Thursday, November 19, 2015

Great Form (@AmericanExpress)

I love this email subscription/preferences form from American Express.  When you click "Unsubscribe" in a newsletter, it shows you the item you just changed (not shown here), and then says "While you're here, here's some other subscriptions you can change.")

When you move your mouse over an option, a box appears around the option, a detail link appears to give you more information and the switch itself wiggles to let you know that it's something to interact with.  (Not sure how it works on mobile which lacks mouseover but am too lazy at the moment to test.  I assume that touching anywhere in the space draws the box and offers up the details link.)

(click to enlarge)
I proposed something similar about four years ago at a previous job where we were exploring a potentially confusing and complex series of newsletter choices.  It wasn't 100% the same (mine used red/green and didn't include the words "on" and "off") but it was pretty clear from those who used it, which newsletters you were subscribed to, which ones you weren't.

I demoed my prototype on an iPad so that people could see how subscribers might interact with it on a mobile device.  The iPad was still pretty new but I figured on/off toggles would make their way to the web because it just made sense.  Checkboxes for newsletter subscriptions usually work, but occasionally you'll get some insane website where it's like "check the box to tell us which newsletters you don't want" or some other such nonsense that makes it hard to trust any checkboxes.  But on/off - super simple.  I was shot down.  Two years later when I left, it was still an all-or-nothing subscription system.  In retrospect, I was simply too early.  (Is this an "I told you so?")

Kudos to American Express for bringing granularity (better to be able to turn individual pieces on and off) without complexity (easy to see what's out and learn more about each choice).  The only thing I don't like is that these don't function like a switch - unlike a light switch, these selections don't actually apply until/unless you also click "Save" at the bottom of the page.  I bet a lot of people neglect to do that and don't understand why they're still receiving email.

And for being a bit of validation and encouragement for me.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Recent Reads

Here's what I've been reading recently...

Jennifer Government by Max Barry - One day recently it occurred to me that if I'm still talking about Lexicon (and what the author wrote in the dust cover about librarians) years later (my review), then the author must have written some other stuff and I should be reading it.  So off to the library (website) to download some books to my Kindle.  Jennifer Government exists in a world where the government has been somewhat sidelined by the special interests of major corporations.  Your identity is so wrapped up in your employment that you now take the last name of your employer. So goes the tale of Jennifer Government vs. John Nike, the father of Jennifer's child and a maniacal dastardly marketer who realizes he can make billions off his latest shoes and drive up their price if he orchestrates a mall shooting. He cooly rationalizes the costs, the insurance and any fines if discovered against the profit margins of a shoe that costs nothing to make and sells for thousands due to artificial quantity limits. This turns out to be one of the first forays into a corporate war between two factions rallying behind corporate loyalty programs and between the companies and the U.S. Government culminating in actual literal shots fired (missiles) between the corporations.  The book has great movie potential, but doesn't work well, never quite lifting itself to the level of epic it strives for and the characters are a little disappointing. (Amazon)

Syrup by Max Barry - In the small-world category, Scat finds himself in a game of corporate one-upmanship with his (former) roommate in this interesting book that wants to be a critique of corporate America but seems to live in its own fantasy world. Is this supposed to be fictional commentary? Is this supposed to feel plausible? Is this supposed to make Coke look stupid, or would the book be any different if the author had chosen Pepsi or IHOP?  Is it supposed to be an inside joke about marketing that I only sort of get?  I don't know, but... eh.  I didn't find the characters relatable and the weird format of the book and its foreshadowing didn't remain novel.  I believe this one has, ironically (if you read the book) become a movie. (Amazon)

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline - it's about 30 years into the future and civilization has gone into deep decline.  Well, in real life, that is.  Fortunately, everyone has the OASIS to escape to.  Food is hard to come by, the government has largely failed, everyone is broke.  Except for two companies, that is.  One is the company that runs OASIS.  While it's free to use, there are plenty of ways within the worlds for the company to make money (like teleporting and other means of travel).  The other is a large company that provides internet (and OASIS) access to much of the population.  When the creator of OASIS dies, he leaves behind a challenge: within OASIS, there is a game, nay, a quest. Find the golden egg and receive the entire fortune of the creator. Solve the riddles, complete the challenges and you could come out ahead. Fail and your avatar gets reset and you start over in OASIS with nothing. For years, there's no activity and it's largely believed to be a hoax.  And then there's a breaththrough - and the race is on, pitting a few individuals against the large internet provider who wants to gain control of OASIS so that they can monetize more of it and make even more money for themselves.  Oh, and the creator was a big fan of the 1980s, so all the quests and challenges are a chance for the author to namedrop lots and lots of 80s culture. This had originally been featured in Entertainment Weekly and been on my list for awhile.  It was an interesting read, but not one I'd put on my "you should read this" list.  (Amazon)

