“Undercover Boss”, real-time communications and I sure hope Ray Ozzie builds something amazing

I like the show “Undercover Boss”. Mostly because I like seeing the CEO’s reactions when they find out what their employees really think about their jobs, the company, policies, etc.

Recently our CEO responded to some policy concerns by asking us to tell him what policies we thought were stupid, so they could be fixed, or discontinued completely. He called for a “policy purge” and that very day the first policy was killed. And our CEO is NOT out of touch with employees. He sits 40 feet from me in a cubicle just like I do. With the right arc I can nearly hit him with a Nerf dart. Any employee can stop by and chat with him anytime they see him.

One of the key things I have noticed by watching Undercover Boss (and being in business a long time) is just how much valuable information is being lost between the front line troops and middle and upper management. Often the middle managers get the blame for this, but at the end of the day, the CEO runs the company, and has to set the standard for the culture. Open, or closed? Inclusive, or exclusive? Executive restrooms, or does the CEO piss in the same pot I piss in?

Undercover Boss has covered some very arrogant and extravagant CEO’s – and some very down to earth ones. The down to earth ones almost always know their businesses better.  They may not understand every employee’s personal issues, but they get the business. The arrogant ones are out of touch – probably because they are out of reach.

Being disconnected from employees is just as dangerous as being disconnected from your customers. Listening and learning seem to be lost arts in many companies.

As companies become more global and the Internet makes the world more real-time it is more and more difficult for companies to communicate internally. And at the same time we are adding in the complexity of a nearly real-time external communication channel with customers.

This is a LOT for companies to digest and adjust to. Many won’t. But those that invest  in new communication channels will probably get to know their employees and customers much better than those who do not.

Finding the right tool to talk to a lot of customers and/or employees is hard. You may pick the wrong platform, expect people to show up where they do not show up – but you must not give up.

The new world is about rapid communication – and customers and employees both expect it. How they want it delivered is something we are all still figuring out.

Maybe Ray Ozzie knows? He has been as close to getting it right as anyone. And it appears he is still working on it.



Social Media as a Service

I get a lot of people telling me how I can make my employer more successful if we would just learn to market on Social Media – especially on Twitter.

They have stuff to sell, and they want me to buy.  We all need to make a living.

I’m not focused on making money from Social Media – I am focused on saving money WITH Social media.

Every customer we help in near real time is a customer that that is exposed to Fanatical Support® – often for the first time.

And that support is important.  It is timely.  It is genuine – it is driven by an engineer with a desire to help a customer win.

Near real time support adds a lot of value because it both maintains your brand reputation and reinforces your core commitment to customers – that you are a partner, not just a vendor.  That you win and lose together.  That they are not just a number.

So we focus a lot on how Social Media can help us help customers win. That is our strategy.  Please steal it – emulate it – make all my experiences with brands better by making them more engaged with me.

But put real people behind those accounts and hashtags – people that are empowered to make a difference, and people that really give a damn.

That isn’t Marketing.

That is Social Media as a Service.


“I Will Never Hire a ‘Social Media Expert,’ and Neither Should You”

Below is an email I shared not only with my teams, but with my Senior Leadership.

I manage Social Media.  But I am just a customer care guy that knows Social Media tools.

That does not make me a “Social Media Maven/Expert/Guru, etc” – it makes me customer guy with more tools than I had a decade ago.  Simple.


  • It’s About Transparency. It’s about not lying to your customers, and thinking that a good Twitter apology will suffice when you’re caught. It won’t, and you’ll lose.
  • It’s About Relevance. It’s not about tweeting every single time your company offers 10% off on a thingamabob. It’s about finding out where your customers actually are, and going after them there.
  • Finally, it’s about knowing your customer, and making sure your customer thinks of you first.

The post I reference – and it is good reading.

I am very pleased to report that Rackspace has no “Social Media Experts”.  We have Rackers that care for customers and know how to use various tools. We are not, and will never become the tools.

Why I wish Amazon Web Services the best

A couple years ago, ServInt – a “competitor” to my employer wrote this blog post:

Why ServInt Stands Beside Rackspace and You Should Too

I sent the author of that post an email and soon found myself developing a great relationship with the author – Reed Caldwell, the CEO of ServInt. Yes, some could say we compete – we are in the same business – but there is a LOT of business in this space, and there are many ways to differentiate yourself so you serve different segments.  ServInt and Rackspace have some overlap. Not a lot. Not enough that I feel either of us sees the other as “the enemy”. In fact, we’ve become online friends. Eventually we will meet in person, and I believe we will become better friends.

Today I tip my hat to Amazon Web Services – much as Reed tipped his hat to us years ago. We don’t “win more” when our competitors struggle. We “win more” when the entire industry wins more.

I have a great deal of respect for AWS. I have met Werner Vogels several times and think he is an amazingly humble, kind, and brilliant man. The type of man I cannot hope fails and that is working for a company I still do a lot of business with (just not in Cloud computing!).

Amazon will recover from this, and they will do so quickly. And customers everywhere will learn more about geographic redundancy – at least enough to investigate it and discover the cost/complexity and make an informed decision on what is right for their business.

And the Cloud will get stronger. Every failure teaches us more. Every failure makes us stronger and our customers better informed. As an industry.

To my friends at AWS – hang in there.  This too shall pass and tomorrow will be a brighter day – for all of us, and for all of our customers.




“I know when to give away a few daisies to sell a dozen roses.”

This was the title of a Twitter update I posted earlier this morning. And I included the fact that there was a story behind this tweet.

And here is the rest of the story…

I sent an email to our Chairman tonight – Graham Weston, who I respect a great deal.

Here is part of what I told him:

What I just really, honestly love about this company – I
feel completely comfortable putting my personal “brand” on the line.
I am completely comfortable telling companies that if we screw up, I
will make it right for them. I do NOT promise what Rackspace will do.
I promise them what *I* will do – and I know Rackspace will have my

I am not sure many companies get how empowering that is – that I trust
my employer enough to give my customers my personal guarantee –
because I know my company has my back.

I’ve spent two + years talking to some of the best customer support
companies on the planet – some of the largest high profile social
media adopters – and none of my peers feel that absolute sense of “my
back is covered”. It is extremely empowering and adds a level of
authenticity to what we do that we could not have planned for – or built a
program around. It is what I know of us as a company (much because I was a customer for so long) – the trust I have earned, and my knowledge of the business. I am not going to give away the farm. I am running a for-profit business. But I know when to give away a few daisies to sell a dozen roses.

This is NOT normal with the other companies I am dealing with. I think we are doing something pretty unique here – and I really appreciate it. Mostly I appreciate not having to get permission to do what is right. I am trusted to do what is right.

And empowered.

And that is very unusual. More unusual than we think, I think.

So I want to dig deeper into that, and find out how what we are doing works, and how we can extend it, and how we can even teach it to others – because we are fundamentally based on giving knowledge back. Be that OpenStack, or what we are learning in Social Media.

Knowledge is more fun when it is shared.