Monday, July 30, 2007

Don't Ever Order a Car from the Factory

Always wanted to do this. One of my first cars was a Porsche 912, kind of a 911 with a VW engine. But they made it possible, and still do, for you to order it new, just the way you wanted it, from the assembly line in Germany. There was a package so you could fly over, pick it up and drive it around Europe before they shipped it to the U.S.

As you imagine in the '60s I was in no position to take them up. Or to get one new. Although at the time, I think they were only a few thousand dollars. Mine was used.

Well I tried it again but this time with a new Jeep Wrangler, but with no trip and no tour. Just off the line, just as I wanted it. Went to the folks at Morgan who had helped me with a handful of cars this decade. Took a print out from the Internet with everything selected that I wanted or could afford, including a built in navigation system with the radio.

Everything was smooth at the dealer end. But the nav system showed backorder, and it was stalling the assembly. I asked them to go ahead with the radio without the nav. Within two days, I notified the dealer to remember that I have Sirius, a system they had adapted to my last Jeep. And that's where things went south.

I picked it up a month later, asked if the Sirius was already registered and got a nod. But when I got home I couldn't find it, even after studying the manual forward and back where the Sirius is explained.

Turns out, once it is on the line, you can't make a change. And instead of moving to the next radio down from the nav, Jeep had dropped it down to one that didn't even have Sirius. Nearly three months later, I've been told I'm on my own to get this remedied. Dealer has tried everything (and believe me they no longer have much sway). I was told I could buy the radio I want for $800. It would have been about $200 if installed at the factory.

I was told I could try the 800 number and they might help.

No one is really at fault, except the rigidity of the system and a failure to communicate. But no one is taking responsibility. Everyone is pointing at someone else.

My advice. Never buy one new off the line. You get all the flexibility you want if you ask for what you want and the dealer swaps with other dealers until they find it.

But the factory? No flexibility at all.

I'll probably go buy a $300 paste-on solution. But I'm in the consumer satisfaction business, and you can bet I'll write to the President of Daimler, the President of Blackstone (company buying Jeep), President of Chrysler, President of Jeep Division, chief officer over customer satisfaction, chief officer over the plant where it was assembled… maybe even the President of Sirius.

My request: Make it possible to make a change on the line, especially for little things like radios, which are probably stacked by an installer near the end. Little thing. Huge difference.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Durham Image Improves

Conventional and anecdotal wisdom is that Durham's image took a hit during the past year because of association with the LAX debacle.

In North Carolina, it's true that, unique among cities, the news media and residents in other communities seem to blame Durham as a whole for the actions of individuals or groups.

Fortunately, that isn't the case nationwide. A new scientific poll by Opinion Research Corporation reveals that Durham's overall image stayed consistent with last June and polls done since 1995. And Durham's image as a place with many cultural, educational and entertainment features moved up to 14 to 1 positive to negative. As a place for new business and growth potential, it also improved to 10 to 1.

This took place as more and more people are familiar with Durham. The percentage answering they "don't know" about Durham has declined from just over half in 1995 to 25% now. As more people have become familiar, the percent negative about Durham has dropped now to 5% overall and only 3% for cultural/entertainment.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Visitor Satisfaction

I had to fly to Pittsburgh for meetings last week. As I stood in line to take my shoes off, etc., it occurred to me how punishing the process of air travel has become. And my job in part is to convince people to go through that experience.

It isn't about the people anymore. They are working diligently under the circumstances. It's the very process itself.

My drive time to Pittsburgh from Durham would have been a little less than 8 hours. My time flying involved:
  • Dropping my car and getting to the airport an hour and a half early each way; that's 3 hours.
  • Delays took another hour; that's 4.
  • Time waiting for baggage on both ends, another hour; that's 5.
  • Not being able to leave when I wanted; another 3 hours, that's 8.
  • Flight time round trip, 3 hours; that's 11.
So it would have taken 3 hours less to drive and a whole lot less hassle.

Durham draws more air travelers than communities nearby or the same size and competitive set. It also draws older, more experienced, well-educated and, yes, demanding travelers. When rating Durham visitor satisfaction, they rate Durham not only for the experience here but also the experience en route.

We can tell because our satisfaction numbers have dropped in the last couple of years.

We've got to find some solutions. Or start encouraging visitors to drive.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Search for a New Police Chief

I wonder if the news media know how obnoxious it looks when they interfere in a high-profile executive search, like the Raleigh paper just did in Durham's search for a new police chief. They couldn't wait for the announcement. They had to badger people "close to the process" for "off-the-record information" then barge into the negotiation of details.

