Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Kindle for iPhone (+ rejoice re: pricing)

Relating to my last post about Christopher McDougall's outstanding book, Born to Run, just wanted to put in a good word for the method I used to read it.

I actually began the book the good ol' fashioned way -- reading a library copy. Unfortunately, as is often the case, my reading pace didn't match the three-week checkout limit or the waiting list of other eager readers; renewal was not an option.

When it had to go back to the library, I was only about one-third of the way through -- deep enough to be really engaged. My options were weighed:

A. Go to a bookstore and pay full retail price

B. Try my favorite bookstore, Half Price Books, if they had it

C. Explore yet other options

It was late at night, stores were closed, and I needed it NOW. So more immediate choices were considered: via Apple's iTunes Store [iTunes link], an audio version could be had for $23.95. The thought of wading through a long audio version to find my spot, reference in the future, or cuddle up with, didn't address my urgent need.

Just then, another option came to mind: the Amazon Kindle.

No, I don't own one. The $259 price tag is still a little steep for my taste.

A surprisingly pleasant read using the Kindle for iPhone app

A few months ago, I had gotten the free Kindle for iPhone application [review via CNET]. This ended up being an extremely satisfying way of reading: it is always with me, I can make annotations and highlights as I go, and it is surprisingly pleasant to read.

But the best part was the price: just $9.99. That compares with a $25 cover price or $14.50 for the book via Amazon. And it arrived instantly -- I was delighted!

If you have an iPhone -- or deep pockets for the Kindle itself -- this method is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Check out the Kindle Store, including their selection of free books.

This is the way book (and music and video) pricing should work. A digital version of a work requires none of the physical materials or production costs of a traditional book, CD, or DVD. [Sure, I understand that there is production involved; but come on -- it doesn't compare to the overhead of CD cases, printing presses, paper, etc.]

Thank you, Amazon, for recognizing this and building a great infrastructure for the next generation of reading.

Nature: the Ultimate Designer

Just finished reading a fantastic book, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Ever Seen By Christopher McDougall. Google Books

Born to Run is an extraordinary read at many levels -- part science, part masterful storytelling, part history, part business, and more. Topics covered include:

  • An in-depth -- and entertaining -- history of running from prehistoric persistence hunting to today's road racing
  • The tension between the love and natural ability of running and the almighty dollar ("Goddess of Wisdom" versus the "Goddess of Wealth")
  • A plethora of intriguing characters along the way: from the intentionally isolated Tarahumara (or Rarámuri) of Mexico to pioneers of ultra-marathoning and cutting-edge science

These topics and many more are wrapped in extremely engaging narratives -- to use the tired phrase -- that are hard to put down. McDougall is a truly captivating storyteller.

From a design perspective, and what I found most fascinating, is the natural engineering of the human foot and how we are, quite literally, "born to run".

The remarkable design of the human foot distributes the impact of each step. "Barefoot running", or as the Rarámuri practice it with thin sandals, leads to a quick step with shorter stride -- the way people have run for millennia.

However, related to the monetary tension mentioned above, as running became a popular leisure pursuit, the way we ran changed drastically. The "modern" (1970s+) running shoe design altered our natural stride and technique. Its raised heel was intended to give us a sort of "head start" by leaning us slightly forward. They also come with all sorts of shock absorption features that one might think would reduce injury and soften the impact of each step. McDougall provides convincing data that instead of preventing injury, this forced design has actually greatly increased running afflictions.

It has really been until just recently that designers have taken this problem into account. Besides simply pure barefoot running, here are two interesting designs that accept and compliment the design of the human foot:

Five Fingers by Vibram | Link
Extremely innovative, yet simple in design, these shoes go on like gloves. There's a place for each toe and the sole compliments, rather than alters, the human foot.

Nike Free by Nike | Link [curses to Nike for a cumbersome Web site]
From the originator of the modern age of running shoes, comes this incremental line of footwear. With models ranging from the 3.0 (sort of barefoot) to the 7.0 (almost complete traditional shoe). Reparations perhaps?

Both represent an interesting approach to design and a more careful understanding of true human factors.

Jon Stewart interviews Christopher McDougall on The Daily Show, August 19, 2009:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Customer Service -- Illusion or Reality?

In his most recent column, Los Angeles Times columnist David Lazarus nails the current state of "customer service" in the big box retail world...

The Sad Illusion of Happy Customers
Los Angeles Times, Nov. 11, 2009
Retailers say they want shoppers to be satisfied, but few have the resources to deliver the goods.

A sampling:

"'Happy customers is a long-term strategy for us,' Best Buy's chief marketing officer, Barry Judge, told me. 'If they're happy, they'll want to buy more.'

That's the idea anyway. But after visiting a couple of Best Buy stores and chatting with customers, I'd say the company still has some work to do on the happiness front."

