Monday, August 20, 2007

A HUGH PANERO STORY (PART ONE)... AND A NEW LOW IN CUSTOMER SERVICE

A HUGH PANERO STORY (PART ONE)... AND A NEW LOW IN CUSTOMER SERVICE

Hugh Panero came from the cable side. About a month into XM (then AMRC) he asked if I could introduce him to people in the music Industry. So, we went to LA and I took him around to meet various people. He came up with the concept of “Expanded Head and Deflated Head”. This refereed to people who did tons of drugs in the 70’s yet came out OK and are actually smarter—that’s the Expanded Head types. Then there are those who did so many drugs in the 70’s that their heads have lost intelligence, thus deflated heads. For years to follow, whenever he’d meet someone in the music business, he’d turn around and ask “Expanded”?? The only guy we met that he was completely stumped about was John Kalodner who never even chewed gum but somehow looked like THE most bizarre rocker you could ever meet. He comes swaggering into our hotel room dressed in an all white robe with a beard to the floor and the look of Phil Spector’s best smoking buddy. John proceeded to ask intelligent questions and engage in high level talk about the state of…everything. Hugh was speechless. After John left, Hugh asked “What the hell was that”!? Clearly not expanded as he has always been drug free…not deflated as he’s smart. I just told Hugh “Welcome to Rock n Roll”….we ended that day dialing around LA Radio. Hugh was appalled at what he heard. Questions like: Why does everybody talk that way? Do people actually LIKE this stuff? I think it was that moment he really realized—Hey---We can do some damage here! Then there was Norm Pattiz who spent most of the meeting talking about his jet...and the list goes on. Clearly a different lot of characters than in the cable business. But, those characters are what gave the business a cool edge. Unfortunately, the music business has lost that edge as so many of the characters have cashed out, retired, been driven out or have burned out. The new guys don't seem to have the same swagger--There are exceptions, especially in the Hip Hop area (no shortage of character there), but a lot of that lunacy is gone and replaced with a more tight assed approach---Judging by the state of the music business, it worked better under lunacy. Well...times change! I didn’t know Bob Lefsetz too well back then—now THAT would have been an interesting stop.

That trip was fun. On the way back aboard United we went on and on about possible names for XM. I suggested GO! He liked that...but of course Disney owned it we soon found out. So the next week we had the entire XM staff of 8 in a room coming up with name ideas. THAT was a disaster as everyone had an issue with every name brought up…and there were some BAD ones. You could tell what businesses people came from by their suggestions. Anyone from Cable had a name that ended with “star”. So we went out-of-house and the name XM was suggested. It stuck. We were close to being ____Star. When it came to naming channels, that was easier. Just kinda named them. Steve Cook who ran marketing then, eye rolled some of them, and there was a contingent that wanted the channels to be named Rock 1, Rock 2, Country 1, Country 2 etc…but we kinda took advantage of everyone focused on other things and delivered the official channel name list. The only one that uniformly was rejected was CLICK. Actually it was the expression Click—a sound you make with your tongue and cheek...and I think it probably means something in some exotic African language. But that idea was TOO weird for the room. There were a few others that didn’t make the cut. The original name of the Comedy Channel was Up Yours—actually suggested by the Comedy PD at the time. Boneyard was originally called The Bone—also known as both a reefer and an erection, which should resonate to the 20-30 something male target. Much to my surprise no-one complained about calling our reggae channel “the Joint”.

It was about that time that Hugh came up with an XM salute---actually a hand/arm contortion that sorta meant XM. No one REALLY knew what it meant but it was fun to do and we humored him. He'd always end his periodic all staff meetings with the salute. Those meetings were extremely casual...usually a ton of people crammed around our biggest conference rooms. These were meetings that EVERYONE attended. He'd always try to embarrass me by, without notice, asking me if I had any questions. After two of those I came armed with GOOD questions. He stopped asking me. His meetings were interesting. Under his hardened CEO shell, a lot of us thought he was nuts (in a good way)--kind of "He's as crazy as we are"! That's a good thing.

The early XM was SO much like early FM. No playbook. But early FM guys had the advantage of learning A LOT about life through mistakes. One of my fondest memories of what NOT to do on FM was a DJ on an “underground” station in Miami called WBUS. That station was an inspiration for what we did at AOR in the golden days of that concept. An inspiration on what NOT to do. The DJ was playing America by the Nice. However, he was playing the studio version in the right side and the live version in the left. Figured that listeners could have their choice by turning their stereo to all right or all left. Of course the live version was 7 minutes longer and there’s the issue of people with Mono radios. Then he opened up the phone lines. One guy called and he was so fucked up that he started babbling about the impending revolution and how Nixon was setting up labor camps for hippies. Walked out of that hang thinking “I NEED AN FM”!

