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Lg_smith_bradleyI worked really hard on this year’s April Fool’s joke. It was called "The Blog Dongle Uproar (part II)". All about Bradley Smith, formerly part of the Federal Elections Commission.

The post had to do with a dongle (see picture down below) that all bloggers would have to attach to their machines in order to post.

It involved a blog tax, the proceeds of which would be used to fund Orrin Hatch’s attempts to ban P2P and all sorts of useful progress in online technology. It involved registering all bloggers and creating a division of the Department of Homeland Security that would monitor all blog posts to see if they threatened our moral security.

Link: The coming crackdown on blogging | Newsmakers | CNET News.com.

real question is: Would a link to a candidate’s page be a problem? If
someone sets up a home page and links to their favorite politician, is
that a contribution? This is a big deal, if someone has already
contributed the legal maximum, or if they’re at the disclosure
threshold and additional expenditures have to be disclosed under
federal law.

Certainly a lot of bloggers are very much out front. Do we give
bloggers the press exemption? If we don’t give bloggers the press
exemption, we have the question of, do we extend this to online-only
journals like CNET?"

My whole shtick was that I was going to support  the blog tax and talk about what a good idea it was… thus leading other bloggers to be outraged and rip me to pieces for supporting something so entirely stupid.

BlogdongleBut I’m not going to post it. In fact, this is my last post until Saturday. Why? Because everything is being taken so seriously, especially when individuals feel deceived, mistreated or foolish.

I got a note earlier today from someone excoriating Best Buy because the price they offered for a CD in the store was <gasp> a few dollars different from what they were offering the same thing online. They were outraged.

Outrage seems to be the order of the day. Outrage is the new currency of politics, it’s the currency of marketing and it’s the currency of our interactions on the road–did I mention a woman in a GMC Jimmy–probably 55 years old–honked at me for more than a minute today (and flipped me the bird) because she didn’t like my driving?

This is going to be the biggest April Fool’s day in memory. There will be political fools and satirical fools and just plain goofy fools. I figured I could get a lot of mileage out of inventing the "blog tax" fool, and it would be a good story to tell my grandchildren. But then I realized that if it worked, I’d get all this incredibly angry mail and trackbacks and I’d have to deal with it.

So, alas, no Fools for me. Good luck tomorrow. Be careful out there.

Noses cut to spite faces department

Petra Rankin shares this story:

I went for a drive to pick up some business cards from my local printer. When I got there, I was handed four boxes of very shiny business cards, even though I had specifically ordered matte. I had specified matte a number of times because it was very important to me, and he was also charging me a premium price for the matte laminate.

So I told the person who was serving me that they were not matte, and I was told in response “yes they are.” (!)

Given that these cards were so shiny I could almost see my reflection in them, I asked to speak to the manager. He come out and agreed that they were not matte, and also agreed that I had asked him a number of times to print matte cards, but he would not lower the price of the cards. I offered him what I thought the cards were worth given they were a misprint, but he was too proud and said I couldn’t take them!

So he is throwing away 1000 perfectly good (albeit shiny) cards, because he didn’t want to accept a discounted price for a mistake!

I wonder how many other small business people operate their business like this? They would rather have a big loss than accept a small one?

(PS She just wrote me and said the printer called her at home, told her had changed her mind and even offered to drive the cards over if she’d just pay the discounted fee.)

find Petra: Achieving Our Potential (And Beyond).

Does language matter more?

"Your call is important and will be serviced as soon as possible"
"Please have your card number and other additional information ready"

In the old days, you’d go down to the American Express office and talk to a real person. They would use eye contact and hand motions and could gauge your responses in order to make themselves understood.

Today, when you’re on permahold, listening to a recording at Amex, you only have the classical musical loop and the words they’ve chosen.

So when they choose the wrong words, when they ask you to do silly things (additional information? which additional information?) it makes you think they’re not as smart as you’d like them to be.

As we see in the warning sign below, in an environment where you can’t react in real time, the words you choose are critically important to the message you send.

Death plus a fine

200finedeathThanks to Mark Mattos for the snapshot

People or systems?

Chris Garrett says I’m wrong about the Westin. That they should fix their systems, not their people.

I can’t think of one world class service organization (whether it’s someone selling million dollar computers to corporations or Starbucks) that has figured out how to replace great people with great systems.

The best organizations have principles and guidelines and even, yes, scripts. But time and again, they fall back to, "Use your best judgment" or "Do what’s right for the customer" or "Make something magical happen" or "Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen."

When a hotel chain empowers a maid to spend up to $500 to make it right (using her own discretion), that’s not a system, that’s trusting great people to do the right thing.

