June 14th, 2013 — Everything else, Tech
Father’s Day is a great time to give dad techie gadgets he wouldn’t necessarily buy for himself. Here are some ideas.
1. Last minute gift: an Apple App Store or Android gift card. Who doesn’t need more apps for their mobile device? You can buy prepaid Apple gift cards at most any Target and many supermarkets; if they don’t have the App Store card an iTunes card would work just as well. For Android, Amazon Gift Card – E-mail – Amazon Appstore will work just as well and you can order it for immediate delivery via email. (Unfortunately, Amazon does not seem to have a gift card with a picture of the Android robot on it.)
2. Home Depot gift: a cordless lithium drill/driver set. Every dad has an old cordless drill in a drawer, but the new-generation lithium battery technology is a dramatic step forward. They’re lighter, more powerful and the battery lasts far longer. I have one by Bosch but whatever is on sale will do; take a look and see if you can find a combo set with flashlight, radio and other add-ons that run off the same batteries. This is definitely something dad would never buy for himself but, take it from me, would like to have.
3. Grilling dad gift: temperature monitor for the Weber. The point where dad gets serious about barbecue is when he starts to think about temperature control. Fortunately, there are sturdy aftermarket thermometers like this one which he add in to his existing kettle cooker in a few minutes by drilling a hole, then securing the thermometer with a nut and a washer. If you want to go high tech, my friend Steve would send you to the Thermoworks site where they have all manner of remote doneness sensors, instant read laser thermometers and such.
I am fortunate enough to have all the above (well, except for the Thermowerks tchotchkes) and am hoping for Why Knot?: How to Tie More Than Sixty Ingenious, Useful, Beautiful, Lifesaving, and Secure Knots! by Philippe Petit, a high wire artist to whom well tied knots are obviously important. And when you think about it, back in the day, knots were the original high technology.
November 25th, 2012 — Customer service, Marketing
I was an early adopter of Amazon Prime, the membership program where you get unlimited 2-day shipping at no extra charge for an annual fee of $79. The program has over the years been enhanced with a limited selection of free instant videos and free Kindle books, but the shipping is what I really like. It’s a great feeling to be able to see something, want it, and know I’ll have it in 48 hours without paying express shipping. It’s definitely led to some impulse buys which were probably better for Amazon than for me. And it’s conditioned my family (immediate family members also get the free shipping, though not the other features) to look at Amazon as their primary shopping modality.
So with all those mutual benefits, I haven’t felt more than a tinge of guilt about buying the occasional five dollar item knowing Amazon is probably paying more to ship it than I’m paying for it. But now that seems to be changing. Some low priced items (I’ve noticed this in their grocery and baby departments) are now “add on” items where you get free shipping only if you combine them with another purchase. And others have been raised to outrageous price points: a box of kosher salt, which costs $3.29 at the supermarket, is now $10 at Amazon. I’m not sure who would buy it at this price so wonder what purpose it serves to even offer it.
The net result is that I’m now questioning my relationship with Prime. I don’t have an alternative in mind… nobody else offers such a loyalty program combined with a huge selection to make it meaningful… but that means my roving eye should be all the more troubling for Jeff Bezos and crew. It’s hard to break such an ingrained shopping habit, but I’m thinking it may be worth the trouble. And I’ve definitely got my eyes open for a price increase or other future limitations, so I won’t be automatically renewing as I have in the past.
If a lot of other Prime customers feel as I do, Amazon may want to do some rethinking.
December 13th, 2011 — Customer service, Marketing
The other day I got hot under the collar about what was basically a trivial matter. The outsourced customer service function of American Express needed appropriate phrases to express appropriate reactions when a customer called because their credit card was declined. Quite possibly because of cultural differences, the scripted responses weren’t appropriate at all.
But why would a company even want to banter with the customer in the first place? This is not a marriage or personal relationship where you are trying to gain the upper hand. There’s a customer service policy in place to handle whatever concern the customer is contacting you about. Just deal with it, as efficiently is possible. Don’t embellish the dialog in a way that can turn a neutral situation into a negative.
At the other end of the spectrum, if the customer has a complaint or request and your policy is to honor it, there is nothing wrong with an additional coating of obsequiousness. An example is this response from amazon.com when I downloaded a Kindle book thinking it was free through the Prime lending library and discovered I was charged for it.
First, let me apologize for any inconvenience caused by this issue. I do understand how frustrating this must have been to you. We value our customers’ trust above all else–it is the foundation upon which Amazon.com was built. Please know that this situation was the result of a combination of technical and human errors, and that in no way did we intend for this to happen.
