GWU Issues Management

A blog established for the George Washington University School of Political Management's Issues Management course.

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Location: Washington, D.C., United States

A middle aged white guy, who likes to think, talk and, too infrequently, write about politics, religion and gadgets.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

What's an "Issue?"

Below are links to two remarkably similar articles that appeared this past Friday and Saturday. One is from the Washington Post and the other from the New York Times. The columns describe two columnists' interactions with a couple of the most well know brands in the U.S., if not the world.

These columns touch upon some of the matters we have been discussing in class. While they don't involve "issues" in the sense of legislative or regulatory policy - at least not directly, I am sure that whoever is responsible for "issues management" in the companies described, has something new to deal with when they come to work on Monday.

So, please read the articles and discuss and of the following:

In what way to these columns raise "issues" as defined in this course?

What threats do these columns raise for the companies?

What might you do if you were responsible for issues management in any of the companies named?

Have you had experiences similar to those described by the columnists? What were they? What relevance does your reaction to such experiences have for the company or companies in your stories?

Here are the two columns

Pearlstein in the Washington Post

Nocera in the New York Times

I'd love to discuss these in person, so I'm probably going to break my rule already and discuss them in class on Thursday.


Blogger Don Libes said...

I've commented on Pearlstein's experiences in my blog: An All-Verizon Family

12:18 PM  
Blogger chitown_grrrl said...

Very interesting articles. The thing that strikes me is that the end of the Nocera article seems to hit on a great point. The fact is, eventually someone will come out with a great competitor for the ipod. And all they have to do to be better than apple is to 1)have longer lasting equiptment 2)have better service and support 3)have cheaper prices 4) work with multiple software programs. Unfortunately, as we mentioned a few weeks ago, companies can do whatever they want if they've got the market cornered. And right now, Apple and Ipod is the big thing in portable music. I think that if they don't start evaluating something other than their bottom line soon, the will fall behind the trend and as soon as another product hits the market, they'll get hit hard.
That said, if I was in Nocera's position, I can't say that I wouldn't do the exact same thing. I would have that annoying feeling build into outrage, but because Ipod is really the best option right now (mostly, as he said, because of the itunes software that already has all of your music) I would probably buy a replacement. But stories like these really annoy me because I have had so many similar experiences. Customer service rarely helps you do anything.
One final point though: I actually prefer the internet sites that talk you through troubleshooting more than having to call a hotline. As I said, the hotlines are a waste of time (usually spent on hold) and don't ever seem to get anywhere. I usually have more luck online, and only if I come up empty there will I resort to something else.

1:42 PM  
Blogger Princeton Dem said...

In my opinion, the biggest problem for the companies in these two stories is that they are no longer in control of their interaction with the public. As we've been discussing issues management, they've crossed that line, I think into crisis management mode.

Perhaps that's not true with members of that dreaded "general public," for whom the negative impact of the stories could be countered with the next hip iTunes add, but it certainly applies to these disenchanted early adapters.

The people in these stories more than willing to convert to "all-Apple" or "all-Verizon" households, what seems to me to be a desirable and exceedingly difficult transformation for a company to affect. That aura of loyalty, which Apple in particular tries so hard to cultivate, is clearly shattered by these tales of woe.

6:05 PM  
Blogger skeeba said...

Great articles, thanks for that Mr. Black. On iTunes, stuff like this is exactly why I have not bought the nano or video; however, it is a smart business plan for Apple for the first few years, but they better have a contingency plan. But whatever. The point of this post: create an issue for Apple to manage. The class can observe Apple in action as it responds to a communications campaign we plan and execute. Makes sense?

We craft a message campaign in the next class, and instead of group projects, we make our issue the iPod customer service problem; each of us has a responsibility. We plan a communications campaign to force a response out of Apple; then we observe Apple managing the issue we helped create for them. It would be like a double-layer learning experience.

Not trying to take over class or anything, just an exciting idea that came to mind. Maybe the semester is not long enough to execute, but could be fun. Think about it, a dozen or so students way out in D.C. could spend just a little time bombarding blogs and whatnot, making headaches for Apple...all for a class project motivated by this one guy's opinion piece!

9:44 AM  
Blogger Johnny Utah said...

issues raised by these columns is the threat poor customer service poses to a companies bottom line.

these are both widely read, influential papers, which carry some clout.

my reaction to this would be to immediately reach out to the reporters and attempt to soothe their concerns. i would then propose a campaign emphasizing how much customers mean to company x.

my similar experience: tried to get dsl hooked up. took forever. slow service. abominable service. what did i do: took it right on the chin. i had no recourse.

