February 15, 2017

Going fast and slow

Streamlined, friction-free, hassle-free, speedy, smooth.

The list could go on – what I hope these adjectives capture is how, in some elements of retail, there is an increasing focus on making the process of purchasing and acquisition simpler and quicker. Amazon is the prime example of this (inevitable pun), with various initiatives coming in thick and fast. There is Amazon Echo, through which you can place orders for music and Prime-eligible physical products; and then there are the new shops, Amazon Go, where customers can walk in, put what they want from the shelves straight into their bags and then walk out again.

Now I must confess that neither of these options has particular appeal. However, I have been tempted by the simplest of all the Amazon efficiency offers: Prime delivery. As a household, we accidentally signed up for a month’s subscription, and in the interests of research, I ordered and successfully received a same-day order, with an eight hour gap between putting in my request and tearing open the package. It was probably the quickest way to get these books. I would have otherwise been obliged to go into a big bookshop in London to be sure of finding them, but it all felt rather anti-climactic in the end. Drone delivery will be more exciting.


But what about the idea of going slow? Yes, I will acknowledge that this is getting attention in its own right, but in a way that is all aspirational and fetishised – think slow food, slow living, mindfulness, hygge etc. But what about slow as a practical approach to life?

Communication, like shopping, has all got much easier, in particular thanks to smart phones, which means we can pick up calls, texts and emails, whenever and wherever. I would like to share with you a recent example of a surprisingly simple but highly effective way to slow down communications. This example came from a colleague who is the head of an important public institution, and thus on the receiving end for complaints and concerns from users. As most of us will have no doubt experienced, it is all too easy to get bogged down in a long and ever expanding spiralling email thread. Here is what this CEO did: in response to a ‘difficult’ email, they sent a letter back. Why it was so successful?

It stopped the discussion at once: no one could be bothered to write a letter back and it seems rather odd to reply to a letter with an email.

It stopped any forwarding and copying in additional individuals, as is very easy to do with emails, thus ensuring that the discussion could be tightly controlled/managed, in a perfectly acceptable way.

And finally, and this is the sweetest part, the recipient was happy and no longer aggrieved. Who could fail to be pleased with a letter which is on nice, thick, headed note paper and which shows that the original comments have been reviewed and reflected upon, and have prompted a carefully considered response?

Now the challenge is to think about how this tactic can be deployed equally effectively in other contexts. Not sure it would work as a means of dealing with edits to Powerpoint decks – shame!


August 13, 2016

The way things should be

Filed under: Business,Customer Service,Marketing,Uncategorized — by xrematon @ 8:31 pm
Tags: ,

I am occasionally inspired to write stories about positive customer experiences.  It doesn’t happen that often, mind you.
This time it’s Amazon’s turn to be under the rosy spotlight. Let me tell you the story…..

Once upon a time, on Jan 3rd 2015, a lucky little girl was given a Kindle Fire as a belated Christmas period. She played happily on it through out the year, but sadly, during the Christmas holidays next year that much beloved Kindle was left on the floor and trod upon, cracking the screen so badly that it no longer worked. Kind Mummy decided to get in contact with Amazon to find out what could be done. She pressed the magic May Day button to talk to a nice helpful person, realising as she did so that it was exactly a year to the day that the Kindle had been first purchased – in other words just outside the 12 month warranty period.
Mummy spoke to Dee, explaining what had happened, being quite open about the fact that it was due to sloppy treatment that the Kindle stopped working. But lo and behold, Dee waved her wand and said that a new Kindle could be delivered to the little girl free of charge, but we just had to be patient and wait a few weeks for it to appear.
The days went by and turned into weeks. After less time than had originally been discussed, the little girl and her Mummy had a knock at the door and took in a big brown box. Quickly cutting open the box and then, without any fuss at all, unfolding the clever special packaging inside, which didn’t have any of that nasty sharp cutting plastic, the little girl and her Mummy found a lovely new (reconfigured) Kindle shining inside.
They lifted out the Kindle and switched it on. After just two minutes, by logging into her Amazon account and bringing up the profile of the little girl, Mummy was able to breathe a sigh of relief and handover a completely functional Kindle with all the games and apps and lovely things now all there to a now very content little girl. And they all lived happily ever after.