Over the top? You bet. Did it cost Amazon any more than a simple notice that my charge had been reversed? Not a penny. Will this make me more likely to give more money to Amazon? Absolutely.
March 20th, 2010 — Marketing, Tech
Robert Scoble had an example at one of the SXSW panels on how the “check-ins” we were all getting from Gowalla and Foursquare (“Jim Wood has just checked in at the Blogger’s Lounge”) could be made useful, instead of annoying.
Suppose he wants a recommendation for a barbecue place in Austin. He’s going to browse among his thousands of contacts for the handful of people who have completed the Gowalla BBQ hunt, requiring them to check in at six different BBQ spots. He can assume they know more about BBQ than 99% of the rest of us, based purely on their activity stream.
Of course, we don’t know if these reviewers have good taste in barbecue, but there are tools for that as well. It’s what is done on Amazon and Yelp, where reviewers gain authority based on how active they are and how useful their reviews are to others. Combine an authority ranking system with check-ins and you’re getting some pretty good info, all auto-generated.
The biggest user of check-ins will soon be Facebook, the 800 pound gorilla that nobody at SXSW wants to talk about even though they reccently surpassed Google as the #1 Internet destination on the Web in terms of daily visits. Facebook users are already conditioned to share their activity streams with their friends anecdotally, and Gowalla and Twitter are adding links to make those streams geographically meaningful (Gowalla through geolocation, Twitter through its newly added “location” feature). You’ll know how popular your local Starbucks is with your friends and how often your best friends can be found there.
And wouldn’t it be great to add to this a coolness factor, what the smart and savvy kids are recommending? Well, that’s what Yelp is for. How about adding a Yelp tab at the top of your Facebook page where, after you visit a place, you can Yelp it? How about assigning reward points for the frequency of Yelp reviews; wouldn’t that be at least as satisfying as feeding the animals in Farmville?
Facebook also gains a bunch of new users (plus many already on Facebook who will become much more active) and a sales force trained in micro-targeting local businesses. It’s just too good a fit not to happen.
March 1st, 2010 — Everything else, Marketing
Go look at the reviews for a popular item on Amazon.com. Compare the volume of people voting on the “most helpful favorable review” and the “most helpful critical review”. In most cases, the number of “helpful” votes on the “favorable” reviews will swamp the “critical” numbers. My hypothesis: people reading these reviews mostly want to support their own positive impression because they’ve already decided to buy the item.
Some time ago, I accepted an invitation to be a “Vine” reviewer on Amazon. This honor came to me because I had written a couple of reviews on the site that got a high number of “helpful” ratings. Now I get a monthly email offering me some products for free as long as I agree to review them. This is not a boondoggle: if you regard your time as worth anywhere close to minimum wage, the hours you spend in reviewing the items are going to be far more than the value of the goods received.
But here’s the thing. Most of my Vine reviews have been negative and POSSIBLY as a result I’m getting less attractive Vine offers now. I have no ideas how this algorithm works. Maybe Amazon merchants are subsidizing this effort in some way? I’m certainly not suggesting that there has been any pressure to give a positive review but maybe Amazon is able to say “we’ll offer your product to a certain number of our top reviewers, they’ll likely review it favorably because they’re getting it for free etc.” In any case the net result is that fewer people are giving me a “helpful” nod now and I’m less well-rated as a reviewer since I started to write more negative reviews.
I love peer reviews and am a frequent contributor to Yelp, as well as Amazon. I read and use these reviews in my own buying decisions. If I want to know how to do some trick with a kitchen gadget that came with a poor instruction manual, I can bet that an Amazon reviewer will have filled in the gaps. But Amazon and other social media outlets need to make sure they provide a venue for intelligent negative opinions to express themselves, even if those reviews are not beloved by the readership. Maybe a helpful negative review gets extra weight, if it’s of a certain length and not a rant?
February 10th, 2009 — Tech
Is this your Kindle 2?
Amazon is releasing its second generation of Kindle, its perpetually sold-out ebook reader. The new Kindle is faster and has more memory, and also substitutes a joystick for the page turning buttons along the side that always made me feel like I was using my mother’s old desktop phone directory (with the slider that would cause the page for the right letter to drop open… remember?).
But maybe most important, the new Kindle is available now… or almost now, because Amazon promises they have 320,000 of them for shipment starting 2/24. You can get it here.
