Monday, April 28, 2008

Do They Just Know Their Customers?

There is a combination convenience store/lunch counter in the courtyard near my work. It's a pretty large store, maybe 1.5 times the size of a typical 7-11. In addition to their sandwich counter, they have everything from cereal (a wide variety, including Go Lean for me) to canned veggies, baked goods to fresh fruit. They have an aisle devoted to hygiene/personal care, a huge selection of imported and good chocolates, and, well, pretty much everything else.

In the store, they have three signs that hang from the ceiling to let you know where to find certain products. They are:

  • "Wine"
  • "Chips and Dip"
  • "Ice Cream/Frozen Foods"

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Dear DTV Tivo, Get a Taxonomist

It's extremely necessary for me to watch whatever else anyone else is talking about, trend-watcher that I am. I HAD to see an episode of the F-word .

As an early adopter, I have a legacy DirectTV/Tivo hybrid, which kicked butt for the price point when I bought it. Step by step recording, useful guide, good options, downloaded updates regularly like a miracle (are you listening, Apple?) and let me fast forward through commercials. It even searches by keyword.

I headed over to Tivo's search by title and laboriously typed in "f-word" (it's like texting. I'm old. Not fun.)


But perhaps I can't spell f-word. Yay! DTV Tivo has a list of ways to filter - but wait, I have to spell it first. And what the heck a is a lifestyle show? or Interests? Is space exploration so popular that it needs a category? Where's food? Isn't foodtv more popular than my beloved science channel?

There is an actor list, as well, but you can only put in last name. How do you spell it? Ramsay? Ramsey? Arg.

I finally did find it, after I trucked over the the BBC America site, which has it listed as 'Ramsay's F-word'. Filed under R. For a show that starts with F.

I *know* that DTV collects every kind of data about my watching habits (I'm pretty sure the box is bugged so they can hear what I say about the Office). It's got a (suprisingly bad) suggestion engine.

Does it not look for my searching habits? How will it know what I'm calling things? Would it have been so hard to use a pretty basic CV and set of synonyms to help me find mega-celebrity chefs? Or even had an expanded search on its website?

With the popularity of the Internet, TV has gotten terrified of being too boring, and started a lot of niche channels. (I have a particular weakness for How It's Made) Science, food, travel, lifestyle - it's boggling. (actually, now that I think about it, I'm competing for eyeballs and attention with Tina Fey. I feel smarter and insignificant all a once.)

TV has a become a paradox of choice for me - there's so much that unless I've heard about it somewhere else, I'm not likely to browse my guide. DirectTV is really missing out on opportunities to connect with the internet, and induce me to new shows. Labelling content is cheap, losing advertising revenue is not.

Narration as meta-information

I’ve always had an uneasy relationship with narration as a dramatic device. It always seemed forced or lazy (or, perhaps, condescending); often, the narrator tells you something that could have been more artfully accomplished within the story. It’s rarely actually helpful , and sometimes downright distracting. Scrubs and Grey’s Anatomy are particularly bad this way – does Zach Braff really need to intone “Sometimes, you realize that the people you rely on have problems of their own” for us to get the point?

So, when the video below made the internet rounds, it made me realize part of what is so frustrating about narration: it’s meta-information, and it is so distractingly placed within the dramatic narrative that it actually pulls you away from your natural involvement. That disembodied voice reminds you that you are watching a show, or movie, or whatever. It tells you to pay attention to something besides the story, and worse, it tells you to instead pay attention to what someone (the writer, the character) wants you to think about the story.

Of course, you could just laugh at how strange and oddly sociopathic the characters seem without their voiceover.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Blik: The Saddest Slogan

What's not to love about a company that does something new, allowing people to reimagine their living space as art while still being accessible? That gives opportunity to new artists through a partnership with Threadless? That makes, lets face it, a kickass product?

How about the tagline that accompanied my recent purchase:

Blik. No More Forever.