In This Rain by S.J. Rozan - This book was interesting but way too long. Knowing nothing about New York City politics, this felt really believable/credible. The main character didn't have a consistent voice. There's tailoring your conversation to your audience and then there's this character - almost a different character with each person they were with, more about the author being creative and clever than about defining and grounding the character, in my opinion. The most frustrating thing was the introduction of someone 62% in that you knew was somehow ultimately going to become central. The new character wasn't believable in their relationships with black and white characters when the rest of the book goes to great lengths to portray a fragile and regretable/lamentable rift between blacks and whites. Her introduction also threw the book into the "the world isn't really this small" territory. It was ok. I wouldn't say "Don't read this!" but I would say, "yeah... a bit long." (Amazon)

Top Secret Twenty-One (Stephanie Plum) by Janet Evanovich - I really like how this series has mellowed over the years.  In the earlier books, characters were more one-note and so much more was over-the-top.  But as the series as progressed, characters have become more fleshed out, events more believable, like the characters (mostly) have become wiser with time. The ending seemed a little rushed and unpredictable, but it was still a good read.  Only one true gross/groan moment (involving Bob the dog) and lots of loud-out-loud situations.  In one aspect it feels like the author has almost painted herself into a corner with one element of the ongoing saga that is Stephanie Plum's life but it's better than the fake drama the situation used to cause.  (Amazon)

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Cake > Pie

The other day I saw something on the internet that was wrong and I had to fix it. The intent is to show that some parts of the cost structure are fixed but some are not.  This was in response to complaints that all of the revenue was going to out-of-state companies.  (Two of the slices are, in fact, handled by out-of-state companies but those companies both have their operations established locally and are employing local in-state employees to run them.)

But it also tried to show that as the toll rises, that means more money going back to the fund that's set aside for further improvements to the area being tolled.

Anyhow, why should you care?  You might not (but thanks for reading down this far), or you might take away from this that if you're trying to use a chart to get your point across, be careful to choose the chart that best tells your story.

The pie chart on the left is 42.86% of the size of the pie chart on the right, but they're presented as equals, meaning that 20 cents on the left looks much larger than 20 cents on the right.

Cakes may make a better comparison in this case:

Most of the layers stay the same.  But as the rate goes up, more goes back into future improvements. Sort of.  The fact that they lump "Enforcement, Transponders and Future Improvements" into a single category is a bit troubling but maybe they'll address that in a future post.

I know, I know.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Quick Hit

Hello, it's been far too long since I posted. I'm pretty sure if you analyzed my posts a majority of them would include the words "far too long since I posted" near the start of them.

So, been keeping busy. Not necessarily always the right stuff, but keeping extremely busy. I've had my full time job and then my quarter-time job. I've been waking up early, getting a lot of stuff done, but neglecting other things like housework lately. Well, until more recently. I've been getting back on track. I've also been trying to get my diet back on track. I keep getting close and then going back to bad habits. I have about a decade of that now. I'm not even going to swear that this time will be different. I mean well. I just stink at follow-through.

I've been sick the past few days. The advantage to working from home, rarely get sick enough to actually have to call in sick, so I just keep working, keep getting paid. It's pretty sweet.

Kids are doing well. I think we're seeing growth and improvements in both of them. Rachel recently got tested and is really high on the math side and basically rang the bell on the reading side, getting classified as 12.9+ which means that her reading level is somewhere above above that of a student who's completed 9 months of their 12th grade year. That is, a high school graduate.

As always, lots more I'd like to say but can't. So then I struggle for what to actually say. Well, I guess it's good that I at least wrote something. I do have a lot of house-type-stuff that I do want to get done tonight, so I should get to it.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Feed Sift (09/18/2015)


ENGADGET.COM -- Ford gets serious with self-driving and 3D printing tech


TWISTEDSIFTER.COM -- How Pixar Artists Made the Cars in ‘Cars’ Do Things Without Hands


WORKSHOP.LIFEHACKER.COM -- What to Avoid When Picking Lumber for Your Woodworking Project


WAITBUTWHY.COM -- How (and Why) SpaceX Will Colonize Mars


SIMPLE.COM -- Project Days at Simple Bank

ExactTargetHack: Perfect Proofs

So if you work a lot in ExactTarget (aka Salesforce Marketing Cloud) you're probably used to making the subject line a variable.  Great for different audiences or serving different languages from the same email.  So your Properties looks something like this with a subject line of "%%=v(@subject)=%%".

I've recently discovered a great little trick that's helped me take it even further - defining the proof as a variable as well.

So just two additional lines...

At the beginning:
set @proof = "whatever"
At the end:
set @proof = concat(@proof, " | " , @subject)

Then, when you use the UI to send a proof (you are using a UI, right?), you just change @subject to @proof.

and you're done.

It's simple, but by making it a consistent part of my process, it's saved me a lot of time and I'm far less likely to send unmarked proofs for review.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Celebrating New Customers

(cross-posted on LinkedIn)

Much has been said about enticing prospective new customers with deals you wouldn't give your existing customers. (The courtship is over, no need to keep wooing.) The unfairness of it all. Fine. No need to revisit that, then.

