Monday, April 27, 2009

Technology and 'Clash of the Cultures' - How Age May Affect Attitudes and Communication

Recently, one of the projects that I've been wrapped up in is an effort roll out to about forty users, a large percentage of whom I might characterize as "not tech-savy". One aspect of the project that I have noted with particular interest is a sort of demographic breakdown between users who are "okay/thrive with new software/technology platforms/gadgets" and those that fall into the "no new software/technology platforms/gadgets for me" category -- even with software that's as easy to use as

It's not really a new dividing line -- in the 1970s, Robert Pirsig wrote a great book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values (P.S.), that does a nice job of characterizing this same kind of division. With life in the world of computers this issue often comes up, but there are times when it still surprises me.

However, not new doesn't mean that you shouldn't be aware of the impact and the impression that it can make in your communications. I came across this Techcrunch post last week, Survey Says Baby Boomers Think Playing With Your Blackberry During A Meeting Is Rude, by Erick Schonfeld. It references a detailed study on the impact of using laptops and PDAs during meetings, with the survey segmented into different age brackets. The short end is captured in the title, but it's worth a detailed review.

Whatever your age or your tech-savy demographic, I think you'll find the Techcrunch post amusing. Here's a snippet.
One thing Baby Boomers apparently really hate is when the rest of us are not paying attention during meetings and instead checking our e-mail or Twitter accounts on our mobile phones and laptops. A full 69 percent of Baby Boomers surveyed agree that “PDAs and mobile phones contribute to the decline of proper workplace etiquette,” while only 47 percent of Gen Y workers see what is the big deal. (By the way, who says “PDA” anymore? I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that it must have been a Baby Boomer who put together the survey).
Other comments in the post are also amusing. I've also embedded the source survey below for reference.

Tech Gap Survey - Get more Information Technology

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Marketing and the Lost Sailor_Saint of Circumstance

Have you ever been sailing?
Sailing is a magical way of traveling -- your boat is set up to move subject entirely to the whims of nature; the winds, the currents, all of the energies around you. Where you're actually going is really a compromise between where you would like to go and your ability to channel the energies to take you there.

In it's purest sense, there's no real planning in sailing. Just because it's Monday at 9:00am, it doesn't mean that the wind is going to be blowing at 15 knots and you'll be able to get to your client meeting across the bay at 11:00am. Instead, sailing is a combination of expectation and predictive behaviors combined with the ability to adapt quickly and leverage that adaptation. You look ahead, you watch the signs and the wind indicators and you react with your larger directional goal in mind. In the big picture, time is like an uninvited guest to your party.

Sailing can be divided into what you can control and what you can't control. To quote an old essay from Sailing Magazine, "you can't set the wind, but you can set your sails." You can't control the wind, but you can control your reaction -- and your crew's reaction -- to the navigational situation. You can look for geographic places and positions where you can expect the wind to blow consistently, but regardless of where you are, there are days when the wind blows and days when it doesn't.

So, big picture here:
  • Where are you going? Sometimes process without the pressures of destination and schedule is worthwhile and liberating. Sometimes it will take you on adventures in places you never would have sought.
  • Are you too focused on destination or tactics? Without an awareness of both and an effective balance, you're probably not going to arrive anywhere near a target destination.
  • Are you struggling because the wind isn't blowing or because your crew isn't reacting to your instructions?
  • Are you poised to take advantage of tactical opportunities -- a strong gust or a favorable steady wind?
  • Just because you have everything set for what the wind is doing now, that doesn't mean you're done. You are in a dynamic system. You need to watch and monitor constantly because you may need to trim your sails for subtle changes taking place around you.

I just added Amazon Pop-up Links to the blog

I just added a script from Amazon that added roll-over pop-ups for anything that I connect with an Amazon link. It seemed like it might be an easy way to add 'optional' images to some of the posts.

Let me know if it works for you or if you find it too distracting.

Sales Tools, Customer Segmentation, and the Importance of Staying on Message

Just the other day I was driving a visiting international colleague around and, while loading some items into the trunk of my car, I happened to set my keys in the trunk of the car. What happened next was one of those 'doh' moments that's an ever-present danger with an electronic control for the trunk lock -- I closed the trunk and locked the car keys in the car. And with the car doors locked, there was no way to get into the car.

While this might require a Triple A call, I was only about 10 minutes from home and my girlfriend was close. All I needed was for her to stop by my apartment and bring me my spare key. So I called my roommate back at the apartment and told him to where to find my spare key. My spare key was sitting on a counter in the kitchen that has several appliances including the rice cooker, the coffee maker, the toaster oven and some of that miscellaneous stuff that tends to take over countertop surfaces. Even in a select area like this, it may seem like the key is lost, but I have a really strong sense of spacial awareness, so I knew that I could direct my roommate to the exact spot where the key was located.

