January 3, 2008

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In CBS Video: Not In The Conversation, John Battelle writes,

  Close readers will notice a trend in 2008 here on Searchblog: I’ll be posting stuff about conversations, and in particular how companies are doing when it comes to having conversations with their key constituents.

I want to look at it from the opposite side, asking How are customers doing when it comes to having conversations with their key companies?

More to the point, how can we equip customers with better tools for communicating with their suppliers — across all those suppliers’ CRM (Customer “Relationship” Management) systems? Especially when most of those systems are designed to deflect or prevent actual human-to-human contact.

For example, I would like a dashboard — or the technology and standards that would allow anybody to build a dashboard — by which I could manage my billing relationships with all my suppliers.

Right now my bookkeeper, my wife and I are together trying to figure out what the hell a bunch of Visa bill expenses are for. Visa bills tend to have a list of transactions, most of which have little or no useful information associated with them. Usually it’s just a phone number. Call that number and you get routed into the supplier’s deflection maze or to a machine where you leave message and nothing happens. Once in awhile you actually reach somebody. But even then the mystery sometimes only deepens.

Right now my bookkeeper is on the phone with Dish Network, which for some reason is charging us for two accounts, including one at a strange address where we’ve never lived. It’s very complicated. (Later… it was just solved, and we’ll get a check from them for having collected on the account that didn’t exist.)

I have other mysteries right now involving Sirius, 1&1, T-Mobile, SixApart, Verizon, Rhapsody and AT&T. All those companies have their own billing and CRM systems. In some cases (such as Rhapsody), I just want to cancel the service but don’t know how, since I lack any kind of paperwork (physical or virtual) on the “relationship”. In other cases I want to know exactly what I’m being charged for, since the charges are at variance with my understanding of what I should be paying (which in some cases is zero).

I think what we need is something like an API. Let’s call it an VRI: Interface. Through it I could know, and see, what I’m getting from each vendor with which I “relate”. On top of that the dashboard could be built.

An interesting thing here is that I really don’t want to have a conversation of the literal kind with most of these companies, unless there’s a problem. I do want to relate with them, however. That is, I would like to request or arrange for services, pay bills and occasionally make suggestions or provide feedback. Most of that does not require wasting the time of another human being. A lot of that could be automated. I believe that automation would be easier if there were a consistent way of relating established on the customer side. That would be one set of wheels that all these different suppliers would not have to invent and re-invent over and over again, each in their own different ways. There could be standard routines for querying transaction histories, or for requesting information about current service offerings, or turning services on or off or up or down.

Whatever we do, “management” needs to go both ways. For the good of both parties.

Okay, back to making calls and doing research and wasting three people’s time…

David Ardia writes,

  In one of his last executive actions of the year, President Bush signed into law the “OPEN Government Act of 2007” on December 31, 2007. The Senate unanimously passed the reform bill earlier in December, and it passed the House of Representatives by voice vote on December 18. The Associated Press is reporting that Bush signed the bill without comment.
  As I explained in a post on the Citizen Media Law Project’s blog two weeks ago, the legislation substantially reforms the Freedom of Information Act and expands the definition of who is a “representative of the news media” under FOIA. This change would significantly benefit bloggers and non-traditional journalists by making them eligible for reduced processing and duplication fees that are available to “representatives of the news media.”…
  The full text of the OPEN Government Act of 2007 is available here. The press release announcing the President’s signing is available on the White House website.

JD Lasica adds,

  Who knew something so forward-looking could come out of this Congress and this president?

Some questions follow.

For example, will this help with existing or future shield laws?