Even the Almost Perfect Customer Experience Takes 15 Years

I bought a car last week. We’ve been looking for another one for some time and not been real happy with what’s available (anything under 20 mpg just seems irresponsible). My father-in-law has a fantastic, nearly 15 year old relationship with a dealership. He’s purchased every car I’ve ever seen him drive there. When Jen and I wanted to buy our first car, we went there.

Jen found our new car online. We’d been looking at imports and this was a domestic. We were looking at cars twice as expensive. This was exactly what we were looking for and it was at this dealership. She asked her dad to check it out. He calls back with the whole story, everything sounds good. All we need to do is drive the 4 hours to pick it up.


Then, like the story Christopher Carfi quotes, the warranty salesperson got involved.

We don’t know him. We know the car salesman, we know he guys in the shop. We don’t know the warranty guy. More importantly, he doesn’t know us.

He doesn’t know the kind of drivers we are, what we find important, or that we wouldn’t be there without the aforementioned 15 year old relationship. Then he attempted to sell us an extended warranty for a car we all knew would be fine for as long as it mattered.

Everything else about buying the car was perfect.

Productivity Tip: Empty Your Dock

Back in the pre-OS X days, I used DragThing religiously to keep applications, websites, and documents at my finger tips. That mentality migrated with me to OS X – put everything in the Dock, keep it handy.

Today, I shed it.

Inspired partially by my preparation for the Tiger upgrade and partially by my proficiency with QuickSilver, I’ve emptied everything out of the doc. Only the Finder and Trash are persistent. Everything else, in when in use, out when not.

Even in the half-a-day I’ve made the change, I feel less distracted and more focused. Fewer temptations by Mail (finally a way to turn it off), IM, and NetNewsWire. Plus, I’m more aware of which applications I’m using and what I’m using them for.

Here’s a special half-tip for you (this one, I’ve been using as long as I can remember). Set your desktop to a solid, neutral color – I’m partial to OS X’s ‘Solid Grey’. This way, colors will shift less when you’re trying to find the right hex value and there’s generally less visual noise.

More Gets You to Better

As I mentioned in my interview at Podcast411.com, I had an art professor who believed everyone had 5,000 bad drawings in them. Five thousand drawings bad drawings before the good ones could come out.

This perspective is re-iterated in Throw More Pots over at Crossroads Dispatches.

In this same token, I’m a firm believer every organization needs a playground, a skunkworks, a sandbox. Whatever it’s called, it’s a mentality where people can develop a million small ideas to find the ones that work. Whether drawings or pots or business models.

With the relative low cost of website development, in comparison to traditional television marketing, there’s a huge opportunity to try a million different small (potentially better) campaigns and cumulatively get the same return – if not a greater return.

Are Newspapers in the News Business or Fish-wrap Business?

Doc Searls:

“If your paper is worth so much (and it is), and you want to charge for it, how about charging for fresh news, and giving away the stale stuff?”

The ‘more-for-new-less-for-old’ model is a good one. Let’s take a look a couple industries where it seems to work well:

  1. Movies
    If Jen and I want to see the newest Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy right when it’s released (doubtful), I’m paying upwards of $16 at the cineplex. A few months after that, I can rent the DVD for $2 and have a HHGTTG-themed party in the comfort of my own home. I’ll probably wait. The same is true of HBO’s shows, and other cable-only televison.
  2. Apparel
    If I need the hip-est Kenneth Cole or Michael Kors suit, it’s Marshall Fields. If I can wait a season, it’s Off-5th or Marshalls for far less. I usually wait.

Back to the newspaper business. If I want the latest, most up-to-date reporting, I turn on the TV, pick up a newspaper, or more likely, head to a news-provider’s website via Google News. Always free (if not heavily subsidized). If I want to link to their specific article in this weblog, you (the reader) will need either register or pay to have any context.

This is a disincentive for me to link to the newspaper’s articles. Thereby artificially limiting the useful life of the article (what’s being called the long tail).

This is fine if newspapers are actually in the fish-wrap business. In that case, the paper itself is the most valuable. The usefulness is not in the reporter’s words but in the fish, birdcage, or compost bin the paper eventually lines. Not a message I would send to the beat reporters.

A few months back, I heard the president of Schwan’s Foods talk. From his perspective, Schwan’s isn’t in the frozen food business as much as the food delivery business. Just like Amazon & Wal-Mart not being in the retail business, more the logistics and fulfillment business.

These slight shifts in perspective make a huge difference in your implementation and customer relationship.

If newspapers are in-fact still in the news business, the need to explore avenues that customers readers (not advertisers) will finance. Along the lines of Jupiter Research. Otherwise, they’re a history lesson just like the recording, oil, and airline industries.

Making a Decision is Always Better than Not.

Yesterday, I grabbed a coffee with one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. We were talking about project teams wallowing in the unknown and stalling out. He proclaimed:

“Just put a stake in the ground and move on.”

His recommendation reinforces Charlie Lazor’s advice, “You really won’t know until you build it.”

Both of these thoughts require an acceptance of being wrong. An acceptance that the first solution, based on what is currently known, just might be faulty. The only way to find out is to build something and get more information – either from the customers, the technology team, or the prototype itself.

Every instance I’ve seen where a project team wasn’t able to easily define an interaction was due to lack of information. Similarly, every instance I’ve seen where defining an interaction has reached Heated Debate, the available information was faulty. A quick call to a customer or developer diffused the situation immediately.

You Really Won’t Know Until You Build It

I caught Charlie Lazor, talking about building furniture and houses at the University of Minnesota this evening.

I found this quote on prototyping invaluable:

“We spent so much time arguing whether or not it work, and when we prototyped it, it worked remarkably well. We could have saved so much time, if we had just built it sooner.”

My full write-up on his talk can be found at: Your House as Furniture.

The Creative Grotto Vibe

This morning Jen brought up the Temporary Office Space idea again. It’s something she’s brought up before. As a highly-mobile professional, the idea is very compelling. To have comfortable, secure place to send faxes grab a decent cup of coffee, and recharge off a good vibe for an hour or two, I think you can see how tempting it is.

This is why I’m tracking the next iteration of the Gate 3 Work Club.

On a smaller scale, I scanned the blogroll (opml) this morning, Brand Autopsy has a nice write-up on Po Bronson’s Writer’s Grotto.

If you’re interesting in this idea and closer to the Twin Cities, check out the Renaissance Box’s Writer’s Refuge.

Here’s a quick list of what I want from my work space (temporary or otherwise):

  • Wireless Internet
  • Chairs and tables fitting people over 6′ tall
  • Really good coffee
  • 2 reservable conference rooms; 1 for 2-4 people, 1 for 4-8 people
  • An open lofted, studio area where everyone can work quietly, and be aware of others working quietly
  • Postal substation
  • High speed, color copier

More as it comes to me.

Better Email Tips

On MPR the other morning, they had consultant and author Marilyn Paul talking about ways to spend less time in your inbox.

Her suggestion is to institute email subject line tags. You include these tags in your email subject line. Here are the one’s I remember:

  • ty: thank you
  • nrn: no reply necessary
  • nbd: need response by date

More tips on increasing your effectiveness available in her book: It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys.