Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Perfect Gift for Senior Executives - Execution in a Box!

Silly rabbit – execution doesn’t come in a box but if it did many CEOs would sleep better at night. According to a global survey of chief executives by The Conference Board, when asked to rate their greatest concerns from among 94 challenges, the sample of CEOs chose excellence of execution as their top challenge for the second year in a row. http://www.conference-board.org

So why is execution so difficult? Many excellent book have been written on the subject. My favorite is Execution – The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan. Here is another perspective with 3 simple dimensions to think of namely, people, process, and technology. In this first part I’ll cover the people aspect of Why Execution is so hard.

Why Execution is so hard - The People Dimension (part 1 of 3)

In many corporate environments today apathy has set in. Commonplace layoffs and compensation practices haven’t helped to build great company cultures. Where are the $1 dollar a year CEOs? The difference in pay between the top and the bottom of organization is wider than ever. When employees are already “at capacity” due to previous cuts and have absorbed the jobs of those who were let go, then those that remain grow weary of what’s next. Making matter worse, when executives remove themselves from the operational reality then a semi-silent attitude persists around watercoolers and in instant messages, “let mahogany row do it” “They decided on x and then let Mary, Rob, and Bill go, so let them do it themselves”. Warning to leadership everywhere - If you cut deeply and don’t temper your ambitions your staff will temper it for you during the execution phase of your great strategy.

Lack of entrepreneurial thinking
In times of scarcity, entrepreneurial thinking reigns supreme. Entrepreneurs are accustomed to handing tasks beneath and above them and becoming very resourceful. But, yet again, most corporate leaders are not entrepreneurial so the likelihood that they have been developing their people in this vein is unlikely.

Butt toward customer
When organizations are not rooted in customer reality, understanding who ultimately creates demand for their products, then organizational bias’ can creep in and cause each department to imagine who the customers are. Along with this comes the finger pointing and blame game when things don’t go well. Unfortunately, this lack of alignment gives birth to micro strategies as each department crafts their own, sometimes silently. As said in Funky Business, when you have your focus inside the organization you have your butt toward the customer. That is not a great experience for your customers.

Lack of intellectual honesty and authentic dialogue
A company culture that lacks execution probably is absent of intellectually honesty and authentic dialogue. Execution gaps are ignored, corners are cut, and alarming messages are filtered. Pressures within companies to conform work the same whether the culture is one that executes well or one that executes poorly. Homogeneous lemming-like thinking sets in. Rock stars are disillusioned and squelched. Like the Rush song, Subdivisions says,” conform or be cast out.”

Unpopular deeper thinking and healthy discourse are sometimes exactly the bitter pill a company must swallow to make it through challenging times and emerge a more healthy vibrant force. If you are a company leader, ask yourself what pill are you taking and more importantly what are your prescribing.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Excellence in Execution without Excellence in Communications? I Don't Think So!

If the execution of your business strategy requires more than one person then you will need excellence in communications. Here are a couple of things to consider.

Internal Initiatives Require Constant Communication

The CEO of a Major Distributor and a previous mentor of mine told me that whenever he was embarking on major change in his organization he knew he needed to communicate 50 times before people would fully embrace it. I would add that if they are sales people, you might need to communicate 55 times. Think about how many times you either communicate or receive communications at work. Start a counter or print the image above and cross off one "communicate" each time. I suspect your successful initiatives will reach 50 and those that fall short on execution don't measure up on the communicate counter.

Different People Require Different Modes of Communication
Some people love the face to face meeting while other abhor it. Younger workers can readily multitask, texting away on their phones, instant messaging on their computers, all the while working away on that spreadsheet or PowerPoint presentation. They might even look up to acknowledge you when you walk in their cube.

Other people have different communication preferences and habits. One consultant told me that she made people at a client company uncomfortable because she preferred to know who she was working with. She would show up at peoples offices or meet them for hall walks between meetings to put the name to the face. Recipients of her face-to-face meetings found this uncomfortable. They had a youthful highly technical culture that hid behind there computers and lacked emotion. This feeling was and is evident in this company's products today, something my colleague is hoping to change.

Different people have different communication defaults - phone, email, face-to-face, instant messaging, text, or telepathy. Problem is that these defaults are not always constructive for all contexts. For example, if you are having a misunderstanding (probably a miscommunication) with somebody, rather than sending yet another email, perhaps the best thing is to get out of your chair and have a face-to-face meeting. Know your default and change it up a bit from time to time. You will benefit yourself and those around you.

If you have a practical communication tip that helps with execution please comment or send me an email.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Where is the Customer Love?

He loves me, she loves me not. Who are my best customers? My most vocal advocates? Who needs a nudge to move further in the buying process? Why is our campaign delivering lackluster results? Why don’t our customers understand us? I suppose I could have named this post “please don’t lump all of your customers in one bucket”.

Sadly, many B2B and B2C marketers still fall into the trap of poorly segmented communications. Sales, services, and executives can share some blame as well, since they often are involved in communications.

Why is it so hard? One reason is that people in your organization have a bias for who they believe the customer is and how the buying process works. If you are an executive charged with raising capital you might think that the investor is the customer. If you are in the trenches helping somebody through a problem with your product or service then you know they are a real customer as opposed to a prospect. Sales and even some marketing personnel fail to differentiate between suspects, prospects, and customers.

Not having a common view and language exacerbates the problems with sales and marketing alignment and execution. Ultimately the customer suffers, but so does business. Diminished sales, poor loyalty, and price buyers are often the result.

