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I’m not surprised

If I walk into a hotel in the United States and find myself near the ballroom where a trade show is being held, I can tell, without being shown the room, exactly what the trade show is going to look like. Layout, booth styles, what the attendees are wearing… If I walk into a certain kind of italian restaurant in most cities around the world, I can tell exactly what is going to be on the menu and approximately what each item is going to cost. When I sit down on an airplane, I know exactly what the flight attendant is going to say, and when. When the phone rings and it’s a person trying to sell me financial services, I know what she’s going to say… (and you can probably guess the rest of this paragraph).

There’s nothing wrong with not surprising people. In fact, most of the time, you don’t want to surprise people. I don’t want to be surprised when I use an electric drill, and I don’t want to be surprised when they’re doing surgery on me.

But if you want the word to spread, if you expect me to take action I’ve never taken before, it seems to me that you need to do something that hasn’t been done before. It might not feel safe, but if you do the safe thing, I guarantee you won’t surprise anyone. And if you don’t surprise anyone, the word isn’t going to spread.

Put a number on it

We’re rich! We’re rich! We’re all rich. Tom points us to dnscoop.com. Have fun.

It’s viral because it’s interesting, not because it’s accurate. And it’s interesting partly because it talks about how much money you have. Sort of the new fortune telling.

If no one reads your post, does it exist?

What do most people get out of blogging? After all, most blogs are virtually unread by outsiders…

The act of writing a blog changes people, especially business people. The first thing it does is change posture. Once you realize that no HAS to read your blog, that you can’t MAKE them read your blog, you approach writing with humility and view readers with gratitude. The second thing it does is force you to be clear. If you write something that’s confusing or in shorthand, you fail.

Respectful and clear. That’s a lot to get out of something that doesn’t take much time.

Guerrilla Tourism Board

Dean points us to: Alchemic Spot.

Feet in the street beats billboards every time.

What smart bosses know about people who read blogs

Two kinds of people:

A business blog reader (book reader, seminar go-er) asks, "how can I do what I do better?"

Someone else says, "I’m doing fine, leave me alone."

It’s not about criticism or the avoidance thereof. It’s a thirst for insight, for shortcuts and for results.

Starting over with customer service

I’ve been writing a lot about this topic lately and thinking about it more. I have a radical proposal for you, but it takes a few paragraphs, so I hope you’ll bear with me.

Customer service is broken. Not just because of bad management, though we have plenty of that to go around. Customer service is broken for three reasons:

1. The internet has taught us to demand everything immediately (and perfect). As a result, we expect that every single time we pick up the phone or deal with someone in a retail setting, we’ll be dealing with the Senior Vice President of Customer Satisfaction, the head of accounting and the chief of quality control, all at the same time. We expect instant results and undivided attention.

2. The rapid proliferation of choice has taught us to demand that everything should be cheap.
As a result, we won’t pay extra for superior service, which means companies need to hire cheap.

3. The availability of blogs and other public histories means that it is harder than ever to treat different customers differently.
Word gets out.

As a result of these three inexorable trends, companies are on defense. They are forced to add a new layer to their pyramid, and yes, it’s on the bottom. This layer consists of lots and lots of people, the cheapest the company can find. These folks are ill-trained, poorly supported and under lots of pressure. There is a lot of turnover (what a surprise) and most are working with nothing more than a simple manual and a lot of metrics.

No wonder customer service is so bad.

Well, one path is to yell louder at the companies, who will yell louder at their staffs.

Another path is to blow it up and start over.

I think the single factor that is killing this process and that is under the company’s control is this: the desire to perform all customer service in real time.

In fact, most customer service can be done quite well overnight. You don’t like your cell phone bill? (I get a lot of mail about this one). If you knew it was going to be handled properly, you’d have no trouble waiting a few days. Your airline ticket from a trip last week was messed up? Same thing.

Given the choice between amazing, guaranteed service with a one day wait or interminable waits on hold with people who can’t really help you right now… well, the choice is pretty easy.

Imagine what happens when we take advantage of the asynchronous nature of this sort of support.