12:32 PM  
Blogger RonBurgundy said...

Two issues raised, as defined in this course, in these articles are 1) customer service and 2)product quality.

Threats from these articles are 1)increased negative press and 2)loss of customers/business

I might try to counteract any of the possible threats by issuing a statement concerning the problems/concerns in these articles. This definitely crosses into crisis management.

I have had issues with both companies but ultimately, positively, resolved my problems with both. I received a new Ipod for Christmas 2004 and by Christmas 2005 I had to get another one. I did not purchase the second one; I purchased the extended warranty and recived a new one for free from the Tech guy at the Montgomery Mall store. The only reason I have an Ipod is because I am waiting for the Sony equivalent to be released in the U.S. Competition will be a problem for Mac.

I actually just got off the phone with the most pleasant and helpful woman from Verizon. This is a rare situation, but I can honestly say I have not encountered too many problems with Verizon (other than being overcharged). Knock on wood.

I have seen a sharp decline in customer service with American companies. I wonder when the American people will stop considering this acceptable and start demanding what we deserve: competence.

1:27 PM  
Blogger Wal-Mart Walter III said...

The experiences of these articles come as no surprise. I fought with Comcast because they insisted I had to wait 10 days to get a repair man ($35) to my new apartment to fix my cable box that (I had installed) had been working for four hours but somehow shut down. I spent a few hours asking for everyone’s supervisor and wouldn’t you know, they were able to miraculously fix the box somehow without dispatching a cable guy…..must have been an act of God.

Companies like these always seem to learn in the end. Saving money by cutting back on service and allowing customer satisfaction to drop will come back and bite you. I think this is actually an area where online activities can make or break a company. If the online communities (ie blogs) go after these stories dissatisfaction will spread like wildfire. I think these companies, especially Apple, should use some time and money to get their story out there first. It is amazing what some viral online marketing can do to a brand name, for good or bad.

1:46 PM  
Blogger ajyass said...

I think the point that Mr. Nocera made towards the end of his article- that many companies pretend they have terrific costomer service when they don't-is an interesting one, and shows that companies have brought this issue upon themselves.

When companies run commericals bragging about the amazing cutomer service that they offer, then of course people are going to be upset when they do not get it-most likely more upset than they would have been have the company not made such a big deal of of cutomer service.

The best approach to solving this issue would not only to be actually improve customer service, but also lower the expectations of the consumer. Companies and consumers should meet half way. Yes, when we buy a product we should be able to expect the company to stand behind and offer some support, but we also need to understand that if we want good products at low prices then we need to ackowledge that something has to go.

However, I feel a little differntly about the examples that Mr. Pearlstein uses. His examples are about service companies- there is no product. If all you are offering is a service then customer service is a vital component. A service company needs to be willing to spend more money on this because people can easily switch service providers. This is not a one-time purchase, and the service providers should want the relationship to continue.

8:25 AM  
Blogger SoCal Girl said...

I was unable to download the Nocera article, but the verizon article did not suprise me at at all. I have suffered many headaches from the same company. My problems occurred just as they bought out airtouch and made their name. At that time, their organazational skills were non-existant and their customer service skills were much less than mediocre. I was forced to get the BBB involved when Verizon finally began to try to work with me. The struggle cost me alot of time and energy and cost them a piece of their reputation.
Another case of poor customer service happened to me recently with American Eagle. Their errors ended up costing my husband and I $600, and we did not even recieve an appology from the representative responsible. Customer service problems occur with many consumers every day, and I think that the problem is simply the representatives. To them it is simply a job. They do not have any incentive to go above and beyond the customer's expectations because they do not have enough invested in the company. Not enough people report poor service to the higher chain of command, and therefore the company does not have the opportunity to fix their problems before they wind up in the paper damaging their reputation. Perhaps those who have serious investments in the company's successes should be the one's representing the company and dealing directly with the people they serve. Makes sense to me.

10:47 AM  
Blogger BlueGirl said...

Both articles are troubling for Verizon and Apple because they were published in two of the major national papers, reaching a large audience.

If I was responsible for issues management for the aforementioned companies, I would speak to the press, outlining a plan of action for the future and what is currently being done to accomodate customers in the interim. Putting money towards quality customer service, although expensive, is a worthy investment and will only further cultivate customer loyalty and positive PR.

I have had several frustrating experiences with Comcast, Verizon, etc. My experiences with these companies have soured my opinion and I am less likely to use the companies' services again.

7:23 AM  
Blogger roscoe p coldchain said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:41 AM  
Blogger roscoe p coldchain said...

