Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Customer Long Walk

We are en route to Vancouver via Toronto airport. As we deplane we are guided towards passport control and customs. My daughter really needs the bathroom. We walk and walk. There is no bathroom. There is one tantalisingly close behind the glass but we are not allowed that way. So we walk fast, my daughter and I, then we run. She is desperate. Finally we see the sign as we reach the passport control area. A relief for all concerned.

Whoever designed this airport obviously did not have small children of their own. Not that I hold this against him or her, but some user experience testing should have shown that little girls often need to go to the bathroom upon deplaning.

And that's why we test our websites - for every eventuality.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Would you like a goldfish in your room sir?

I stay in a lot of hotels. I'm also fairly easily pleased - a clean room and a comfortable bed is really all I need. Nowadays most hotels seem to be able to provide this and so for me there's not too much difference between the hotel chains.

Except for Kimpton Hotels.

It's a chain but you'd hardly know it. Each hotel has its own character and its own specialities. Take the Pacific Pallisades Hotel in Vancouver. My family and I are booked to go there next week. Today I received an email from the Guest Loyalty Champion.

She asks if we have a favorite beverage or snack that she can have placed in our room for arrival. Or a favorite magazine or perhaps some recommendations or interests that she can provide more information about.

Great stuff.

And then the unforgettable question: "Would you like a goldfish in your room to keep you company during your stay?" OK be honest with me, when was the last time you were asked whether you'd like a goldfish in your room?

The kids think it's a fantastic idea. They are excited already and so are we. We are really looking forward to staying there. It's memorable (and blogable) already. Sure it could all end up being a disappointment but right now I'm a happy proto-customer - looking forward to being a customer.

It seems to me that Kimpton have joined a very select group of companies. Companies we look forward to being customers of. Who else would you say this about? Apple of course. Ferrari presumably. Trader Joes, Virgin Atlantic....

Not Starbucks - I like them, but they're almost but not quite too expensive. Definitely not Amtrak and I absolutely dread being a customer of US Airways.

So here's the question to ask: do people look forward to being customers of your company?

There was no goldfish waiting in our room. We are very disappointed. Funny how a broken promise does that. The room is great, the view spectacular but no goldfish. Were it not for the email we would of course never have expected one in the first place.

I asked the front desk for a goldfish and they sent one up. Lucky is his name. He's quite small but seems friendly.

UPDATE 3 - added a picture of Lucky

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Nature does it again

Those innovative folks over at Nature Publishing Group have just launched Nature Precedings a free online service that enables researchers to share, discuss and cite their early findings prior to publication.

It's that last part that interests me the most. Nature say that "most items published in Nature Precedings are assigned a DOI name (Digital Object Identifier)". The DOI name is a persistent, unique identifier that allows any object to be located online. In practice this means that links can be embedded in published documents without fear that someday they may lead nowhere.

This is how it works. A DOI name is assigned to an object (for example a document on Nature Precedings) and registered. The metadata associated with that object (for example the location) is registered along with the DOI name. Thereafter that object may be located on the web by using a URL of the form http://dx.doi.org/[DOI name]. If (say) the location changes for any reason the metadata is updated but the identifier and the dx.doi.org URL remain unchanged. DOI names use an implementation of the CNRI Handle System.

The syntax for the DOI name is prefix/suffix. All DOI names start with "10." (This distinguishes a DOI name from any other implementation of the Handle System). The suffix can be any unique identifier. Thus the DOI name provides interoperability between different systems of unique document identifiers. Here's an example of a DOI name doi:10.1000/186. Whatever identifier is used in the suffix the DOI name will resolve to the document (assuming the metadata has been properly registered. There are a number of Registration Agencies that provide this service to those wishing to register DOI names.

To date around 28 million DOI names have been registered, most of which refer to objects in the STM publishing world. Nature's choice to assign DOI names means that the more informal Precedings documents will immediately become part of the formal body of interlinked scientific technical and medical literature.


The DOI System is managed by the International DOI Foundation (IDF). This is an open membership consortium that was formed in 1998. It is a registered not-for-profit organization. I am the current Chair of the IDF. Feel free to contact me with any questions you might have.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Customer Service Long Tail

I'm writing this from the US Airways ticket counter at Philadelphia airport. I am trying to change flights for my family and I. We are flying back to Amsterdam.

For some bizarre reason three of us have paper tickets and one of us an e-ticket. That's why I have to be here in person: online and 'phone doesn't work for paper tickets. There is a change fee to be calculated. The ticket was booked with US Air in Amsterdam and this is the return leg of the journey

This is obviously an unusual situation but clearly not impossible since it's actually happened.

This is how it is going:

First of all there are no ticket offices anymore. You have to go to a full service check-in desk along with passengers for today's flights. And wait.

The agent cannot do what's needed at her terminal. She calls 5 different helpdesk numbers for assistance until someone is found who can.

The manual process is tortuous. In the end the Rate Desk has to completely recreate the tickets with new fares. It takes ages to complete even after the right expert was found.

