam artist. Note: Target still sent a RedCard to my old address.
Do not burden the customer. If an onerous hard copy type of action is needed, there better be a good reason why electronic submission would not suffice. It’s ludicrous for anyone to think that fraud is any less likely by requiring a customer to print and put a stamp on the same letter they would otherwise email. Even if it includes a scan of a photo ID. It’s a scan. This mailing a letter ballyhoo is simply a waste of paper, time, and resources and in fact creates a greater chance of identity theft because there is a paper trail. Or, for the unfortunate ignorant or trusting customers in my position, it creates paper floating around with the customer’s full social security number on it. This 5% off all purchases better be worth it.
“We should stop asking, ‘how do we make people pay for music?’ and start asking, ‘how do we let people pay for music?‘” -Amanda Palmer, TED Talk: The art of asking (February 2013). I don’t want to discuss Palmer’s controversial, record-breaking Kickstarter campaign, which asked for $100,000 and ended up generating $1.2M from 25,000 fans. What’s more interesting is the paradigm shift in the music industry that most markedly began with Radiohead’s 2007 free digital release of their newest album. Artists are asking and fans are giving. Sometimes.
Palmer’s opposite of Metallica M.O. is more salient to the reality of music consumption today than the traditional pricing, touring, and record label model. In a vacuum of capitalism where the Internet didn’t allow such easy piracy, standard pricing and control over content would make sense like it used to. But we don’t have a vacuum, and smart artists adapt.
Radiohead Let Us Pay
Public Enemy (1999 – paid download), Smashing Pumpkins (2000 – free download), Radiohead (2007 – free download), Trent Reznor (2008), Amanda Palmer and others have released their music first online with varying price structures before iTunes Store opened on April 28, 2003. But in 2007, iTunes had just become the third largest music retailer in the U.S. and online music was exploding. Radiohead blazed the trail on October 10, 2007 in the first major album release in which consumers could name their own price. Radiohead’s contract with their label EMI ended after 2003′s Hail to the Thief. After four years of turning down offers from other labels, in October 2007 Radiohead took a bold step in releasing their next album independently and digitally with a pay-what-you-want model.
Thom Yorke told Time,
“I like the people at our record company, but the time is at hand when you have to ask why anyone needs one. And, yes, it probably would give us some perverse pleasure to say ‘F*** you’ to this decaying business model.”
Radiohead beat the album leakers to the punch by basically leaking their own album. Fans went to the band’s website inrainbows.com to download the 15-song MP3s. Big Radiohead fans, my college roommate and I were blown away and totally impressed when we clicked the download button and saw the prompt “It’s Up To You.” Click again and it refreshed with, “It’s Really Up To You.”
“People made their choice to actually pay money,” [Radiohead manager Chris] Hufford said. “It’s people saying, ‘We want to be part of this thing.’ If it’s good enough, people will put a penny in the pot.”
The CD release followed at the end of 2007. A year later, In Rainbows had sold more than 300 million copies worldwide in digital and physical formats.
Creative musicians will continue to find ways to circumvent the technology that has made it irresistably easy to pirate their music. But Amanda Palmer’s asking/giving/taking and Radiohead’s pay-what-you-want models aren’t new; they are a return to the organic way street musicians and entertainers exchanged their art with others, as Palmer points out in her TED Talk.
Now We Expect Free Music
Following In Rainbows, in November 2008 Trent Reznor took a shot at a different online release model when he co-wrote and produced Saul Williams’s album The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust. Fans could download it for free or pay $5 for a higher quality version. The results were disappointing. As of January 2, 2008, 154,449 people had downloaded NiggyTardust and 28,322 of them paid the $5.
… the way things are, I think music should be looked at as free. It basically is. The toothpaste is out of the tube and a whole generation of people is accustomed to music being that way. There’s a perception that you don’t pay for music when you hear it on the radio or MySpace. -Trent Reznor, cnet.com
Radiohead’s free offering compelled us to pay a $2.26 average, but Reznor’s tiered free/premium model had less lucrative results at first.