Both columns assert that both Apple and Verizon have left the customer behind in order to increase up their profits. The issue they need to manage now is the perception that they have poor customer service and rip off their customers.

Both columns are in influential newspapers, but to me come off as pretty whiny. I feel like most readers will have sympathy for the writiers and understand their view, but also accept it as status quo (especially with Verizon).

The companies have to see if mounting consumer discontent will outweigh heavy advertising and market dominance. I don't think it will, but you never know.

I've had both good and bad service - Dell actually provided surprisingly good support when I had to replace the keyboard on my girlfriend's laptop, they walked me through the whole process. Banana Republic's credit card service ran me through the ringer. I found that yelling actually does help!

9:41 AM  
Blogger ABPITT said...

These articles definitely raised some interesting points. Having these articles attract attention in major newspapers and without response in one instance from one company seems to play directly into the authors' points. I feel that many readers may empathize with them.

In turn, the managers handling these problems need to come up with a course of action rather than the "do nothing" course. Although there may not be a direct threat currently and these companies currently enjoy good market positioning, this most likely will not always be the case. In anticipation of maintaining their considerable market share, nurturing good relationships is essential.

While these articles may appear merely as complaints, the issue managers at Verizon and Apple should recognize that these articles are speaking to sentiment of their very customers.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Dollar Phil said...

What's aggravating about these stories is, of course, the if-you-don't-like-it-go-somewhere-else paradigm that so much of customer service departments come from. The problem with that, of course, is that standards are often so low industry-wide, that each alternative is as bad as the rest and we have no place to go.

The columns individually pose little threat to the companies involved, I think. But on aggregate, they can move consumers toward a tipping point; if enough people get mad enough, someone will come up with a solution.

The challenge for issues managers is to convince corporate officers that quality customer service is both responsible and cost-effective. Poor customer service and suboptimal products are ubiquitous; each of us has a horror story. The case for better service is out there to be made. Someone just has to make it.

10:28 AM  
Blogger skeeba said...

I agree with DollarPhil on the significance of these articles. This is not a crisis for either one of these companies. Think about the average reader of these two least a high school diploma, probably some college, even a degree. Now, anyone that takes the time to read these articles, I think a lot of them will be cognitive enough to understand the forces at work here. Also agree with Rosco P Coldchain (BTW: great name), these articles are whiny, especially to those readers that don't fall in the aforementioned category who can't afford these luxuaries. Some folks must wonder why this guy has to have everything streamlined, he's lucky to have TV, internet, telephone and cell! His knocks on Dell are equally as absurd. Dell is routinely complimented on its customer service and in fact offers affordable services where a guy will actually come to your house to fix your computer. How cool is that?

1:35 PM  
Blogger nkatona said...

Until people stop paying for the iPods Apple won't fix the issue...why should they. It is the same with Walmart. If you don't like the price or the problem stop buying them...that is why I don't have one.

3:12 PM  
Blogger green elephant said...

When customer service is viewed as an integral component of a product or a company, poor service can tarnish the greater whole. The problem is that many business types look to other areas to maintain profits before they consider adding costly new labor to their costs. It's also a short versus long term issue internally. Why keep people coming back when there is a surplus of new customers at the door? Companies like and L.L.Bean have internalized want most accounts consider an externality, albiet a big one. We pay more for their product-service package, but, in the case of Zappos, it has resulted in great word-of-mouth and loyalty to buying shoes that you can't try on immediately.

This is a tough issue to manage with such a huge segment of consumers thinking they always buy the total package. With DirecTV, the matter might be a simple as shifting blame to the contractor. Utilities in general don't have to make much of this issue, because there is so little competition in most markets and it's not a recurring problem for their current users. Once people think "at least I have it now", complacency takes over, and they rest easy about not having to deal with the stress again. Competition is always key to self-motivation within a company to improve. The customers don't matter as much as the other choices they have. As the craze around iPod lessens, I agree that competition will better motivate Apple, probably still marketing themselves as a premium line, to be more helpful post-sale. The consumer still should never assume they're buying the complete package if that fact isn't well substantiated.

3:18 PM  
Blogger Boston Dem said...

I think that Apple really missed an opportunity in this article to show their consumers that they care. While the iPod is really the only game in town when it comes to an portable music devices, they should not be so arrogant in thinking that they should not be held accountable to the press when the public questions the reliability of their product. I agree with an earlier posting that ignoring the media turned this from an issues management paradigm to one of crisis managaement. Had Apple been more cooperative with the reporter, the whole tenor of this story would have changed completely.

7:24 AM  

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