The Customer is Always Right

Today I received a rather long email from the Ace Club. I mentioned the Ace Club in my very first blog “Living in the Maadi Bubble” and since that blog I’ve thought a lot about how governments can better inform and protect its citizens overseas – being that I am one of those said citizens. So when I received the email from the ACE Club it triggered me to write a little further on this subject. And here is a perfect example of what to do and what not to do.

The rather long, tedious email I received was advice from the US Embassy about the increased crime in Egypt since the Revolution, stats on crime affecting US Embassy staff, a personal security checklist, and another security notice which repeated much of the same information. Directly after the US Embassy advice was the UK Embassy advice which was much shorter, straight to the point and had links for more information. It was really quite a shame they both were in the same email, otherwise I might have just deleted the US Embassy email straight away and just read the UK Embassy email and saved myself a bit of tedium.

As I’ve said, I’m all for information being disseminated this way and I wish a few other embassies would do the same. So kudos to both the embassies for trying. US Embassy – I just found the information being disseminated was tedious and not something that I would have chosen to have sent to a bunch of expats who are fully aware of the crime situation already. You need to look at what your aim is. Your aim should be to keep citizens informed and ready for any situation but at the same time you don’t want to push them away with information that’s not really necessary.

There is a fine line between getting important need-to-know information out to citizens and just filling up their inbox with junk. Ok, so it’s not junk but I do think embassies need to be smarter. Emails should be for information such as “stay away from Tahrir Square this Friday as there are planned protests”. Not for general safety information or updates on crime stats. A link to the embassy website would suffice for this kind of information. The problem with sending out emails that are too long and tedious is that no one reads them because no one can be bothered reading through screeds of words to get to something that may be important. And you really don’t want your citizens to miss the important stuff.

This is where the Brits worked their email well. They gave relevant information about an upcoming protest on 6 April, advised people to check the travel advice with a “click on the link” and further advice about a change in website address. Simple and straight to the point. The most important information was first. The US Embassy should have done the same. That’s not to say that giving information on personal security is not important because it is. But cater to the masses that have the common sense anyway. Include a link instead along the lines of “Click here for further information on personal security and protecting yourself and your family from crime”. The link should go back to the main embassy website. At the end of the day, there should be one main point of contact for all the important information regarding citizen safety – your website. All the other social media tools are tools to get your citizens to look at your website.

Utilising social media in business is not for the faint hearted. You must have clear aims about what you want your social media to achieve for you. If you get it wrong … well, let’s just say with social media it’s all about the customer and the customer is always right.


Keeping up with the Jobs’

Back in 1992 I started a Bachelor of Arts degree. I had no actual desire to continue my education but at 17 going on 18, I had no idea what I wanted to do and after all, most of my friends were off to university so I thought I may as well too. Unsurprisingly, I only completed one year of study and that was barely. Had a thoroughly good time as only those who have stayed at “Studville” (Student Village, Waikato University) can possibly understand, but absolutely hated studying. It was boring. On top of that I couldn’t relate it to anything in my life and couldn’t see how it would benefit me in the future. Twenty years on, I’m back at university. And this time around I’m doing things slightly differently. I’m an extramural or distant student.

Today I live in Egypt, study in New Zealand and have a network of friends that extends from Jakarta to Afghanistan. I order my text books online, often in ebook format. I research academic journals, books and articles on line. I talk to my lecturer and fellow students on line. I pay my fees on line. All from the comfort of my apartment in the ‘Maadi Bubble’, Cairo, Egypt. Twenty years ago this would have been impossible.

