Sunday, August 29, 2004

How much the community matters to business

I haven't heard much about Alvin Toffler lately. He is probably fairly old. I tend to hear more about futurists -- I would call them 'trend watchers' -- such as Faith Popcorn and Marian Saltzman in recent years. Toffler was big in the 70s and 80s when he published the books Future Shock and The Third Wave. He apparently runs a business consultancy that "help[s] companies and governments create their future in the fast emerging "Third Wave" economy." As explained on their site:

The Third Wave Information Society is more than just technology and economics. It is not just "digital" and "networked." Painful social, cultural, institutional, moral, and political dislocations accompany our transition from a brute force to a brain force economy. The Third Wave helps explain why so many industrial-era institutions, from giant corporations to governments, are dinosaurs gasping for their last breath. It is why America is suffering from simultaneous crises in everything from education system, the health system, and the family system to the justice system, and the political system. They were designed to work in a mass industrial society. But America has left that behind.

Apparently, Toffler likes to ask executives what it would cost them in real cash if none of their employees had ever been toilet-trained, in order to point out the enormous debt that corporations owe to communities, parents, networks and teachers, the kind of work, in other words, that women most often do.

Quote: Henry Ford

Business must be run at a profit, else it will die. but when anyone tries to run a business solely for profit...then also the business must die, for it no longer has a reason for existence.

-- Henry Ford

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Exceptional Customer Service Experience: SleepCountry

This morning I received a Thank You note from SleepCountry, where I'd bought a box spring last week. From start to finish, the experience was great. I went in, told the salesperson I was looking for a box spring. She asked me if I'd bought my mattress there, I said I had, she looked me up in the computer, then told me what kind of box spring I needed based on my mattress purchase. She showed me the two least expensive models. I picked one. She said, do you want it delivered tomorrow? I said yes. She called the delivery department, they said yes. I paid and left. The whole transaction took 5 minutes.

The delivery people called me at 9AM and said they'd be at my house between 2 and 5. They rang at 2. They got to the top of the stairs and apologized for taking so long, because the box spring didn't fit in the elevator and they had to walk up the stairs. Upon entering my apartment, they put little slippers over their shoes so as not to damage anything. They assembled the bed in a matter of moments, had me sign a receipt, put a thank you note on the bed, and then left. I'd wanted to tip them for taking the stairs. They didn't hang around.

Then this morning I received this handwritten thank you card from the salesperson who had helped me at the store, with a series of questions where I could rate the store and experience.

SleepCountry makes the following commitments:

* Fully staffed professional customer service department
* 60-night comfort guarantee
* 5% price guarantee
* Free delivery
* Removal of old mattress and box-spring for donation to charity
* Wearing booties in customers homes
* Timely response to warranty issues, scheduling inspections, and liaison with the manufacturer
* Trained Sleep Specialists
* Professional Delivery Specialists

Each sales person goes through 180 hours of training before they become a Certified Sleep Specialist and are put on the floor. The company has been around only since 1994, starting with 4 stores and one warehouse in British Columbia, and appears to be growing, with 89 stores in seven regional markets, and expanding into the U.S. Market. Here's ttheir latest report.

Flawlessly executed. I'll never buy a mattress anywhere else.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Things I've read recently

  • Who Reads Blogs? Apparently not the teenagers we thought read blogs. They're older, wealthier, and smarter than we thought. This was a study sponsored by a company that delivers blog advertisements, so take with NaCl.
  • A story about RSS's first non-blog business application, a product called RSS Calendar, made by a company in Cincinnati. He promises a plug-in for Outlook in the future.
  • If we do not change our direction, we are likely to end up where we are headed. -- Chinese Proverb
  • Comparison of Cost-Per-Lead. Still amazes me.


Jon Udell writes a great piece at InfoWorld on the use of tags in Flickr and, and how seemingly simple features such as tags can become such powerful tools.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

The 99 Cent fallacy

David Pogue talks about .99 pricing, and claims that companies do this to dupe consumers into thinking that they are getting a good deal ($2.99 is less than three dollars!!). From what I understand, this practice originated as a means of keeping cashiers honest, in the days before credit cards. If an item was priced $1.99 and not $2.00, the cashier would have to enter the amount and open the cash register to give an extra penny to the customer, ensuring that all sales were entered, and that the cashier couldn't pocket the money if they were given exact change.

It is likely that this practice continues to this day because it was assumed that consumers perceived prices being lower, but I don't think any of us are dumb enough to fall for it any more.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Organizr for Flickr

Once again the best team in the world has built an incredible tool: Organizr. You can group your photos into photosets, batch add photos to group pools, and easily browse your entire photostream. The other thing we've done is opened up the Flickr API so that other developers can roll their own Organizrs (or whatever else they dream up!) Flickr is becoming the King of Webapps. Check it out:

Saturday, August 14, 2004

For every new feature you need to:

1. Come up with the concept.
2. Say no.
3. Force the feature to prove its value.
4. If “no” again, end here. If “yes,” continue…
5. Sketch the screen(s)/UI.
6. Design the screen(s)/UI.
7. Code it.
8-16. Test, tweak, test, tweak, test, tweak, test, tweak…
17. Check to see if help text needs to be modified.
18. Update the product tour (if necessary).
19. Update the marketing copy (if necessary).
20. Update the terms of service (if necessary).
21. Check to see if any promises were broken.
22. Check to see if pricing structure is affected.
23. Launch.
24. Hold breath.

Jason Fried on 37 Signals.

This is probably sage advice for many, if not most, companies. But if we had actually followed i.e. steps 1, 2 and 3 and tried to figure out in advance if features were worthy, Flickr would not exist at all.

More on this later.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

In Negotiations, make the first move?

Received knowledge dictates that in negotiations one ought not make the first move, but this article suggests otherwise. By putting the first number on the table, you can anchor the perceived value of the deal at a higher level.

The answer lies in the fact that every item under negotiation (whether it's a company or a car) has both positive and negative qualities—qualities that suggest a higher price and qualities that suggest a lower price. High anchors selectively direct our attention toward an item's positive attributes; low anchors direct our attention to its flaws.

But the article cautions that the person that has more information has the advantage in any negotiation:

There is one situation in which making the first offer is not to your advantage: when the other side has much more information than you do about the item to be negotiated or about the relevant market or industry. For example, recruiters and employers typically have more information than job candidates do; likewise, buyers and sellers represented by a real estate agent often are privy to more information than unrepresented buyers and sellers are. This doesn't mean you should sit back and let the other side make the first offer. Rather, this is your opportunity to level the playing field by gathering more information about the item, the industry, or your opponent's alternatives to the negotiation. The well-prepared negotiator will feel confident about making the first offer and anchoring the negotiation in his favor.