Installing Outbrain "Star" Rating on TypePad Blogs using Advanced Templates Tue 26 Aug 08

Outbrain_6Last Saturday I mentioned that I had added a way for you, the reader, to rate my articles and give me some feedback.  There are a number of these services available but I chose to use Outbrain as I liked their features.  I did mention that although they made it easy to install if you used basic templates in TypePad it was not quite so easy if you are using advanced templates.  I also promised, time permitting, to explain how I did this since some of you may find yourself in the same situation.  Here it is.

Fair warning - this won't be my typical conversation or whatever you care to call it.  Rather it is a more instructional article on how to add code to your TypePad blog to include the Outbrain rating system.  If this is of interest, read on. 

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Surfing the Internet At 30,000 Feet - Airlines Providing Wireless Access Mon 25 Aug 08

Look_like_an_ad_no_magitisaLast week American Airlines (AA) launched mobile broadband service, Gogo™ provided by Aircell  on certain select flights - " . . . customers traveling on American’s Boeing 767-200 aircraft can access complete coast-to-coast coverage on nonstop flights between New York and San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles, and New York and Miami."  Delta and Virgin Atlantic have also signed with Aircell and will be offering service soon.

AA announced "Aircell will charge $12.95 on flights more than three hours, which include American’s Boeing 767-200 flights. Each paid Gogo session includes full Internet access. Cell phone and Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) services are not available. "

As an IT guy I guess I should be happy about this but the truth is that while I accept this as an inevitable event I actually have mixed feelings about this.  I fully admit there have been times in the past when I really would have liked to have had access especially on long overseas flights.  However, since Aircell use ground towers to transmit their signal we still won't have it on overseas flights.

The reason for my mixed feelings?  Over the past few years air travel has become much less pleasant.  It's more like flying the "unfriendly skies" to paraphrase and mix airline metaphors.  I'm sure we've all seen the stories chronicling assaults on the cabin crew and assaults by the cabin crew.  Recently the hot news in Houston was the trial of a co-pastor of a local mega-church being sued by a flight attendant for allegedly assaulting her over a spilled drink in her first-class seat (the jury found no assault took place).

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Outsourcing Your Reputation Mon 09 Jun 08

Raffles_singapore_sling_2I just returned from circumnavigating the globe with stops in India, Singapore and Malaysia.  It was a fantastic trip as I got to see many interesting things and meet some great people.  Although the purpose of the trip was business I did have some spare time for sightseeing.  Most of my time was in Singapore which is an especially nice place to visit.  In addition to seeing some of the sights I made the de rigueur visit to the Long Bar at the historic Raffles Hotel for a Singapore Sling.  The recipe for this drink from this turn-of-the-century colonial Singapore drink is in the graphic for this post if you're interested.  Raffles and the Long Bar is great way to figuratively go back in time.  I just wish I could afford to stay there.

On my last night in Singapore before returning to Houston I returned from dinner around 10:00 PM and since my shuttle to the airport was to pick me up at 3:30 AM I thought I would stay up all night and sleep later on the plane to start my adjustment to a new time zone.   During this time I got on the Internet to catch up on emails and other work.  Unfortunately around 11:30 the Internet stopped working.  I waited about 15 minutes thinking it might be a temporary problem.  When it didn't come back I called the front desk.  They indicated that they would have the Internet company call back which they did a few minutes later.  The Internet company indicated he network was down for maintenance and that it would be available in about an hour.  The service came back as promised and worked fine although this unannounced outage was frustrating.

Obviously since providing Internet service is not a core competency of the hotel they logically outsourced it to another company.  This apparently planned but unannounced maintenance period provides two learning opportunities; one for the Internet provider and one for the hotel, i.e. the company doing the outsourcing.

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Should We Make Customers Pay For The Convenience of Doing Business With Us Over The Internet? Mon 05 May 08

Astros_tickets_3Yesterday, I took the family down to Minute Maid park to watch the Houston Astros play the Milwaukee Brewers.  It was a  great day.  The weather was beautiful, I got to spend some quality time with my family and enjoyed a great ball game.  The Astros won!  My daughter's favorite player, #9 Hunter Spence, hit a 2-run walk-off homer in the 12th the win it 8 to 6.  Oh Baby!

Like a lot of other things I buy, I bought the tickets over the Internet.  Buying over the Internet is nice.  I could buy them when I wanted, not just when the box office was open.  It was easy and fast and I could print my own tickets.  Without question buying tickets over the Internet was very convenient.