But I got this in the mail the other day and it made me think about the other side of the deal. The courtship is over. I've said yes. Now what?

Recently jumped to the other side of the local telecommunications duopoly. To hear them tell it, they've changed their ways. They may be one of the most hated companies in one of the most hated fields, but according to them, they've recognized the error of their ways and have been trying to be better.

To their credit, the installation window was short, the installer early (calling ahead first to make sure early was OK), they were friendly, personable and showed no outward signs of annoyance when they realized they had to run a new line from the street when we discovered I had severed the existing line. Same of the different telephone support I worked with in the U.S. and Philippines, personable, friendly, knowledgeable and accommodating. Upsell attempts for additional projects weren't pushing or overbearing.

So I was actually quite pleased to receive an envelope marked "Inside: Something just for you from [brand]." (Yes, it's clear what brand this is, but this isn't a post about this brand, it's a post about what happens after the deal is done.)

What could it be? A thank you post-card showing a bunch of happy employees smiling and waving? Maybe a surprise $10 gift certificate to a local restaurant*? Maybe a discount off of a future bill? A free limited-time upgrade? A little 2016 wall calendar with some nice nature pictures and their logo**? A special customer service number? A survey?

Sadly, it was none of these. Instead, it was a list of additional products I could buy. We had just completed a transaction in which both parties had satisfactorally agreed on the terms: I want this product you offer and am willing to pay the price you have asked. I have endured your upsells during sign-up because you've been pleasant enough and I know that you have to ask. I get it. That's fair. But I was quite clear on what I wanted, and was even willing to give you reasons why your other offerings weren't for me.

But the ink is barely dry and now you're coming at me for more money? I'm not even sure how it was "just for me" unless it didn't include the one item I already purchased, but I didn't get that far, dropping it instead in the recycle bin thinking "same old, same old." Because if you had listened while you were courting, then you would have known not to send that.

What are you doing with your new customers? Your customer always has a choice. Today, they made a great choice and chose you. Affirm that decision and continue the courtship to make sure that they continue to choose you. Surprise, delight, be excellent. Be the company your customers and employees can't stop gushing about.

So, let's think specifically about Xfinity or Comcast (seriously guys, what are you called? I'm so confused.) - can you imagine someone saying "You have Comcast, too? Aren't they awesome!" and high-fiving?

Or Tweeting about being excited to have an appointment scheduled for new service?

Or running out and putting a Comcast bumper sticker on their car?

Or standing in line outside the store to buy the latest router?

You might be thinking "It could never happen in a million years." I don't believe that's true. I believe that if they wanted to, Comcast could be adored by its customers, loved by its employees, admired by its suppliers, contractors and competitors. I believe books could be written about the transformation.

You probably snorted derisively, but if you think about it, you'd probably begrudgingly admit that it is possible, but that you don't believe that the leadership of Comcast would ever bother.

But if it's possible for Comcast, then it's possible for your business. And undoubtedly much easier. So... what are you doing to affirm the great choice your customer has made?

*Pro-tip: Getting your customers to do business with each other is a great retention and word-of-mouth strategy.

** Pro-tip: For our house and home-office, there will always be a use for a small calendar that we can pin to a bulletin board or attach to a magnetic surface.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Review: Losing the Signal

(cross-posted on LinkedIn)
"When a business declines it begins gradually, almost imperceptibly, until so many failures pile up that the unraveling arrives with unnerving speed."   - Losing the Signal
If you've regularly read my reviews, you'll know I enjoy a good biography/genesis story - how something got its start (Hilton, Disney, Starbucks, Amazon, Google) but often my lament is that the book ends before the story does - the companies continue to grow, evolve and innovate and that as I close the book, I'm already aware of enough new things they've done worthy of additional chapters or books.

This was one case where I didn't feel like that.  While Research in Motion, nay, BlackBerry, still exists as a company, I felt that this book served as a post-mortem to what went wrong.  The patient isn't dead, but all hope has been lost. (It's only a matter of time before they're sold for their patents to a company that would have paid much more for them just a few years ago.)

I'd wanted to read this book for some time, but had never gotten to it.  Before a recent business trip I downloaded it to my Kindle and spent a lot of the flights wrapped up in what serves to be a good look at what can go wrong. So horribly, horribly wrong.

In 2000, I had a BlackBerry for work.  It was an oversized pager with a small screen, probably 8 lines.  At 6 am when it woke up, it would start chirping with new emails from the East Coast and when it went to sleep at 11 pm, I'd often wake it up to send one more email.  I could send messages to a phone number and a robotic voice would read the message to the person.  You could call a 1-800 number and someone would take your message and transcribe and it would arrive as an email on my BlackBerry.

I remember one trip up the 5 in Central California where there was something going on at work.  Every time we'd hit a pocket of coverage, it would chirp, my wife would read it to me and then type a reply for me and quickly send before we drove back out of coverage.