January 15th, 2009 — Customer service
So I am finally got my iPhone. Per the earlier post, my web order disappeared into automated customer service limbo yet was impossible to cancel until I called a live sales rep. Meanwhile the price dropped $50 so I place the order again and it goes through with me $50 richer and ATT $50 poorer. And with me, a long time AT&T customer who is now a “new” wireless customer, holding a vastly reduced favorable view of the company. How is this good for the shareholders?
For people who have to call customer service on their lunch hour, stories like this are just more yadda-yadda. But for the marketer came up with the promotion that drew me to AT&T at this particular moment, and is getting reviewed for it possibly with their job on the line, it’s not at all trivial. You did your best work, you got the click, and then the order was deep-sixed by a combination of bad IT architecture and moronic overview by whatever human is supposed to spot-check to ensure all is going well.
I will not bore you with the details of yet another poor customer service experience beyond citing a couple of particularly telling details:
* “Unfortunately, either we have not heard from you in several days, or you have chosen to cancel your order. In either case, this e-mail confirms your order cancellation”. That was in an email I got from AT&T during the first attempt to order. But notice we’re talking about two totally different customer relationship scenarios, and they’ve chosen to respond to both of them in the same email.
Why would this happen? Because some human life form has decided it is “too complicated” to have two different stock emails to respond to two different scenarios that create the same result. The computers don’t care! It is people thinking for the computers that is causing the problem here.
* Now I’ve finally got an order placed, and a confirmation email arrives: “Congratulations! You’re now part of the largest wireless community in America—71 million and growing! You will receive your new wireless phone in a few days.” Well that’s interesting news, since the original order confirmation promised two-day guaranteed delivery! There is also a tracking number in the email but when I click on it, it takes me to AT&T’s home page!
So recognizing it as a UPS number I go to their tracking page and do indeed find the package quickly and discover it actually will be delivered on time in spite of AT&T’s hedging.
Why didn’t they actually confirm that they were delivering on schedule in the confirming email? Why didn’t they reference my specific smart decision to buy an iPhone? You guessed it… they send the same confirming email to EVERYONE, regardless of what offer they responded to.
Just imagine the phone calls to customer service this generates. But there is apparently no consequence and no human cost to AT&T because they have no intention of answering those calls. They’ll be led through a phone tree and ultimately disconnected as I was in my first encounter.
I feel like such a whiner in describing all this but I actually do have a point worth making. In this terrible economy, when every company should be scrambling for every last potential order to keep its bottom line healthy and to keep employees employed, AT&T is running its business like there is money, and orders, to burn.
Much of this definitely goes to the laziness of midlevel IT and customer service folks who are scheming ways to go home on time, not to execute their job which should be to make things easier for the customer. But it also goes back to a hubris that has existed from the tim companies like AT&T established their websites… because face it, the web experience with any phone company is terrible.
What they did: get on the web early, because they’re an Important Company that needs a “web presence”, then cobble on an e-commerce function as an afterthought. Now the tail is wagging the dog because their ecommerce engine doesn’t work and the ridiculous official explanations sound like one of those clone commanders in Star Wars. What they should have done: emulate sites like amazon.com. (or, just emulate amazon.com) which realize that no order can be allowed to get away.
January 8th, 2007 — Customer service, Everything else
I just got through a holiday season filled with toys that required batteries, and something finally dawned on me. All of them now have battery covers that are attached with a tiny screw, rather than the slide-on-and-click-to-lock type that I remember.
I first assumed this was some kind of money saving move, and that somehow it cost less to use a screw than to mold a special plastic case that shuts tightly… higher quality plastic, tighter tolerances presumably being needed for the latter. But maybe not.
A bit of poking around the web suggests the screw-on battery cases are in fact for child safety and to keep kids from getting at the batteries so they can stick them in their mouths. Perhaps there’s new legislation requiring the manufacturers to use them. Anybody know?
I want to bring up a couple of points about this, which are completely random and unrelated:
* I can’t find anybody who is upset about what is really a pretty major change in toy design, no Amazon reviews or web postings by folks who are upset about the extra difficulty of dealing with the screws or the need to run out and buy a tiny screwdriver. (And by the way, in most cases these screws are really IN THERE and require a lot of torque to remove.) Suggesting as a nation we are a lot more handy than one might suspect. Wonder if there are any more hidden competencies lurking out there?
* It costs about a 1/10th of a mill (which is 1/10th of a cent) to add a little locking washer so the screw doesn’t fall out and get lost, and yet maybe 1 toy in 5 has it. So picture this. You’re trying to load the batteries while your child with trembling hands awaits. Of course the battery screw falls out and of course it disappears (possibly into the mouth of a smaller child). And now you have a lid with no way to secure it other than our old friend, Mr. Tape.
