Why do companies intentionally upset their customers?

Some number showing up as "Verizon Conference" calls every day. My wife answers the phone, and they ask for me. She explains she is my wife and asks if she can help. The person always says no, and hangs up. Every time for the last couple of weeks.

So today, I happen to be home snowed in so I can't get to work, and the same company calls. This time my wife hands the phone to me with a visibly frustrated look on her face. I take the phone, and the person goes into a long-winded explanation that they are from Discover and they are thankful for my business. The person starts to ramble about something, when I finally ask "what is it that you want?" Oh yes, they reply, they ask if I am planning any events in the future, and starts rattling off things like weddings, birthdays, yada, yada, yada. I tried to ask again "what is it that you want?" but I cannot get a word in edgewise. The arrogance that I have time to chit chat to a stranger without getting my permission is incomprehensible to me. I finally had to hang up and get back to that document that I need to send out in the next five minutes.

Capital One (my Visa card) just earned my business by default.

First, I don't like companies that are not respectful of my spouse. You called us, we didn't call you. My wife runs our house, she's smarter than I'll ever be, and has better judgement. Talk to her.

Second, I don't like companies that disrespect my time. I am not sitting idle all day waiting for random marketing people to call me. If you want my business, make yourself available when I look for it and I am ready for it.

Discover pulled a classic example of a violation of my five second rule for prospecting - they didn't give me a reason to keep listening, because they never told me why I should keep listening.

Are you driving your customers away? Do you know why? Do you even understand basic customer behavior?


Why Companies Fail

I don't keep up on primetime TV shows in real time; instead I record them then watch a bunch in order when I get a couple spare hours in the evenings before bed. One of the shows I watch is The Apprentice, including this season's Celebrity Apprentice.

I just got caught up on the last two episodes, and if the Gene-Simmons-being-fired doesn't epitomize corporate America, I don't know what does. And that's not good. Here we have this season's top talent, bringing new good ideas for his clients, and he gets fired.

Now, I understand Trump's rationale. That doesn't mean I agree with it. I could pontificate for hours, but let me try to be succinct.

No wonder Kodak is struggling. I know its not fair to judge an entire leadership on just two execs; however, I also have enough experience to know that at the exec level there is a certain culture and likemindedness. Their judgement of the best display for the show came down to "well Hydra used the work 'ink' which is what we asked them to do." No thinking outside the box here. "It's a Kodak World - Welcome", although a better idea, lost. Wow.

But this is what is rewarded in the business world - do what is asked of you, not what's best for the customer or the company. It's what kills innovation, creativity... and ultimately your brand.

And don't get me started on a company that thinks they can win the photo space by having cheaper ink. I can't believe that was allowed outside a brainstorming session. Talk about desperation from a company. Would love to see their data on consumer insights that backed that notion. I wonder if they've even seen the data that more and more people are having others print their photos due to the convenience and cost.

I know not all companies are like this. I have some friends at Google and one cool thing I hear about Google is that "the best ideas win." Must be a great culture to work in :)

Now, on to Trump. I understand that the two other team members brought into the board room with Gene were not responsible for losing. But is that what decisions should be based on? Shouldn't they be based on who gives you the best chance to win moving forward? Sure Gene showed a poor choice in judgement but does that override his other talents? That's like the Seahawks dumping Matt Hasselbeck instead of the backup QBs because "well the backups didn't cause Seattle to lose!"

Trump could have shown his leadership capabilities and kept Gene and fired one of the weaker team members. Would have improved his talent pool. Apparently that is not the goal. Amazing.

No wonder Dilbert is so popular.

What if the best ideas, the best execution, and the best people, won at your company?


So what's happening to ebay?

I've been a long time user of eBay, and have also followed their business performance over the years. Their core marketplace growth has disappeared. Amazon surpasses eBay for the first time

Speculation ranges from high seller fees to high risk of fraud on eBay.

I think the reasoning is more simple: everyone else has caught or surpassed eBay.

For a long time (5+ years) eBay was pretty much the only place to find, purchase, and receive "stuff" online. If you received your item, and it was even close to the condition in which it was described, you as a buyer were thrilled. This model served eBay very well. As their marketplace grew, people started

Problem is, the eBay experience has not improved. The rest of the e-commerce world has. Consumers now get better selection, better prices, better service, and a more streamlined experience from the rest of the web than what eBay provides.

