A Remarkable Customer Experience

My brother-in-law, Michael Roberts sent me this video last week. You may have seen it, maybe you haven’t. Please watch it. It’s called The Simple Truths of Service, and comes from the work that Ken Blanchard and Barbara Glanz have done as management consultants. I have taken a number of Blanchard classes and read his books over the years. His Situational Leadership course was very helpful for myself and my team in understanding what phase we were in and how we could better support one another.

This short clip demonstrates that anyone on your team can transform the way your customers perceive your business. The business in this case is a supermarket. They all sell roughly the same things, so it comes down to price, convenience and of course customer experience. This is how you create a customer experience that cannot be copied. Enjoy and use it as inspiration to make one of your own.

Check out Michael Robert’s flickr photostream here. He is emerging as an accomplished photographer.

Asleep at the Wheel – Why Consumers Forgot About American Cars

This post is in response to George Colony’s CounterIntuitive blog challenge, why can’t America build great cars?

George, in a way it’s not their fault. Like many things America has done so well over the last 100 years, we find ourselves with some pretty smart competition these days. It used to be said, “They make airplanes in Everett, Washington (Boeing’s primary assembly point), every one else only tries.” The same could have been said about automobiles and Detroit

GM HQ - 3044 W Grand Blvd, Detroit, MI - Historic Landmark
GM HQ - Detroit, MI - Historic Landmark

First, a little personal background. Growing up I had two uncles who were mechanics and one who drove race cars on the super modified circuit. I went to watch these open-wheeled cars dash around a dirt, high-banked, quarter mile oval track every Sunday night. When a back injury forced my race driving uncle to retire, guess what he did, he sold cars. First Chevrolet where he would say that Ford meant “found on road dead.” Then he got a better offer from the Ford dealership and suddenly it stood for “first on race day.” Cars are most definitely part of my heritage. As soon as the new car models were in the showroom, my dad would drive us from dealership to dealership looking under the hood, in the trunk, inspecting the interiors. It was kind of like a sacred pilgrimage.

GM was the only way to go in our family. Once my dad bought an MG Roadster for fun and it literally fell apart before our eyes. Needless to say I was influenced by him and was a charter member of the GM fan club when it came time for me to choose a car.

I gravitated to Chevrolet with a Nova followed by two Monte Carlos, then a Buick Century. But over time there were a lot of annoying problems. Some place along the way GM changed the trunk mechanism from mechanical to hydraulic which would fail a year into ownership. Why make that change? The old design worked well and never needed attention no matter how long you kept the car. I was young and didn’t have the money to repair all these things, so I just bumped my head every time I put something in the trunk. There were many other problems with seals, transmissions, air conditioning, starting in cold or wet weather, flooding, starters and overheating.

Now, back on point. I believe you can boil down American’s car problems to the following; arrogance, inertia, lack of understanding customer need states, and a personal favorite, the ivory tower syndrome.

Arrogance is the easiest to understand, ”We believe America makes the best cars in the world.” End of conversation. If you don’t recognize there is a problem, you will have trouble solving one.

Inertia is a bit more subtle. The assembly line to showroom chain was a finely honed process for American car makers. One of my uncles lived in Lansing, Michigan where there was an Oldsmobile assembly line. As a child he took me on a plant tour and I marveled at how all the parts came together like a well choreographed production number. They got them off the line and onto the dealer lots efficiently.

Even though cars were a significant expense for the average family, they were still relatively affordable. My father didn’t make a lot of money as an electrical engineer, but he paid cash for every car he ever bought, trading up to a new GM model every couple of years. Here’s the bill of sale from his purchase of a 1961 Pontiac Tempest Safari station wagon (last generation’s version of the SUV). Total price $3,249.35

The boomers were coming of driving age. The Eisenhower Interstate Highway system was in place connecting this vast country. The family car was how you saw America, it was the vacation transportation. Women began to enter the workforce and so a second family car was needed. The price of gas was under .50 per gallon. Ride the wave American car barons. All these factors that led to meteoric growth also conspired against them as they pushed the supply chain thinking to the max. This has made it very difficult to rethink or re-imagine a complicated business.