I understand what they are getting at. Art that you can remove when you are tired of it. Some of it can even be reapplied to new surfaces. But still... "no more, forever." That conjures a very specific image for me, one of the most heart-wrenching speeches ever given:

I want to have time to look for my children
And see how many of them I can find.
Maybe I shall find them among the dead.
Hear me, my chiefs, I am tired.
My heart is sad and sick.
From where the sun now stands

I will fight no more forever.

Some words just make bad slogans.

Update: Maybe they've heard this already. While my print packaging contained the slogan, it doesn't seem to appear on their website. Hey Blik: pay for new printing. Thank you.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Buzz Bites Back: Where Best Buy Failed

Unfortunately, it isn’t all wine and roses in the land of the blue and the yellow. While Best Buy had earned quite a reservoir of goodwill with our appliance purchases (and our subsequent small electronics buys), they managed to do just about everything wrong when I went to buy a car stereo.

Bad Experience part 1: Nobody home
If you’ve never shopped for a car stereo at Best Buy, this is what it feels like: you walk up to a series of walls that have car stereos mounted on them. The prices range from $125-500, and you can see what each unit’s interface looks like with the power off. The prices seem somewhat, but not completely, dependent on things like power, inputs, etc. There is a good deal of random variance.

With nobody nearby to help me, I make the best guess about what I need: a manufacturer I like, my minimum requirements (output, iPod, etc). Then, I proceed to look for the corresponding box among the inventory. But there’s a problem: it’s not there. Actually, that’s a normal problem. My problem is a bit more unusual – none of the options on the wall are there for purchase. The options available for purchase are not on the wall. There is no way to know what the products that I can actually buy cost.

So, fine. I need help. Despite being there for about ten minutes completely alone, none of the helpful people have shown up, so I ask someone from a different department to get someone. They promise to. Another 10 minutes pass, so I ask the same thing from the info/help desk. Finally, someone shows up to explain to me that they have last year’s model up in display, and the current models that you can buy. He helps me find a unit in my range, and tells me that they could set up an installation for me a week away, or I could come by on Sunday morning, which is first-come first-serve. Sunday is good for me.

Bad Experience part 2: How $50 = $180, and adventures in waiting.
Sunday morning. I show up early, and am the second person in line. After the shop opens, the one employee there –let’s call him Trevor-- spends about 45 minutes doing something akin to mis en place. Eventually, he talks to us, has us fill out forms, and gives us our estimate. Me: 3 hours (really?). In the store, my install was advertised as $50. However, here in the grimy world of actual installations, Trevor informs me the price has risen. In addition to the $50 (labor), there are two $20 parts that I will need. iPod “installation” adds a $30 part, and another $20 labor. Incredibly, there was also an $8 “parts fee.” Literally, a charge for buying things from them! I’m still not sure how this all added up to $180, but somehow it did.

Bad Experience part 3: Get it Yourself
But wait. It turns out that they don’t have the iPod cable in stock in the shop. Trevor suggests I check inside the store, but neglects to unlock the door from the shop so I can get it. Grudgingly, and only after I mention that I don’t want to walk the circumference of the building to look in the section of the store that is right on the other side of the door, he lets me through.

Turns out, they don’t have it inside the store either. Trevor suggests I hoof it over to another store in the strip mall to pick it up, and “if they don’t have it, Circuit City will.” After a quick walk to discover that the nearby shop is closed, I was left facing the choice of walking a considerable distance to Circuit City, or going iPod-less (or, trying to disassemble/reassemble the stereo later). With this in mind, as well as the fact that the Best Buy install shop has been open now for well over an hour, and nobody’s car has undergone anything resembling “work,” I decide to ask Trevor for my keys back. Though slightly puzzled, he doesn't seem to mind at all.

