Serial Marketer Weekly #16: Beware of Bot

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As I shift the newsletter to a weekly edition

(knock on whatever laptops are made of these days), I’ll share a quick story about what can go wrong when trusting others, whether technologies or other people, to do jobs that are best done yourself.

I’ve been a longtime user of Trim. It’s best for sharing updates when money is deposited in my account (yay) and also what subscriptions I signed up for. It’s been perhaps the only bot on Facebook Messenger that routinely delivers me value, but that’s not because of anything special about Messenger; the same kind of alert could just as easily come via email, SMS, or in-app notifications. I received these alerts until I canceled the service this week.

A few days earlier, Trim sent out a note saying I should check how much I could save on my Verizon bill. It’s a similar offering to Billshark, but Billshark never actually saved me money. I uploaded my Verizon bill, and then I also included my Spectrum cable account. As part of the setup, Trim asked to include a day someone could show up for service if needed, so I selected Tuesday. Trim also said they would not materially change my plan, such as removing services.

Well, Trim botched both measures. I got an alert at 11:19am Monday from Spectrum saying changes were made to my account that would save me a bit of money (less than Trim would later claim), and someone would come by my home at 12-1pm the same day – so in other words, as soon as 40 minutes later, when I wouldn’t be around.

I contacted Trim to find out what was going on, and 12 hours later, I hadn’t yet heard back. Spectrum said the changes warranted replacing my cable box, even though Trim later denied there was any need for a technician to arrive. Trim also made a significant change to my account, removing a feature (which is why they saved money), though they claimed they didn’t do that. After I cleaned this up, I did wind up negotiating a much better plan, but I did so in a way that Trim could never have done for me. If they kept my services intact, they probably wouldn’t have saved me anything at all.

This is the kind of process that virtual assistants are supposed to take over now – first manually, and later automatically (the Google demo is the most salient example of a bot calling a local business). While I do appreciate the reminder to try to update my cable account, I would have rather not had to handle this by cleaning up their mistakes and then resolving all this on a day where I didn’t have any time to deal with this. Plus, by doing it myself, I saved hundreds more than the assistant did (potentially thousands more if I keep the service for years).

These kinds of snafus will become more frequent as various assistants proliferate, but negative experiences like this will hinder how far manual and automated assistants take us in the near future. In a surprising twist, the Spectrum rep I dealt with was extremely helpful, pointing me to services that I didn’t know existed. She hadn’t set up an account the way she was recommending until now, but we worked through it together. I’m also impressed that Spectrum could book a technician to come over that quickly, even though I didn’t want them to come.

Trim became more responsive after, and I’m willing to chalk up the issues to some miscommunication they had with Spectrum. I know they only mean to do what’s best for their customers, but they were slow both to respond to me and to give me the benefit of the doubt. Even if they didn’t mean to change my service and schedule a last-minute appointment, that’s on them. I hope they improve the service from there and save customers a lot of money.

The upshot is that I wound up more loyal to my cable company while canceling one of my favorite tech services.

What is the world coming to?

And more importantly, what are you making of yourself?



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The New York Times has an exposé on how YouTube view counts can be faked, and how those fake views tend not to help deliver any meaningful results. Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. I wrote about this in 2016, in one of my favorite columns, “How to Make a Bad Impression,” where I showed how cheap and easy it was to fake views on a meaningless view – a screencast of the mobile game Zombie Highway 2. The Times piece is alright too.

Adding this one more time since it’s so useful… 
Thanks to Jeannette and Randall in Serial Marketers for recommending this desktop app to manage a range of communication channels, including Slack, Gmail/G Calendar, LinkedIn, Skype, and more. I’ve been migrating most of these to there, and it’s impressive. I’m using it constantly now.

I was overdue to read this seminal work from futurist Ray Kurzweil. The only major problem with reading this book now is that I feel cheated. Any seemingly novel futurism I’ve come across the past five years seems to be a riff on something Kurzweil published in this book in January 2000. It is all here – urban planning, communication, social reorganization, religion. And it is so short; on Audible, it’s under four hours. It may be the last book on futurism you need until your consciousness is uploaded and your new body downloads it in 2118.


With some upcoming events, you’ll find exclusive codes below. I don’t require this for sharing events here, let alone in the Slack group, but if you have a relevant event and want to extend an offer to the community, please reach out. I always welcome adding value for readers.

October 4-5
New York, NY
This event is really several in one, covering music, games, TV & video, and rights tech. I’ll be moderating a panel on voice-activated AI for media and entertainment.

October 10
New York, NY
I will go to pretty much anything Scott Galloway keynotes, and then bring a lighter to wave in the air during the ‘fifth horseman’ part of his speech. They have a fantastic lineup, and exclusively for you, if you use the code SerialMarketers2018 and register before the end of August, you get 50% off.

October 15-19
New York, NY
Kite Hill PR is back with another round of their annual Communications Week, with the theme of The Workforce of the Future. As always, they have a mix of paid and free events, including the PRSA Tri-State conference and some shorter events open to all. They always put a lot of thought into their programming; I’ve been going for years.