He continues by citing multiple examples -- his own and those of customers.

There's a good chance you can add to the list too.

Personally, I recently went into a Best Buy browsing for cell phones and wanting to learn about family plan options. Even though two employees were sitting nearby, no one approached me during the five minutes I was looking around. A minute later, I was gone and will probably never step into that particular store again.

Lazarus is also featured on American Public Media's program, Marketplace, today:

Where's the Focus on Customer Service?
L.A. Times columnist David Lazarus talks with Bill Radke about why more businesses aren't focusing on customer service with so many consumers reluctant to spend. | Link

I especially like how Lazarus calls out Trader Joe's as an example of the way customer service should be.

Just yesterday, shopping in a crowded and busy TJ's, employees were everywhere. Even as they restock shelves, they are always on the look out for customers in need. They are always (ALWAYS) happy, knowledgeable, and most important, genuine.

To Best Buy CMO Barry Judge's point, my experience at Trader Joe's almost always leaves me feeling great. That's something that Best Buy -- or for that matter, the big grocery stores that compete with TJ's -- have never been able to replicate.

Read or listen to the Marketplace piece here:

Video Series on Behavioral Economics

Check it out if you have a chance...

American Public Media's outstanding radio program, Marketplace, has posted a video series on behavioral economics. They pull together an impressive collection of behavioral economics experts with concepts presented in a straightforward, entertaining way.

Videos in the series:

Bribing vs. Signalling w/ "Undercover Economist" Tim Harford

While obviously low budget productions, the videos do a good job of addressing key concepts in a simple, true-to-life way.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Comparative Peek into the Employee Experience

Another hat tip to Mark Hurst of Good Experience for this link. [If you don't subscribe to his excellent Good Experience email newsletter, you really should. They are simple, relevant, and always insightful. Sign up here.]

Working for Happiness
Some workplaces are happier than others. Journalist Alex Frankel tried to discover why. Link

"In what became a two-year adventure through the world of commerce, I served as a driver's assistant at UPS, poured coffee at a busy Starbucks cafe, folded garments at Gap, rented cars for Enterprise, and sold iPods at an Apple Store.

Though my mission was primarily to study modern workplace cultures—reporting that turned into my 2007 book, Punching In—I came away with an appreciation for the roots and benefits of on-the-job happiness."

Especially interesting is the comparison Frankel makes between the focus of employees of the Apple Store and Gap:

"At chief duty was to fold clothing that had been unfolded by customers, a Sisyphean task. Sisyphus, you might recall, was condemned by the gods to keep rolling a boulder up a hill for eternity. And that's just what working at Gap felt like: an eternity.

In contrast, work at the Apple Store was set up so you were focused on accomplishing goals, not filling up time. At Apple, most product layout was left to one 'visual merchandiser' who was passionate about keeping the store neat, leaving others like me to interact with customers, share information, and be ourselves instead of following a script."

Even in this short vignette, one gets a good understanding of the impact the Employee Experience has on the Customer Experience.

Who would you rather be helped by: an employee trapped in the drudgery of their work, or one free to improvise and focus on YOU, the customer?

Alex Frankel is author of Punching In: One Man's Undercover Adventures on the Front Lines of America's Best-Known Companies.

Here's a video teaser:

Alex Frankel's Web site:

Book links: Amazon | Google Books (w/ "Find in a library")

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Customer Point of View #2

So-Called Customer Loyalty

After a fairly long (both literally and figuratively) post on sales receipts, here's a much shorter rant...

As you checkout at nearly every retail store these days, one is asked, "Are you a ____ [insert 'loyalty program' name] member?"

Careful -- it's a trap.

If you say, "No", they'll start pouring on the sales job; sometimes it even has a credit card offer involved.

If you say, "Yes, but I don't have my card with me", they'll ask for your phone number, name, or other personal info. Who wants to go there?!

My recommendation: just say something like, "No, I'm not interested."

I don't know about you, but this always creates a moment of stress, tension -- even resentment. I JUST WANT TO PAY YOU FOR WHAT I BOUGHT; otherwise, leave me alone!!!

Do businesses REALLY think these "rewards" or "loyalty" programs -- carrying their card around or risk being accosted at checkout -- equals true engagement or loyalty?!

Instead, I'd love to see these businesses, rather than demanding my "loyalty", show their commitment to me; several examples include:

  1. Get me engaged, rather than causing me discomfort
  2. Remember my name/face/shopping habits
  3. Recommend products and services that meet my needs, not those they're trying to push

Or, as suggested in my previous post, just say, "Thank you", make me feel valued and important -- and mean it.

That would make me want to come back. And maybe even tell others.

One of my favorite retailers, Trader Joe's, does these things authentically and effectively. The "biggies" such as my local Target or Cub (our local big grocery chain), do not.

Guess where I go most often and spend more of my food dollars?