America definitely made cars safer and more comfortable, but it’s hard to see how they thought beyond the next model. It’s as if some guy said, “Let’s try this.” And everyone did it at the same time. It was a look alike game. Styling, colors, options, even the names. Oh yeah, there was one stand out on the name front, Gremlin. Oddly enough, American Motors didn’t survive. There was a brief attempt by Preston Tucker of Ypsilanti, Michigan in the late 1940’s to create “The Car of Tomorrow.” It was successfully stopped.

That brings us to lack of understanding customer needs. Remember the trunk story? When Japanese automakers found a part or design that worked well, they kept it. As a result the quality of their products improved over the years, allowing them to focus more on who would be driving their cars. Honda and Toyota pulled off an amazing marketing feat. They used their management and production methods to raise quality, and their vision and research to gain a yet to be relinquished foothold in the U.S. They gave boomers the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla as they entered their 20’s. Reliable, efficient, low maintenance and long lasting cars. Once the boomers became established in careers and began to accumulate disposable income, they gave us Lexus, Acura and Infiniti, just as we were looking for more luxury and prestige. Brilliant.

Meanwhile America was trying to manage brand strategy and find the quality recipe. The boomer’s parents (at least the dads) pretty much stuck to one brand, but everyone ended up in the repair shop just as frequently with all those annoying problems. Oh by the way, they cost more and didn’t last as long. American car companies were on an internal corporate life-cycle and it was out of synch with consumer need states (customers anyone?). When you give consumers choice they will expand their thinking. It didn’t hurt to see all those Japanese cars on the road. It took a while for Toyota, Honda and others to get noticed, but once they did it was all over.

The “Buy American” anthem was hatched to try and hold off the outsiders. Buying American is great but it would have been much better if it was “Buy American because it’s better,” and actually true.

Now the oldie, but goodie, the ivory tower syndrome. American car execs drove their own car brands and models to work each day and never had any problems with them. “What are all these people complaining about? These cars are fantastic.” Well first of all they always drive new cars. American cars will get you down the road pretty pain free for the first year (12 month or 12,000 mile warranty). Second, when they parked in the headquarters garage a team of mechanics would swarm their vehicles and make sure all was in perfect working order. Hmmm, maybe that had something to do with why the cars seemed in tip top shape. The execs should have given themselves 3-5 year old models to drive and forced to maintain them the way everyone else had to, by making an appointment with a dealer and finding an alternate means of getting to work.

I swore off American cars and bought a new 1994 Toyota Camry. I had it seven years, drove it 118,000 miles and never once opened the hood myself to check the oil or troubleshoot a problem. It was never in the shop for anything except normal maintenance. It never, ever failed to start, even in the harsh Chicago winters. I was converted. I now drive a 2003 Acura TL and love it.

1994 Toyota Camry Instrument Panel
My 1994 Toyota Camry instrument panel the day it was traded

The 1970’s oil embargo and energy crisis helped downsize cars and improve mileage. But America quickly forgot about that, wanting bigger and faster, so on came the SUV, the rebirth of the V8 engine and the era of monster cars and trucks. When looking at the profit margins on those vehicles vs. the other models, it made great business sense to the U.S. car makers. Wall Street liked it too. The quality has come up nicely, the reviews are better and reported incidents of problems has improved.

This success simply sharpened the short sightedness. They completely missed the fact that someday the price of oil would rise as the rest of the world grew and drove, and we would need alternatives to fossil fuel. American car makers have been looking at battery and hydrogen cell technology, but that is a long, expensive cycle, not a strength of the big three.

Now the big American cars and trucks sit idle while consumers are waiting in line to pay full price for the Toyota Prius. The car companies have approached Congress to ask for help in retooling their factories for the next generation of cars. Excuse me, isn’t that what a visionary business plan is for? And by the way, you’re ten years too late. Try competing with your competition before they have won.