I loved my BlackBerry. I was an addict. I left the company and my BlackBerry behind, but continued to hold a soft spot in my heart for them.

At that point, RIM was so far ahead of everyone else, it was their industry to lose.  And that they did. Spectacularly.  And it's tragic.  And also a warning.

This book followed the two founders from their school days, the company's early days, the explosive growth, the misteps, the arrogance, the failure to listen to the marketplace, their customers, their partners. Before too long, it was too entrenched, there was too much to protect and they were willing to break rules and use their weight to protect and advance their cause at the expense of others.  Sadly, the world moved on and it was really at their own expense.

This book is a compelling tale for any organization that forgets its way and looks inward, becomes protective, entrenched and unwilling or able to pivot, to listen to the marketplace or to kill sacred cows.  It's sad, but what's sadder will be lessons that go unlearned by those who should read this but don't.

I would definitely pair this book with Chip Heath and Dan Heath's great book Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard.

Losing the Signal: The Untold Story
Behind the Extraordinary Rise
and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Recent Reading

I started the year doing well, reading lots, or at least listening to audiobooks. And then, well, if you've been following along, there was all of that. Looks like my last book review was a similar quick look back in April The driving stopped, the life got busy, I had a pause in reading and even worse, a pause in blogging.

Here's a bunch of stuff I've read recently. Links are to Amazon.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh - I don't recall requesting this one, but it showed up from the library, my daughter started reading it and then brought it to Lori saying "There's bad words in that." So we figured it was probably one I requested. It's a graphic novel about growing up and other topics and there's funny mixed with not-funny-to-me. I abandoned it pretty quickly.

Crossed by Ally Condie - I liked Matched (Quick Reads) but now they've left the big cities for work camps and beyond. I wasn't able to stay interested and abandoned it.

Prized by Caragh M. O'Brien - I liked first book, Birthmarked (my review), but book two was much harder to get into. Gaia has fled the big city with her baby sister and is rescued by a community that immediately takes her sister from her and puts her into service as a midwife. The community has a lot of strict rules and several large problems, including the fact that very few girls are being born anymore - the community heading for collapse. I followed the book through to the end, but I was disappointed and don't plan to read book 3.

Burning Kingdoms by Lauren DeStefano. I thought the first book, Perfect Ruin (my review) was interesting - a closed civilization living on a floating island rocked by a murder. By the end of the book, they had tunneled out of the bottom and made their way back to earth where they learned that people did still live. I read for quite a while but I just never got into it and finally decided there were other items on my nightstand that I wanted to devote my attention to.

Arclight by Josin McQuein - Lori brought this one home and I grabbed it off her nightstand to read. The premise was really interesting - an enclave surrounded by lights to keep a dangerous enemy at bay. Those elements reminded me of The Passage (my review) and I liked how the civiliation was designed. However, as it unfolded, things were less than satisfying and I think the author wanted a message, but it was muddy and I wasn't sure what side of things they came down on. I don't know if this is a series or not, but I'm not planning to find out.

Rush by Eve Silver. If you end up in a life-ending situation, you might be spared - if you are willing to occasionally go and fight aliens. Instead of dying, your life continues and every so often you're summoned to fight. After the fight, you're returned to your regularly scheduled life with no gap. But, if you die while fighting the aliens, life rewinds back to your original death and you die then. Interested in reading book 2.

The Red Road by Denise Mina. The latest in the Det. Alex Morrow series. I always find these to be fascinating reads. A flawed character, more about her is revealed slowly and sometimes as if against her will. As with the other books, we're given backstory that she isn't and we're along for the ride. In the end, she figures things out and we're not always sure how she does it, especially since sometimes as a reader we think we've figured it out but we really haven't. It's really interesting reading about a character who -- while she doesn't know she's the focus of a book series -- acts as if she doesn't want to be. I almost gave up after the first book (Still Midnight - my review) because I really didn't like the villains and wasn't sure what I thought of the detective herself, but I'm glad I've stuck with it.

Shadowlark - The second in this dystopian series journeys to an underground city. I read it shortly after Tunnels, another book with a civilization underground. Like Tunnels, it felt implausible to be that big. Unfortunately, I found the book to be simplistic and ultimately, predictable. I didn't care for it enough to consider the next book.

Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon - it starts with something rather gruesome and then switches to someone else and then to someone else. A number of chapters in, I did not understand how they they were connected and I didn't care about any of them. It's got four stars on Amazon, but I just couldn't keep going.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Feed Sift (07/24/2015)


SETHGODIN.TYPEPAD.COM -- Why do you do it this way?