Communications happen at various touchpoints before, during, and after, your customers buy and use your product. Not recognizing this is a prescription for customers churn, poor brand aftertaste, and ultimately a disengaged marketplace. Employees involved in this are forced to spin their wheels becoming disenfranchised, which further degrades the customer experience.

At For Doers, we believe that companies that make the customer experience core to their operation are more successful. Communications is an important lever in improving the customer experience. There are many opportunities for customer delight in communications.

At the very minimum companies should segment customer communications into 3 stages.

The first stage is Exposure. Here you expose suspects to your products and services and turn them into a prospect. Next is the Adoption stage. Getting your prospect through the sales process and consuming your product or service is the goal. The last stage is Retention.

Bain and Company research established that it is 10x more costly to acquire a new customer than retain an existing one. So naturally, you wish to retain customers and expose them to them to new products and services. Advocates are loyal, often will pay more and buy more, provide useful feedback and input on products and services and insulate you from the effectiveness of competitor price promotions. Properly enabled, they also expose and influence likeminded customers. Because of this, it is important to continue to build the relationship and strive for advocacy. This is especially importance in a era where B2C and B2B buyers turn to social networks and online information sources for opinions and counsel before completing a purchase decision.

NetFlix Example of Poorly Segmented Communications
Alaska Airlines Example of a Segmented Communication

Please contact us if you would like an outside assessment and further guidance in improving your customers experience through communications. We have a range of services available.

Share your views and experiences about customer communications. Take the survey and be sure to include your email address if you'd like to see how your answers compare to others. Feel free to share the link with others.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Segmented Customer Communication is Critical to Good Brand Aftertaste - Alaska Airlines Example

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Segmented Customer Communication is Critical to Good Brand Aftertaste - Netflix Example

This is an example of the communications flow over the duration of my relationship with Netflix.

I signed up for Netflix in response to an offer through a social networking game. I was already familiar with the brand and service but was waiting for a good time to “pull the trigger”. Upon signup, Netflix immediately enabled my account so I could create my movie queue. So far so good.

Over the next several months I rented movies and returned them in the neat little prepaid envelope. Convenient and straightforward. Over this same time period I had continued to receive the normal trial offers, which I dismissed as noise. I figured that Netflix would eventually catch up so I didn’t think too negatively about it. At worst I was neutral though I was considering those poor trees.

At some point I received an email that my credit card had expired. I was able to smoothly fix this by clicking through on the email. Great, crisis averted, the movies continued to flow.

Then one day I was really impressed. I received an email stating that Netflix had shipped me my latest movie on a Saturday and they were curious when I received it.

They said they were always looking to improve operations. I clicked on the link in my email and checked the appropriate link indicating that I had received the movie on Monday. I then received an on screen thank you confirmation. This was nicely executed. I felt important. I felt respected. A brand that cares… nice!

The very next day, literally, I received another trial offer to sign up for Netflix. All of the good feelings I had about the brand the day before suddenly evaporated. I now felt like they didn’t care about me or really care about my monthly payment of $15.95. Worse yet, the fine print on the offer said that current and previous members and their households were ineligible for the offer.

At this point I started to think pretty low of these turkeys and felt they didn’t deserve my business. All of this has left a poor brand aftertaste in my mouth. I’m still a customer for now but more receptive than ever to change to the next thing. I’m simply waiting again to pull the trigger.

Hmmm, Redbox is in my neighborhood – maybe I'll check them out next time I’m at the QFC.

So what would I have done differently. Over the duration of my relationship with the Netflix brand I was never enabled as an advocate. But worse they continue to market to me as though I was only learning of their service. Simply segmenting customer communications into stages of Exposure, Adoption, and Retention goes a long way toward improving the communication aspect of the customer experience. In an age where everything and everybody is increasingly connected and budgets are under scrutiny everywhere it is dangerous for a business to not be more thoughtful in their customer communications.

Please contact us if you would like an outside assessment and further guidance in improving your customer communications. We have a range of services available to assess and improve the customer experience.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Purpose, Passion, and Pina Coladas

Ok so now it is the day after. Huh? You know the day after the 40 year anniversary of the historic moon landing by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Imagine the spirit of purpose, passion and cooperation that must have existed among the many men and women that made that vision possible. So here we are 40 years and a little bit after. I think it is worth asking yourself if you are living a purposeful, passion filled life. Are you changing the world? Making it just a little bit better? Charting your own new territory? Riding someones visionary coat tails?

If you are like many people you used google search yesterday and saw the themed moon landing logo. Google didn't exist 40 years ago. You know what... many things we hold near and dear to us today didn't exist 40 years ago either. Not iPods, Xboxes, Prius hybrids, bottled water, "green" diapers, infused vodkas, puke resistant baby clothing, Starbucks and the entire coffee movement, all things online including facebook, Linkedin, twitter, not even cell phones.

Our world is changing. Major automobile manufacturers and banks are going the way of the dinosaurs. Everything is changing and the pace seems to be picking up. So like the capital one commercials say "what's in your wallet", I say to you "what's in your plan." What's your story? What is the next chapter for you? Are you actively writing it? What are you doing to make this place a better place? Like the saying goes it takes a village. Well no matter your role, know that there are plenty of people with adjacent roles out there to help you make your mark in history. Maybe you meet them online, maybe you already work with them. Perhaps you'll meet them poolside having a Pina Colada with a rum floater. Whichever the case, you've got to get out (or online as it may be) to meet them so that you can get on with it. Let the brainshare begin. There's loads to do. For me, well, I'll see you on the moon and maybe poolside.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Remarkable versus just plain Ordinary and Expected

I admire Seth Godin and much of what he says about all things marketing. One thing that he espouses frequently is that your products and services should be remarkable. Many others would agree that to stand out from the crowded space of everything you must be remarkable. Except….

Except when you are dealing with conventional machines of business, distribution, and multi stage distribution where there are some things to pay attention to and get right. Remarkable in these cases simply won’t get the job done.

A remarkable product or service might get you a shot with a large distributor. But unless you are prepared to engage their sales and marketing machines you will be left out cold. For example, given two products in the same category the one that is more likely to get moved by sales people and exposed by the marketing people is the product that is funded through co-marketing programs, sales spiffs, and promotions. An inferior product with the right backing can still win the pennant. The product that might be superior but is underfunded will likely sit on the shelves, become a nuisance that needs to be justified by somebody, somewhere, and eventually returned to the manufacturer.

So, if you make widgets and you are striving to break into or thrive in distribution here are 4 things to consider:

  1. pick on somebody your own size (if you don’t have the $$$’s to fund expensive marketing programs of large distributors then find a smaller distributor with less stringent requirements. You can always move up when you’re ready)
  2. know the game (find out what spiffs and co-marketing dollars are flowing from your competition. Ask about the margin that the distributor is enjoying and above all know how and that you can make them money.)
  3. be creative, but within the context of normal and customary (it is great to be creative and differentiate yourself from your competitors but don’t try to fight a battle where you are changing somebody else’s business model or their job. If it is too complex then things will move too slowly and all will suffer)
  4. do your part to create demand and tell a remarkable story (if everybody is relying on everybody else to market and sell the widgets then the widget will never take flight. Lead the charge on creating demand through traditional and nontraditional means and then tell stories that inspire others to get behind you, one sale at a time)

If you find your dance card full then your probably paying attention to some of the normal and customary practices within your distribution channels. Knowing is half the battle. If you find yourself dancing alone then re-read this post 10 times. Mind map what you know and identify the knowledge or execution gaps that are preventing you from being successful. And remember, the more steps in your distribution model, the more you must adhere to this reality.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

"RockStars" or "Should be Fired" - what would your customers say about your employees?

On a recent flight to Los Angeles I had a near miss. Not a crash or anything like that but a baggage stumble. I was flying to a convention in Las Vegas but had a stop in LA first, just for the day. I didn’t notice until I was on my way to baggage claim that my bag had been checked through to Vegas. Eeeekk, this was not good. I had things in the bag that I needed for my LA visit. My flight wasn’t leaving for another 5 hours so I thought, no problem, I can obviously get my bag before that. I’ll spare you the ensuing details that did eventually reunite me with my bag an hour or so later. What I do want to share are the types of people that I encountered along the way that seemingly should have been able to help or redirect me. Some of these employees I thought should be commended while others I would have like to have fired on the spot, after tagging them with the appropriate labels to warn others.

Label “not my problem”:
The 1st point of Contact at Alaska Airlines whom I label the “not my problem” person.
I flew Alaska Airlines from Seattle to LA so I naturally thought, ok, they checked my bag, surely they can help me. Wrong! The agent at the counter directed me to American Airlines who was servicing the next leg of my flight. Since they did land me in LA as well as my bag I was not deemed to be their problem. Gee – thanks for the help Alaska.

Label “should be fired”:
My next point of contact was the American Airlines person at a kiosk apart from ticketing. It wasn’t clear what this persons job was but they made it clear to me that they were unable to help me. The agent there even pointed to his kiosk and said “see, I don’t even have a phone”. Hmmm, good thing there wasn’t an “emergency”. He pointed me to the supervisors down the way, supposedly wearing grey vests.

I journeyed along looking for a grey vested “supe”. I never did find one. Along the way I poked ahead of the huge lines and even suggested to the nice couple that I “cut” in front of that I wasn’t checking in I simply had a quick question. The nice couple was emphathetic and allow me to move ahead. Phew, now I’m at the counter, I thought. I asked the nice agent at the counter to speak to a supervisor, telling her that her colleague suggested I would need one. She asked me what I needed, then told me that my situation was too complicated for this line and I needed to let her help these people in line. She didn’t help me with my luggage and worse, was not even willing to get me a supervisor. I left in disbelief, with a bad aftertaste forming in my mouth and in my mind. I think the couple there couldn’t believe it either. This agent too should be labeled as “should be fired”.

I then headed for the 1st class check in area for American Airlines figuring if anybody was sensitive to helping people surely it would be the people serving the 1st class crowd.

Label "reluctant helper" and "just get it done":
I was getting pretty good service from an agent until she realized that I wasn’t flying first class. Lucky for me there was another agent next to her overhearing the situation and told her to just reroute my bag. Simply put in a reroute request. The “reluctant helper” typed away at her terminal with the “just get it done” agent stepping in every once in a while.

So, after my bag was rerouted there wasn’t any problem, it simply plopped out at the baggage claim like normal. But, sheez, what a horrible roller coaster of an experience. This got me thinking about the companies that I’ve worked with and for, including my previous software company that I started.

What type of employee are you? Even if you are the CEO, you are still an employee, but which type? And, if you employ others how are you keeping them engaged to make sure your customers are engaged and delighted? What interactions are you having with your customers and what kind of brand aftertaste is it leaving. If your brand were a breath mint would it leave a minty fresh aftertaste or that of dirty socks? The actions of your employees speak louder than any of your corporate words. The North of Expected campaign going on right now by Alaska Airlines is nice. I like its many facets, it is interactive, engaging and integrated across media. However, a North of Expected bag retrieval experience would have had my 1st point of contact working along side me until my situation was resolved. I expected a "RockStar" but received a "not my problem".

What if I were 12 years old or I had a bomb in my bag? Would I still have received trancelike help or would that have shocked them to work with me. I wonder....

Exercise: roundtable with people in your company and discuss scenarios where you empower people to delight customers at the point of experience. Discuss escalation and challenge why it is even needed. Talk about the brand aftertaste your leaving in your customers mouths and minds.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Brand Aftertaste. Minty Fresh Delight or Dirty Socks Despair?

What aftertaste is your brand experience leaving with your customers?

Minty Fresh Delight or Dirty Socks Despair?

Your brand is comprised of every association that your customers make with your company. What they read, what they experience online, what they receive from you in the mail, how they view you on TV, or when they walk into a store.

"Minty Fresh or Dirty Socks?"

What people think about and how they feel
about your brand is relative to the other associations they make with competing brands – these brands don’t even have to be in the same category. For example, like it or not, if your company sells goods online, your online commerce experience is measured against what your customers have previously experienced on Amazon and other large refined commerce sites. Ignore some details that make the online shopping experience easy and your customers are sure to notice it. They might still buy from you but ooh, the aftertaste your brand is leaving.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Thinking Big and backing it up with Excellence in Execution

If you lead an organization or team, large or small, ask yourself these questions.
1) What is my BIG idea?
2) To Whom does it matter?
3) Have I backed up the vision with a credible execution path?
4) Are people following me?
5) How will we know when we are there?

Read these excerpts from Kennedy's transformative speech that continues to impact our lives today and then create your own pocket stump speech. Whether you actually use the speech or not isn't important. The thinking and discovery process is sure to help you clarify your purpose and passion, and then how that is projected on the people you expect to follow you. This will impact the stories you tell to all of your stakeholders.

See related post on Faith Based Execution

Excerpts from Kennedy’s “Man on the Moon” speech.

“I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.” …. “First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.” ….

“Let it be clear-and this is a judgment which the Members of the Congress must finally make-let if be clear that I am asking the Congress and the country to accept a firm commitment to a new course of action-a course which will last for many years and carry very heavy costs: 531 million dollars in fiscal '62 -- an estimated seven to nine billion dollars additional over the next five years. If we are to go only half way, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgment it would be better not to go at all.”

“This decision demands a major national commitment of scientific and technical manpower, materiel and facilities, and the possibility of their diversion from other important activities where they are already thinly spread. It means a degree of dedication, organization and discipline which have not always characterized our research and development efforts. It means we cannot afford undue work stoppages, inflated costs of material or talent, wasteful interagency rivalries, or a high turnover of key personnel.

New objectives and new money cannot solve these problems. They could in fact, aggravate them further-unless every scientist, every engineer, every serviceman, every technician, contractor, and civil servant gives his personal pledge that this nation will move forward, with the full speed of freedom, in the exciting adventure of space. “

Is YourCo relying on Magic Genies?

Dream it and it will surely happen, somehow!

Ok, I’ve mentioned it a few times so it is about time I blog about it --> Faith Based Execution.
Simply put, faith based execution is execution that is not grounded in reality. It relies on supernatural forces and things unseen. If I were to say that I’m going to the moon but I have no propulsion vehicle or ticket with a space service then it isn’t likely to happen. Simply put, saying it’s so doesn’t make it SO! Or, words alone are not an investment.

Faith Based Execution is not new. For eternity, people across the planet have used words and actions to inspire others to get behind them in pursuit of the next big thing, whether that was a new religion, persecution of a people, building a canal or a new product, or the formation of a new government. Whether or not we value the outcomes of various historical initiatives one thing is clear, the ones that actually happened were indeed rooted in reality. That is how they happened. They didn’t rely solely on powerful, persuasive orators and other magical forces.

John F. Kennedy rallied people around the idea of going to the moon in his “man on the moon” speech, May 25, 1961. On July 20, 1969, almost six years after JFK's death, Project Apollo's goal was finally realized when men landed on the Moon. It was Excellence in Execution, not Faith Based Execution. [for relevant excerpts please visit the Kennedy's "Man on the Moon" Speech post]

From Wikipedia…[ “At the time of Kennedy's speech, only one American had flown in space — less than a month earlier — and NASA had not yet sent a man into orbit. Even some NASA employees doubted whether Kennedy's ambitious goal could be met.[14]
Answering President Kennedy's challenge and landing men on the moon by the end of 1969 required the most sudden burst of technological creativity, and the largest commitment of resources ($25 billion), ever made by any nation in peacetime. At its peak, the Apollo program employed 400,000 people and required the support of over 20,000 industrial firms and universities.[15] ]

Many current and contemporary examples of Excellence in Execution abound but I use the “Man on the Moon” example and the subsequent Apollo program because of its historical significance and it continued impact on science and engineering. It also epitomizes “Thinking Big”. Kennedy backed up his visionary speech with well placed bets and then marshaled the resources of an entire nation. It is interesting to think about the fact that this was all accomplished in an early state of computing and communications. This was BG, BM (the last one doesn’t sound so good), meaning before Google and before Microsoft. In fact, Michael Dell was a whopping 4 years old when Neil Alden Armstrong and Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr. landed on the moon.

Think of the possibilities when you combine Big Thinking along with the state of communications and computing today AND then Excellence in Execution. Perhaps a well coordinated Open Innovation initiative that marshaled the nation’s resources could cure Cancer, solve the climate crisis, and other vexing problems.

So why do I give this “Faith Based Execution” practice a name and call attention to it in the 21st century? Easy, because the costs associated with Faith Based Execution are burdensome, wasteful, and distracting. Faith Based Execution in companies burns out employees at all levels, diminishes the quality of products and services offered and subsequently the experiences of customers. It also burns precious capital, and most importantly prevents us from Thinking of and Solving BIG problems that matter. Think of less crap in landfills and more meaningful products, services, and experiences. Think of BIG, no BIGGER problems to solve.

This is more important than ever, given the state of the global synchronized recession, climate crisis and security crisis. And with organizations running leaner than ever we collectively need to be grounded in reality based execution. If you go from 300 employees to 50, should you have the same blind faith that things will get done at the same pace and quality? Of course not, unless your 50 are Magic Genies. But, last I checked that would only give you a combined total of 150 wishes granted. You might still need to temper your ambitions.

Obvious lagging indicators for Faith Based Execution is things don’t get done at all or on time or at an acceptable quality level. But, there is a leading indicator as well. I call it the Nearest Neighbor Phenomena. It turns out in resource constrained environments people like to look to their neighbors as an additional resource that might be able to get stuff done. After all, if I am at capacity then why not tap my neighbor. Problem is, everybody is at capacity, including your neighbor. And, if your ask isn’t one of your top priorities then it is hard to imagine why is should be #1 for your neighbor. Record the magnitude and frequency of Nearest Neighbor requests and you have a leading indicator that lets you know your strategy is going down the path of Faith Based Execution.

Other ways to ferret out Faith Based Execution includes creating an Execution Audit that identifies execution gaps. Then you have some choices, you can decide to accept those gaps, leverage outside resources that can benefit by closing them, or prioritize to close the gaps. But above all, please don’t have the blind faith that these execution gaps will be closed by magical forces not on the payroll. Thinking magic is Faith Based Execution and it is sure to disappoint stakeholders and ultimately, yourself.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A brilliant example of “Sensors in the Ground”

Mafia Wars from Zynga Games

This is a brilliant example of using Sensors in the Ground to increase customer delight . What is the result you ask. Duh! More loyal addicted fans and revenue for Facebook. I’m not certain what the business deal is between Zynga and Facebook but I’d guess there is a revenue share in place. If this is the case, both companies win.

Unlike my recent CrackBerry post where I chided Sprint and RIM for a lack of sensors and meaningful experience, this Zynga example positively impresses me.

Here is why I am so impressed:

#1 Zynga asks players for feedback right in the product. The Sensor in the Ground is established, visible but not obtrusive. You can choose to give feedback or simply ignore it. I suppose many do ignore it but in the recent bout of feedback 12,858 people chimed in on what should be done to improve the game.

Kudos – Zynga. Kudos.

#2 Zynga not only listens, they appear to have a systematic and agile development process by which to prioritize and put in place feedback received from game players. And, they do this in a reasonable period of time. I’m sure their development path is rife with ideas for the short run as well as the long run, but they deliver results along the way. I notice this as a game player. I believe others do too.

#3 Then, once changes are made, Zynga communicates to players to let them know of the changes. This “Game News!” update is prevalent on the Home page of the game. This isn’t a page to be skipped by players since "Limited Edition Loot" and "Player Updates" are listed here as well. Again, brilliant architecture and experience delivery Zynga.

For this experience I rate Zynga:
Sensors in the Ground =
a whopping 10
Brand Perception =
I really feel that Zynga cares about me, my Mafia Family, and all of the competing families. They are sincere in their aim to be the #1 social gaming company on the web.

Learn more about Zynga

Now if only I can get Zynga to cross train those folks at Sprint and RIM!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

CrapBerry – When your CrackBerry takes a Dump!

Ok, so I’m at CTIA Wireless in Las Vegas and using my Sprint BlackBerry 8830 to get me around, check email, make calls, visit websites, etc. At some point I receive an on screen error message (shown above) which really caused me great angst. If Sprint had Sensors in the Ground to detect this they would know that I’m aiming to add myself to their churn list and go G1 with TMobile or iPhone with ATT. Trouble is they’ll only know this after I’m gone.

So, let’s examine the message that I received on screen.

First, the "HTTP Error 413: Request Entity Too Large." Oh, the dreaded 413 error. Your kidding , right? Ok, thanks, Sprint or RIM or whoever. I really don’t care who is to blame here. I have a reasonable expectation that my $400, 2 year contract, $150/month device will display a web page when I request it. And, if there is a problem, I’d like to be able to make some sense of the error message that I receive and probably more importantly be tipped off that the company that provided me the message knows there is a problem and they are doing something about it. For an example of a company that gets this part right see my related post on zynga, the makers of online games for Facebook and MySpace, Bebo, Friendster, and Hi5. This company “gets it” so I’m happy to give them praise.

