Category Archives: Helpful Hints

It Just Works

I’m old enough and digital enough to have used the first IBM PC and VisiCalc. It wasn’t the easiest thing to use but it pretty much was the only thing. DOS led to other operating systems, primarily Windows, that enabled all of us to work more efficiently. Well, that is, unless we were busy figuring out why we couldn’t print or why we were suddenly deluged with pop-up ads via malware.

English: IBM Personal Computer model 5150 with...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That was always the biggest appeal of Apple products to me. They just worked. My primary computer is a MacBook Air and the thought of going back to a Windows environment, no matter how good the reviews are on Windows 10, is dismaying. I’ve had to help friends with their Win10 issues and it certainly doesn’t “just work.” Then again, neither does my MacBook any longer. Sure, it’s nice that the OS upgrades every year (for free!) but I find myself diagnosing problems constantly now (wifi drops, SD cards being ejected at random, and more!).

My next computer will be a Chromebook; specifically a Chromebook with a touchscreen that can serve as a tablet. Chromebooks do just work. They are malware free. Think about how you work now. Most of it is probably via a web browser and in the cloud – my work certainly is for the most part. And they’re inexpensive – I can buy two decent Chromebooks for the price of a new MacBook or a touchscreen Windows machine. But what does this have to do with your business?

The bulk of customers wants that “it just works” experience no matter what you’re selling. They want their problems solved with the least hassle and for the best value. Notice I didn’t say for the lowest price. Just as there are high-end Chromebooks costing more than some Apple computers, so too is there a segment of buyer that want the high-end product and can afford to pay more if they perceive better quality, better service, or maybe a boost to their self-esteem (think luxury cars). But that’s not everyone.

If you want to brag about your computer’s specs then Chromebooks probably aren’t for you. Honestly, they’re not for everyone – you can’t do serious gaming or Photoshop or video editing. If you’re the type that likes to tweak your settings until they’re just right, you probably want to stick with something else. You need to think about your business in this context too. Are you for some very specialized, narrow audiences or are you for the bulk of the consumer base? If the latter, I’d suggest you focus on the “it just works” experience because history shows that’s how the best businesses succeed. You with me?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

Contacts, Cost, and Value

A few months ago I installed a contact manager app on my phone. I was quite pleased with it; so much so that I also installed a desktop version of the software on my Mac. As you might gather from some of the stuff about which I rant here on the screed, I read fine print pretty carefully. When I did these installs there was no mention of a trial period nor a limit on the number of contacts. It was quite clear that the version I was using had a premium option with more features, but I was just fine with the basics I was getting for free.

Last week, after a few months of use, I got a message when I opened the app that I would have to upgrade since I had over 1,000 contacts. In fact, I have 2,325 and have had that many for nearly all of the time I’ve used the app. The app no longer performs the free basic stuff it did before. The premium version is $100. Per year. No thanks.

I checked out some other contact apps. Some are also $100 a year, some are $100 once, and some are $2. Based on reviews, there doesn’t seem to be a huge difference between many of them; certainly not a factor of 50 or 100 times with respect to usefulness. Putting aside my anger at my previous app’s misleading and dishonest app store copy which makes no mention of a contact limit, I started to think about one of the most basic business ratios: the cost/value relationship.

Customers assign value based on the benefit they receive – how well you solve their problem – in the context of what it costs them for the solution. Warren Buffett explained it as price being what you pay and value is what you get. Any of us in business need to do that in the context of what other solutions are available and what they charge. A new Lexus and a used Volkswagen but solve the transportation problem but they are only comparable solutions on the most basic level (they both get you from point A to point B). The mistake many of us make is that we look at our unique benefit from our own perspective rather than that of our potential buyer. While we may see the multitude of features our product or service provides, most customers don’t. They see a price tag, first and foremost, and while they might love to have the Lexus they aren’t willing to assign a sufficient enough value differential to the great customer service, the luxurious interior, or the better ride and handling to make up for the large price difference.