Americans over the years haven’t tried very hard to conserve energy, in fact quite the opposite. Fortunately that is changing and has some urgency behind it. You can’t blame the U.S. car makers for giving people what they wanted to buy, but you can hold them to task for not developing a parallel strategy to protect their business for the long haul.

Like so many massive and long-standing communities, airlines and government being two others, it takes outside thinking to change the inside direction. When great things are created, and they are, it’s too late to get the credit.

So George, it’s not that America doesn’t build great cars, it’s just that people feel stupid buying them.

Dick Clark’s Not In The Top 40 For Customer Experience

I was traveling back from a family Jersey Shore vacation today. It was just me, as the rest of my family stayed behind for a couple of more days. We had to juggle blackout dates and availability in exchange for redeeming our American Advantage miles. I needed to get something to eat so I stopped at the closest vendor to gate 33 in terminal A of Newark International; Dick Clark’s American Bandstand restaurant. The neon sign promised me food, spirits and fun.

I purchased my to go sandwich and a drink and started to make my way to the gate waiting area. As I walked I noticed their full service seating area was nearly deserted, so I decided to sit in the tall chairs. Before I could even approach the seat the woman who sold me the sandwich, Christin (that’s her at left in the photo), immediately shooed me away. She said that area was separate and for full service patrons only. I reminded her that I bought food from her, but that didn’t matter. It was the RULE.

Now if they were crowded or had a waiting line, I would never have considered trying to wrangle a seat. But there was plenty of seating and it was only me. Why was I meant to feel like an inferior customer? What would they be losing if I had sat in an empty chair for 10 minutes? Nothing of course. But they certainly lost something in exchange for following the rules; me as a customer. A man sitting at a table looked up in disbelief that I was being removed from the premises.

I expressed my displeasure and point of view in a calm way to Christin, but apparently a rule is a rule. Never mind allowing employees the leeway to exercise good judgment to keep customers happy. In between serving customers and enforcing the laws, Christin was chatting up some airport employee who was sitting in one of those tall chairs but had nothing on the table in front of him. The sandwich was pretty good, but there are plenty of places to get food and have a pleasant customer experience.

Sonos Rewards Their Current Customers, What A Concept

Companies today tend to give their newest customers the best deals, leaving the ones who have been supporting them over time to fend for themselves. The phone and cable companies have been the most egregious offenders of this in my view. I’ve been a customer of Cingular and now AT&T since 1994 (that’s 14 years!) and can’t say I ever received anything of value from them. They continue to send me free phone offers, but they know I’ve had an iPhone since day 1 (there’s a picture of it right on the home page of their account servicing site next to my name), Do they really think I would ever switch from a phone I paid $600 for?

Well, I’m happy to report that Sonos sent me an email to today that actually rewarded me. Sonos has been a great product, allowing me to listen to my iTunes music collection all over the house, even outside. They have successfully combined a simple interface and wireless connectivity, and its performed like a trooper for over 2 years.

The communication informed me that a new software version was now available and all I had to do was download it to my Sonos system and they would give me free music, worth $200.

The download process was a bit more cumbersome than I wanted, as I ended up resetting my hand held controller to the factory defaults, which erased all my internet radio favorites and the controller playlists I built over the last two years. A little annoying.

Once that was accomplished, I clicked on the email link to see the details. Of the three offers, two of them pre-selected the music, some of which I had, other selections I didn’t care to have. The third service required a credit card and enrollment in their trial package, but the trade off was you could choose from anything in the catalog. I only took them up on one of the three offers, but that’s not the point. The fact that they demonstrated that my time was valuable, acknowledged that fact and offered me something in return.

It wasn’t a huge benefit, but neither was the amount of time. I found their support of loyal customers to be refreshing, and solidified my link to the brand.