It strikes me that I have landed in the customer service long tail. In this automated world, no-one thought of this use case. Moreover the knowledge needed to solve the problem is scarce. It took so much time because they had to locate someone with enough expertise on the booking system and rate knowledge. The system is so complex that it took even longer to solve the problem.

This may be worth thinking about when redesigning or outsourcing customer service. If this is truly a long tail then there is huge customer value in retaining those experts.

Mind you I couldn't help thinking what happens when Starbucks screw up an order. They give you your coffee for free. The irony of this situation was that it took ages for US Airways to calculate how much I had to pay them. As the gate agent said "this ain't Starbucks".

UPDATE it took more than two and a half hours to sort this out and cost me $1100

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Making it easy to pay

I heard about Voice Pay a while back on NPR's All Things Considered. It took a recent note by David Worlock of Outsell to remind me that these things are highly relevant to Publishers like us.

There are ever more inventive ways to make it easy for us to part with our money. My experience is that making things easy leads to more usage. It seems reasonable to expect that making it easy for customers to pay might lead to higher revenues.

Here are some other examples.

I have an EZPass so I can whizz ticketless through the turnpike toll booths. It automatically debits my credit card in $35 increments when my balance falls below a threshold. I have a Starbucks card that does same thing for my coffee. It's so automatic I forget what each transaction costs. I just get used to the occasional debit from my account.

My use of txt messaging has increased over time (Twittter!) and as it has I have changed my cell phone bill plan from a purely transactional plan (pay per txt) to buying a block of txts (drawdown) to unlimited txting (a subscription). A seamless transition from my point of view, low cost/high return for the cell phone operator since it was all done online with no human2human interaction and I’m using and spending more.

The bottom line: make it easy for me to part with my money and there's a good chance I will.

How to Design Library Websites

Chris Jasek of our User Centered Design group has written a second edition of his pamphlet “How to Design Library Websites to Maximize Usability”. It’s a set of guidelines to help librarians design usable library websites.

You can find it here

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sisyphus Rocks

I love people who are passionate about what they believe in. It’s why I loved Kathy Sierra’s blog. As I am sure she would agree it’s hard being an evangelist. It’s not enough to tell people; an evangelist is looking for action, for the audience to respond and to do something different. That’s why feedback is the life blood for evangelists – it’s how you know when the message gets through.

Sometimes though it feels like banging your head against a brick wall: when people aren’t listening or worse when they appear to agree and then do nothing. A colleague describes it as pushing a big rock up a steep hill. This was the fate of Sisyphus

Sisyphus was being punished, we do it voluntarily……..

I would love Hugh McLeod to do a Sisyphus cartoon

Does your product inspire Driveway Moments?

I remember during a WHYY membership drive someone (I think it was Ed Cunningham) defining an NPR "driveway moment": You're driving along, listening to a story on NPR. Suddenly, you find yourself at your destination, so riveted to a piece that you sit in your idling car to hear it all the way through. That's a Driveway Moment.

I have had quite a few Driveway Moments - usually it is Terry Gross in a riveting interview that I cannot bear to miss a second of. So I stay in the car in my driveway listening.

Something interesting happened when I heard Ed tell this story. I felt an immediate connection to WHYY. He was describing me, my own personal experience, my radio station. This is customer connection and it is hugely powerful.

But how did they know?

I've no idea how they came up with the idea, but there's a community area on npr.org called Driveway Moments where listeners are invited to share their Moments. I'd like to think it started with a listener's story.

So what would your customers write if you invited them to share their Driveway Moments?

Friday, June 8, 2007

My impressions of Rome

Wonderful fried zucchini blossoms at Piperno

Fantastic Italian sparkling wine: Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore. Available by the glass at Enoteca Al Parlamento in the Via Dei Prefetti

Hidden gem: The magnificent portrait of Pope Innocent X by Velasquez in Galleria Doria Pamphili

Mozzarella di Bufala to die for at Obika (try the softest one served in a bowl)

Great deal: National Museum of Rome. 9 Euro buys you entry for all 4 museum sites in the city and is valid for 3 days. Don't miss any of them even the hard to find Crypta Balbi

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Listening to customer concerns

The recent announcement by Sir Crispin Davis that Reed Elsevier will divest its defense show business is very interesting. I am sure this was a very tough decision and I applaud it.

What I find really fascinating is the trend for companies to be held morally accountable for their activities, even when these activities are entirely legal. In this case the major defense show that caused much of the concern (DSEi) is organized in association with the UK Government. Can it be that it is more effective to hold a corporate enterprise to account than a government? What does that say for our political system?

Remember Google and the censored search results in China? Their defense was that censorship was less evil than not to be in China at all (BTW see here for a great spoof on this). This goes beyond social responsibility; it is a tricky moral trade-off. I wonder how many corporate enterprises are well equipped to make moral judgments like this.

I grew up in a world where moral philosophy was the domain of governments or the church. Nowadays we set higher goals and expectations. We users have the web to make our voices heard and we have discovered the power of choice. Who would have thought it?!