Entries from November 2010 ↓
November 23rd, 2010 — Everything else, Food and eating
I was introduced to Durkee’s Famous Sauce as a college freshman at the home of my roommate Reynold. His mother invited a homesick boy into their home for Thanksgiving and I discovered a ritual which included eating leftovers in sandwiches the day after with turkey, cranberry sauce, last night’s wilted salad, reheated dressing and gravy if you wanted it… all served on sturdy bread with a generous slathering of Durkee’s. That day their ritual became my own tradition.
Durkee's jars through the decades. Click for a larger version to read the ingredient lists.
Durkee’s Famous Sauce is a niche product, literally, that somehow manages to hold onto a sliver of shelf space in many supermarkets year after year. It is a mayonnaise-mustard combination with extra richness that tastes like additional egg yolks… but the effect in a sandwich is more complex than that. It’s the sauce that holds its own when a lot of flavor notes are present. And though I know there are other uses, it is such a perfect partner with turkey (smoked as well as Thanksgiving leftovers) that I have never wanted to venture further.
There is lore suggesting Durkee’s is a traditional American recipe that was served, among other places, in the White House by Mary Todd Lincoln. But in fact the recipe has been through some changes over the years, as has the provenance of the expensive little jars. During my time the proprietorship has shifted from Burnes Foods of San Francisco (but manufactured in Canada), Tone Brothers of Ankeny IA, and currently ACH Food Companies of Memphis. The ingredient list shows that corn oil has been replaced by soy oil and water has moved ahead of vinegar as the second component with subtle changes in the preservatives further down the line.
By the time I am ready to open a new jar, the old one is either empty or pretty well past its prime so I have never been able to do a head to head taste test. But I do believe that the taste has remained consistent through all these permutations. Hats off to the food chemists… and Thanksgiving leftovers!
November 19th, 2010 — Customer service, Everything else, Marketing
My two boys are big fans of the O’Reilly “Make” concept. They’ve read the magazine, attended the Maker Faire, and would like a few blinking things in their stockings for Christmas. Unfortunately the lame makershed.com site makes this very difficult to pull off.
I’m presenting my experience not so much as a personal diatribe as a reminder that much of online shopping used to be this way. I invite you to cluck-cluck at these guys, then be thankful their practices are not more common.
I should be a pretty good prospect to Makershed since I subscribe to the magazine and have attended Maker Faires myself. So I get an email inviting me to enjoy the “deal of the day” which is an Arduino (that’s a blinking thing) with a $14 manual thrown in for free. Score! I click on the button and am taken to the website where I am told the manual is temporarily unavailable but I can download a PDF as part of the offer. WTF, that’s not so good, so I email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell them I want the offer but am in no hurry, want to wait till the book is back in stock.
You know what happens next: quick reply from customer service saying they have taken care of it. But not in the Makershed. It’s a full 5 days before they respond and say the offer is long past and the best they can do at this point is offer me a link to the pdf download.
So my boys will go Maker-less for Christmas apparently, but a couple weeks later a new email. Save 15% on anything with our special code on orders $125 plus. I click on the offer, get a message that says I have entered an invalid code. Click all over the email, same result. The hell with this, my boys need their blinking objects. So I do a search for Maker Shed on Google, find the site, put in my order, enter the special SAVE15 code… and am informed it expired a year ago.
I have no more time for shenanigans so I place the order and in a comments field point out that I tried to enter the 15% off code (I enclose a screen cap) and expect it to be taken off my total. 24 hours passes and I get a notice that my order has shipped. I click on the “my account” link to see if the 15% was taken off and am rebuffed because my password is not recognized… apparently Maker Shed allows customers to order without setting up an account but then gives you no way to check on order status.
You don’t want to hear more about my personal frustration with the above, which probably sounds like blab bla bla at this point, but I am not relating all this just to rant. At one time, a lot of e-commerce was like this… companies appeard quixotic and apparently uninterested in customer service because they didn’t actually have a clue about customer service, or else because they were overwhelmed at holiday time.
But today there’s not any excuse for this… especially since we are not anywhere close to the holidays. The learning and lessons:
- Don’t go live before you have the elementals such as web links and savings codes locked down, which is where Maker Shed repeatedly fell down in my experience. It is particularly embarrassing because this is a “high tech” outfit but would be just as bad for a scrapbooking website.
- Be accessible. Don’t take days and days to answer customer queries. These guys don’t even list a phone number!
- If you do fail at the above two requirements, or even if you don’t, remember the customer is always right. Which is especially true if you have sloppy ecommerce practices and the customer is expected to pick up after you.