For artists to follow Radiohead’s model en masse with success, our entire culture of music consumption would need to resemble the one Amanda Palmer champions. Unlikely for now, and unfathomable for less famous bands without dedicated followings and years of successful marketing and albums behind them.
I haven’t bought a hard copy album in years. The last I can remember was Tool’s 10,000 Days in 2007. The unique hardcover album case with stereoscopic glasses and Alex Grey’s art was simply incredible (and it won the Grammy Award for Best Recording Package). I have dabbled in iTunes and Amazon MP3 purchases but the closed environment and lack of ownership always bothered me. You’re leasing, not buying. I have no need to illegally download music now. Spotify is revolutionary. And mind-bogglingly cheap for the universal multi-device access you get to nearly all recorded music. Spotify hardly pays the artists, but overall it’s a more reasonable solution to the problem at hand than expecting consumers who won’t pony up $5 for an album to keep paying 99 cents a song. Maybe the Spotify model will make fans more willing to pay in other ways. It’s certainly the most convenient and instant access I’ve ever had to music, especially brand new music. Plus, with the Copyright Alert System, who wants to risk illegal downloads anyway? Instead, I’ll attend concerts and — after our Digital Dive Podcast interview with Zoroaster’s Dan Scanlan — I’ll buy plenty of merch.
Radiohead Says: Pay What You Want. Time, 10/1/2007
Public Enemy Makes Friends Online. EW, 5/14/1999
Pay What You Want for this Article. NY Times, 12/9/2007
Politics aside, the National Rifle Association (NRA) is a brand. Because of social media, the horrific Sandy Hook, CT school shooting this month was a PR crisis for the NRA in a different, more intense way than past violent events involving firearms.
Moments before the news broke on Friday 12/14/12, at 9:35AM EST the NRA Facebook page posted about a giveaway. Shortly thereafter, news outlets announced the Sandy Hook massacre that killed twenty-six people, including twenty children. That evening, the NRA took down their page. They withheld comment until they reactivated it on 12/18/12 with a post explaining their silence:
…Out of respect for the families, and as a matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts before commenting…
I see the reasoning for preventing intense flame wars:
“As a PR professional, it goes against my instincts and the recommendations I make to clients who stop posting on social media channels in times of crisis,” says Stu Opperman, chief strategist at Impact Players. “[But] with the nation’s collective emotions as raw as they were, any immediate post the NRA made, short of a complete reversal of their long-held position opposing nearly any form of gun control, would be demonized and seen as callous and unfeeling…” -prweekus.com 12/20/12
One could argue that going dark demonstrates a lack of understanding of social media (focus on transparency). The avoidant reaction was meant to halt the onslaught of an emotionally and politically charged conversation and the demand for a response they did not have.
Going Dark Sends Two Possible Messages
Message 1: We don’t know how to handle this crisis.
- Mea culpa (intentional or not)
- Silencing the conversation to avoid further controversy (a temporary and singular solution)
- Kneejerk reaction demonstrating lack of crisis management plan
Being present on social is not a switch you turn on and off as it suits your brand.
But was this instance an exception?
Retail analogy: Your Facebook page is your storefront – your business address. It’s what you post on that page (i.e., what you stock on your shelves or display in your windows) that sends a message.
Have a crisis gameplan. Learn from the multitude of social media blunders. This was new territory. What would you do?
*My sympathies go out to anyone grieving over this tragedy. This post is about social media and is not meant to take a stance on violence, gun control, or politics.
This week, we offer our insight on a variety of topics, including the ousting of Apple iOS miracle worker and polarizing executive Scott Forstall, the design debate over skeuomorphism, presidential campaigns and voting in the digital age, and commerce as content.