April 22, 2016

Quantified me

Google searches 2015

The above image gives you an insight in the minds of a nation – what are the people of the UK uncertain about and interested in? (I have picked the graphs that intrigued me – there were obviously lots on sport and celebrities!)

I can also get an insight into myself, all without having to join the club of those armed with some kind of wearable device. There are lots of organisations with whom I interact doing all the data collection already. Let’s see what I can uncover…

Firstly, back to Google. It is possible to obtain information about your account, including how you use the panoply of different Google applications. As I have the function which tracks location switched off and don’t really use YouTube, the main aspect of my use I can analyse is standard web searching. As the below screen grab shows, I have notched up an impressive number of searches over the past 10 years (though actually, as I have no point of comparison, I can’t tell if this above or below the ‘average’).

Google search  history

I am not so impressed with the fact that Wikipedia comes up highest in the list of my top search clicks. Perhaps I can at least be proud of the fact that it isn’t facebook and that the other sites listed are more respectable!

Next – money. I recently received an annual statement from my credit card provider, which included some charts breaking down my expenditure each month and by category.

Credit card statement

Well, this is superficially interesting, but rather frustrating once I start looking into the data further. What was going on that meant I spent so much in June? A large amount of spending in November makes sense as there are birthdays and Christmas presents to buy. And the breakdown by category is also rather limited. As I shop online for groceries, that explains why a large slice is for supermarkets, but what about the big area of ‘other spend’? Hmm, not sure I shall bother to look at this in the future again.

Third and finally, Amazon. We all are only too aware of the fact that Amazon is keeping track of what we buy as recommendations pop up based on our purchasing history. But, I wondered, is there is more on my quantified self beyond this? Not really. All I could uncovered was the ability to look through my previous orders, admittedly going back more than 10 years.

Amazon orders 2005

This did reveal the extent to which I have increased my shopping through Amazon. In 2005, I placed a mere three orders! A decade later, I made 101 purchases and this year is set to be even more of a bumper harvest for Amazon. By March, I had already made 55 orders. Hope Jeff Bezos is rubbing his hands!

March 13, 2012

On the wrong side of the digital divide

Filed under: Business,Technology — by xrematon @ 10:40 pm
Tags: , , ,

Does it sound silly for me to say that I feel digitally excluded? Obviously, it does in some senses given that I have typed this blog post. So what do I mean?

Well, I am thinking about the times when my ‘digital activity’ has been compromised as I don’t have a printer and it is assumed that being online also means having a printer. No point in getting some handy vouchers – I can’t print them off. Or ticket bookings.

The time I got very cross was opening a new bank account with Santander. It was – admittedly – an eSaver account – but why should that mean I need a printer too? There was one particular form necessary to activate the account, which I was emailed through with the assumption that I could print out a hard copy, fill in and then post off. I went to the effort of ringing to see if I could get the form sent to me in the post, but the person I spoke to was adamant this was not an option. Grrrr…

As a counterpoint to this frustrating experience, let me describe a more positive interaction with Amazon. I wanted to return an item and followed the instructions on the site. I reached the stage when there was a form to print out – my heart sank – and then rose again when I read on. You could just send back the sales slip that came with the pack. Hooray – I could function!

Perhaps I am being rather silly and making a mountain out of a molehill but I really don’t want to be forced into getting a printer. They are ugly dark boxes (there is no beautifully-designed Apple-equivalent of a printer despite the claims of this article); producing extra paper doesn’t make sense in a world when we are trying to streamline the amount of stuff we use up; and given this, why can’t I use just a code or an email sent through on a smart phone instead?

But I do have an Achilles heel – I like my photos to be tangible – but that’s what Photobox is for!

February 16, 2012

In store, at home or both?