I expect that what has happened here is that the Make folks have simply contracted out the entire Maker Shed operation. They get a small commission and it’s somebody else’s problem to run the show. But that’s wrong. I used to think Make was cool. Now I think they are incompetent and rip-offs. That’s my left brain talking but my right brain is listening in.
November 16th, 2010 — Copywriting 101, Customer service, Marketing
I had a client who was concerned that the information she was collecting on a registration page was going to be a potential problem because people are registering to win a prize and if they do win a prize then a/they might not want to receive it at work (which is the address we’re asking for, this being a B2B mailing) or b/they might have given a fictitious address as some people do because they don’t want to get advertising contacts yet they have to put something in the fields.
This same client had a problem at a previous company, which was the cause for her concern. She was giving away iPod shuffles (then selling for $59) to qualified prospects in return for their time to sit through a demo and apparently many people did not get their shuffles. I say “apparently” because it could also have happened that someone lied in order to get an additional shuffle…. dishonest, but hard to prove. Anyway, once bitten she wants to be sure this time.
My response (before caving, of course) was that there are always going to be a few idiots and outliers in your audience who are not going to play by the rules no matter what you tell them. And you should not do anything that is going to make your offer more complex to the vast majority, such as adding additional information on the reg page to deal with this issue by requesting an alternate shipping address in case they win. (Everybody who has ever designed an online survey or reg form knows that each additional field or question causes a certain number of people to drop out.) Suppose they fill in the form with their preferred address but, being idiots, they write it down wrong. What do you do then?
Along the same lines, I had a client back in my “suit” days who wanted to know if it was a good idea to pay a 1.5% commission based on the value of all sales paid by check in return for this supplier’s guarantee to make good any bad checks. This one was easy to figure out. Do bad checks cost more than 1.5% of revenue from all checks? No. Then this apparent insurance service is a money-losing sinkhole. Plus, cheats are cheats. If a customer has it in their heart to trick you out of money, they’ll just find another way to do it.
Today’s moral is, the customer is not always right, not when they are idiots and outliers. Don’t screw up the rest of your promotion by making accommodations for a few wingnuts.
November 9th, 2010 — Everything else, Words and writing
If you too are just now catching up with the Cooks Source train wreck, this LA Times blog entry is a good place to start. A small, low budget regional food publication printed a blogger’s post without permission (apparently this is the only event that is clearly documented and an uncontested fact) and when the writer protested, the editor or someone using the email of the editor of the publication wrote back and said everything on the web is public domain and the writer should be glad they were not sending her a bill for editing the piece.
I don’t have the complete chronology but apparently it was last Thursday, November 4, that all hell broke loose. Just before midnight on the 3rd, the blogger posted her account on her own very eclectic blog and by the next morning the story was everywhere including the LA Times. At some point it was discovered that Cooks Source had a Facebook page and that was when the pile-on began.
Some time during the day on November 4, the editor or someone with access to her account posted on FB, “Well, here I am with egg on my face! I did apologise to Monica via email, but aparently it wasnt enough for her. To all of you, thank you for your interest in Cooks Source and Again, to Monica, I am sorry — my bad! You did find a way to get your “pound of flesh…” we used to have 110 “friends,” we now have 1,870… wow!”
But of course, those “friends” were simply “liking” Cooks Source so they could post. The comments, assuming they are still there, are pretty funny for the most part but the whole experience certainly adds up to a public dunking or time in the stocks, which is appropriate considering that the original recipe was from a blog on medieval cooking.
After all that I got around to checking out the actual Cooks Source website, where there was an announcement that the magazine has taken down its website (sic), and shut down its Facebook page as of 6 pm on November 4. Unfortunately, the announcement continues, the Facebook page is still there because it has been taken over by hackers. I wonder what the Cooks Source people thought they were doing and if they know it is actually pretty simple to take down your Facebook page if that is what you want to do. I hope nobody tells them because like I say, this is an entertaining read. Also, on the bottom of the non-website Cooks Source page there is an apology to the blogger which seems sincere.
This is a cautionary tale for how there really is no privacy on the web and no place to hide once you make a mistake. This particular editor (or some devious person portraying her) offended a particularly vocal segment of the population and apparently did not have the good sense to make a full and complete apology in time. Crowing about the situation on Facebook, if indeed she did this, was gasoline on the flames. If you’re wrong, or simply if you decide for your business survival to say you’re wrong, the only possible course of action is to apologize repeatedly, abjectly and without reservation to anyone who will listen. RIP Cooks Source.