ENGADGET.COM -- Google researchers create amazing timelapses from public photos


TWISTEDSIFTER.COM -- Recycled Animation Sequences from Famous Disney Films


ARCHITECTURALDIGEST.COM -- Best Hotel Pools (Slideshow)


COOLORS.CO -- Create Awesome Color Palettes

Using the SQL DELETE function in ExactTarget Queries

The Salesforce Marketing Cloud (aka ExactTarget) offers you the ability to write your own SQL statements to pull together data from multiple Data Extensions (tables) into a single table.  It's really handy and quite powerful in its ability to write complicated JOINS. (It's also great for writing small queries against a Data Extension to update that same data extension - that is, you don't have to do it all in one massive SELECT - instead, you can write lots of little ones, each drawing from a different table if you need to.)

However, everything you want to do has to be done with the SELECT statement depending on where you target the output (to itself, to another table) and the method of write (APPEND, OVERWRITE, UPDATE) allows you to approximate UPDATE and INSERT but there's no native DELETE functionality.

That's probably a way to protect us from ourselves - DELETE Is a pretty dangerous command.

You could always overwrite the data with something you don't want or something that would be ignored by your AmpScript or the mailing engine, but what if you truly want to delete some content within your table?

Here's my quick trick.

Scenario (completely made-up for the purposes of this post):

I have a number of different emails that I want to send my subscribers.

  • Balance Transfer Confirmations
  • Loan Approvals
  • Loan Rejections
  • Statements Available Online

They don't need to instantaneous (they're not a password reset) and usually, there will be a batch. The new records could come from an automated process (some other system drops records on the FTP server) or manual (a personal uploads files to the FTP server).

The business could create new message types (maybe "non-sufficient funds" or something) at any time.  They may have an audience ready to go at the same time they first inform me about the new message.  They need to be able to tell me that they've uploaded a new audience and provide me the design of the email.  (They can't be expected to wait for a new process with new instructions on how to upload and keep track of lots of different methods of uploading.)

I don't want to use an API because it doesn't need to be instantaneous and because I want more visibiility and prefer the reporting of automated sends versus triggered sends.

How to Manage:

I need a pool or queue where new recipients can wait (with their data) until sent.  Once sent, they need to be removed from the queue so that the queue remains lean and there's no risk of double-mailing - it should only contain people not-yet-mailed. (This will also show me if a new message type has been introduced that they didn't tell me about or if a particular message is failing.)

So I have a Data Extension with "Message ID", "Subscriber Key", "Data1", "Data2", "Data3", etc. An automation pours in new records as it receives them on the FTP site (whether placed there by an external process or by a person).


So essentially, I need:

(1) Find new records for a message type in the queue.
(2) Mail those records.
(3) Remove them from the queue.


(1a) Select matching records by message ID
(1b) and copy them into a message-specific table as an overwrite (the table is blanked out so only new records appear in it)
(2) Mail that table (with optional suppression from 3b)
(3a) Remove them from the queue.
(3b) Optionally add them to a suppression (if it's a message they can only receive once ever) or to a historic log (so that I can see what I sent when for compliance purposes)

Everything about this is super-easy except 3a: Remove them from the queue.

Actually, that's easy as well.

Create the Effect of a DELETE function using only SELECT

You'll do this by using two tables.  Copy the records you want to keep from table a to table b and then copy table b back to table a.

Step 1: Create a new data extension.  It should be based on your existing data extension.  If your original DE is "queue" then call it "queue_transit"

Step 2: Create a new query called "queue_reduce_balancexferconf".  It should simply be
select * from queue where messageID<>'balancexferconf'
(where 'balancexferconf' is your messageID)
and it should be set to "OVERWRITE" and target "queue_transit"

Step 3: Create a new query called "queue_update".  It should simply be
select * from queue_transit
and it should be set to OVERWRITE and target "queue"

Step 4: Create a program (or add to your existing program) that runs
- query: queue_reduce_balancexferconf
- query: queue_update

And that's it.  These will run really quickly because your pool will remain small.

You will need a new query for step 2 for each message, but it beats re-creating the intake process (file locations, trigger, import, data extension, documentation, training, meetings, etc.) for each and every message that the business wants to quickly add.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

I Don't Work Here (A Work-Related Post)

(Also posted on LinkedIn)

