Archive for the ‘elsewhere’ Category

slidecast: a house divided

April 30, 2008 4 comments

My slides from Adaptive Path’s Managing Experience [MX ’08] conference are up over at Slideshare.

I’ve realized a couple things over the past year. The big one is that I like to use abstractions to make certain things make sense to myself – and then use them to explain things to others. I also tend to return frequently to my time as a line cook at Aqua here in San Francisco for inspiration. My talk at MX reflected both of these threads.

I took the Glushko and Tabbas paper as a starting point, and discussed service/customer experience design from the perspective of the restauranteur. The needs and capabilities of the front and back of the house must be managed and balanced to provide a complete and compelling experience for diners – something I think everyone struggling with getting front and back stage organizations to cooperate could learn from.

There will be MP3s available at some point, and I’ll link to them when they’re up. For the time being, enjoy the slides. [ed note – image credits are all at the end, Keynote builds all got flattened, and the
typography is Whitney and Archer, both from the inimitable Hoefler & Frere-Jones]

Categories: conferences, work

front and back stage, in service design

April 22, 2008 1 comment

Really quickly, I want to put up a link to the whitepaper I referenced during my MX talk today. Sometime between now and getting back from New Orleans next week, I’ll try to get the slides up on SlideShare, and sort out when the video will be live.

Bridging the “Front Stage” and “Back Stage” in Service System Design
Robert J. Glushko, UC Berkeley
Lindsay Tabas, UC Berkeley

Service management and design has thus far primarily focused on the interactions between employees and customers. This perspective holds that the quality of the “service experience” is determined by the customer during this final “service encounter” that takes place in the “front stage.” This emphasis discounts the contribution of the activities in the “back stage” of the service value chain where materials or information needed by the front stage are processed. However, the vast increase in web-driven consumer self-service applications and other automated services requires new thinking about service design and service quality. It is essential to consider the entire network of services that comprise the back and front stages as complementary parts of a “service system.” We need new concepts and methods in service design that recognize how back stage information and processes can improve the front stage experience. This paper envisions a methodology for designing service systems that synthesizes (front-stage-oriented) user-centered design techniques with (back-stage) methods for designing information-intensive applications.

Categories: bigidea, conferences

where to find me (part 1)

February 21, 2008 3 comments

Dan’s post got me thinking I should write up where I’ll be speaking and attending in the next few months. I’ve been so buried on the Project I Can’t Talk About that my details are still a little hazy. I was actually on the fence about attending the next An Event Apart in New Orleans, and then Brian Oberkirch (who’ll be speaking there) wrote the following:

Need more incentive to come to New Orleans in April? Jasmine, sweet olive, honeysuckle, street car rides down St. Charles to Audubon Park, boiled crawfish at Frankie & Johnny’s, 5 napkin roast beef po boys, Liuzza’s, Mandina’s, Jacques-Imo’s, the Carousel Bar, loa, Pimm’s @ Napoleon House, a gulf coast lingering slow night on the porch at the Columns. Beignets. Streets full of people more colorful than what you got in your town . (Just don’t bet them. They *can* tell you where you got your shoes.) Burgers at Port of Call after you drink too many touristy drinks like hurricanes & hand grenades. Faulkner House books. The Maple Leaf Bar. There’s a million of em, baby, you just got to come on down.

How can I resist a sales pitch like that? Expect to see me there. If you’re attending, tell me you read Second Verse and I’ll buy you a Sazerac.

Categories: conferences, elsewhere

“customer service as culture”

February 4, 2008 2 comments

I’m at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Club, listening to Lane, Amy and Thor kick off the Customer Service is the New Marketing Summit. They’ve invited some pretty great speakers, who are here to share their experience in making peoples lives better by fulfilling their needs. I’m looking forward to hearing from Michael Murphy, Virgin’s Group Brand Manager for Customer Service (I’m a huge fan of Virgin America), and Alex Frankel (who’s book, “Punching In,” I’m currently enjoying immensely). More updates as things get going.


Unveiling the Company-Customer Pact, an open source initiative to improve relationships between consumers and the companies that serve them.

[the wireless at the Golden Gate Club is dog-slow, but still up – updates will be intermittent]

Tony Hsieh is talking about how Zappos made the decision before it became profitable to stop relying on outside manufacturers to satisfy customer orders. At the time, 75% of their revenue was coming from inventory that they had in-stock and shipped themselves, with 25% coming from orders to manufacturers who shipped direct to customers. Ordering from those manufacturers through Zappos, however, had a cost to the customer relationship – inventor numbers could be incorrect, leading to “out of stock” messages that came after an order had been made, as well as delayed and incomplete shipments.