And now for the ridiculous “The page you requested could not be loaded. Please try loading a different page” message. Are you serious? Come on, load another page? Really? This is much like making reservations for a restaurant, showing up on time and then being told that you have to go to the joint next door for your meal. This is crazy. Techno people – PLEASE, these are solvable problems. Please put your customer centric hats on, walk in the customers shoes and address these poor experiences.

The last part of the message was an option to choose between accepting "OK" or "Details." Honestly, I didn’t have the patience to do anything other than turn off my device and try again. Some Redmond based company schooled us well to believe that cycling the power on our devices is sure to fix most problems.

I imagine a different world where Sprint (and maybe RIM) has sensors in the ground that tell them that I had a bad page load experience. Perhaps they have an invisible sensor that captures this error over all of their networked users. If that is the case they ought to communicate the fixes.

"Argh, paralyzed in place by my DumbSmartphone."

Oh wait, perhaps that is why I received an hourglass for nearly 15 minutes while I stood on the gi-normous show floor attempting to check my calendar notes for the location of my next meeting. Argh, paralyzed in place by my DumbSmartphone. As the old Virginia Slims Ad used to say, “We have a long way to go baby.”

For this experience I rate each company for Sensors in the Ground and Brand Perception:
Sensors in the Ground: neither company appears to have any Sensors in the Ground to capture these problems as they occur. Score = 0, goose egg, nada, zip, zero.

My Brand Perception of RIM: I think they don’t care about my experience. They appear to insulate themselves from any responsibility given that my customer relationship is with my carrier, Sprint.

My Brand Perception of Sprint: I think they don’t care and I have no confidence that they will solve this problem in my customer lifetime. I will defect to another carrier and device when my contract is up.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Chronicle of Customer Experience – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Where is the Customer delight?
Where are the Sensors in the Ground?
Which companies appear to care about their brand?

Recently, I traveled from Seattle to Las Vegas for CTIA Wireless. Along the nearly week long trip I played customer to many company’s products and services. Not only did I have many different types of customer experiences, those experiences varied wildly in quality. Here is a brief summary of my experiences though I’ll embellish on each in future posts including how these companies could have easily put sensors in the ground to improve the experience.

My experiences included parking in an off airport lot and riding a shuttle to the airport. At the airport I checked in, checked my bag, navigated security and made it to my gate. I boarded the Alaska Airlines flight, had an in-flight experience that included the purchase of drinks and a snack pack using my Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card.

Upon landing I picked up my bag from baggage claim, stood in a lengthy line for a cab, while trying to shortcut the line by sharing. Unable to locate a fellow traveler heading to Harrahs or nearby I occupied the cab alone, empty seats around me, and headed off to Harrahs, my hotel casino conveniently located near the monorail and the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Over the course of the next week I ate meals in and out of the convention center, ordered room service, finished reading Tribes by Seth Godin, met with different individuals and companies, attended educational sessions, listened to speakers present ideas and share opinions in panels. I attempted to use my BlackBerry to navigate the show floor, take notes, make calls and reservations, surf the web, and stay connected to my peeps back home. With the winding down of each evening I returned to Harrahs, plugged into my social network to reconnect, communicate and play online games.

Nearly a week later I checked out of Harrahs, headed to the airport, then returned home to Seattle. Along the way there were some very striking customer experiences, some good, some bad, and some ugly. I also had some insights as to how these experiences could have been more delightful for me and fellow customers. We are in an age where customer delight and brand perception should absolutely matter, given the sad financial affairs of many companies and the heightened competition. Truth is, all of the insights to creating more delightful customer experiences that I had are achievable given the vast amount of talent out there. Companies that are “at capacity” and cannot identify and solve the correct problems to increase customer delight, need only crowdsource to tap into external talent that is willing and able to share feedback and implement relevant and needed solutions.

I'll follow this post with other posts depicting my customer experiences and brand perceptions with specific companies and products. I’ll also note whether or not the company had “Sensors in the Ground” to capture any feedback about my customer experience.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A bit of Guidance for those left behind, after the cut, RIF, layoff, or whatever YourCo is calling it these days

Reality is when executives make decisions over which divisions to close, managers to shed, or what % of headcount to reduce they almost always do so with poor information. Worse yet, on the brink of making tough soon to be unpopular decisions, hatchet men tend to insulate themselves from those who can serve to better inform the decisions to be made. Why is this the case? Because in these times of business decay and financial erosion, decisions are purely financial and are made in the spirit of surviving, not thriving. The people that can best inform the go forward strategy might be expensive and may be targets in a downturn. And, because the decisions to cut are not grounded in execution reality, the information from the informed execution trenches is of little use compared to the simple need to obtain labor cost information.

Ok, its done. YourCo has cut deep, perhaps too deep. What do you do to remedy the situation and continue to survive and be relevant?

It doesn’t matter if you sit at the top, middle or bottom, in order for YourCo to credibly execute you have to execute collectively from “one view of the truth.” This “one view” needs to rationalize the lofty ambitions of the few with the actual organizational ability to execute of the many. After a deep cut the ability to execute is impaired by the resource reduction, but also by resource ineffectiveness. Now is the time that most employees act stunned, waiting for the other shoe to fall, are unable to navigate ambiguity, and even seek out their next moves for fear of imminent job loss. At risk is the continuing contribution of the passionate performers as they become mere worker bees taking a wait and see attitude.