Well, I'm biting the bullet.  I'm going back to the cable company.  A few years ago, the phone company offered us a better deal on the phone-internet-tv bundle (with the TV being supplied by a well-known satellite TV provider).
And then over time, we began cutting cables.  We dropped satellite in favor of internet TV and then dropped the landline in favor of our cell phones.  
Suddenly, internet from the phone company wasn't a good deal.  No more bundling discounts, no more introductory rate.  And it was failing us as useful, reliable internet, especially uploading (Flickr, FTP for work and outbound wifi calling on our cell phones).
So, the internet company once again looked like the better deal.  I could purchase my own modem, so all I needed them to do was "flip the switch."  Or at least it seemed almost that easy in my mind.
I argued with countless online chat folks, canceled several in-progress orders and finally turned to social media.  I was in regular contact with someone on their Twitter feed who said that they could turn on service for us.  No installation charge, no sending anyone to the house.  They could just flip the switch.  Cool.
And then they went radio silent.  Not sure why.  Possibly lost in a Hootsuite backlog or something.  So I called in to the cable company.
And finally, finally, finally, someone explained why there might be a need to have someone come to the house. A good, solid, reasonable answer I could accept. In most houses, cable outlets are already where people want them.  So when people switch from cable to satellite, the satellite guys will often cut the cable line and splice in their satellite.  So even if the cable company flips the switch, the line is broken somewhere.
Duh. That makes so much sense.
But me, as a customer, didn't think of that. I only saw a company (not well-liked by a majority of its customers) trying to squeeze an extra $50 out of me.
Finally, an answer that made sense.  So they went ahead anyway and tried to see if they could flip the switch. And they scheduled a technician as a backup, just in case it didn't work.
And I'm satisfied with the $50 charge I'll be paying for a technician.  (The line was cut, I attempted to slice it myself but it didn't work as the modem hasn't sprung to life.)
And I'm happier because I feel more informed.
The people in the online chat never bothered to offer up this kind of information. And I'm probably not the only one who's wondered about this.
Is there any parts of your customer service process that have become so second nature to you that you forget that your customers aren't clued in? Is there any place where taking a few more seconds to understand where they're coming from will help you to create a more well-informed, satisfied customer? Are you surveying your customers in a meaningful way where you can find these kinds of gaps and questions and work to address them proactively going forward?
Never get too far from your customer, never stop stepping into your customer's shoes. And don't say tell me "this call may be monitored or recorded for quality or training purposes" is the answer because that's too passive.  That doesn't automatically guarantee growth, improvement and movement towards awesome customer service experiences.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

#upgraded @pandora_radio - Share Email

I love Pandora.  I've been a listener for years.  I'd probably pay for a membership if I weren't scared I'd doom them.  It wasn't too long after I finally subscribed to LAUNCHcast (aka Yahoo! Music) that they closed that offering.

I heard a song the other day that I liked.  Lazy that I am, I just shared it with myself instead of writing it down.  Here's the email I got:

click to enlarge

Yep, that's it. Just some text.  The second line was the text I wrote in.   It could be so much better.

So, unsolicited, I took it upon myself to redesign the email.  Call it free consulting, or just a chance to be creative.

click to enlarge

Features of my revised email:

  • Stronger Pandora branding
  • A chance to connect with the person who sent you the song in the first place (their name is a link to their profile - that also lets you see what Pandora's all about)
  • A clearer delineation between what came from Pandora's servers and what is user-generated-content -- black text in a white box -- helpful if the "friend" spams you or is in some other way abusive
  • More content about the song.  Unfortunately, Pandora's licenses prevent On-Demand streaming, so you can't actually listen to the exact song you've clicked in to, but you can create a station of similar music (and eventually hear it) as well as other activities related to the song. This part of the email is a screen-grab from their existing profile for the song (the other option for sharing is a station) and shows you some of the power in Pandora's genome project and gives you additonal song choices)
  • A more complete footer - information about Pandora to make it more CAN-SPAM compliant as well as additional important options missing from the previous version (the ability to report someone for using Pandora to send spam as well as the ability to block all future sharing if you just really hate music)
To be honest, this is a pretty basic Photoshop edit.  I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about responsive design, but their website and their emails are already designed to look good no matter the screen size, so by leveraging their existing design language for my proposed redesign, it probably would work without too much trouble.  (It's definitely wider than I would do if I were building it from scratch.)

(I was inspired by the person who redesigned the Twitter emails a few years ago - Twitter adopted their designs or took note of their suggestions.  Sadly, I can't find the post now.)

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Tip: Domain Counts within a Data Extension (ET/SFMC)

Here's a quick tip for those who work within the ExactTarget (Salesforce Marketing Cloud) platform.

If you've got a large Data Extension and you want to know the counts by domain, do this:

(1) Create a new Data Extension called "DomainCounts" with two fields:
a. Domain (text, 254 characters, nullable)
b. DomainCount (number, nullable)

(2) Create the following query:

SELECT TOP 100000000 SUBSTRING(e.EmailAddress, (CHARINDEX('@',e.EmailAddress)+1),LEN(e.EmailAddress) - CHARINDEX ('@', e.EmailAddress)) AS Domain, COUNT(*) as DomainCount
FROM [20150702_WidgetSale] e
GROUP BY SUBSTRING(e.EmailAddress, (CHARINDEX('@',e.EmailAddress)+1),LEN(e.EmailAddress) - CHARINDEX ('@', e.EmailAddress))
ORDER by DomainCount DESC

Replace "20150702_WidgetSale" with the name of the Data Extension you want to analyze.  Point the results at "DomainCounts" as Overwrite.

(This assumes that your Data Extension has a field called "EmailAddress".)

Save and run your query.

You will end up with a data extension containing the top 200 domains.  If you export the data extension, you'll have all of the domains.

