Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Pandora, AT&T, Tim Westergren & Me

If you've just read the title of this piece, you may be familiar with all the names except mine or Tim's. More likely if you're reading this, it's Tim's name you don't recognize. He's the CEO and founder of the free online music service, Pandora that's grown by leaps and bounds over the past year. Mr. Westergren's philosophy of providing superior customer service is the primary reason I'm a fan. There are plenty of internet music sources out there. But not many can claim the CEO takes advantage of the opportunity for one-to-one connections with his customers like Pandora's leader can.

Way back pre-iPhone (god, how did I LIVE then?), I'd been listening to Pandora's service on my desktop computer. In anticipation of traveling out of town, I investigated the cost to add the service to my mobile phone (a Samsung A-707). According to the literature on the web, the base cost for Pandora service was around $35 a year. However, when I tried to download Pandora to my phone, the cost quoted was nearly three times higher.

I wondered what the deal was with the mark up, so I sent an email to Tim Westergren of Pandora. I was on one of my business trips, this time to Orlando. While I was walking back to my hotel after dinner, I received an email from Mr. Westergren. It stated that he'd received my email and explained AT&T was charging his company a lot of money to access their network. In addition, Pandora had to pay the record companies each time the song was played.

He was working on ad revenue offsetting the costs described, but the service was new. He couldn't afford to lower the retail costs yet. Furthermore, he wanted my support on a congressional bill that would ensure prices to license the music for his service stayed in line with his current model. He was spending money in Washington to ensure his customers got value for their money. Could I help? You bet I could. I copied the letter his attorneys had drafted and forwarded to my representative.

What's more, I became an ambassador for Pandora. I tell this story constantly. So much so, that a stranger in an airport encouraged me to share it on my blog. This was such an obvious and brilliant idea, I actually woke at 4am to write this all down. My purpose? To help business folks understand the multiple ways social media and email can improve your business.

Mr. Westergren recognized an opportunity to connect with his customer and he took advantage in the best way possible. The same scenario could have repeated itself on Facebook, Twitter or even the comment section of a company blog. Think about the different ways your customers try to connect with your business. Are you doing everything you can to meet them on their preferred network or line of communication? The impression left with the customer will be a powerful one.