If YourCo has let go of 25% of its work force it is unlikely that you will still be able to expose, convert, and retain customers at the same levels of performance that you previously had. But this doesn’t mean that people at the top won’t aspire to have their “teams” perform at the previous levels. We’ll save “Faith Based Execution” for another blog post.

It is critical that YourCo retains enough individual and organizational capacity to be creative, continue to innovate, and identify and solve the most relevant problems.

“The brook would lose its song if we removed the rocks.” Wallace Stegner

Get everyone focused externally. Hopefully on something extremely relevant like, say your customers. Without them you are not relevant.

Here are 7 additional survival tips.

  1. Protect current revenue with your top customers by delighting them flawlessly and grow revenue in your non-top customers by differentiating yourself from competitors. Your competitors who may have previously had the lion share of the business may have become less effective or even gone away entirely
  2. Assess your capabilities, prioritize, and organize to execute (Perform an Execution Audit or better yet, have an outside consultant do this. Chances are you can not do this effectively, pre or post cut.)
  3. Identify execution gaps – accept them or credibly close them.
  4. Don’t lose your humanity and above all don’t lose your ability to sing.
  5. Renew customer and employee incentives
  6. Be authentic.
  7. Above all, have a sense of humor. There is enough tension in the workplace and economy. Smile, blow off steam and have a good time. If you survive you'll remember this time as the tough good old days that you worked through. And, if you don’t…. well, you’ll have had a more enjoyable time in the process. You’ll likely work with some of your colleagues and new formed friends in another capacity and context. Life is long, enjoy the ride.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

My computer has to go to the bathroom... AGAIN.

“Its like potty training for my computer”

Ok, we’ve all been there. Spicy nachos, hot wings, melon, bad apple pie, summer warmed potato salad, 4 day sushi, etc. Pick your poison. Chances are something on this list has made you ill at some point, forcing you to hunker down over the porcelain in one way or the other.

But here is what I don’t understand. Why is my computer getting sick? I don’t think that I’m feeding it bad food. I treat its systems kindly. My IT group automatically and periodically pushes all sanctioned updates to my computer. And, according to my enterprise anti-virus software my computer doesn’t have any tape worms or parasites.

So why it is today after using my computer for a few days without turning it off I have to shut it down and start anew. I am not receiving a message to do this but as a savvy computer user with a few battle scars I realize that the reboot will purge the pipes and gets things flowing smoothly again.

Here is my real angst with this scenario that happens way too often. At this moment, spread across two monitors, I have the following open on my computer.
20 Word documents
2 PowerPoint presentations
5 Excel documents
1 FreeMind mind map
6 emails (originally more but I started closing them before I started writing this rant)

I think this is typically of high capacity professionals that really do use their computers as the productivity and communication vehicles they purport to be. Why must I close all of these items? Why is this acceptable? This really is a horrible customer experience.

Imagine a construction site that has to be rebooted during different phases of construction. What a ridiculous thought. Want to change the channel on your television. Well sucker, we’re sorry. You’ve had your TV on for several hours and you have surfed over 100 channels. It is now time to reboot your TV. Never mind that your show is about to start. Again this would be ridiculous. Why would we stand for this?

I invite software and computer architects like Ray Ozzie, of Microsoft or others to comment on the state of the “instant on” and “always on” personal or business computer. If this exists somewhere, and some knowledgeable reader knows something I don’t, by all means please pass the bread.

Here are 3 simple design principles to consider when designing future computing experiences.

  1. Ease into it.
  2. Stop starting everything at one time upon boot up. Ease into it. Give me choices. Learn from what I have been doing recently. I don’t give a damn that some program added itself to the start menu and now appears as an icon in my system tray. If I haven’t used that program for months or years, don’t waste my valuable computing cycles starting it up. Boot up time is TOO long. Learn from TiVo. They do a decent job. Better yet, learn from humans just waking. They ease into the morning and their day.

  3. Clean while you go.
  4. Learn from nature. Adult human beings take care of system needs by going to the bathroom periodically. They tend to do this at times convenient to them and in proximity to proper facilities. If my computer is sitting idle because I am getting an espresso (this is really about to happen), then that might be a good time for a mini computer bathroom break. Think of it as potty training for computers.

  5. Preserve history.
  6. If you are going to take my system down directly go a step further than allowing me to restore the open office applications that you crashed. How about the 20 mails I was going to respond to that I culled from the list of thousand of mails over the course of the last several days all residing in my inbox. Its simply is too painful to resurrect the path of finding these emails. This means lost opportunity and more angst. How about preserving my desktop and all of its applications and files much the same as if I walked away from a project in my kitchen, garden, or garage. When I return, voilla, it is still there just the way I left it. No missing spatulas, misplaced fountains, or electrical outlets void of power. If you have to send my computer to the bathroom, don’t hide my stuff and make me look for it upon return. If you don’t restore order for me, at least make me a useable map. As a human, I remember stuff. You’re a computer, you should too.

Most of us don’t live tidy little lives where we power up the computer in the morning, work away our day and then toward the end of the day neatly closing our applications, storing each of them in tidy purpose built compartments, just prior to shutting down for the restful period to follow. The real world is much more complicated than that and it is about time the computing world caught up to reflect that reality. I’m hoping that this article at least spurs some discussion in computer and software architecture circles of design. We need easier, more relevant computing experiences that enrich our lives and give us more time in an already time impoverished world. Observe some humans at and away from the computer and you might have some things worth mimicking, but hold the spicy nachos and hot wings. Happy designing…

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Your Company has Cancer, now what?