Thank goodness the Durham newspaper laid back a bit. It's usually a blessing to have two major dailies covering your news. But this double coverage stinks when one is from another community and appears to have an agenda... overtly to undermine the Durham paper and try and put it out of business but many believe covertly to make sure Durham isn't seen as Raleigh's equal.

Yes, they are good people as individuals, and this is just free enterprise. Yes, I'm risking passive-aggressive retaliation from folks who control the ink.

But instead of relishing in these intrusions, as though we just got the latest gossip, I hope readers will eventually revolt from this revolting interference in a delicate and, yes, personal process between a community and a candidate, whose wife I'm sure wants to know he's coming into a place where the news media treat people, communities and processes with respect.

And for folks who trade "off-the-record tidbits" to curry favor with the news media, watch your back.

I'm just glad there are still so many great editors who have restraint and don't sic their reporters on stories this way. I just wish they would write more stories about news professionals who don't.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Durham Self-Image Doing Just Fine

A May public opinion survey revealed that Durham residents have a very positive overall image of the community by 7.5 to 1. Another 9.7% are neither positive nor negative, and only 5% are unsure. Most impressive is that more than 21% have a very positive image of Durham, and the number very positive vs. very negative is more than 3 to 1. This rivals Durham's nationwide image ratio of 6 to 1 positive to negative.

Sometimes the news media and residents of other communities get the impression Durham is down on itself, because people here are so outspoken and determined to solve problems. But Durham residents have always had a very positive overall image of the community. Negative people are a little louder, and of course, half the people working in Durham don't live here, but many talk like they do.

What's astounding, though, is that this self-image has been resolute. Durham residents are the only ones in the state bombarded by news from two major dailies and a home delivery weekly. Of course, this can make the drumbeat of troubling news almost assaultive. Couple that with the fact that half of the residents of nearby communities report they would expect a negative experience in Durham from what they hear from friends and around the water cooler... and then the incredible frenzy over the LAX accusations and distortion in the national news media.

It is also assaultive on Durham residents that much of the news media and portions of the population in Raleigh are threatened by the fact that Durham is very much Raleigh's equal and determined not to acknowledge the great things that happen here.

So this tells us two things. The image issue really isn't about generating community pride or giving ourselves more love. The issues impacting Durham's image rest with external audiences in a 50-mile radius. There lies the image problem that so undermines Durham in the eyes of newcomers and visitors. Imbalanced news coverage and Internet babble may stoke this negative image, but it's negative word of mouth around the water cooler, over beers or the backyard fence that fuels it.

Friday, July 06, 2007


In the eight months since Durham launched a new overarching brand that would help make all messengers more consistent, already there have been more than 150 supporting uses, with DCVB launching many more.

It's being embraced even faster than the most optimistic forecast. Already, surveys show that nearly 40% of residents are aware of the brand, and more than 90% of those who are aware agree it makes them feel even more positive about Durham.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Undercurrent of Negativity about Durham

Undercurrent, my tush. Surveys document that more than half of the people living in communities on either side of Durham report, from what people say, they would expect a negative experience in Durham. And hundreds of millions of dollars in high-profile community improvement projects haven't made a dent in this "torrent" of negative word of mouth.

The reason isn't always what we would think. Crime or sense of safety come into play but way down the list. At the top one year were verbatim responses like "too many Muslims on the streets," "too many African-Americans on the streets."

This year the highest median ratings were given to things like "Class," "Intolerance," "Ignorance," "Rivalry," "Envy."

Same ole, same ole junk that has always been the swords for bigots, racist and sexist stereotypes, even genocide.

Durham could ignore it but for half of the people working in Durham commuting from these areas. Here it can contaminate visitors and newcomers.

It's a communication problem. Even back to back to back multimillion dollar civic projects with tons of buzz haven't made a dent in negative word of mouth. Like politics, negative word of mouth is "personal" not "logical."

Whenever this junk appears in print, it is collected in a list called "Tudes." This month a Raleigh writer couldn't resist taking shots at Durham, thinly veiled as humor but hardly the "equal opportunity" offenders he was parroting. After softly chastising the Museum of Art there for telling him to keep his paws off some art, he took a shot at Durham by writing "it's not like we want to leave them in Downtown Durham overnight." And under the next heading, during a segue to news on Durham, he began "Speaking of dead people and Durham...."

People can preach regionalism all they want, even when it's used to cloak self-interest. But until we eliminate this cancer and restore mutual respect, it's a hollow argument.