Kicking Me Out of the Club (A Work-Related Post)

(Also posted on LinkedIn)

Sometimes, you can choose your customers.  You make it clear who your target audience is and most people will clearly understand if they should self-select in, or pass on by.
Sometimes you cast the net pretty wide. You roll out the welcome mat and invite everyone in.  Here's our experience, here's our price, take it or leave it.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. 

But let's say you have a customer in good standing - they haven't purchased in awhile. But they've given you their email address and some other demographic information. They aren't causing problems for customer service, and as far as you know, they were satisfied with their last purchase. (You might even notice that they sent a complimentary Tweet about the experience.)
Why on earth would you do anything to make them think negatively about you and risk future business?

A few years ago for our anniversary, my wife and I stayed at a hotel we'd never stayed at before. It wasn't part of The Official Hotel Chain of the Lamb Family, but it was the right hotel at the right price in the right place for the events we had planned. At the front desk, they encouraged us to sign-up for their membership program and we said "Sure, why not?"  We didn't know what our future plans were, but if you can earn points towards free stuff, we didn't see the harm.  They also moved us 10 floors higher in the hotel and I tweeted out a thanks for that.
Fast-forward almost three years. We haven't had another stay in that hotel chain since. We just don't have opportunity to travel or stay in hotels much, it's mostly just the one time a year. So as we approach our anniversary, I start receiving emails from the hotel chain telling us that they're about to close our account and we'll lose all our points.  (Oh, I can book a stay, buy points or get their credit card if I want to keep my points. And guess which two are links in th email.)


You're going to kick me out?

As near as I can tell, the cost to keep me on file is next to nothing.  The cost to send emails every so often to keep their name top of mind and that's about it.

Instead, I'll probably receive more of these emails over the coming months, seeming more and more frantic and then one day, the points will be gone. And then the next time I go to book a hotel, I'll subconciously rule out the chain that kicked me out of the club.

Look at your business. Do you have any practices that are inadvertently designed to limit future business with fringe customers who aren't a cost burden now but could generate future profit?  Are you doing anything that will cause bad word of mouth? 

Exclusivity, scarcity and deadlines may be great tools to motivate that first sale but sometimes they make lousy retention practices.
You're going to kick me out? Fine. See if I care. I didn't want to be in your stupid club anyhow.  

Sunday, July 05, 2015

A Prayer for Protection

1 Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer!
2 In despair and far from home
I call to you!
Take me to a safe refuge,
3 for you are my protector,
my strong defense against my enemies.
4 Let me live in your sanctuary all my life;
let me find safety under your wings.
5 You have heard my promises, O God,
and you have given me what belongs to those who honor you.
6 Add many years to the king's life;
let him live on and on!
7 May he rule forever in your presence, O God;
protect him with your constant love and faithfulness.
8 So I will always sing praises to you,
as I offer you daily what I have promised.
Psalm 91 (GNTD)

This was the focus of this morning's sermon in church.  It's thought that this was written by David while he was on the run, seeking to keep distance between himself and his son Absalom, lest Absalom kill David or David be forced to kill Absalom.  (Absalom was seeking to dethrone David.) It wasn't the point of the sermon, but it occurred to me that David spent a lot of his life running.

Before it had been King Saul who wished to kill him to prevent him from succeeding him on the throne and now his own son had him on the run.

He actually lived 70 years, ruled for 40 and had 8 wives.  But he also spent a lot of time on the run.  It doesn't seem like it when you just quickly read the Bible, but to think of it playing out in real time, that was a lot of time spent living in caves.

So I guess the point is that sometimes it feels like it's difficult to be hopeful, or that at some point one is too old to reinvent themselves or try something new, but really, on average, people have a lot of live available to them.  Too often trying to live a day at a time, or live short to short goals, you put your head down and forget andwhen you pick it up, you're left wondering where the time has gone.

The intended message, something else entirely, was also good - it was about times when God feels far away or when you're struggling.  Confirming a trust in God, but at the same time, pleading for relief. Recognizing God's provision in terms of refuge and sanctuary (a place of safety) as well as a strong defense (a place from which to attack) and a reminder that He's always with us, no matter how things seem to be going.

It was interesting because it was one of those "warning" type sermons - those reminders that we will face trials and they can strain our faith.  I felt myself sitting there thinking that I've seen enough that my faith can't be shaken.  We've had trials, most of them we've seen the other side.  But what we face now (I was thinking mostly of the continued horrid sleep but I guess could also apply to what we're dealing with with our children, especially Ben) doesn't even seem like a trial.  More of just a dull wearing. Not Jobsian by any stretch, but just a constant dull torture for unknown reasons (especially the sleep part).

So I feel like my response to trials has simply become "Ok, here we go again." or "Boy, this sucks."  I don't mean I have this solid faith where I have no questions or no doubts, but as we load up to head to the ER the fear is gone.  I still struggle mightily and repeatedly with the sins of things I do not want to do and yet do and that which I ought to do but do not do.  But I guess what I have is a confidence that God is with me no matter what.