So, what can be learned here?
  1. Updates aren't just for websites. Leaving the old stereos on display after the new ones were in stock created a very poor contextual experience, leaving me without even the most basic and critical of purchasing information (price). Additionally, since there was no way to interact with the stereos (as there is for so many of their other products), even mounting them on the wall served little purpose.
  2. Implement changes throughout your service lines. It was painfully clear that automotive stereo was a service line unto itself. If Trevor had heard of Buzz and Carrie, I’d be shocked.
  3. Set proper expectations. I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck, so I was prepared for some addition to the cost of my stereo installation. But a final price that is 350% of the original price is hard to swallow.
  4. Experience doesn’t end at the sale. Nothing says you don’t care about customers like literally telling them to take a hike.
  5. Ownership matters. Trevor didn't own a single part of that experience. It was, like, whatever. In the real world, just as in the web world, if nobody owns the customer experience, it is likely to be a poor one.
  6. Be fair. While the whole experience was unpleasant, the part that really galled me was the $8 “parts fee.” For that small amount of money, they removed any doubt whatsoever that once they made the sale of a stereo, their goal was to see just how much money they could extract from a customer in a vulnerable state. That $8, more than anything else, cost them not just my business but my goodwill – there is no way to attribute that to just one bad employee or off day.

Monday, April 21, 2008

UCD and Employee Empowerment at Best Buy

When Best Buy decided to use personas to drive their entire retail experience, the marketing world gasped in awe. It's pretty impressive, really - take market research and design separate experiences for each group that you serve. Now that I look at it, I see that the three Best Buys near me (one near my work, my house and my mom's house - I'm not so obsessed that I need to go check these things out), I see it in action. There is more Maria and Rico near me (lots of El Salvadorian and Bolivians in my hood - the Best Buy is down the street from Pollo Campero), more Empty Nesters near my mom, and slightly more Buzz and Carrie (urban trendsetters) near my office (lots of new condos and a hipster neighborhood)

You can read all about it in detail, but what I think is impressive is the way I found out. Not from one of my academic geeked-out mailing lists, but from an employee. He told me with pride about how his company is dedicated to serving customers and educating their employees so that they can make decisions to serve employees. All managers are now empowered to layout their stores as they see fit, offer discounts and services within certain guidelines, and are encouraged to ask customers about their experience.

I found all this out when I was buying a floor model high-end washer and dryer. It the manager a long time to sort out all the details, but by the end, he explained a lot of what he was doing was an effort to win the loyalty of people like me: Carrie, the trendsetter who researches, knows what she wants, and will go where ever it takes to get it. He was able to offer me a discount and express installation, even though it's not store policy, knowing my profile and how I was likely to behave.

It worked - Best Buy is still my first stop, even after some missteps. It's going to take a lot for me to stop going there, because they provide an experience that's pleasant more often than not. On some gut level, I feel like the store "gets it."

Here's the bigger morals of the story:

- Don't just use all that data you harvest from your analytics for your website. Expand your practice to all your collateral, your customer service, your service offerings and your outlook. Experience goes across all mediums, and all contacts. Loyalty is won or lost with the little things.

- Teach your employees about your customers, empower them to serve and reward them for making independent decisions. If you could have seen the pride that the appliances manager puts in his bottom line and satisfaction scores, you would immediately run right out and start doing this research. This gentleman was so savvy that he not only knew how to approach me with excellent service, respect and expert knowledge, he also knew enough to tell me that the store was dedicated to preserving this experience. Relinquish control, and get out of the way of the success.

- The people who buy from you are not your only customers. As a manager and a business owner, you have an important group to serve - your employees. Without content, independent, empowered employees, your customers will have a consistently bad experience. Your customers may pay the bills, but you can't serve the customers without your staff. Treat them as well as you would anyone who writes you a check, and you'll never have to worry about another disgruntled phone call.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

"Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff"

Is Harvey Pekar an IA?

I'm crashed out in the living room on Saturday, recovering from 10 crazy days of IA Summit and deadlines. Lovely serendipity! American Splendor is on IFC. I always loved the comics in college, and I'm happily re-falling in love with Paul Giamati as Harvey Pekar and James Urbaniak (also the voice of Dr. Venture) as R. Crumb.