Today, I see more and more universities shifting their content to be ‘on line’ content. No longer are lectures the main point of contact with students. I can see as time goes on it will be critical to universities to also offer a large range of studies on line through distance learning. With the advent of new technologies, people’s lives have become busier, not easier as one would have hoped. As the main cities start to get congested with traffic, the average person wanting to further their education after work hours will not want to travel to lectures. It’s actually surprising how long it’s taken a lot of the universities to realise this. But it’s not just about those people wanting to pursue part-time studies. It’s expensive to rent in university towns. In a country such as New Zealand where a lot of people live outside university towns, it’s an added cost to send your teenager to university. And what about overseas students? NZ universities have a great reputation overseas but it’s a long way to go to get a degree, especially if you’re coming from the Middle East. I had a stint in NZ Immigration not so long ago, so I also know how hard it can be to get a student visa especially if you’re Egyptian. Distance learning online offers real benefits for overseas and local students.

For Christmas I bought the kids Kindles. I want my kids to have a love of reading like I do but to be honest, in this day and age the paper book is redundant. They’ve grown up in an era I couldn’t have ever imagined. They’re able to communicate in ways I never dreamed of. Their knowledge is far superior to the knowledge I had at the same age. So I buy them books in a format they’re familiar with – the Kindle Fire. Sometimes you’ve just got to suck it up and realise that we had a different life to them and we, in some respects, are the ones who have to get on board with them, not the other way around. Universities are the same. Kids these days are entering universities so much more technologically advanced and knowledgeable about the world than ever before. Take 16 year old Nick D’Aloisio who invented the Summly iPhone app – check out the full article here. Universities need to get on board with the kids of today. They need to offer studies in a format that these kids are familiar with and make studies not just something they have to do to get a job but something that will extend the knowledge they already have both academically and technologically. It’s not enough just to offer courses on line but as a student I want to be able to access my courses through an iPhone or iPad app. Student Information Systems need to be upgraded to be more interactive and easy to navigate such as being able to instant message fellow students and see who’s on line when you are.

Universities have come a long way in 20 years and as young technologically savvy, and maybe even not so young, technologically savvy potential students start to consider university study, their options will be so much larger and better due to the availability of on line study. Universities will need to up their technology game to not only attract students but keep them too. It’s no longer a case of keeping up with the Jones’ but more a case of keeping up with the Jobs’.

United Breaks Guitars


So it’s been a few weeks since my last post.  To be honest, I’ve just been busy.  There’s no other way to put it.  My 7 year old daughter went into hospital last week – nothing major – she needed grommets put in both her ears.  Now this may seem like a simple procedure and when I visited our family doctor while we were in NZ in February, she confirmed it was a very simple procedure.  One thing I have come to realise in all my years in Egypt, however, is that nothing is ever simple. 

The doctor tells us we must show up at his clinic at 12.30 and stresses “do not be late”.  So I make the one hour trip from my Maadi bubble to an area over the other side of town called Shobra.  Shobra is where my ex-husband lives along with 5 million other people in an area the size of Takapuna.  Life in Shobra is busy and crowded and plays hosts to some of Cairo’s wealthiest citizens and some of its poorest, for the most part though it is made up of middle to lower class Cairenes. 

One of my pet peeves in life is being late or others being late, so we arrive at the clinic at 12.15.  One and three quarter hours later at 2pm, the doctor walks in.  My poor daughter, who had been fasting since the night before, was starving.  I was mad but soon I would be furious. 

When she comes out of the operation, she’s crying hysterically and suddenly her nose starts bleeding.  I’m becoming hysterical.  Why is her nose bleeding?  I’m told it’s perfectly normal.  I’m sorry, but at this stage I’m completely confused.  My daughter has never had a bleeding nose in her life, why now??  As it turns out, it was perfectly normal.  Perfectly normal if you’ve just had your adenoids removed.  Apparently we actually don’t need our adenoids after the age of 3 and it’s quite common to have them removed at the same time as putting grommets in.  Great.  It would have been nice if the doctor had explained that to us before the operation.  “Malesh, malesh”.  This is a common phrase designed to placate and meaning “never mind” and is usually accompanied by a fake smile.  And here I was listening to the doctors, nurses and ex-husband all trying to placate me with “malesh malesh”, fake smiles included. 