Filed under: Customer Service,Technology — by xrematon @ 3:42 pm
Tags: , , ,

Shops – are they in or out? It’s hard to tell. Forecasts for online shopping are pretty bullish, but then again, shiny stores appear here, there and everywhere. There was news the other week about Google getting in on the act.

Well, I must confess to being keen on online shopping as getting to places is not always straightforward when you don’t have a car, and then being in the shop can be pretty painful when you are restraining bored children.

However, last week, I tried a different type of shopping experience – without a shop but very much placed in the ‘real world’. A friend has recently become an ‘Usborne Book Lady’ and hosted her opening party at home. Now, I don’t want to get into the nitty gritty about whether this kind of selling makes sense. If you are after that – it’s easy to find more on the ever-informative Mumsnet – where it is clear some aren’t that keen on the whole idea.

what i really can’t understand with usbourne (or avon or pheonix) is that you can get it all on amazon or somewhere else at good prices. how do you make any money for the time put in? is it one huge con or are people happy to make a little money in the belief that they are actually achieving something? Whilst in the meantime these big companies are raking it in, asking for the workers to spread their name !!. The workers are evan BUYING their products to sell on! And the way i read it, it seems to be evolving almost of pyramid selling with one person taking on initiates to ‘manage’ …. it just seems to me someone is exploiting a strangely vulnerable (yet hugely strong (??)) sector of society – those who want to earn (however much that may be) whilst still wanting to be there at all times for their children.

Though I agree that you can just get it all on Amazon, the experience – in some ways – was very different to buying online.  Obviously, I could pick up the books, handle them, flick through the pages, all pretty crucial when you are getting items for fussy customers (children).  But, here’s the thing – what made it special: online,  you have to glean what you can from reading other people’s reviews; here I was surrounded by other mothers, who had children of the same age, who could share their wisdom and answer questions straight away. It was a real-life experience of hearing about other user’s opinions –  much vaunted as the critical feature for virtual shopping.

But I guess the killer question for some is whether it changed what I bought. On balance – yes – I got more – and know what I want to get next time.

PS Did I mention there are tea and cakes on tap too!

November 24, 2011

Empowering the consumer with information

Filed under: Consumer Trends,Customer Service — by xrematon @ 3:57 pm
Tags: , , ,

I am in that smug minority – amongst the one in five  – who have bothered to switch energy supplier. The process seemed to be painless enough – a bit time on some price comparison sites, before a hop onto the site for the ‘chosen’ supplier (Ovo) to fill in an online form – and then it could have been silence for a long while things went on in the background.

However, Ovo is one of those ‘enlightened’ companies which has been started by someone who was fed up with the way the big existing providers did such a poor job. (If you are really interested, go to their site  to read more of their founding myth, now seemingly de rigeur after innocent led the way with their story).

Ovo think about what is going on from the customer’s perspective and their signing-on letter was representative of this. One of the pieces of information it included was a timeline – as shown below – which tells me why it is that nothing appears to happen for several weeks after I have taken the plunge.

It doesn’t seem like much but it’s one of those simple actions which can make all the difference as to how customers feel. It’s like when you are on a train which suddenly stops, and the driver can tell why you’ve stopped, rather than let you stew in agonising and increasingly frustrated silence.

Another company that does keeping you informed well is Amazon. I’m thinking of their ‘Track your Delivery’ feature, which can contain surprising amounts of information. On one occasion, I was surprised to find a gift had not arrived at a friend’s house, so logged into my account. It turned out the gift had passed through Kingston Park Peterborough where the item was handed over to the carrier for delivery, from whence onto the National Distribution Centre, then to the Northern Countries DC, and then got stuck in the Hemel Hempstead mail centre, following an unsuccessful attempt at delivery.

But there are times which you don’t get this kind of insight into what’s going on behind the scenes and could really do with it. I had an insurance claim to deal with, which turned out to be surprisingly painful. It involved daily calls to the insurance company because I didn’t know what was going on and whether any progress was being made or not. In the end, the call centre staff took pity on me and just processed my claim straight away, without making me wait for all the relevant bits of paperwork. Ironically, I need them now – give me the tools and I will leave the company in peace!

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