Zappos wound up asking itself, “Do we want to have the most complete selection of shoes, or the best customer service?” In a painful (and risky) decision for a small company, they chose to cut out their manufacturer relationships and the drop-ship revenue in order to maintain control of the customer experience.

An interesting element of Zappos’ internal culture: to help bring along new employees and keep the conversation open and honest, there’s an internal email address “” where any question can be asked. Recent highlights include, “How do vegetarians feel about Animal Cookies?”.

Zappos also believes that it can’t create a standard operating procedure for every kind of customer service scenario, so it focuses on getting the customer service philosophy adopted by all employees. This is how their customer service reps can handle things like customers who call late in the evening to ask for the numbers of local pizza parlors.

I saw Robert Stevens, founder of Geek Squad, on 60 Minutes a while back. Today, his first slide is a photo of Ramen instant noodles. He calls it, “the international symbol for struggle.” He’s giving a background about himself and his company that is mining some of the same territory that he covered with Leslie Stahl during his interview – “technology is power,” and “jocks need the help of nerds.”

“It’s easy to be great at service when you’re a small company.” The risk, Stevens believes, is maintaining that commitment to customers as the company grows, as the true believers who started everything move further away from the front lines. “When you have no money for marketing, everything you do is marketing.” Showing up on time, following through on what you promise, being pleasant, not talking down to anyone – all of these things contribute to the customer experience.

The Geek Squad logo is apparently based on STP’s logo.

Stevens wanted his company’s service cars to be as evocative as the Batmobile. It was a deliberate decision to not put a phone number on the side of his first vehicle.

“Giving people permission to do the right thing.” Robert and Tony have both made the point that it is impossible to plan in advance what front-line employees should do in every situation. In response, organizations that care about customer service give these employees permission to do what’s necessary to satisfy the needs of the customer. If it’s staying on the phone with a customer for an hour, or finding a creative response to a completely odd request, a dedicated employee who wants to help the customer shouldn’t feel that there is anything prohibiting them from doing what it takes to provide the best possible experience.

Regarding the iconic Geek Squad VW Beetle company cars: “The Agents (Geek Squad employees) were asking me, ‘What happens if VW stops making the Beetle?’ and I say, ‘We’ll just buy the factory in Mexico and keep cranking ’em out.”

“Curiosity, drive and ethics” – three employee traits you can’t train for. “I don’t believe you can ever have total control over the customer experience. But you do have control of the employee experience.” One element of this is the Geek Squad logo embossed into the heel of each Agents’ shoes. Muddy footprints might not be the most ideal marketing, but it is meaningful to the employees – every step reinforces the brand.

Panel: “Scaling customer service”, moderated by Marc Hedlund from Wesabe

Heather Champ spoke briefly about the Flickr pro-user uproar when YahooIDs were made mandatory. To manage the discontent, Heather recommended to Stuart that Flickr reimburse those users pro fees. Final outcome? About 33 users took the money, which totaled about $250. Stuart reimbursed Heather later.

“The loneliest user” report: find the users in social networks who are posting content but have not friended anyone, and send them messaging to ensure they’re aware of the social features.

There’s a danger to “deputizing” users in the forums as support staff – in Heather’s view, it creates an unnecessary and unnatural divide among members of the community. Good community self-support can occur without such a system.

Ross Mayfield from Socialtext made some very nice points about growing small groups within organizations that are focused on codifying process and group knowledge, strongly referencing a Socialtext case study from a while back. [note: Socialtext is a former client of my employer, Adaptive Path]

Michael Murphy, Group Brand Manager for Customer Service, Virgin, “Virgin’s Crown Jewel: Customer Service, across 200 Companies and 29 Countries”

The brand values: fun, value for money, quality, innovation, competitive challenge, and brilliant customer service. These values are taken and interpreted by each company for the industry and geography they’re working in. This is about as much guidance as each company gets when it’s setting up. The only thing they cannot do is change the logo.

“Respect our customers/Love our people” Listening is the easiest way to understand their needs. Where does the customer experience begin? In the case of Virgin Atlantic, the understanding was forged that by the time the customer arrived at the ticket gate, customers were already in bad shape just from trying to get to Heathrow. Solution? Send them a car, and deliver them directly to the Virgin club room – the customer never experiences the true hecticness of the airport.

Virgin’s UK Mobile company developed what they call the Acid Test: “If our name was removed from any part of the customer experience, would customers still know it was Virgin Mobile?” Virgin Trains – take over a portion of British Rail and attempted to turn it into a pleasant experience. [ed note: need to follow up with this for Creative Destruction]

Virgin’s Customer Experience Charter: cataloging the “extra mile” moves and quirky gestures that get performed across the Virgin Group’s companies to address customer needs, in the hope of defining the brand by the small pieces that contribute to it. These wound up informing how the customer experience is built in new industries (a la Mobile).