Regardless, my daughter has healed up nicely.  I’m still furious.  I would like to tell the world about our experience and although this particular doctor was professional in every other way and there is absolutely nothing wrong with my daughter, it was a level of service that I was not happy with.  If I was in NZ, I would have no hesitation in sending tweets, Facebook posts, or blogging about my experience – name and shame!  I recall recently a friend of mine posted her complaint with Emirates over bad customer service on her Facebook wall.  To be honest I was surprised that Emirates cared enough to reply, but they did.  To my mind their replies were not satisfactory and this is where companies can get caught out.  

If you’re a business, it’s all very well having a Facebook page but you’ve got to know how to use it and use it to your advantage.  According to Social Bakers, 13 million people in Egypt use Facebook.  That’s 13 million potential customers and 13 million potentially annoyed customers.  Of those annoyed customers, 12,999,999 may not have even used your product.  It only takes one customer to complain and one unsatisfactory response from a company to be the downfall of your business.  If you’re going to employ social media as your new advertising campaign or as a way to build your customer base, be wise.  United Airlines learned the hard way. 

Dave Carroll and his band the Sons of Maxwell flew United and while on a layover in Chicago a fellow passenger noted that baggage handlers on the tarmac were throwing guitars.  It turns out that Dave’s $3,500 Taylor guitar was damaged and United refused to pay out as they claimed he had not submitted the complaint within 24 hours.  Dave Carroll then wrote a song “United Breaks Guitars” that went viral in 2009.  It severely damaged the airlines reputation and showed how powerful the likes of YouTube can be.

Another example is the bad experience one person had in a KFC branch in Melbourne.  I didn’t know the person but somehow it got posted on a friend’s Facebook wall and I read it.  It struck me how ignorant businesses can be.  This person had written complaint letter after complaint letter and was ignored.  Do businesses seriously think that they can afford to ignore complaints?  Have they not heard of the power of social media?

As I said, I would like to tell the world about my experience, but in Shobra, Cairo, there is simply no point.  As I walked out of the clinic I looked at the people waiting patiently for their turn.  Some had arrived shortly after we had.  They weren’t playing on iPads or talking on smart phones, few even had a basic model of mobile.  These were people who carefully spent their money, no credit cards here.  Any extra money they did have was put away in the cupboard and saved for a rainy day.  My complaints would not reach these people and as the reality of their situation sunk in, I had to ask myself if my grievances were really that bad after all.



54 Facebook friends who need to stop updating their statuses and read my blog …

Today I thought I’d change tact and write about my experience blogging.  For starters I have this bad habit of spelling blog as “blogg” – go figure.  Other than that I would say that my blogging has been fairly easy going until today.  The last two blogs (the only two blogs), the thoughts have flowed and I’ve actually struggled to limit myself to less than a thousand words (researched acceptable word limits).  So, I’m not sure what’s happening tonight.  Is it because of the pressure of ‘having’ to blog and keep regularly blogging?  I’ve read so much about blogging and the dos and don’ts and what makes a good blog and what makes a not so good blog.  So much so, I have been dreaming about blogging.  And at the end of all that, because there is so much information blogged about blogging, the only conclusion I can come up with is it seems that no one can really agree on what actually constitutes a good blog.

So anyway, regardless of how I felt about my blog, I set about making my blog the most read blog on the planet.  It seems I really am living on another planet.  I thought I’d be really clever and post my blog on my Facebook, because clearly there are a lot of people on my Facebook who going by their status updates, have nothing much going on their lives and could probably do with a bit of light blog reading.  So far I’ve had 72 hits.  A little more than half of my Facebook friends and for some reason I just naturally expected everyone would be interested in my posts just for the fact that I don’t post anything that often!