I’ll find another contact manager. I don’t even mind paying for one. Like most consumers, I do mind the bait and switch that happened here (and I’ll post a review to that effect in the store). Whatever value we believe justifies the cost we ask customers to incur, we need to be upfront about it as we try to justify the reasons why we’re worth it. Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

Asked And Answered

I’m constantly advocating that we listen to our customers. One of the ways that we can do that is through surveys. The problem with many surveys is that we don’t ask the right questions, or we ask the right questions in the wrong way. Let me explain.

Suppose I were to ask about Obamacare. I might ask if you approve or disapprove of the law. Simple question, right? Unfortunately, wrong. To someone on the right, the “disapprove” answer might come from a disagreement with the mandate that we all have health insurance. To someone on the left, the “disapprove” response might come from feeling that the law doesn’t go far enough and a single payer system is what we need. Same answers, very different perspectives.

We often make that same mistake by not digging deeply enough. We’re told to avoid open-ended questions in survey design (they’re not computer friendly, after all), but in so doing we end up with data which is ambivalent at best and useless at worst. We also make the mistake of asking both new and returning customers the same things. Their perspectives are different and one group should have better, different insights from which we can learn.

Try to remember that consumers get hit up with surveys everywhere these days. You can’t make a customer service call without being prompted to stay on the line after you hang up to complete a survey. Many websites will pop up a user-experience survey while you’re in the midst of trying to find some important information. We need to survey but we need to be judicious. We need to be as personal as we can and to be respectful of our consumer’s time by not asking 30 questions (3 or 4 are optimal).

As with anything in business, put yourself in the customer’s position first. If what you’re asking is vague, repetitive, burdensome, or impersonal, you’ve already got your answer. It’s in your low response rates.

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The Cobra Effect

If you heard any news this weekend, you probably are aware of the Executive Order banning folks from certain countries from entering the United States. I expect that the folks who issued the order felt that they were doing something pretty straightforward. Instead, they ended up preventing workers with visas, legal residents with green cards, and a host of others who have all their legal certifications in order from traveling here.

English: Indian Spectacled Cobra, Naja Naja Fa...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since we’re not a political blog, I’m going to put aside humanitarian concerns and politics and instead focus on what one must assume are unintended consequences of the order. It’s the “Cobra Effect” come to life yet again. Unfamiliar with that? It got its name based on what happened when the Indian government offered rewards for dead cobras in an effort to cure a plague of them. Rather than decreasing the number of cobras, people began breeding them and killing them for the reward money. When the government figured this out they stopped paying for them. People released the cobras they no longer needed. Net effect? More cobras and lots of wasted money. Unintended consequences personified!

So how do we avoid the Cobra Effect in our businesses? Not by preserving the status quo since that’s rarely an option. It’s actually as simple as taking the time to think through what possible effects a particular action might have. “If we do this, that might happen.” Don’t be bashful about throwing out absurd conclusions, either. There are many examples those absurdities becoming reality (you gain more weight when you skip meals? Really?).

I guess my thinking is to go fast but do so slowly. Push for change and evolve your products, services, and business, but do so in a manner that thinks through as many of the potential effects those changes could bring about as you can imagine and avoid the Cobra Effect. Make sense?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?

Adding Umami To The Business

This Foodie Friday we’re going to talk about basic flavors. If you’ve done any cooking, you know that there are five basic tastes: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and something called “umami,” which is often mentioned as “savoriness.” It’s a Japanese word that means “delicious taste. It’s actually built on three types of amino acids:

japanese soy sauce, it contains more salt than...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some examples of the amino acids associated with umami are glutamates in kombu or soy sauce; iosinates found in fermented fish, shellfish and meats; and guanylates, which are present in mushrooms like shiitake.These different types of amino acids can be combined to increase the umami taste in your dishes.

Got it? As with all the flavors, the trick is to use umami to balance out and enhance the other flavors present in a dish. If you add soy sauce (umami), for example, you’d want to reduce the salt (salty). If you’re using fish sauce (an umami bomb often found in Asian food) you’d add acid to balance it out (citrus juice, for example.). Got it?

