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.