Challenges: (1) the opening loop of customer communication ( in South Africa, “no one in SA makes a consumer decision before consulting HelloPeter”) [ed note: a template for Satisfaction?] (2) Since Virgin isn’t large enough to compete on price, it must constantly market itself as doing something more/different/innovative than its competitors – e.g. donate my phone when I upgrade it. (3) Customer expectations can kill you if you market yourself as a superior customer experience. The personal touch (on services like Virgin America) are the only thing that can ensure that these expectations are met. (4) When the fulfillment is outsourced (via partnership with 3rd parties), how do you ensure the costumer experience? Make sure that costumer and employee satisfaction are contractual bound to certain metrics. (5) When you aren’t bootstrapping all of these businesses yourself, and putting your brand on them after acquisition, how do you reshape the business’ brand perception, and make sure it doesn’t bite into your own? Invest heavily, rebrand the hell out of the “broken” brand, and enforce all of your core values as you would your own startup.

So what’s the answer? “Keep it simple, do what you say, take the leap of faith (do everything you need to, regardless of constraints), keep on checking (metrics, on every part of the customer experience) stay true to your values, and love the locals (find the fit between your core values and the needs of the customers in your geography).”

Categories: conferences

sxsw panel picker

August 20, 2007 Leave a comment

Earlier this summer I described the two panels I proposed for SXSW 2008. The Panel Picker has officially launched, and you can find both of them right here.

Please, check out the descriptions, and if you think they’d appeal to you, vote for ’em (you’ll need an account). I’d love a chance to moderate engaging conversations about either or both topics. Any help you can offer in getting them approved would be greatly appreciated!

Categories: conferences

ambidextrous magazine

July 26, 2007 2 comments

I'm (in) Ambidextrous

Sorry to cross-post, but I know that at least one or two people who come here probably don’t read the Adaptive Path blog.

The article that I wrote for Ambidextrous’ “Food” issue is being published, and they were nice enough to provide me with a PDF of it. Give it a read, let me know what you think.

The process of getting published was certainly a learning experience. I actually wrote the article back in November. I had written twice as many words as they’d asked for (I absolutely need to work on that), and they were nice enough to come back with some great edits and a request to increase the word count beyond the initial proposal. Even better, they asked me to get their photographer Mike into the kitchen at Aqua so he could take some shots to accompany the article.

I like the way the finished piece looks – lots of people had a hand in getting it to this point, and I appreciate all the help I got (thank you to Evany, Amanda, Lora and Mike!). I’m hoping the article serves to start a conversation, if nothing else.

Categories: elsewhere, food, influences, writing

advertising has a future

June 20, 2007 5 comments

Of that much I’m certain. It’s the particulars I’m hazy on.

My panel today at Supernova was interesting, if overlong – I tend to think that 90 minutes is a stretch. Still, Deborah Schultz did a good job of keeping things moving, asking a variety of questions that had all of us engaged. I wasn’t exactly taking notes, but here’s my breakdown* of how those 90 minutes got spent:

04 minutes – Dick bemoaning the sorry state of online discussion of the Croissanwich
02 minutes – References to Hagelian Dialectic
03 minutes – Me comparing advertising platforms to “small, stupid, eager to please dogs”
07 minutes – Ev displaying a laid-back attitude towards advertising/commerce in general
02 minutes – Technorati plugs
02 minutes – Feedburner plugs
05 minutes – Super Deluxe plugs
02 minutes – Twitter plugs
02 minutes – Cisco plugs
01 minutes – Ev namechecking Tia Tequila
03 minutes – Ev and I trying to figure out if product placement even works anymore
08 minutes – Members of the audience accusing us of being arrogant
08 minutes – Me thinking some in the audience were a little smug themselves
43 minutes – Assorted commentary, forecasting, and nonsense

I think it all worked out rather nicely. Ev remarked afterwards how odd it was that a panel devoted to online advertising never once made reference to Adwords. So it was definitely not a typical industry panel, I’d surmise, though I’ve never actually attended an advertising panel before, much less spoken on one.

I’m thinking that the guy from Nielsen Netratings who spoke up about metrics and accountability should have been on the panel, too. I’ve realized in hindsight that there’s a discussion that’s waiting to happen between the people building these platforms and those who’re looking to populate (and effectively fund) them.

More conversation seems to be necessary.

(* not real numbers)

Categories: appearances, conferences