There’s still a cadre of people answering the phone, but they are trained to do exactly two things. 1. Make it really clear to the caller that there is a problem, that the caller deserves great service and that things will be dealt with, and 2. Get every single relevant piece of information.

This isn’t hard to train for. But yes, it needs and deserves training.

Now, the problem goes into a system (good news on this in a moment). And the problem works its way up the pyramid. Each person who touches it either takes responsibility for solving it thoroughly and completely or passes it up the heirarchy. Any problem not solved within 20 hours goes to some senior level executive who gets it solved or gets fired. (I’m serious).

At the end of the month, there’s an easy trail to follow. You can see who solved how many problems. You can see who is passing the buck when they should be grabbing it. You can identify the delighted customers and what delighted them.

And because it turns out to be far more efficient, it’s actually cheaper. Which means companies can put better staff on the problems and pull even farther ahead of their competition.

As I see it, there are three things that have to happen for this to work.

1. The frontline staff have to be really good at making this program clear and at gathering the data. They ought to offer the caller a realtime option, but only when it’s clear that this offers a significant benefit to the caller.

2. There needs to be cheap and effective software that lets someone start using this without a lot of custom programming. I’ve found one alternative,(even though they don’t actually market it for this use) and I bet there are others. It really works. It’s not like me to recommend a commercial product specifically like this, but I’m talking about Fogbugz because I think they’ve accidentally revolutionized a huge piece of management. What the software does is allow exactly one person at a time to ‘own’ a piece of a project, a bug, an issue. That person either solves it or pass it off. And the entire process is tracked and timestamped and tickled, so absolutely nothing is permitted to languish.

3. The company can’t use the diminished pressure that asynchronous support delivers as a copout to do less. Instead, they have to use it as an opportunity to be overwhelmingly spectacular. Use the money they save to potlach their customers.

If you try it, let me know how it’s working for you.

Seven steps to remarkable customer service

As usual with the master, I can’t add much at all. I promise you’ll get something useful out of this post. If not, "it’s my fault." Seven steps to remarkable customer service – Joel on Software.


Many people have dropped me a line about JetBlue. Here’s my simple prescription:


This is a Native American term for a ceremony involving dancing, feasting, and the most memorable part: giving someone too much. If I ran JetBlue, I’d go to each of the people affected (and it’s not that many) and give each person 40 free round trip tickets. Or maybe 50. More than any person could use for a long, long while. Let them fly with as many friends as they like until they’ve used up 50 seats.

When the world is focused on your actions, magnifying your response is almost always a good idea. Not panicking is a good idea too, and it seems as though they’ve got that part covered.

Micro Hysteria

The other day, I attended a talent show in the Bronx. A friend described it as, "more show than talent," but the spirit and enthusiasm of the performers and the hundreds in the audience was infectious. After two hours, though, everyone was dragging.

Then a dancer came out and the PA started playing a song by Fergie:

Comin’ to me call me Stacy (Hey Stacy)
I’m the F to the E, R, G the I the E
And can’t no other lady put it down like me

The place erupted. Grandmothers were literally dancing in the aisles. It was a perfect example of mass hysteria. The song was popular in that moment for exactly one reason: because it was popular. It gave a diverse audience a chance to share a piece of pop culture. It was safe.

The goal of many marketers is to create a moment like this. To capture the attention of the masses. Alas, not too much room at this table. The real opportunity is this:

To create micro hysteria.

To find pockets of the population that interact with each other and create that sort of experience. Susan Sontag did it (everyone in that circle read her latest). Joel Spolsky does it. Too often, marketers have mass envy. Far better to obsess about owning the micro audience, at least for a moment, then to waste your energy trying to be everything to everyone.

Why are you surprised?

Martin points us to: Call for neuroethics as brain science races ahead

The only surprising thing about our ability to understand the decision making process is that it took so long. There are no magic tricks going on inside of our brains… a magical little elf who mysteriously decides to buy this cola instead of that one… it’s just grey goo and the hard part was getting a good enough look to figure it out. Thanks to scanning technology, they’re starting to do just that.