Monthly Archives: December 2012

Witch Doctor Technology

Like many of you who read the screed, I’m a fairly literate person when it comes to technology.

English: Witch doctor of the Shona people clos...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know – given what I do for a living one would hope that’s true.  That’s why my recent experience with some very common technology – a cell phone – is so frustrating.  Over the weekend my family all upgraded their devices.  The girls all moved to iPhone 4S and I moved to a Samsung Galaxy S3.  Both are great devices.  However, they both illustrate a point that’s all too common and what I want to discuss today.

My phone came with the Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android.  I knew that there was a Jellybean update available – an upgrade to the latest version of Android.  While the ability to update the OS via an over the air download exists, because the manufacturers and the carriers can’t get on the same page, one needs to install the upgrade via a piece of software that lives on a computer.  I installed it on a windows PC, connected the phone and waited.  And waited.  Apparently, it’s a known issue to connect the device to the PC – a software issue.  I tried it on a Mac.  Same issue.  A few minutes of searching the web told me that there were a number of potential fixes that involved editing the Windows registry (not for the faint of heart), modifying phone settings, uninstalling and reinstalling device drivers, etc.  Nothing worked.

I used Samsung’s live chat customer support.  They had me try a few things I had also found on the web.  Nothing.  They said to uninstall the software which, of course, involves a reboot of the computer, which means you lose the person with whom you’re chatting and can’t get back to the same person again so you start over.  After many hours of this, I’ve given up.  Before the Apple fanboys and girls chime in, let me say that upgrading an iPhone to a new version of iOS ended up bricking my wife’s phone for a while and the number of issues I’ve had with Mountain Lion on my Mac is frightening.

Here is the business point.  No other industry with which I’m familiar releases products with known issues, and when the issues become public doesn’t seem to be in any particular rush to fix.  The G3 is a best-selling phone and to get to the latest operating system shouldn’t take the technologic equivalent of tossing chicken bones and burning incense.  Thousands of people are frustrated by this – I’m sure Samsung and the carriers (it’s not just a one carrier issue) are well aware.  If we want tech to be integral – more integral – in customers’ everyday lives we can’t behave this way.  Imagine if airplanes or cars were released with the kind of stability we see in most technology.

I don’t know what anyone can do other than to vent as I’m doing.  For me not buying the product is not an option.  Maybe that’s why these companies don’t seem to care.  But witch doctor solutions to these issues has to stop.  Do you agree?

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Learning From Hospice

I’ve written many times here on the screed about customer-focused business behavior. I want to tell you about several professionals who exemplify what I think is the ultimate in customer focus.  These are the people who provide hospice and palliative care.  While it may sound a little cold to look at what they do as a business (and it’s a lot more than that, I know), there are a few really important things we can learn from them.

First, we often focus on the lifetime value of a customer and we prioritize the kind of service we deliver predicated on that.  After all, the new customer who walks in to take advantage of a GroupOn offer is very different from the loyal customer who comes in once a week.  How do you prioritize your customers when the entire reason you’re there is that you’re going to lose them in the near future?  The answer is to do it as they do – deliver an incredibly high standard of service to everyone, looking at them as if they’ll be customers for life.

We all have customers who are demanding.  Imagine a customer who can’t do much of anything for themselves.  While we might talk about our jobs as 24/7 situations, very few of us actually live with our customers.  These folks do, and they are on duty 24 hours a day for several days at a time.   That might make anyone a little cranky, but part of the job is maintaining a positive attitude in the face of a lot of negativity (terminal illnesses tend to breed bad vibes…).  Something to consider, perhaps, the next time we have a 30 minute meeting with an unhappy client or a customer rep who needs to engage an angry consumer on the telephone for an hour?

I can list a bunch of other comparisons here but the entire point is to change your perspective a bit as mine was changed over the last few months.  A family member was fortunate (strange word to use when anyone needs this) to have had some excellent care from professionals providing hospice and palliative services.  The way they went about their jobs, even when their customer was grumpy and difficult – was inspiring.  It opened my eyes and hopefully I can pass that along.

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Simple Isn’t

For our Foodie Friday Fun this week, let me ask you to put on your food critic hat.

English: Roasted chicken Español: Pollo asado

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you try out a new restaurant, and assuming it’s not an unusual cuisine, what dish do you look for on the menu to test the kitchen’s cooking skills?  For me the answer is always a roasted chicken.  That’s right – plain, roasted chicken, the simpler the better.  My thinking is this:  nothing simple is ever easy.  If you’ve ever done roasted chicken, it’s tremendously difficult to present a perfect dish.  The breast meat moist, the thigh properly cooked, the skin crisp.  There are different densities and cooking times for all of them.  Overcooking the bird can ruin it; undercooking it can ruin you for several days.

