Rob Frankel - Branding Expert

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The Idle Rich Go Broke on the Web.

A few months ago, I was sitting naked counting my Kruggerands, when I realized the time had come to re-evaluate the way I managed my vast financial empire. I kept wondering if the time had finally arrived when I could move my investment portfolio over to a more convenient, more efficient -- and of course, cheaper -- online operation. After all, I'm the digital guy who keeps hawking the virtues of online commerce.

It was as the chilled champagne was being served beside my hot tub that I noticed a commercial on the large screen television for an online brokerage. "Aha!" I exclaimed to my legion of pin-striped Yes Men. "Take notes!"

Sure enough, we noticed a bevy of television spots for online brokerages. We watched Schwab, Ameritrade, Suretrade and a couple of others. Each one promising safe, secure transactions with the click of a mouse. Later, as I climbed into my Bentley for a trip to the club, I listened to yet another brokerage house advertise its service on the radio.

My financially-secure brain went into overdrive: "This is it!" I clucked. "Whenever competition for online services spills over into mass media, it means the industry has matured to the point where it's safe to play!"

I immediately dispatched Murray, my Chief Brown Noser, on a mission: his job was to select the best online brokerage for the job. I wanted everything taken into consideration: price, reputation, services, research -- everything. And I wanted a decision by the next morning.

By breakfast, we decided on the cheapest: -- at seven bucks a trade!

The slaves had just finished clearing the table when I logged on to Wow. What a set-up. I filled out the forms. I clicked on the buttons. I entered my password. And in a moment, the message came back: my account was open!

I was now fully able to beat those blood-sucking brokers who leached their fortunes from my years of hard work and bone-crushing deals.

Or so I thought.

Turns out you have to print out the application from the web site. Then you have to fill it out and return it by snail mail. So much for immediate gratification. But Apple stock was at a low and MacExpo was still a month or more away, so I signed the papers and sent them off.


After two weeks, I still had no confirmation. Not by e-mail. Not by snail mail. So I figured I'd call their toll-free number to check things out. Unfortunately, there was no toll-free number, which meant that since I lived outside the 212 area code, this little investigation was going to cost me plenty of the stuff I was supposed to be saving.

It being my executive assistant's state-mandated coffee break, I dialed the number myself, only to be greeted by a machine. The good news was that they played Elvis tunes while I waited. The bad news was that I had to sit through twenty-five minutes of Elvis before a customer service rep picked up the phone to tell me she had no record of my application and that "we've been getting a lot of complaints about stuff like this."

My money was growing impatient. Apple stock was about to jump. She suggested I re-apply via the internet. Which I did.

Still nothing, unless you count another snail mail application that arrived by Federal Express a day or so later. For good measure, I had my Vice President in charge of Filling Out Forms execute that action.

One week later: nothing.

At this point, I wrote to Finally, I got an answer. No, make that four answers. All saying the same thing. All sent from the same auto-responder. None of them having any idea of who I was or what I needed.

Meanwhile, MacExpo came and went. Apple stock indeed jumped five points. And I -- and my money -- sat out the entire game.

So what's the moral of the story? Well, there are two, actually. The first is that -- like I always tell you -- even multi-million dollar big boys make tons of stupid mistakes on the web that cost them zillions. Bad service, uninformed sales staff, phone calls that cost your customer time and money and badly-programmed auto-responders are sure-fire ways to kill your business, no matter how big or small you are..

The second moral? Oh. Never piss of a nationally-syndicated columnist whose articles are read by lots and lots of people.

Rob Frankel

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