Follow Up to Mellon Disaster

Yesterday I wrote about the problems I encountered with the Mellon Investor web site. I was forced to call today to conduct my transaction. Got through to an agent quickly, but she couldn’t help. Couldn’t explain why I go the error message, confirmed my account was not locked, and informed me they were having problems with their Interactive Voice Response System, which is why I didn’t hear the prompt. Her only offered solution was for me to go back to the site, download a paper form, fill it out and mail it in.

So this evening I went back to the site to do this and I was unable to log in. Error messages indicated that either my investor number or PIN were not valid. Triple checked my entries. They are correct. Now I have to call them again tomorrow. I’m too busy for this.


Another Cross Channel Failure – Mellon

I received a mailing from Mellon Investment today with a request to identify and certify my taxpayer information. I was provided with two ways to carry out this request; over the phone or through the Internet. I had already set up my account so online was an easy choice. I logged in and followed the instructions. I verified my information and entered my PIN to complete the transaction. I received an error that my PIN was invalid, although it was the same one used to log in not 2 minutes before. Three attempts and I was locked out. So I guess I’ve got to use the phone.

I called the toll free number and listened to a series or prompts, none of which matched the instructions on the mailer. Eventually I got to the “for all other issues press 5,” So I did. I entered my ID number and PIN and was promptly told, “We’re closed.

Lots of things wrong here.

  • The mailer lists the phone option first vs. the cheaper online channel.
  • If you are going to drive people to the phone as a first choice, you better be on the other end when they call.
  • The online certification process was full of financial jargon and unclear.
  • The system would not accept my valid PIN.
  • No phone hours of operation were printed on the mailer, which is fair since they say the have an Interactive Voice Response system, but the expected prompts never came.

I am an experienced Internet user and work in financial services, and I failed to complete the transaction in both channels. Now I have to take the mailing to work, find time to call, wait in the cue and then conduct the transaction. So frustrating. True, the cross channel game is tougher to master, but it’s not that hard. Get it together Mellon.

I will give them one positive. When I logged off after being shutout they asked for feedback through an online satisfaction survey. Do you think I took it?

Forrester Finance Forum 2008 – Second of Three

Is Net Promoter Score the Holy Grail?

Second in a three part series of observations from the annual Forrester Finance Forum, How to Deliver Great Customer Experiences, held in New York June 23rd and 24th. Go here to read part one.

Photo Credit: Steve A Furman

Bill Doyle, Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester, was very clear and consistent in his refrain about creating great customer experiences, “Easy to say, hard to do.” This simple phrase is at once a mantra and a warning. In financial services mahogany suites around the world the following response to creating great customer experiences can frequently be heard, “We already do that.” This is where the warning makes its entrance. Unless your firm has a customer experience executive that is fully engaged and integrated across the firm and understands that customer experience is everyone’s job, then you probably have a ways to go.

Ask those quick responders how they know. What are their metrics? Do they have them for each channel? Do they have them when customers are using multiple channels for the same transaction? Are the channels weighted? What is the weighting? Do they understand which channels are used by which customer segments? Ask them to show you their benchmarks. Are the benchmarks moving in lock-step with business results? And my personal favorite, where’s the customer experience roadmap that shows customer value, channel usage, level of interactivity, all correlated to likelihood to recommend?

One of the biggest challenges is getting people to understand and share a common vocabulary about customer experience. The next is to recognize it when they see it. Obstacles to delivering great experiences are not new.

  • Silos (yes, still siloed)
  • Department goals not aligned (often not even shared)
  • Consumers use multiple channels (well, you made them available, what did you think was going to happen?)
  • Technology infrastructure is not designed to allow data to flow freely across channels (no comment)
  • Business strategy changes (need to close the quarter)
  • External forces create surprise (economy, consumer confidence)

These are massive problems that cannot be easily solved. Forrester poured the forum foundation by demonstrating that a great customer experience does indeed drive positive business results. Fred Reichheld, founder of Bain & Company and author of The Loyalty Effect and Loyalty Rules spoke about his groundbreaking Net Promoter Score framework, in a talk entitled Winning the Loyalty of Financial Services Consumers.