I just purchased a couple "Stuff and Scruff" thingys that hang over the back of the front seats of a car, providing some organization for our kids' stuff, and keeping the kids' shoes off the back of the front seats. I found it through Google at an e-commerce site that looks like a mom-n-pop shop or one run out of the seller's home. It was easier for me to find something like this through Google than through eBay - Google provides access to a wider selection. If users are finding products through Google, then sellers have to keep up. As the e-commerce world grows up, it is inevitable that others are going to hang their shingle on the web and offer goods directly, providing their own experience to customers, their own customer service, and their own promotions. Sellers used to use eBay as their channel; they've now figured out how to do it without the help of eBay.

What happens if your customers bypass you?


Is there a problem with perfect?

I don't disagree with Seth Godin very often. In fact he's probably the one person (besides my wife and kids) that change my current thinking about a topic. But I disagree that there's a problem with being perfect.

His hypothesis is that being perfect is a) not remarkable (to still one of his older phrases) and b) only remarkable when you screw up.

I agree with b, as I think most people will. On a, I do believe perfection *is* remarkable. "FedEx" it is a statement of being perfect. They are the de facto standard when needing to overnight something. That FedEx is a verb in our language is a testament to "perfection being remarkable."

My favorite restaurant is Jak's in Issaquah. The best steakhouse I have ever been to, and that includes the great steakhouses of Chicago. They are simply perfect. Been there about 10 times over the last two years, and always a perfect experience. Wine is always at a perfect temperature. My steak is always a perfect cut cooked to a perfect medium rare and delivered to me at a perfect temperature. In fact my first bite of a Jak's steak is always better than I anticipate. The UFO potatoes (their specialty) are always perfect. As is the timing for the service staff, their service, and their atmosphere. It's perfect; as such we remark about it. I've even blogged about it multiple times.

However, I don't think perfection is an end-all-be-all. Perfection is a business choice companies need to make. I don't always opt for a perfect meal; in fact, I rarely do. I spend way more money on imperfect.

Here's my take on being perfect:

1. If you are going to be perfect, you have to be perfect, period. FedEx cannot screw up.
2. It's important for Product Managers to recognize when something is "good enough" and when you're overserving your market. Google Spreadsheets has adoption because it is "good enough" and Microsoft Office has overserved the market.
3. Make a strategic decision whether to be perfect. Sometimes (most times?) the goal is not to be perfect but to move the needle.
4. Understand that most customers in most situations do not value perfect.

I remember proposing an impressive appliance diagnostic solution for Whirlpool and talking to their customer support organization. The solution include communications with an appliance over the phone, Artificial Intelligence, and a voice (over phone) menu to collect data. The most challenging part was the voice interaction, and we hadn't worked out all the kinks by the time we talked to the CS team. I thought we were at a disadvantage because our voice component worked only half the time. Interestingly enough, they thought it was great because it worked half the time. Why the discrepancy? I was comparing our 50% solution to my personal goal of a 100% solution. They were looking at my 50% solution as compared to their current 0% solution. My solution moved the needle 50% for them! As such they loved it.

Clearly a case where perfection should not be a goal. And there are numerous ones in the business world where understanding what is "good enough" is the difference between success and failure.


A smart move by Yahoo and great news for OpenID

OpenID finally got its flagship account customer in Yahoo. This has been a long time coming and I'm glad a major player has jumped on the OpenID movement.

This is also a smart move by Yahoo. To date this has been a classic chicken-egg scenario. By moving first, Yahoo can cement its logins as the de facto standard for a "universal login" (universal login is how I think users/customers will view OpenID). It creates brand share of mind for Yahoo. I know I will start using my Yahoo account.

Side note... if OpenID was named "UniversalLogin" instead, I bet we would have seen more movement in this space than . OpenID doesn't resonate with the layperson; UniversalLogin does.


Integrating the online and offline worlds

The line between online and offline is disappearing. Companies (some, anyway) are getting better at understanding how to use online tools to integrate into their operations and customer experiences.

Best Buy hasn't yet. I tried ordering something from Best Buy for Christmas. I chose instore pickup. I went to the store to pick it up. I waited in line for 15 minutes without anyone showing up at the special "in store pickup" counter before leaving the line, picking up the product off the shelf, going to regular checkout, then going home and cancelling the original order (which was tough to do with Best Buy's site broken). That is not a good experience for customers. Clearly they don't "get" the online space.