The problems with systems?
1. if you rely on them too much, your people stop trying, and your hiring people realize they don’t have to get such great people.
2. sooner or later, it’s going to get copied by the competition. It’s a lot easier to copy a system than it is to get great people.

JetBlue is first and foremost about the people Amy Curtis hired and trained. The systems allow the great people to do great work.

Yes, if you can automate it in a way that increases satisfaction, do it right away. Use an ATM system instead of the front desk at the hotel. Use an automated wake up call system. But then put the money you save into wonderful people at the concierge desk.

Adventures in travel

Staying at The Westin Hotel in Florida to give a speech today. The staff here is very scripted, doing things because they were told to, not because it comes naturally. My favorite example: When you ask for a wake up call in the morning, they automatically respond, "Would you like a follow up call fifteen minutes later?" I said no. They asked me the same question when I called an hour later to change the time. Same no answer from me.

So this morning, as is usual when I travel, I woke up an hour earlier than I wanted to. Before going to work out, I called to cancel my wake up so the ringing phone wouldn’t bother the neighbors. The receptionist then asked, "Would you like me to cancel the follow up call as well?"

Obviously, there’s no reason on earth that someone who is already awake and is cancelling their wakeup call would still want to be reminded of the call fifteen minutes later. Especially if they didn’t ask for the reminder call in the first place. But there it is in the script, so it’s an error that’s repeated over and over.

I know it’s more difficult, but hiring people who can think for themselves is usually a better long run strategy than scripting every conversation. If that’s the plan, it’s probably better to get an automated system. And not just at a hotel in Florida…

Five things to do today

Spring cleaning and all that:

1. Don’t forget to check out the details for: Seth’s Blog: Please come to a seminar in my office.

2. Sign up for an RSS reader. You can check all your blogs at once just by visiting a website or loading a program. Click on the odd logo for the easiest one I’ve found:
Subscribe with Bloglines

3. Send a thank you note to three people you work with.

4. If you live in a house, have your furnace checked. Ours was backed up and almost killed us all. If you live in an apartment, go ahead and get tenant’s insurance. It’s pretty cheap and you’ll thank me one day.

5. Make a list of the five most useful blogs you read and email the list to six clueless friends. If everyone who reads blogs daily did this, the number of clueless people might actually go down (hey, a guy can dream.)

Thanks for your support. Enjoy your spring. (For those in Australia and other places that are closer to penguins, enjoy your fall.)

You can always be mean later (respect works)

Here’s a fascinating case study in the power of being nice.

Lawyers have customers too, and not just the people who pay the bills. If a lawyer can successfully market her ideas to an adversary, she’s far more likely to get a case settled quickly and to her client’s advantage.

Consider the case of Julie Greenberg and Hank Mishkoff. You can see the entire thing in detail here: Taubman Sucks!.

Ms. Greenberg represented (or I should say, mis-represented) a giant chain of shopping malls. A few years ago, she and Taubman went after Hank Mishkoff, who controlled a domain Taubman wanted for one of its malls. Her opening salvo was a classic lawyer’s demand letter, very formal and threatening.

Of course, most people respond to a note like that with fear and trepidation and then anger. And it spirals from there. I wonder if any law firm has ever done testing as to whether letters like that are actually effective. What if she had called first, or sent a friendly, clearly written letter that outlined mutually beneficial options for both sides?

Instead, Greenberg started mean and escalated from there. Classic litigator tactics, reflecting a "my typewriter is sterner than yours" age-old tactic. Sometimes people fold in the face of this approach (but even when they do, it’s expensive for both sides).

Hank responded by defending himself and taking it to court.

In the end, he won. It cost Taubman tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Yet, it’s clear to me by watching the correspondence, if the very first interaction had been civil or even pleasant, Jill Greenberg could have ended with a win for 1% of what the loss cost her (actually, it didn’t cost her anything. She made a profit on it! It cost her client a boatload of money, though).

Even if you’re not a lawyer (or especially if you’re not a lawyer) the lesson here is pretty clear: it doesn’t matter who’s "right". What matters is that giving people the benefit of the doubt and treating them with respect is not only more fun, it works better too.

(Thanks to Doc Searls for the original pointer). (Actually, sorry Doc, it was Boing Boing: HOWTO: defend yourself against domain trademark shakedowns)

Apple’s newest ipod launches first of April

Ipod2225vk_1It’s made of granite.

Taking rock music to a whole new level.

Thanks to Alex for the image. Link: Nyfncr’s World Of Randomness.

Marketing is where you find it

KrispyToday’s New York Times reports that the Radiant Church – in Surprise, AZ  spends $16,000 a year on Krispy Kreme donuts.

The health risks aside, this is smart marketing. (And is there anything wrong with a church doing marketing? Churches have always done marketing.)

Marketing doesn’t mean advertising.