So, picture this -- I'm sitting on my cell phone, talking my roommate through the location of the key. He's looking in the right area, but he can't seem to see the key (I know it should be easily visible from his location -- he's just looking at the wrong area of the counter). He's looking close to the rice cooker, and I'm trying to direct him to an area close to the answering machine, about 18 inches back and to the left. And, for whatever reason, he starts reading me words from the face of the rice cooker, "Neuro Fuzzy NS-ZCC10, Made in Japan".

So here I am, sitting there, wrestling with a problem that has me a bit frustrated, and his idea to help me with the process is to give me information that I don't need and that doesn't really add to the solution. What am I supposed to learn from this - that he can read? Beyond the search-location of the rice cooker which we had already gone over, this simple communication was not on topic.

Out of Context Communication in the Abstract
If we abstract this situation slightly, what we have is an exchange of dialog where one party uses the vocabulary related to the problem, but without an understanding of their relationship to the issue at hand. If this had been a customer service situation, or a salesperson moving through the steps of solution selling, this little exchange could be distilled down into using related words with no understanding of the problem -- like reading a script with no sense of reaction from the audience. When you're supposed to be having a dialog, the take-away message for the audience is that you're an idiot with no idea what they are talking about. And, they get frustrated and angry, because you're not helping them -- you just burned "your permission asset".

This tension sits at the heart of most call-in customer support lines. It's also that particularly painful frustration that you feel if you're an experienced user that's forced into a service pipeline that typically handles novice users -- you try to explain to the tech what's wrong and they still force you through a structured script that doesn't match your problem. "Have you tried reinstalling windows yet?" For this problem, some of the best people phone people that I've dealt with will say things like, "I understand this doesn't address your issue, but the system requires that I go through these steps before it will let me escalate the case." At that point, the tech communicates to me that we are both victims of a dumb system, and that he's sympathetic.

But if there's one thing worse than a customer service process that follows a script without respect to the audience, it's when sales decides to do their dance without listening. At one time or another, we've all been customers that had to deal with a sales person that wasn't listening. Whether we actually buy tends to be shaped by how bad we need the product and how offensive their behavior is, but it definitely our experience either way. While one root cause is sales imposing their agenda on a customer (down from above). Part of this behavior originates from the psyche of some sales people and a perception that if they aren't talking, giving you brochures, and going through the motions of their dance, then they aren't selling... or people will think that they aren't selling.

Wrapping Up
I would love to get comments on how you address these kinds of issues. Lately, the path that I've been following is to walk people through examples of customer profiles and use cases. As they start to follow the path of who the customer is and how they got to the point where they are, communication issues become a lot clearer. In that way, I hope my hassles with key location customer service provides a good, simple story to help explain some customer frustration.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tax Day and Adventures in eFiling

I just finished up filing my federal income tax -- did the TurboTax efile this year. In all, I have to say, it's pretty cool. For the most part it was fairly streamlined -- it walked me through a straightforward series of questions, and when the time came to send it it, the software enabled me to send the return straight to the IRS (via Intuit). I'll miss my last minute rush to the post office, but I love the lack of papers.

However, as a branded product, I have to give TurboTax mixed reviews. For the most part it was pretty straightforward, but one of the things that I really hate about it is the way that they run sort of a version of bait-and-switch-ware. What I mean by that is -- it asks you a series of questions about your expenses, then after you get through a couple of them, it usually gets to a point where it says, "dude, your stuff looks more complicated. You might need TurboTax Home Business Deluxe. Would you like to download that now?" In one respect, you could call it cross selling or upselling, but when you're sitting on the hook trying to crank through calculating one of your biggest bills of the year, there's nothing worse than the squirming feeling you get, wondering whether you're missing something essential.

The other one that's fun it the audit warning index -- how risky is your return? So, on the one hand, it's nice to have this statistical meter that helps you understand what kinds of things that you might be doing that "risk an audit". However, it also leaves you feeling like, "if I just don't say anything, skip this deduction, and take the one 'I'm-not-standing-out' dollar instead of the ten 'I'm-really-owed-this-but-you-might-make-it-a-hassle' dollars, I can have a more stress-free existence. Having the last ten years or so having an accountant put my taxes together, I never got that feeling once. Instead of the audit slot machine, the CPA offers professional certainty and peace of mind.

Anyway, good luck with your tax day!