One of the most simple foods in terms of preparation has to be sushi.  It’s just sliced fish and rice.  Why, then, does it take years to train a sushi chef?  Candidates will do nothing but make rice for years to start their training.  Simple – not easy. Yakitori is grilled meat on a stick but perfection is elusive.  Try to turn out perfect soft-boiled eggs.  The yolk cooks before the white yet we want the opposite to occur to get them perfectly soft-boiled.  Simple, not easy.  Which is the business point as well.

It’s incredibly difficult to do some of the most simple tasks well.  Deliver a succinct talk that leaves the audience feeling as if they’ve really learned something completely.  Explain your business in under a minute – a great elevator pitch.  Run an efficient meeting with exactly the right people in the room, no more, no less.  When hiring, many great chefs ask the candidate to make them something very simple – an omelet or scrambled eggs – that is often very difficult to get just right.  We should steal that notion – ask candidates to do something “simple” like having them explain their current job to you completely, and briefly.

Thoreau challenged us to simplify because we’re too caught up in detail.  As we do, just as with the roasted chicken, there are no places littered with detail in which to hide (read that a fancy sauces, seasonings, stuffings, etc. for the chicken!).   Simple isn’t simple.  It’s often complicated, and more often than not that complexity is hard.  The great cooks – and business  people – just make it seem simple and great at the same time.

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Playing Nice

I had a completely different post written this morning but it’s off in the digital ether.

Cougar / Puma / Mountain Lion / Panther (Puma ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s gone as a result of a misbehaving computer.  Yes, I save as I go but in a burst of prolific writing I got a lot text on the page in between autosaves and when what I’m about to describe happened, the brilliance I spewed was lost.  The topic was the balance between large audiences as measured by TV ratings vs. buzz as measured by Facebook.   As it turns out, they’re not one and the same.  According to a list published by Facebook the other day, most of the widely discussed shows on their platform don’t have large ratings.  Maybe I’ll come back to that another time.

Instead, I want to spent today dispelling what I’m suddenly finding to be a myth – that Apple stuff “just works.”  Ever since I installed Mountain Lion, my MacBook Air has something called kernel panics every day.  Chrome and the OS aren’t playing nicely, and I’m not the only one having this issue.  In fact, enough people are having it that when you search for “chrome and mountain lion crashing” you get nearly a million search results.  Yes, I’ve tried nearly all of the suggested fixes (as have many others on the product support forums I read) but none of them seem to solve the issue.  Honestly, I (and many others) am not even sure where the issue is.  Apple says it’s Chrome and we should switch to Safari, but other browsers seem to cause crashes including Safari.  Google says it might be Flash or an extension or Apple.  The only thing different is the new OS (which has all the updates installed as well).  Putting aside the walled garden ecosystem discussion for a minute, what I think of a lot is kindergarten.

We all learn very early on in our lives to socialize.  For me it was really around the time I began school (no pre-school 50 years ago!) and the message to “play nice with the other kids” was reinforced by my parents and teachers all the time.  Why the hell can’t that lesson get through the skulls of hardware and software folks?  It’s a good one for the rest of us as well – very few businesses exist on their own.  We process payments, we deal with suppliers, we (hopefully) have customers.  Play nice with the other kids if you want to succeed!

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Click Here

We’ve discussed the disconnect between marketers and consumers here on the screed more than once and I had set aside a research study a couple of weeks ago to do so again.  It’s a document from the Adobe folks called “Click Here: The State Of Online Advertising” and it makes for a brief, interesting read.  As one might expect, consumers don’t exactly rave about their love for advertising.  That said, they do seem to recognize the need for advertising and prefer professionally created ads over user-generated marketing:

Consumers and marketing professionals agree that marketing is valued, strategic to business and paramount to driving sales.  Professional advertising is the most effective form of advertising, but 27% of marketers believe that user-generated content is the most popular form of online advertising.

Of course, 53% agree that most marketing is a bunch of B.S. (the study’s term, not mine).  The key to me is, as eMarketer reported:

Marketers and the consumers they are trying to reach disagreed on the effectiveness of a wide variety of ad types, according to the survey. Though both groups thought the best ads were those created by professional marketers, nearly half of marketers said this, compared with just 36% of internet users. There was large disagreement about the effectiveness of paid search ads (touted by marketers, played down by web users) and outdoor advertising (the reverse). Internet users were also much more likely to say there were no good or effective ads—positions which marketers were extremely unlikely to hold, for obvious reasons.