American Splendor has a phenominal narrative approach. There are four points in time, represented by the formats of cinema (the movie set in the 70s with Paul Giamati), documentary (white screen interviews with Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner and others), comic (time passes through shots of comic covers), and animation (the meta-space of Harvey's mind, transitioning into illustration). Now I want to make little videos of all my IA deliverables, using different narrative styles into one long entertaining story. It would be a huge pain to implement, so I supposed I'd have to make ... more documentation...

I'm relating to Harvey Pekar's struggle to communicate the world he envisions, especially since he can't draw but can see what he wants to produce so vividly.

Forty-five minutes in, Harvey has:

- Done ethnographic research - observing his "everyman" at work moving a mattress to record conversations that everyone can relate to

- Assessed a user flow, concluding: "Standing in checkout line is pretty complicated, there's a lot of things you gotta consider." Rings true to me, especially after the last time I had to plot out shopping cart error messaging.

- Explained to stakeholders on why it's important to have good design: "Average is dumb"

- Summarized why it's important to write all the details down: "Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff"

- Got exasperated when his drawings didn't come close to his imagination: "I don't draw, I just write the story"

Can someone PLEASE be my Visio R. Crumb?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Oh Semantic Web, Whereart Thou?

Like everyone else, I'm on Facebook. Because I never got over the pain, I use ComparePeople, so I can find out what everyone really thinks. ComparePeople informs me of my good and past aspects.

most absentee

most fashionable
most reliable

What does this say about modern values? Being absent is good (take it from me, 99% of life really is showing up)? Being reliable is bad? (am I really that much of a stickler?)

The most fashionable thing? It's true. You just told me it was bad because you're all jealous of my green purse.

This makes me incredibly happy

From Slate:

"Anyone who complains about having a Starbucks put in next to you is crazy," he told me. "You want to welcome the manager, give them flowers. It should be the best news that any local coffeehouse ever had."

Ships and Nutshells

I have a fascination with language. Half of my job is communication (isn't half of everyone's job communication?), so I am always thinking about how well language works.

One of my colleagues was explaining our various administrative systems to a new hire. After several minutes of explanation, he wrapped up by saying "that's it in a nutshell."

Now, this just seems like a bad metaphor. Granted, a nutshell is a small container, but just about the only thing you ever find in a nutshell is a nut. What is complicated about a nut? When someone says "that's it in a nutshell," aren't they usually talking about condensing some big idea, or complicated info, into something small?

So here's my idea for a replacement metaphor:

"That's the whole ship in a bottle."

Try it out at your next dinner party.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Comics at the IA Summit

How much do I love the IA Summit? It's like a teensy summer camp for dorks, hyped up on coffee and constantly spinning ideas like a monsoon of smart. I learn stuff I think about all year, and when I'm just about fed up with the whole internet racket, I come back and think some more.

This year, I sat in on a focus group on a book about comics. Kevin Cheng (that OK/Cancel guy) is collaborating with Rosenfeld Media to produce a book about comic strips as a way to explain the internet in a little snapshot.

I took Kevin's workshop a couple of years ago, and I thought comics were the best idea EVER, but I have yet to produce a single UCD comic strip.
  • I am not a representational artist (also known as "I can't draw")
  • My clients have smaller budgets that do not allow me make something legible in the time allotted
  • I wonder if it's just too abstract for anyone to think who isn't a fan of the medium
It made me wonder if we make our clients think way too hard about what should be simple: how their complete content and apps tell a focused story about their company to an engaged audience. The IA experience that I'm interested is like a haiku - easy to think about, but requires an artisan's skill to be masterful. Every can write a nice haiku, though, with a little thought. Like a good experience.

A Good Place to Start

A mobile phone needs a manual in the way that a teacup doesn't.
-Douglas Adams