Are you satisfied?

In a March, 2007 column, I pointed out with amusement an instance of consumer media behavior leaking into the oil and gas business:

Consumers have a fetish for ranking products. This seems to be all the more so if the products competing for first place are electronic, mechanical, sporting, or entertaining (or some combination of the above). Magazines and Web sites devoted to every conceivable special interest inevitably publish a top 10 something-or-other list. A magazine-slash-Web site like Consumer Reports casts its net wider and apparently finds no product category too mundane to dissect and examine with the gimlet-eyed seriousness of a disease-battling microbiologist.

If you’ve wondered if such an urge to rate and rank has ever manifested itself in the oil and gas industry, wonder no more—it has. EnergyPoint Research recently issued its 2006 Customer Satisfaction Rankings, a survey of customers of “drilling and wellsite service providers.” This report is the second after EnergyPoint’s initial survey in 2004.

It notes that the current business climate “…has also brought its own set of challenges, including that of meeting customers’ insatiable demand for services at a time when the personnel and equipment needed to fulfill these services are as scarce as they have been in a generation. Throw in the threat from cash-flush competitors and hungry new entrants looking to exploit instances of market opportunity, and executives and managers have plenty to keep them awake at night.”

A comment from one anonymous respondent quoted in the report should have them reaching for the Sominex: “Virtually all providers are suffering from a lack of qualified personnel these days. Equipment maintenance has deteriorated, service is a fraction of what it was a few years ago, and constant supervision to the point of micro-management is almost a necessity. And rising costs and inefficiencies are beginning to severely impact project economics.”

That opinion is not exceptional. According to the report “…results indicate that operators are overall less pleased with the quality of service they are receiving from providers compared to just 2 years ago.” Ouch.

Is there any hope? The report points to a few companies scoring at the top who share a similar long-term outlook, a factor the report considers key to their rankings. Amazingly, one of them has never had a layoff in its 80-plus year history. (That implausible fact could probably win you a few bar bets.)

How did the company that made the biggest leap up the rankings do it? “The company increased dialog with major customers and instituted a more formalized program to survey and actively address their needs. Training was beefed up, and the dissemination of best practices was improved across the organization,” the report said.

Someone has to finish last, of course. Even then, all is not lost. As the report notes, the 2004 last-place finisher climbed higher up the ranks in 2006 by changing chief executive officers, relocating its headquarters closer to its major customers, jettisoning non-core operations and increasing spending on personnel and equipment to improve safety and efficiency.

The report offers some bits of useful advice for improving performance but adds ominously that “…today’s providers would be well advised to pay close attention to their customers. After all, one hears rumors that there may come a day when demand for their services can no longer be taken for granted.”

Ad agency people redefined…

If you’ve never worked in a traditional advertising agency, this will seem like inside baseball. But if you have—or at least watched a few episodes of Mad Men—then some of these characters may sound familiar. Various jobs in ad agencies and on the client side allowed me to observe these creatures in their native habitat. You’ll notice that some terms carbon-date the period when this was written as the Predigital Epoch.

cre.a.tive di.rec.tor (kre-a’tiv di-rec’ter), n. 1. A person to whom a picture is worth a thousand words or whose words are worth a thousand pictures, depending on who got which idea. 2. A person who is thinking valuable thoughts while appearing to everyone to be doing nothing at all. 3. A person who sometimes wears weird clothes apparently without realizing it.

ac.count ex.ec.u.tive (a-kount’ ig-zek’yoo-tiv), n. 1. Someone who, after hearing the client’s plan to increase market share by three points with a expertly planned multimedia marketing blitz, has to explain why it may take more than the $1,400 that the client has budgeted for it. 2. Someone who has to tell the creatives that building a full-scale model of west Texas “because it would make a better photo” is not the best strategic marketing solution. 3. In the ad agency of the distant future, a creature who eats lunch four times a day and always picks up the check.

pro.duc.tion ar.tist (pro-duk’shun ar’tist), n. 1. A specialized piece of fleshware that an agency uses to convert a designer’s scribbles into a printed page. 2. Someone who can see the word “mechanical” without thinking of a crescent wrench. 3. A person who knows that “camera-ready” has nothing to do with hairspray and lipstick.

as.sis.tant ac.count ex.ec.u.tive (a-sis’tent a-kount’ igzek’yoo-tiv), n. 1. One who is to the AE as an enforcer is to the Godfather. 2. A remote control device that the AE uses to do things while away from the office. 3. A mechanic who keeps the account service engine running smoothly so the AE can go out and drive it real fast.

es.tim.a.tor (es’te-ma’ter), n. 1. A person who knows more about how long it takes people to do things than they do. 2. Someone who has heard more wild guesses than a game show host. 3. Like selling cars, except that the customer sometimes wants the same price applied to every car on the lot.

me.di.a buy.er (me’di-a bi’er), n. 1. Someone who reads rate cards right-side up. 2. The only person at an advertising agency who never buys lunch. 3. A person who can get more extensions than a death row inmate’s lawyer.

fl.nance ex.ec.u.tive (fe-nans’ ig-zek’yoo-tiv), n. 1. A person who signs the checks and thus is worshipped as a deity by freelancers. 2. Someone who can explain the difference between 15 percent and 17.65 percent in more detail than could Einstein. 3. Someone who knows that a spreadsheet is not something you buy at a white sale.

in.tern (in’tem), n. 1. A student who already exhibits warning signs of the insanity necessary for a career in advertising. 2. A person who, upon seeing how things are done in the real world, thinks of asking for a tuition refund. 3. Someone who has learned all the many steps involved in producing top-quality advertising that nails the client’s marketing objectives, but who is surprised to find out that all those steps are sometimes taken on the same day.

com.mu.ni.ca.tions di.rec.tor (ka-mu’ne-ka’shens direk’ter), n. 1. A person who operates a bigger post office than the one in Luchenbach, Texas. 2. Someone who makes sure that when a staffer picks up the phone to say I’ll be late for dinner sweetie, the person hearing it won’t be the president of a client company. 3. A person who has to decipher handwriting that makes the Rosetta stone look like Times Roman.

pro.duc.tion man.ag.er (pro-duk’shun man’ij-er), n.  1. A job that combines the skills of a juggler, artist, air traffic controller, and babysitter. 2. A person who likes to emphasize to suppliers, creatives, and AEs the “dead” part of the word “deadline”. 3. A person who gets more bids than an auctioneer at Sotheby’s.

proof.rea.der (proof’red’er), n. 1. A person who gives new meaning to the term “red menace.” 2. A vandal who scrawls enough strange-looking marks on nice, clean copy to make it look like a New York City subway car. 3. Someone who goes through more red ink than the Federal budget.

pres.i.dent (prez’i-dent), n. 1. A person at whose desk the buck stops, as well as the copy, the art board, and the illustration. 2. A person at whose desk the other kind of buck stops, stays for a minute, and turns around and leaves. 3. Someone who can visualize multilayered long-term marketing approaches to an evolving client industry whose participants and products are constantly recombining while looking for lost copy for a business card at 10:47 p.m. on a Sunday night.