I don’t have many friends.  On Facebook that is.  And I’m guessing I’ll have even less after that last comment above about status updates.  Oh well, who’s not on Facebook these days?  Even my parents recently got on the bandwagon and succumbed to the lure of Facebook.  To be honest, I’m not much of a social media fanatic.  My iPhone reminds me every now and then that someone’s posted on my Facebook page, or the IRD emailed me or my friend has nudged me to play Words with Friends because it’s been 24 hours since their last move.   But do I regularly interact with friends on Facebook?  Nope.  I like to cruise my Facebook newsfeed when I’ve finished catching up on the BBC Middle East news, played my latest moves in the currently 9 games of Words with Friends I have going, and checked the current exchange rate.  Sometimes I’ll even check my bank account before I’ll check my Facebook newsfeed, which is sad considering I know exactly how much is in there and it hasn’t changed since the day before when I withdrew my last 50 bucks.

Yes, thanks to smartphone technology, we get to be part of the social media phenomenon whether we want to or not.   I’m not against social media as such; I think it serves many good purposes.  I just wonder how far it will start to take over our lives completely and replace good old human face-to-face interaction.  Take my whatsapp application on my iPhone.  I can instant message any of my friends anywhere in the world at any time – the real beauty though is, when I’ve had enough of chatting, whether it be in the middle of a conversation or not, I just type in some excuse, like “gotta go, doorbell just rang”.  Of course that didn’t happen, I just have things to do.  Like play Words with Friends.  There are no hard feelings and no having to politely stand in someone’s company when all you really want to do is go to sleep or simply talk to someone else.

Which brings me to the title of my blog this week – I’m determined to get more hits this week and with a kickass blog title, I can’t lose.  It seems by putting a ‘number’ and a bit of controversy in a blog title, I’m guaranteed lots of hits.  We’ll see …

“I hope you know we read those too”

I have a lot of admiration for the Americans.  Yeah ok, we’ve had a more than rocky relationship with the banning of nuclear powered/armed ships and subsequently being suspended from ANZUS.  A few decades on, my admiration has grown.

An American friend of mine recently told me about how the Muslim Brotherhood during the riots in mid-September 2012 posted on their Arabic twitter account their support for protesters outside the American Embassy.  At the same time they posted this, the MB was posting on their English twitter account their concerns for staff caught up in the foray at the US Embassy in Cairo.  The response of the American Embassy?  Well I had to check it out myself with my newly created twitter account – unfortunately the only thing I found out was that I have no idea how to do anything in twitter.  Never fear, thanks to Google, I was able to quickly find several news sites that had reported the twitter conversation:

Brotherhood (Arabic feed): “Egyptians revolt for the Prophet’s victory in front of U.S. embassy”

Brotherhood (English feed):  “We r relieved none of @USEmbassyCairo staff were harmed & hope US-Eg relations will sustain turbulence of Tuesday’s events”

US Embassy Cairo:   “Thanks. By the way, have you checked out your own Arabic feeds? I hope you know we read those too.”

Read the full article here

Giggle giggle.

Ok, I’m sure, and I have heard rumour, the guy at the US Embassy doing the tweeting has been pulled aside on a number of occasions for his less than subtle tweets.  This is of course all rumour; he could actually be a she.  All of that aside, if I were an American citizen I’d be proud.  It’s so refreshing to see diplomats being undiplomatic for a change.

Anyway, I totally digress, the reason I wanted to mention this particular incident was to a) have a good giggle, b) highlight the increasing role social media is having in our political dealings with other countries (for another blog) and c) stress the importance of communication between our embassies and their citizens.  Other embassies could really take a leaf out of the Americans book.  Not only do they manage to keep their citizens informed of the security situation but they manage to keep the world informed of what the embassy is actually doing in Cairo.

The average person I’m sure thinks that embassies only exist to issue visas, passports and provide free flights home when needed.  Clearly such people need their expectations lowered.  A lot.  Or do they?  Or perhaps they just need to be ‘informed’.  By ‘liking’ the US Embassy Cairo or the UK in Egypt Facebook pages, you’ll quickly see that these particular embassies do a whole lot more.  In addition to their trade, political and cultural activities, regular updates on the current and predicted future security situation are provided.  If a citizen is well-informed they will be less likely to become a future consular case, drain on embassy resources and ‘front page of the Dominion’ story.