Now is the time to KISS.

No matter where you turn it seems that every week, ok every day, there is another report of companies shedding jobs while CEOs, CFOs, and other leadership in the public and private sectors are giving up their posts. These are turbulent times, no doubt. Chances are, you or somebody you know, has been affected by the current macroeconomic environment. Many smaller companies don’t even report their reduction in force, layoffs, or whatever euphemism one wishes to use. Contractors and vendors are reduced or eliminated entirely. And if that were not enough, many projects are on ice or have been canceled all together. There isn’t necessarily even a distinction between high value and low value projects. We are in a state of shock.

It seems to me there is a parallel to be drawn between being diagnosed with a fatal disease and what is going on inside of companies today. For those of us who have been touched by a terminal illness directly or indirectly you understand that when it happens you are ill prepared. Of course illness and disease happens but we go about living our lives in a state of denial, thinking that those things apply mostly to others. We don’t like to talk about them. So, it is no surprise that we are ill prepared when we get the routine physical that reveals bad stuff, or when a family member surprises us with “news”.

As I sat next to my mother-in-law in the last stages of her fatal brain cancer, I found myself wondering what was worth talking about. My next trip (that she could not go on)? How great the weather was outside(that she could not see from her hospice bed)? Etc. We mostly enjoyed the silence and held hands, the one hand of hers that still had life in it.

Our institutions fail to prepare us in a meaningful way to deal with things of death and dying. Not really their fault. Many of us would not be receptive to messages of death and dying (let alone training) if we heard it until we had the full context and reality. It is of sorts, a forced reality. With my mother-in-law brain cancer experience, our tight knit family prepared each other (in real time) through iterative dialogue with each other. It was far from perfect but most of us actively engaged in the conversation and I think it made for better quality time and coping along the journey.

The business environment is far from being a tight knit family but the challenges remain the same. Poor preparation, inadequate knowledge, and a dying process that progresses in spite of your deliberation, indifference, and denial. Leadership eventually grips reality (sometime too late) and prescribes medications and treatment. Like a patient with a terminal disease these company prescribed treatments and medications may or may not have an effect in the short term and certainly may not stimulate a dying patient to life. There may also be dangerous side effects to current programs, initiatives, personnel, partners, customers, etc.

Leadership in companies should tread carefully in this environment and seek out or be receptive to outside counsel on matters of death and company survival. As it turns out the people inside the company are sometime best at digging their own grave, consoling each other along a grisly downward descent. They often resort to covering their own butts and are reluctant to be the voice of reason that may be unpopular with the majority or CEO. After all it isn’t a time to make yourself a target. This is a problem and can create suboptimal results.

In my next post I’ll introduce the KISS principal for turbulent times. In short it is Kill, Ice, Sell, Support. More on that later.

If you are part of a leadership team facing difficult decisions and need a external impartial sounding board, shoot me an email. My coffee of choice is a double-tall mocha, ½ the chocolate, no whip.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Is your product or service on a path to irrelevance?

Increase Relevance by adopting agile methods

Situation: You are developing a product based on a limited understanding of your market. You are factoring in technology, supply chain, resource, and other constraints. Time marches on. The macro environment changes. Competitors announce. Prospective customers and partners you “owned” announce affiliations with competitors. You get nearer and nearer product launch. Some of the previous constraints are lifted. Your resource picture changes. People come and go. The ecosystem continues to evolve. Technology matures. And so on.

Are you even in tune with changes? Have you adjusted your initial product definition knowing that all things “outside” have changed? Chances are if you are like most organizations developing products and services the answer to these questions is a resounding NO. You’re still stuck in a historical internal view. Your market or customer requirements document is unchanged, assuming you had one in the first place. You are simply moving too fast but now quite possibly on the wrong thing.

What you need in order to delight customers and remain competitive is an adaptive development process that captures outside information and neatly factors it into your product development roadmap and business priorities. It is okay that you don’t forever delay your product launch because of feature creep. It is NOT okay that you ignore information that is presented to you at inconvenient times because your team is too “heads down” to focus on the future. Smart individuals and companies balance “now for now” with “now for tomorrow”. The market place, like nature can be brutal if you ignore reality. As Craig Mundie, Chief Research and Strategy Officer for Microsoft contends, “…If you stay static, the world will essentially creep up around you. That is sort of a law of nature.”

“…If you stay static, the world will essentially creep up around you. That is sort of a law of nature.”

So ask yourself and your organization a few questions.
  1. How are you capturing information outside of your organization?
  2. What method do you use to factor this information into your business priorities and development path?
  3. Are you ignoring reality seeking the comforts of a more simple view of the world?
  4. How are you using outside information to make more informed decisions inside?
  5. Does your product development team have any dialogue related to adaptive or agile development methods?
  6. Are you business leaders part of the discussion or do they simply trust the development team to deliver magic and delight customers.
  7. Do you have and do you pay attention to any feedback loops built into your existing products? See related post on Sensors in the Ground.
Opinions vary on whether software creates the magic behind hardware or if hardware rules. Still others opine it is all about service. In reality, customers care about experiences and those experience more and more involve some level of hardware, software, and services. Chances are you company doesn’t excel in all 3 areas. It doesn’t matter. You have to figure out how to create the right experience for you customer in an increasingly complex, and connected world. And when your development initiatives are disconnected from the outside world you are increasingly leaving innovation to chance.