inessential.com: Build 2014

Great piece from Brent Simmons on the enthusiasm at Mircosoft at the Build conference and in particular around Azure.

But where the new CEO makes a difference is that leadership has caught up to where Microsoft employees already were. They can be honest, with themselves and others, about the company’s role in the world. They can stop wasting time trying to recapture those days of monopolistic dominance and instead concentrate on building great things for the future, for the many-platforms future.

Making lemonade from lemons is a far better plan than trying to return to the glory days which have moved on.

Consider the opportunity: many billions of smartphones and tablets and many apps on each device. Those apps need syncing and web services.

(via Inessentials)

Source: http://inessential.com/2014/04/08/build_20...

What business are you preparing for?

My parents live in Florida half a year.  After having spent most of their lives in New England there were large changes in expectations of service that came from the move.

One Monday they returned home from lunch out only to learn their cable was out ( all services phone, TV and internet) .  A cell phone call to the local provider resulted having to set an appointment with a technician.  The soonest appointment was Saturday between 9:00am and 12:00 pm (You know that service window that generally is a joke).  While not thrilled with the duration of the outage they took the appointment. 

  • Fail #1: 6 days for an outage that requires a technician at the house is a LONG time.  This was not an new installation. You would imagine that there is some inherent expectation of quicker repair for an existing service. 

Arrangements were made to hang around the house.  The service window came and went.  A call back into the cable company to check the status of the appointment only to learn that they were busy and would not make it out until early next week.

  • Fail #2: No call, no notification that the technician would be late or not able to make it at all. No call to reschedule (all the effort was on the customer).

The following week continued with the same style of service.  Appointments set and then blown off. Each time my folks were getting more and more aggravated.  

  • Fail #3: Letting a customer down once is one thing but 3-4 times really makes it look like you just don’t care at all. 

When the technician was able to make it to the house - some 10 days later, he learned that when installing the neighbors cable a technician had cut my parents.  He was there to swap connectors or cable boxes and was not equipped to handle this type of problem. He would have to call into the office to try and get someone out there as “soon as he could”.  Personally I think I would have had fire coming from my nose as I slowly began to self combust from anger right in front of him.

The technical was sympathetic to the duration of situation and was able to get someone out there immediately. 

  • Fail #4: It should have not taken a person onsite to have to call in a favor to get the process resolved.  I am convinced had that had he left and passed the ball to someone else on the team my parents would still be without service today.

A few weeks after the great cable cut was over the bill arrived.  It was the normal amount.  No credit for the hassle, no prorating the monthly service fee (since they only got 1/2 a month of service) no bonus stations for a month.  My father called to inquire about the bill only to get a response from the customer service representative “ Not much you can do about this - we are the only service provider in the area”.

  • Fail #5:  Failing to except responsibility for the initial problem. No apology, no offer of credit for the time without the service.  Customer service representatives that are willing to brag about the monopoly of their service. 

Things happen with businesses all the time. Generally people will be understanding of that of you keep them in mind.  But after a series of failures like this, when a new provider comes to the area what do you think will happen?

What business are you preparing for? Todays business or for the future of your business?

In search of...the ideal client

As buiness people we are always looking for the "ideal client". That mythical person(s) that will be perfect. What is the criteria you use to identify the ideal client?

  • They pay on time?
  • They are friendly?
  • They go along with everything you say - without question?
  • They refer you to many many other new clients

Perhaps the question is are you the ideal vendor?

  • Do you arrive on time?
  • Are you friendly with your customers?
  • Are you willing to work with the customer to deliver a great product?
  • Are you referrable?

So which question is more important?

Delivering on expectations - the wrong way

What is the goal ?

An old dilapidated gas station in town gets purchased. It is torn down and a new one with a food-center for snacks and sundries goes up in its place. The station is reopened.

Week 1:
The place shines. People are overly friendly welcoming you into the store when purchasing a drinks. The pumps gleam. There is fluid and windshield squeegees in the containers. There are gas mitts to use so your don’t smell when you are on your way to work. There are lines of happy customers in the store and at the pumps (and really who likes paying for fuel). It is the model gas station convenience center.

Week 3:
The place looks like it needs a cleaning. When you enter the store no says hello or makes eye contact. Four of the eight pumps are labled “Out of Order”. There are no squeegees, and the containers that do have them are dry and without fluid. Gas mitts and paper towels gone. The trash is overflowing in the containers outside. The store is half stocked.

It is the stereotypical experience of convenience stores everywhere.

Goal achieved.

The Chimney Sweep and the mailing list

When I moved into my house the previous owner told me that the chimney had not been cleaned in some time.  I scheduled an appointment with a local chimney sweep.  

The day of the appointment the sweep showed up on time and explained to me what he was going to do.  He was a in his mid thirties  and very professional.  The one thing that I noticed was he looked very tired.  We chatted during the process and I asked how business was.  He explained that business was good but not growing.  He told me he was swamped between October through December and then business was non-existing.  He was sometimes doing 14-18 houses a day seven days a week (approximately 1450 customers)  and that if he could not fit a customer in he lost the business.

I let him finish and I offered to help him with his business.  He was worried about technology solutions and platforms and I tried put his mind at ease that this was not about the technology but about how he could be more effective.  "Can you send email I asked, can you make a phone call?" If so we will do fine.  I asked him if he had email addresses or phone numbers for his clients.  Not many was his response.  He did have all the names and addresses though.