At the same time it is a good thing for the Astros too.  Making it easer for customers to do business with you is always a good way to promote increased sales.  It also reduces costs.  When customers print their own own tickets the Astros' printing expense is reduced.  Likewise the staffing costs for the will call and tickets sales windows are reduced.  The more people that buy over the Internet the lower the Astros' costs.

So although this would seem like the classic win-win situation there is one little catch.

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Keeping Data Accurate Mon 28 Apr 08

Apple_e_binary_mlovittThis weekend I got a new windshield on my car.  A few weeks ago a rock chipped the windshield and propagated and 18 inch crack within a few minutes so I arranged for a windshield repair company to come to my house to replace it.  Things were going along pretty smoothly at first.  They removed the old windshield, took off the various registration and safety inspection stickers and prepped the car for the new windshield.  Everything was going well until it came time to put in the new windshield.  That's when they found out that the windshield they brought wasn't the right one for my car.

The repairmen called their office and verified that all of the ordering information was correct.  The problem turned out to be that the database of auto glass parts that they subscribed to had the wrong information.  They finally were able to figure out the right part number, brought it out to the house and installed it.  All turned out well except that it cost them an extra 2 hours of delay.  As they were about to leave one of them commented that they recalled that they ran into this same problem the last time they worked on my model of car.  It turns out they had to work with an inaccurate database that didn't have a good means for them to update or correct when errors were found.  In this case an inaccurate database became a customer service issue.

It's a fact of life that errors will find their way into our databases.  There are things we can do to minimize this but it difficult to entirely eliminate errors.  So this begs the question - "What do we do about the errors?"

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Zappos: Integrating Systems and Business Processes Mon 14 Apr 08

Shoe_souk_shopping_jim_snapperWhen you run across a company the truly integrates their systems with their business processes it can be an amazing experience.  Dealing with these companies borders on fun because they take the effort to make it easy and have anticipated your needs.  Zappos, an online retailer of shoes and other accessories, is one such company.  Or more appropriately as they describe themselves: "We are a service company that happens to sell ________.

  • shoes
  • and handbags
  • and clothing
  • and eyewear
  • and watches
  • and accessories
  • (and eventually anything and everything)"

Since I'm a customer of Zappos I'm surprised that I hadn't written about this before.  Fortunately, Seth Godin's recent post, "Zappos wants you to return those shoes" reminded me so now is a good time to talk about them.

Zappos' service is all encompassing in how it is set up.  It includes: policy, processes, customer perspective, vision, attitude and systems.  Customer service for them isn't just putting a "Contact us" or "Customer Service" link on their web site.  Pete Blackshaw explain this in more detail in "Word-of-Mouth Marketing 101, à la Zappos.com"

Don't believe me?  Then check out these examples:

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When Robots Attack Mon 07 Apr 08

Robbie_robot_jopemoro_3James Taylor over at the smart (enough) systems blog posted an interesting article last week.  It was one of those that if it wasn't so serious it would be funny.  His post iRobot - Elite CRM, stupid returns system details his experiences of buying 3 systems from iRobot and wanting to return 1 of them.   As crazy as it sounds the only way he could do this was to return all 3 and then re-purchase the 2 he wanted.  As Taylor points out this is a poor way of doing business in so many ways.

Taylor notes that iRobot received a 2008 destinationCRM award for their automated customer service system.  However after his experience with trying to return a product Taylor notes " am sure the automated system for which they received an award is wonderful - I have not had to use it yet - but clearly they could do with making their return system a little smarter."  It does make you question how much thought they really put into the design of their system or if they tried to get any customer input into the system.

This example points out the need for 2 essential elements in good application development - the end user perspective and adaptability.  End user perspective can be obtained in a number of ways.  It can be based on the developers knowledge of how the system is used, input from the sales team,or directly from the end-user themselves.  How you get this input all depends upon the particular situation.

So why is all this important?

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Unintended Consequences of Overlooking the Obvious with Technology Mon 17 Mar 08

LrgclockA week ago Saturday (March 8) we moved our clocks one hour ahead for daylight savings time (DST)  to give us more daylight in the evening.  The next day I checked into a DoubleTree hotel to attend a conference.  Upon entering my room I noticed that the alarm clock was one hour behind.  My first reaction was that they missed a great customer service opportunity.  Since the housekeeping staff is in the room everyday why not simply have them adjust the alarm clocks for daylight savings?  That should be simple enough, shouldn't it?  Well maybe not.