I. Adventures in Mobile Payments Part 3: SUCCESS
Melanie and I share a happy update on our ongoing pursuit of mobile-friendly vendors. Square and Level-Up
II. Apple Kicks Scott Forstall to the Curb; Skeuomorphism
After refusing to sign a formal apology for Apple Maps, among other things, iOS chief Scott Forstall was ousted from Apple. We discuss one of his Jobs-like signatures, skeuomorphic style (replicating the shape of necessary parts of old forms in a new medium where those elements are no longer required). Forstall was a mobile software leader and prolific inventor but also a divisive figure. “Forstall’s name is second on the patent that lays out exactly how the iPhone and iPad work. The first name on that patent is Steve Jobs.”
III. Commerce as Content (and vice versa)
Pinterest, Fab, and Shopkick
IV. Digital Media and the Presidential Election
Electronic voting, ballots, and recounts. Security and hacking at the polls. The future of voting.
- Twitter mood predicts the stock market – Johan Bollen, Huina Mao, Xiao-Jun Zeng. 10/14/2010
- Will Apple’s Tacky Software Design Philosophy Cause a Revolt? – Austin Carr, fastcodesign.com, 9/11/2012
- SNL Louis CK clip referenced in episode:
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The Digital Dive PodcastTM: Get the most out of technology… without ever fully giving in
iPhone 5 pre-orders set a sales record last week, selling out in less than one hour following the smartphone’s September 12, 2012 debut. I ordered mine from AT&T. This two-part post will cover 1) my AT&T customer service experience and 2) why I upgraded to the iPhone 5.
AT&T iPhone Orders
How do I change my shipping address from my billing address? Many AT&T customers have been searching for answers about why you can’t ship your att.com or apple.com iPhone 5 order wherever you want. These sites offer free shipping to your account billing address only. This is supposedly to prevent fraud. (Oh how easily I could have committed fraud on my eventual call center order.) Online, the only way to request a shipping address different from your billing address is to actually change the billing address on your AT&T account. Not ideal. And if you can trick the system that easily, not sure how they are preventing fraud. Your other option (what I did) is to order by phone from AT&T. Shipping then goes up to $9.95.
Ambience: The call center on-hold song is a muzak version of “Fidelity” by Regina Spektor. The lyrics could be interpreted as reflecting on not taking risks in new relationships for fear of getting hurt, then wondering what could have been. This amused me; start playing the song as you read on so you can join me on the call.
Senseless upgrade fee: AT&T’s reasoning for a $36 upgrade fee on my contract eligible upgrade from iPhone4 to iPhone5 (while maintaining my same unlimited data plan) is that “they have to charge a fee in order to provide the phone discount.” Please. At least give me an excuse such as, “it covers the cost of internal processing for updating your line’s new capabilities such as 4G.”
Customer recognition and retention: The least the call center agent could do was to greet me with, “Hello Ms. Binder, thank you for being an AT&T customer since 2005, we appreciate your business” like my credit card company does. But the seven years of our relationship was unrecognized. Successful customer rewards clubs and frequent traveler programs and any company trying to engender loyalty through suggested exclusivity or recognition recognizes length of patronage as a basic given. (The best custsvc companies have a purple goldfish.) The loyalty years thank you is one sentence an agent can read from a prompt that can change the entire tone of the conversation for the better. Especially as a wireless provider, you better be thanking a customer who’s stuck with you for seven years, especially considering that you’re the main print yellow pages
robber barons company.
This is why I keep one foot on the ground in our contracted affair; I hear Verizon’s voice in my head, I hear Sprint’s music serenading me, but still, AT&T, I pay you an extra $45.95 so you can “prevent fraud” and ship the phone to my office…
I never loved nobody fully
Always one foot on the ground
And by protecting my heart truly
I got lost in the sounds
I hear in my mind
All these voices
I hear in my mind all these words
I hear in my mind all this music
And it breaks my heart…
Fidelity – Regina Spektor (AT&T’s call center hold music)
Check back for Part 2 of this post on Thursday 9/20/12.