Journey to the Twilight Zone. Went to Tangier Island with Jim Mc Bean and his family. The only way to get there is by ferry or plane. We flew. Landing was fine but the runway hasn’t been attended to in 30 years. Cracks, weeds, you name it. Some ultra friendly—too friendly--old guy greeted us in a language that is exclusive to this Island. About 200 live there and EVERYONE is named either Pruitt or Crockett. You can tell because everything is "Helen Crockett’s Inn" or something that has a Crockett or Pruitt. It’s a marshy little burg with no industry other than crabbing. There are two crab restaurants there--I will say they are great--better be the crabs were caught a few minutes before.…a few gift shops selling weird stuff—Jim bought a tee-shirt and they stuffed Bible passages into the shirt. The whole place is in black and white…tombstones in the front yards. In fact, there are tombstones everywhere. No cars. Just golf carts and bikes.

Last time I was there, I flew Sonny Fox (PD—XM Comedy) and his Wife there. They wanted to buy a house and retire to it in a few years. They too were scared off by the strange vibe of the place. Mayberry meets the Outer Limits. Could picture an axe murderer in the midst of this strange little Island

I have Cox cable for my internet at home. Unbelievable. It went out and I called customer service. Pathetic. The person spoke pretty much no English. Chinese I think. Was on the phone for over an hour after spending 15 minutes on their “automated customer service” system. The first person told me to go to their website to diagnose the problem with my Internet not working...huh? That’s when I got the Chinese lady who tried to walk me through the problem. It was comedic. I couldn’t understand a WORD she was saying. Here’s what I don’t get: How can you serve customers if you can’t speak English? There are a lot of Spanish speaking people around—that’s cool—they have a special phone line for that. But you use the regular English line…and they don’t speak English??!! What are these people thinking? More lies! I love how they talk about customers come first, etc…What complete bullshit. You just KNOW they don’t give a fuck. Or maybe they have a department with a head of “We Give a Fuck” but I can assure you that the senior guys there are pretty disengaged. Then after many complaints I get a letter from them addressed Dear Customer Lee Abrams….how personal! Customer Service has got to be about the most difficult task out there as everyone thinks their problem is the center of the universe and there are SO many people to deal with—I respect that--but you gotta wonder what some of these places are thinking. “Dear Customer Lee Abrams”? Then there’s Southwest Airlines. I called their reservation number a few years ago and the recording said “Press seven for instant service” I pressed seven and the response was “You must be kidding…sucker!” Took a horrible experience and had me on the floor--told 20 people how cool Southwest was, even though it still took 20 minutes to talk to a human.—And you wonder why they are among the most profitable airlines???

Finally—a great video about “marketing to Women”… Or subtly how NOT to market to women but most people marketing to women are clueless: http://bringtheloveback.com/2007/05/16/mdas_europe/

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3 Comments:

At 7:01 AM, Anonymous Mindy Domb said...

Hey putting in a plug for a theme time radio show on "waking up"/"Good morning" so that folks can consider purchasing the playlist as their wake up playlist! My daughter is heading out to college and waking up to Bob Dyans' wake up play list would be great!
Thanks

 
At 12:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lee.... If Cox cable internet sucks so bad, how about XM getting into the wireless broadband biz? If you would, I'd GLADLY buy your service! Comcast sucks too!

 
At 11:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lee, I find it ironic that you complain about customer service policies when XM is down right abusive to their customers. I don't understand where you are coming from at all. I do typically appreciate your opinions, but when O&A were suspended it took me 5 hours worth of phone calls before my unit was cancelled in protest. I wish I were exaggerating, but unfortunately the first three times I was assured that my accounts were cancelled I was apparently lied to. My later complaints to the escalations department were of course followed up with multiple assurances of return phone calls that never occurred. I was placed on "trial" subscriptions without consent, and was forced to work at getting rid of a service that not only lied about "uncensored" programming, but also lied about the cancellation of my service when I was dissatisfied.

I think the worst part was reading an article after O&A returned from suspension that quoted Chance Patterson from XM's PR department stating that there was not any occurrence of misleading people about the status of their cancellation. I really enjoy the idea behind XM, but you guys sure know how to alienate your customers.

 

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