Which brings me to these travel registration systems – the New Zealanders have Safe Travel, the Brits have LOCATE, the Australians Smart Traveller.  So if you’re one of the rare few who have actually heard of your country’s travel registration system, have you actually registered on it?  Or are you like me and it’s been so long since I updated my details that I’ve since had two new passports.

Here’s some food for thought:

Would you be more likely to click ‘like’ on your embassy Facebook page, or go through the tedious job of registering all your details, all your families details and then try to remember a password for a site that you never go in to?

These types of registration systems can be more alienating of a country’s citizens than anything else.  They are unreliable, inaccurate and the money put into maintaining these types of systems is better spent utilising social media forms that travellers and citizens will actually use.

And enjoy using.

Living in the ‘Maadi Bubble’

Today I am sitting in what Cairene’s commonly refer to as the ‘Maadi bubble’ waiting for the latest development in a court case ruling on whether fans of a Port Said Football Club will be sentenced to death for their part in the deaths of 73 people in a football riot back in February 2012.  Yes, I’m in Egypt, land of pharaohs and football fanatics and a particularly unstable political and economic environment.  Maadi is an upscale area in Cairo filled with well-to-do Egyptians and a huge expat community.  The area is large but quiet and well away from the rock-throwing youths of Tahrir Square, hence the ‘bubble’ adjective – living in Maadi, if you didn’t keep abreast of the local news, you would have no clue of the turmoil wreaking havoc in the country at present.

As I await the ruling – the last ruling sentenced 21 fans of Port Said’s Al-Masry Football Club to death, and hence sparked nationwide riots which are still on-going – I contemplate how governments from other countries with a presence in Egypt will communicate with their expat citizens living in Egypt and not just in Cairo. 

The only social media I have exploited myself is Facebook.  I’m too busy for anything else, although as part of my Social Media Networks for Business paper I am studying through Massey University in New Zealand, I was required to create a Twitter account.  Since creating it, I still haven’t found time or the desire to actually log on to it, let alone ‘tweet’.  Which begs the question, how do embassies connect and communicate important information to their citizens living in Egypt?  Drew Barrymore lamented in the movie ‘He’s Just Not That Into You’, the myriad of social media technology available to people today.  

I had this guy leave me a voicemail at work, so I called him at home, and then he emailed me to my BlackBerry, and so I texted to his cell, and now you just have to go around checking all these different portals just to get rejected by seven different technologies. It’s exhausting.”

Although she was referring to the dating environment, I wonder how embassies decide on which portals to use?  I am registered with the NZ Embassy and the British Embassy.  I very rarely receive anything from the NZ Embassy – maybe an email every few months – they have no Facebook site, as far as I can ascertain, and certainly no twitter presence (I checked when first registering my account).  And I don’t receive any phone calls or text messages.  They do have a website but with no updates regarding the security situation in Egypt. 

I also belong to the expatriate club called The ACE Club.  The Chairperson sends out regular emails with security alerts and advice from both the British and American embassies.  Sometimes I may receive 2 or 3 messages in one week along with actually receiving the same alert from the British embassy in an email, plus a post on my Facebook wall.  Too much?  Maybe.  But take it from me, expat citizens can be very demanding and often unreasonably so when things do go wrong in the country they’re living in.  During the 25 January 2011 Revolution in Egypt, the NZ Embassy was probably the most active out of all the embassies in Egypt in assisting its citizens – this could be due to the fact that NZ has a much smaller presence than its like-minded such as Australia, UK, USA or Canada – but regardless, the embassy did a better job with fewer resources than its counterparts.  The question is, however, is this too little too late? 

I think it’s important for embassies to be in constant communication with its citizens but how do they choose the form that communication should take?  I have a few ideas but for now, I must go and check my email, Facebook posts, tweets and text messages – if on-going riots and civil strife do not expel me from this country, I will be back soon for an update.


Digital immigrant, Generation Xer, Social Media

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The dilemma of social media

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