Why are the senders so out of sync with the receivers?  As the study shows, people prefer to get information from people they trust.  The issue, then, is how does a brand penetrate that circle?  Does anyone believe it’s through fake “likes” on Facebook where we see friends (even dead ones!) shilling for stuff they wouldn’t ever use?  Maybe we need to be less lazy – tell better stories, do better creative – since 68% of consumers find online ads “annoying” and “distracting” and 54% say banner ads don’t work. I suspect this dichotomy has ever been so to a certain extent.  For people in the market for various products, marketing messages are important and welcome.  For everyone else, they’re an annoying fact of life.

Here’s the thing – EVERYONE is in the market for something nearly all the time.  Food and entertainment, for example, are daily “purchases”.  As the research shows, until we on the marketing side do a better job of connecting, our ability to influence those decisions will always be less than it could be.   You agree?

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The Fog

It was foggy all day yesterday and that resonated with me.


(Photo credit: rchughtai)

Maybe because it was the start of another week and like an old car I’m getting harder to start and was a little foggy, or maybe because all I keep hearing about is the uncertainty of financial markets, the economy, and lots of other things that are near and dear but not very clear.  Either way, a December day that was warm and foggy was unusual enough to give me cause to reflect.  Of course, it prompted some business thinking I’d like to share.  Let me digress, however, for a minute.

I like playing golf in the fog (no I did not play yesterday).  I know – “you like playing golf period.”  True enough.  But playing in the fog has a unique set of challenges, the most obvious being that tracking the ball once it leaves your club face is impossible.  Because of that, I find I have an increased awareness of all the things that tell me what shape the shot took – where on the face did I strike the ball, was it solid contact, was the face open or shut, my swing path – and where I might go find it.  I can see it go off in a general direction but without an awareness of if I hit it to bend right or left or how far it might have gone, finding the ball is almost impossible.  I pay more attention to what I’m doing in the here and now.

Back to business.  Like golf on a foggy day, the business landscape can be obscured.  Ask anyone in digital for a five-year outlook and you’ll get a lot of shrugged shoulders.  Maybe five months is clear, like the first 50 yards of the golf shot.  After that?  Who knows.  Then again, as with golf, the uncertainty makes us focus very clearly on every little aspect of what’s going on now, since there are a hundred things that can affect where the ball – and the business – ends up.  Rather than complaining about an obscured future, our job is to examine what we’re doing now that will bring about the possibilities that future holds.

While I liked the foggy day, I much prefer the sun.  We can’t, however, control the weather.  Business is another matter.

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Got FOMO? Get A Life.

I was catching up with a business associate the other day.

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

He recently split up with his significant other, which took me by surprise and made me sad.  The reason was a case of terminal FOMO.  She couldn’t be “there” even when she was.  If you don’t know that term, it’s been used of late to describe Fear Of Missing Out .  I think the term began with people missing parties or other great events but is now commonly used with respect to the never-ending stream of electronic communications that flood our daily lives.  Emails, Facebook updates, texts, tweets, Instagram photos – you know the drill.  Many of us can’t turn away from the stream.  As this article noted:

(FOMO) is a very real feeling that’s starting to permeate through our social relationships. The question is — will we ever settle for what we have, rather than cling to the fear that we may be missing out on something better? Social media like Facebook and Twitter are making this increasingly more difficult.

I’d expand that notion to business emails as well.  I’ve written before about how we all have some form of digitally induced ADD.  We’re so concerned about missing out on something in our screen-based worlds that we ignore the important stuff right in front of us.  Conversations (the oral kind) with friends and family.  Enjoying a beautiful sunset or a musical performance without worrying about if the shot you’re taking to post is in focus or composed nicely.  I wonder about the effect of social networking and texting on the development of emotional and social intelligence. A whole generation has grown up thinking it’s normal to not be particularly present during a face to face conversation.  I can’t get used to people checking their phones in a meeting, much less at dinner.

I’m old school enough to remember the world pre-email, much less pre-social media.  There seemed to me enough time to think about things carefully as well as to enjoy the conversations (in person or via the telephone) and the quiet in between.  Obviously I appreciate the things all these technologies bring to us – efficiency, real marketing engagement, immediacy among them – but like ice cream and wine, too much isn’t so good for you.

If there’s a business point today, it’s to encourage those with whom you work to be a little less connected digitally and a lot more connected IRL – in real life.  Try it yourself.  As this recent piece asks – is it time to wean yourself off the smartphone?  Maybe for a little while each day?  What do you think?

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