Let’s think about umami in business terms. You have the basic building “flavors” of solving a customer’s problem, the enterprise’s financial goals, customer service, producing the product or service, and supporting your team. What distinguishes great businesses from good businesses is the umami added to the mix of those building blocks. Just as adding a rind of parmesan cheese into a soup or stock boosts umami, teaching everyone in an organization to be customer-centric while pursuing clear goals boosts the coherence and performance of the team. It’s possible to offer decent customer service via email but the umami of a caring human to deal with customer issues makes a lot of difference.

A long time ago, someone told me to add red wine vinegar to the clarified butter into which I was dipping a lobster. I know now that the sour and pungent vinegar was balancing the fat of the butter and took the lobster to another level. Balancing all the elements of either a dish or your business and making sure that balance includes something that boosts umami is the key, both in the kitchen and in the boardroom. You with me?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Helpful Hints

Misdirection (It’s Magic!)

When I was a kid I became fascinated with magic. As I attempted to learn trick after trick, what became clear to me was that the primary skill of the magician wasn’t so much manual dexterity as it was the ability to draw the audience’s attention to something very specific. One magician called it “the manipulation of interest”. I think of it as misdirection and as it turns out there is a really business point to it as well.

Top hat as an icon for magic

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What a magician is trying to do is one of two things: either to get you to look away from what he is really doing for a split second or to reframe your perception so that you focus on a different reality, thinking that something has a lot to do with what’s going on when in fact it has nothing to do with it.

We see this in business all the time. Sometimes it’s benign, as when we’re distracted by a phone buzzing during a meeting. Sometimes it’s not so benign, as when the fine print of a deal is overshadowed by a blaring headline and attention-grabbing photo. I’ve been in meetings in which someone was completely unprepared for the topic of the meeting but managed to get the group distracted onto a side issue and he was never found out. You’ve probably witnessed something similar.

We can’t let distractions draw our attention away from what’s really going on. We can’t look at the obvious while the real business is going on elsewhere. More importantly, we can’t let others draw our attention away from something they’re doing that might have an impact on our business. We can’t let a nice suit distract us into thinking someone is successful – look at their track record. We can’t let someone’s ridiculous initial offer draw us away from our negotiating plan – maybe they’re trying to distract us through the misdirection of anger. We can’t let someone tell a lie as a distraction without correcting it but that also means we need to have facts at hand to avoid the misdirection.

Some folks are masters of controlling how others feel about and deal with them by controlling others’ focus. Don’t fall for it.

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Filed under Reality checks, Helpful Hints

Digging Into The Cart

One thing our digital age has given us is the ability to measure and understand what is going on in our businesses. We can learn even more by layering research on top of the data so that we understand not just the “what” but also the “why.”

A piece of research from Episerver has done that with respect to consumer shopping behaviors and their expectations for brands. While the study is focused on online commerce, I think many of the data points it surfaces apply into other business segments as well. Let’s see what you think.

The primary finding is that 92% of consumers will visit a brand’s website for the first time for reasons other than making a purchase. Of shoppers visiting a website for the first time, 45% are searching for a product or service, 25% are comparing prices or other variables, and more than one in 10 are looking for details about a physical location. A third of consumers who visit a brand’s website or mobile app with the explicit intent of making a purchase rarely or never complete checkout. Further, 98% of shoppers have been dissuaded from completing a purchase because of incomplete or incorrect content on a brand’s website, underscoring the need for descriptive, accurate content.

When consumers are prepared to make a purchase on a website or mobile app, the report found 60% go directly to the product page for the item they’re looking for. Another 18% look at sale items first, and 7% seek out customer testimonials before anything else.

What does all of that mean? In a word, engagement. Your ability to engage the consumer is key because the odds are that unless they feel engaged they’re not coming back. The fact that the overwhelming majority of first-time visitors are NOT there to buy points to an opportunity. How can you serve the real reasons why they’re there? How can you provide them with the information they need (accurate content, easily visible sale items, obvious, verified customer comments, etc.)

Hopefully, this is yet another piece of research that falls into the “duh” category. Most of the findings point to actions we should take that are just common sense. They’re the way we’d all like to be treated when we put on our consuming hats, aren’t they?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints