Monday morning round-up: listening, identity, and competition

Here are a few quick-hit topics to start your week. Ponder, enjoy, and feel free to comment!

Listening - I hear you, but do I hear you?

My credit card is about to expire, which means I have to contact a variety of vendors to give them the new date. As you can imagine, the level of service I received varied widely. One vendor sent a reminder, but didn't include the information I needed to update my billing preferences. I managed to dig up an old bill to get my account number and then went to their website. This got me halfway through their process until I received an error message after entering the requested information. I finally had to call their customer service line.

The person I spoke with was very friendly and quickly updated my credit card expiration date. However, she wasn't very interested in acknowledging my frustrations or listening to my feedback on their process. In this case, she "heard" me well enough to solve my basic problem but didn't "hear" the underlying frustration. I'm sure the company's quality assurance department would give her a great score on that call, but as a customer I definitely wouldn't since she didn't address all of the reasons that prompted me to contact her.

Identity crisis brewing at Starbucks

(Get it, "brewing"? Ha ha ha!). Ok, that was corny, but a new initiative at Starbucks may be equally corny... or genius! The Seattle Times reported last week that Starbucks is opening three stores in Seattle that are named after their neighborhood instead of being called "Starbucks". Reportedly, the first of the three stores will be named "15th Avenue Coffee and Tea" and offer beer and wine in addition to coffee.

The big debate has already begun. Will this pilot project lead to a new chapter for Starbucks where they recapture their local coffee house roots? Or, will people refuse to buy-in to the idea of a major corporate behemoth re-branding itself as your local mom and pop? An informal poll conducted by the Chicago Union Tribune found that nearly 75% of participants say a Starbucks by any other name is still a Starbucks.

Fierce competition: Apple vs. Microsoft

Apple and Microsoft have recently been taking shots at each other in their commercials. The back and forth is amusing, but the consumer reaction is too! As a PC user, I must admit the Mac campaign has a certain appeal. I've experienced nearly every drawback of a PC highlighted in their commercials. Worse, Microsoft's technical support has been appalling. I've learned that if you have a problem with a Windows-based computer, you are better off getting assistance from a third party.

Check out this short article on Inc. where you can watch a recent commercial for both companies and learn (*gasp*) that at least one of the people in Microsoft's "Laptop Hunters" ad campaign is an actress.