Since I wanted to use the alarm clock I figured it would be easier to set the time correctly myself.  Upon looking at the clock I noticed 2 things.  First the clock was 53 minutes behind and not 60 as I assumed resulting from the DST change.  Second, and this is the most shocking, there is no way to adjust the time.  That's right you can not change the time.  Some of the features include:

  • Four pre-set buttons for local radio stations designated by a graphic of the music type

  • Connection cable for use with guest’s personal MP3 player, portable CD player, laptop and other entertainment devices

  • Built-in stereo speakers for radio or connected devices

  • Large LCD screen with dimmer that adjusts to high, medium or low

  • Automatic daily alarm time reset, preventing an alarm set by a previous guest from repeating

I picked up the radio and looked on the top and looked on the bottom and looked all around but couldn't find anything that would let me change the time.  My curiosity got the best of me so I called the front desk and the conversation went something like this:

Me: I must be a complete idiot but the time on the clock is wrong and I cannot figure out how to set it, can you tell me how to set the time.

Front Desk: We'll have to send up someone from engineering to do that.  You have to have a screwdriver and open up the clock to adjust the time.

Me: Am I hearing you correctly?  It takes someone from engineering to set the time on a clock?

Front Desk:  I'm afraid so.  Would you like me to send someone up?

Me: No thanks.  I'll just use the alarm feature on my BlackBerry.

I wish I would have had more time.  It would have been interesting to see if the time setting really can be corrected.  While preparing this post I did a little research and things get even more interesting.

Continue reading "Unintended Consequences of Overlooking the Obvious with Technology" »

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Let's Hang Up The Gloves Mon 03 Mar 08

Hang_em_up_smnMarketing guru, Mary Schmidt, recently wrote a post, "Don't Get Defensive.  Just Fix It." in which she makes 2 excellent points that bear a lot on how we in IT deal with our customers.  As the HelpDesk often has to deal with "issues" this is especially important in that area.  Schmidt starts off the post by saying "I’m convinced that many of the world’s problems could be quickly fixed or even avoided if people didn’t automatically get defensive when faced with an issue or disagreement."

When our customers come to us with issues we need to resist taking it as a personal affront lest we become defensive.  Often we fall into the trap of using IT's weasel words such as "It works on my machine" or "No one else has had a problem with that."  The implicit message in this is that the problem is the customer's fault which makes them defensive and it just escalates from there.  As Schmidt suggests sometimes we need to just get beyond this and just fix the problem.  Hang up the boxing gloves and work on the solution.

Joel Spolsky has a fantastic post, "Seven steps to remarkable customer service".  Be sure to read all seven steps but pay particular attention to steps 4 and 5.  In these Spolsky gives some great examples of what not being (or being) defensive can do.  They illustrate the point very effectively.

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Mind Your Posture or RTFM? Mon 25 Feb 08

Toy_sampling_megaphone_altemarkMarketing guru, Seth Godin recently had an extremely interesting blog post, "The posture of a communicator".  It's a short post but a powerful one.  I believe it gets to the heart of one of the biggest complaints people have with IT, namely, our poor communications.  IT is well known for its speaking in acronyms, writing cryptic error messages, writing incomprehensible (and not very useful) user guides, and using "code words" rather than plain language.  We often top it off with an arrogant attitude when people tell us they don't understand what we are saying.

Godin's first sentence gets right to the point.

"If you buy my product but don't read the instructions, that's not your fault, it's mine."

I'm sure there are a lot of people in IT that would disagree with that statement.  You know the ones.  They're the ones that complain about users not reading the manual and just wish they would "RTFM" (read the f*&%$#*$ manual). 

Should our users read the manual?  Do I wish the would read the manual?  Absolutely!  But the reality is they don't.  As Godin states:

"It's really easy to insist that people read the friggin manual. It's really easy to blame the user/student/prospect/customer for not trying hard, for being too stupid to get it or for not caring enough to pay attention. Sometimes (often) that might even be a valid complaint. But it's not helpful."

The key phrase there for me is "But it's not helpful."  That's correct, it's not helpful.  As a service provider our job isn't to be "right" but to make sure the customer can use our product.  So it doesn't matter if we are right about thinking they should read the manual since it doesn't help.

Continue reading "Mind Your Posture or RTFM?" »

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