April 19th, 2006 — Customer service, Marketing
I was recently a victim of identity theft. First, my credit card company called me wondering why I had been charging so much at walmart.com. When I said I hadn’t used my walmart.com account since 2004 (which I know because I keep all my old emails), they suggested somebody had gotten hold of my credit card info and suggested I cancel my account and get a new card. Which I did.
Then, a few days later, another call. Had I changed my billing address to somewhere in Arizona? No, I hadn’t, and the ability to do so meant that somebody had hacked my online account with the bank in a major way. This set off alarm bells requiring cancellation of the new card, plus alerts to the credit reporting bureaus of which maybe the worse repercussion for me, as a marketer, is that I am automatically removed from credit card solicitation lists for the next 5 years. (No more Capital One swipe samples for me!)
I thought the whole matter was handled just about right by CitiBank. They were efficient, not accusatory, and the paperwork required (two notarized statements from me) was tedious but reasonable under the circumstances. That got me thinking about what is the right balance between companies protecting themselves and providing benefits to consumers.
A serious lack of such balance was exhibited in my first purchase recently of a “digital edition” from Amazon. It came with onerous digital rights management (DRM) protection that requires me to go through a complex registration process, where I sign in with Adobe online, simply to be able to read the document I have paid for on my computer. It simply ain’t worth it, folks. I asked for my money back. Their rights are protected but they lose a sale. Good deal? Not for me, not for the publisher, certainly not for the author who probably has no idea this is going on.
Back in my “suit” days, I had a client who asked me if it would be a good idea to sign up with a bad check protection service which would make good any bogus paper in return for a 1.5 percent commission on ALL checks received. Sounded somewhat plausible until we did the math and found that the bad check problem was actually costing considerably less than 1.5% of sales.
People who make their living trying to cheat other people and businesses will probably find a way to do so, at least some of the time. A business needs to find a balance where it makes things somewhat more difficult for the bad guys without penalizing the average customer with unreasonable security measures. This is the same logic that applies when we talk to our clients about money-back guaranteed, isn’t it?
A money back guarantee, especially on a mail order or internet purchase, answers the big objection “what if I get it and I don’t like it after I see it?” Marketers who are reluctant to make guarantees are afraid that somebody is going to take advantage of them. But the bad guys will anyway… and meanwhile they’ve scared off a lot of potential customers who were on the fence.
August 31st, 2005 — Customer service, Everything else
Telephone companies, cable operators and such refer to the “last mile” as the final step of actually getting their service into a home or office. For marketing companies, the “last mile” is the process of actually delivering the product or service to the customer—and that’s where more and more companies fall short, perhaps intentionally.
Infoweek columnist Chad Dickerson describes a situation in which a hotel reservation was not honored because the “last mile” procedure of the online booking company was to send a fax to the participating hotel, where it was ignored. My wife had the experience of ordering expensive curtains from a company called Smith and Noble, whose “last mile” procedure when a customer complains about a missing order is to send an email to the factory and hope they respond. (This outfit couldn’t even CANCEL an order efficiently; when they still hadn’t delivered the drapes for our little vacation cabin on the next-to-last day of our stay, she was assured the order would be shipped that night overnight or not at all. Neither promise turned out to be true; our friendly neighbor signed for the package a few days later and the curtains now sit uselessly in a closet. Sure hope they fit when we show up next year…)
As to intentional disappointments, this is what happens when a company looks for ways to cut costs and finds that it can save big by lowering expectations or simply failing to meet them for the small percentage of orders that are more expensive to fulfill. This is happening now at my beloved Amazon.com, whose “Prime Shipping”—two-day shipping at no extra cost beyond a yearly fee, and overnight shipping for $3.99—is I predict destined to be a one-season wonder.
When Amazon consistently failed to get a Prime order to me in 2 days, AND email customer service failed to reach a solution or adequately explain the problem, I wrote a detailed letter to Jeff Bezos. (As a practice this is what I recommend as a final step to get a resolution from a company; if the CEO (or someone else with responsibility) fails to respond or sends you a form letter, that tells you as much as if they fixed the problem.)
In my case I got a personal response from a personal representative of Jeff’s, but she got both the shipping date and the item description wrong—data that was readily available in Amazon’s own files, of course. Trouble in the last mile which presages more disappointments down the road…