We devised a 2 stage plan to spread his business out over the year to provide room for growth.
Phase 1 was to reach out to his customers and get current contact information.
1. Update his current website with a contact form that captured email and phone number into a MailChimp account.
2. Create a postcard mailing to all of his customers asking them to fill out the form online or to call and update him with their current information.  

After a couple of weeks I touched base with him.  93% of all his customers responded and provided their information.  It was late January.  Now came phase 2.  

We looked at the list and divided into local geographic section.  We composed and email offering his customers a 10% discount to have their chimneys cleaned early in the season starting in April right after the major heating season was over.  We would then take the next group and do the same for May and June and July.  This would hopefully spread his work out more effectively.  For those who had phone numbers (and no email) he would reach out to 5 -10 of them at the end of every day and offer the same offer.  He called me back a few weeks later and said it was working.  Many of his customers appreciated getting the work done early in the season and loved the discount.  He was able to start working much earlier in the season and do some larger repair work for many clients that he had not been able to before due to time constraints.  

Every time he went to a new clients he captured their information with his phone and continued the process.  When peak season came around he was able to take on additional new clients because he was able to effectively spread the work around.  

The following year when he came to my house to do a cleaning I asked him how was business.  He was ecstatic.  His current client count was hovering around 2,500. He was able to able to work throughout most of the year and his customers could not been happier.

Is your problem with growth or is something else holding you back?      

Proliferation of copy cats

This week I learned the the product I make called blocs for Apple TV was being "reproduced" by a company called Tinsel & Timber. There are not a lot of accessories created for the AppleTV so when the review came up in my RSS feeds I was anxious to see what another company had created. Unfortunately I learned they had created their version of the bloc which is hardly unique. I reached out to the company only to get a response from their "professional industrial designer" that he only saw a few things in commom. From the response:

We do design and manufacture an apple TV holder, though this is not the product that you have available on your website. Aside from the fact that the two products both contain an Apple TV and are both manufactured from wood, they have little other design similarities.

I will let you be the judge.

 Bloc 

Bloc 

 Apple TV Tray

Apple TV Tray

hi_res_apple_tv_3_copy_large.jpg

My review of the product on the website yielded very different feelings:

  • almost exatly the same dimensions
  • created from 2 of the 3 species of wood I use (Maple and American Walnut)
  • a slot to hold the AppleTV remote (even the same orientation as the bloc on the right side)
  • instead of one large smooth bowl finger pull they have two smaller versions.
  • instead of the four rubber feet on the bloc they have four cork feet
  • also made in the USA
  • uses the same language I originated, calling it the "home for Apple TV"

To be fair there are some minor differences:

  • their unit has square edges and does not use the same radius corners
  • you have the option to select the color felt to line your remote holder with (I do not have felt)
  • their unit is more expensive (must be the felt)

I'm sad to report that today when anyone makes a new product there is a high degree of probability that it will get knocked off. I have seen this over and over. The product category makes no difference. Software, hardware, accessories, clothing, nothing is immune. Stereotypically you would expect to see this being done by re-producers in Asian countries.

When I speak of copy cats I am explicitly speaking of products that at first glance you can not differentiate from the original. This behavior creates such distrust within ourselves and the buying public at large.

There is another category of products where an existing product is reenvisioned and made it better. Mobile/cellular phones existed before the iPhone. Apple sought to change the way we interact with the our mobile products. From the shape and size to using touch to interact with the device. They got rid of phycisal keyboards, changed the outward appearance and combined services in a phone that had not really existed. This could be considered an extreme an example. Cell phone cases have gone through this as well. Some have taken a standard design and made them different, or better. Withstanding drops better, maybe they are thinner, maybe they have integrated a wallet into the phone case. They are still cases but they are different.

Many of you reading this may feel like this is just another sour grapes post. To some degree it is. I am disappointment at the lack of respect that many creators have for existing products and services and those who actually create them. "Altering" a design slightly to call it original to me is akin to changing the color of the toner in a copy machine. Not only is this insulting but it really begs the question of their professionalism and actual design skill and talent. If your only ability is to tweak someone elses hard work there are plenty of companies who will hire you as an employee. If you feel good about "creating" this type of work and calling it your own then I hope you can sleep well at night.

This mindset is rampant and I would really like to see designers and manufacturers raise their game, in all industries, instead of racing to the bottom.

Featured on thefancy.com !

I have occaisonally mentioned here that I created the blocs for AppleTV. but I have tried to just let people find them organically and not really push them.  If you read the about us page of the blocs site you will see the problems I was trying to solve and see if you have had a similar expereince.

Tonight I was super happy to receive an email today from the company letting me know that blocs were being featured on the home page tonight ! 

If you have any questions you can leave me a comment here or use the contact page on the blocs.tv site

Clean Bathrooms

Today's post from Seth Godin is so simple and yet so true. Seth describes the cleanliness of the bathrooms at Disney World. The people at Disney know that by keeping the bathrooms cleanand making the surroundings a better place they inherently earn trust.

My favorite line in the post:

If you take a lot of time to ask, “how will this pay off,” you’re probably asking the wrong question.

Amen