The pastor also talked about not appreciating things until we didn't have them (like electricity) but this is an area that I've worked on (or has been impressed upon me) over the past decade or so - being grateful before it's gone.  I think it has become a habit and it's definitely a good one to have in your aresenal.

So what I've been focusing on lately is something from a previous sermon, the idea of not just serving, but serving joyfully.  My response is that I could certainly serve more joyfully if I'd be allowed to get a good night's sleep.  I've been a grumpy crank now for way too long and it would be nice to see if that goes away with decent sleep or if there's some other issue I need to address.

I know this has been a bit rambly. But I'll possibly chalk it up to poor sleep.  But I think there are a few truths:

- There's lots of opportunity in life as long as we're looking for it, making it, seizing it.
- We are not promised a life without trials.
- God is always with us and will provide strength and comfort in the trials.
- A life of practiced thankfulness is a much more enjoyable life.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Confused... @allrecipes @parentsmagazine @meredithcorp @cdsglobal

Wow.. this is all kinds of wrong.  Let's talk about all the ways this is messed up.  

First, a note. Usually, when someone screws up, I like to try to use them as an anonymous example of what not to do. In this case, I really can't. My mind is blown by how many ways this is wrong.

First, the mail purports to coming from Allrecipes but the address is If you go, you get a certificate security alert. Proceed anyway and you get a generic "IBM Server" page. Go to and get an error. Go to and get an error. Search for on Google and find out that the general front-facing page is at I know that is for magazines, I've seen it before. But it's still ridiculous to have this set up so poorly that when you search Google it offers suggested searches like " phishing" and " scam" and " legit".  It is legit, it's part of the backend infrastructure of CDS Global but it doesn't go to any great lengths to make anyone confident about that.  (I know it's not intended to be a forward-facing website, but as soon as you put it in an email address, you should be prepared for possible visitors. Please, please be more savvy.)  

Second, the email address it was sent to was the email address I shared with Parents Magazine, not the email address I should have on file with Allrecipes.  (Sloppy data management? Bad de-duping? I am a former Parents Magazine subscriber and I did purchase a gift subscription to Allrecipes for my wife. Usually I only hear from Allrecipes right before the annual renewal.)

Third, there's no mention of Allrecipes in the email itself, instead just a nearly generic reference to Meredith Publishing, a company few would recognize as the umbrella corp for these brands. Looking at their website, I'm apparently the wrong demographic for either magazine. (Holy cow... that is actually an impressive list of holdings.)

Fourth, it gives reference to CDS Global. Looking at what they do, it seems like they should be a behind-the-scenes company.  Especially if they sent the first erroneous email.  As the back office, they should be invisible. They should be one of those companies that if Fast Company wrote an article about would call "One of the biggest companies you've never heard of, CDS Global is a big, but quiet presence in Des Moines, Iowa" or some such. Hopefully this is a rarity for CDS. 

Fifth, "we are truly sorry for having the email in error." You mean you're sorry for having sent the email, yeah?

Sixth, no customer service contact points.  Sure, inbound phone calls, emails or chats cost money, but so does a loss of confidence, especially when it results in a loss of business.  There should be a way here for people to contact Meredith or Allrecipes.

Seventh, there's no reference to what the email was. What if you haven't seen it yet because you started reading with your newest emails?  Or, you might be like me - you didn't actually receive whatever email they are apologizing for.  

I'm at a loss.  I feel bad for whoever made these mistakes (it's probably the same person, or at least the same team), the apology probably went out to a larger audience than the original email and most likely someone's lost their job or at least been transferred off the Meredith account and put on some kind of probation.  Sucks for them, but what about us? What can we learn from this?

First, this is what happens when you rush. Undoubtedly the first error was severe enough to warrant a second email.  But while someone was working on the second email, they were probably also having to deal with phone calls, text messages, IMs, threats and cajoling and trying to cash checks others had written.  Rushing is like driving too fast.  The stress builds and one unexpected bug splatting against the window and you've driven off the cliff. Do not allow yourself to be rushed. If a process takes specific time and concentration, do not allow yourself to be rushed. Let them make all the decisions, promises and sacrifices they want.  When they're satisfied with their decisions, it's time for them to leave you be to do your work. This isn't triage surgery, this isn't even regular surgery. No one's life is on the line. Slow down and let your people do it right.

Second, this is what happens when you don't have an emergency plan in place. Things happen. If you're not prepared for those moments, then when things go sideways, you're not trying to assess, you're trying to keep your head above water. Plan for success, but also prepare for what could go wrong. It will help you to see and navigate around potential pitfalls and if you do hit a patch of ice, your planning will help you to cooly, calmly steer into the slide and come out the other side aces.

Third, clean up your data practices. Ok, this one isn't as generic a piece of advice, but come on, people... when we share our information with you, that's a sacred trust. Stop being careless with it.