Progressive does get it. After a new car purchase I was able to go online to change vehicles, all online, all in a matter of about three minutes. They even told me the new insurance rate and the difference between that and my old rate. They get it.

ING Direct gets it. They allow management of account products (CDs, how to renew, moving money between accounts). They have sensible security precautions. It's a breeze to use (and good rates to boot). I've tried to set up new accounts at FNBO Direct and WTDirect, only to find that those banks don't get it. FBNO Direct has a weird login name policy, and neither has the ability to manage money easily. WTDirect doesn't even save bank account information when transferring money - you have to re-enter it every time.

Amazon has an amazing return experience. If a product is broken, I go to amazon.com, tell amazon I want to return an order due to a defect. They give me a label to print out, I package the item back up, put the label on it, set the package by the front door, and wait for UPS/Fedex to pick it up. In the meantime they are shipping a replacement item right away. Not only is that a great experience, it's better than what brick-and-mortar retailers can offer. Retailers need to understand the benchmark Amazon has set and reset their bar.

In the end, companies that "get" how to use online tools to enhance their customer experiences will win, and will win big.

Innovation is not the goal

I think it's time to kill the buzzword Innovation. It's become overused. According to some, everything is innovative. According to some, you aren't a good company unless you're known for innovation. I think they're wrong, and I think innovation as a buzzword has become so mainstream that the business world is losing focus on its customers. I say this as I continue to experience worse and worse customer experiences and become more and more frustrated by companies like Apple (who can't get their browser to work properly), T-Mobile (who screwed me over on a rebate), etc.

I think Good To Great should be required reading for everyone who thinks they operate in the innovation space. Good to Great is not about innovation - it's about businesses that broke out of "good" corporate performance and evolved to "great" corporate performance. And they were innovative in the process (more importantly they had great leadership that enabled that innovation). And that's the point. The goal was not to be innovative. The goal was to create great business results. Innovation happened to be a tool companies used to drive growth. The companies listed in Good to Great (Abbott, Fannie Mae, Circuit City, Gillette, Kimberly-Clark, Kroger, Nucor, Philip Morris, Pitney Bowes, Walgreen's, and Wells Fargo) aren't exactly companies that scream "innovation" are they? Walgreen's? Fannie Mae? Gillette? Nucor? Let that be a lesson.

If you are focused on Innovation, you are focused on the wrong thing. Focus on your customers and/or your business.


Why would I...?

This is a question that every product manager must answer. Why would your customer take the time to use your product? Why yours? Why not what they already use?

Squidoo is an interesting offering. You can build web pages around any knol you choose. I tried it. I built one for Purdue football. And I put some content on it. And I checked the traffic. Wow, I get more traffic to my personal blog than I do to my Squidoo page (which is zero). Which begs the question: why would I put time into building a Squidoo page? Especially when blogs are easier to build/maintain than a Squidoo page?

Usability in your Product Development

So how does one specify usability requirements in the product development process? Remember, usability is not the same as efficiency! I often see teams try to optimize on efficiency thinking they are getting usability - and are then surprised when they don't get the results on their usability tests that they expected.

I generally define usability requirements as a section in and of itself. I tackle it this way (yes this is high level):

1. Define the profiles of the users that will use the product. This is important. Include your "anti-users," or people that won't use your product.
2. Define the primary functions the user needs to be able to perform.
3. For each profile, define what the usability expectation in. I generally define this as "x% of users will understand how to perform the primary functions the first attempt and within so many seconds; y% within second attempt." Repeat for secondary and tertiary functions. This does not have to be complicated; however, it does have to be thought through.
4. Then prototype and usability test. Ask the participants to perform the primary and secondary functions and measure. While in an ideal world you want to have participants that meet your profiles defined in #1 above, in my experience you don't need a lot of participants to perform a usability test - I've done it with as little as one (because one usability test is infinitely better than zero).
5. Expect to find new, unanticipated findings from your participants! I have yet to do a series of usability tests that did not uncover something I would have never thought of testing for.

It is important, IMHO, to break out into primary and secondary functions. This is where most usability fails, in my experience. I've seen designers design for a secondary experience at the expense of a primary experience. A good product manager will prioritize their features/functions.

It is also important to be reasonable in your usability expectations. Another mistake is to try to have perfect usability for everyone. That won't happen, especially for something that's new-to-the-world (for stuff that's not new-to-the-world the usability has already been done and de facto standard interfaces have already established themselves). Instead, set a goal of "moving the needle" and managing to that.