Photo Credit: Fred Reichheld by Steve A Furman

For 30 years, Mr. Reichheld has studied customer loyalty and has arrived at a simple, highly supported hypothesis that loyalty transforms economics. He has a loyalty chain slide to help companies understand the components of loyalty.

Slide: Fred Reichheld

The Net Promoter Score (NPS) measures customer satisfaction. They are questions asked via phone or online after an engagement with the company. Customers that turn in scores 9-10 are bucketed as promoters. Scores 7-8 are categorized as passives. Detractors weighed in between 0 and 6. Throw out the number of passives, subtract your detractors from your promoters and you’ve got your NPS.

Slide: Fred Reichheld

Mr. Reichheld was informative, engaging and humorous. He told a personal experience he had with a rental car company. On a recent trip he returned the car 45 minutes late. The check-in attendant regrettably informed him that he would have to add half of a daily rate to the bill. Then there was the gasoline fee at three times retail price (that’s something like $12 per gallon). Mr. Reichheld protested, but to no avail. The attendant responded that he should have purchased the protection plan. “Protection plan,” said Fred. “Is this a rental car business or organized crime?” The attendant had the nerve to ask for a top 2 box satisfaction score. We’ve all been there.

Apple was referenced as a regular user of NPS. I made a purchase at my local Apple store yesterday. They hate cash registers and so my purchase was done in the middle of the store by a clerk tapping on a wireless device. My receipt was emailed to me. Here’s the email that has a link to the online satisfaction survey (also a great way to collect email addresses).

Here’s the entry page to the survey web site.

When a 10 comes in the employee of the Apple store is celebrated. When a detractor score comes in the store manager makes an outbound call to find out why. I was a promoter in this instance, but made a very detailed suggestion about store layout. In my opinion, the side shelving units are too close to the walls and there is not enough room to inspect the products and have someone walk behind you. The current floor plan hides a significant amount of SKUs. I provided them a detailed description of how they should reconfigure the layout into a series of V shapes. It would be visually more interesting and direct customers to walk in an interlacing fashion through the store. They could also improve their signage. I know I’m a pain, but I spent 9 years as the general manager of a retail bookstore chain. Retail is customer experience design.

Forrester analysts are sharp, and always make it look easy. Maybe too easy. But inside corporate America it needs nurturing and a fact-based approach. Of course getting NPS deployed needs support from the very top; everything does. Just prior to Fred, Walt Bettinger II, President and COO of Charles Schwab & Co. presented. He employed NPS and made some tough decisions to try and get their business back on track. Walt was pitch perfect in his delivery and obviously was the guy Schwab needed to pull this off. It seems to have worked, but they were in crisis. What if your business is not in crisis? What if you hear everyone around you say, “We already deliver a great customer experience?” It’s much tougher. Forrester should tackle that topic next.

In closing remarks, Fred offered some thoughts on how to get champions for adoption.

  • Explain that it’s your reputation on the line. It’s your name. Ask, “What do you want to be known for?”
  • NPS is still somewhat soft, but is gaining traction. Lots of case studies and blog entries can be found at netpromoter.com.
  • It is more psychological and sociological in nature, but these are converging with business facts thanks to the rise of social media.
  • You can’t improve your entire book of business with NPS. Look at profitability (vertical) and NPS (horizontal) together. Like everything, prioritize what you work on.
  • B2B firms have adopted NPS at a faster rate than B2C.
  • It requires a rethinking of the entire channel relationship with your customers.

My take is that Fred’s really on to something. After all here’s a brilliant man who has put 30 years of his life into one thing. Improving customer experience requires more than one strategy, and this one appears to be close to the tipping point. The meteoric growth of the online social community just might push it over.

P.S. The photo of the New York Times building (first photo above) was taken from a taxi. I immediately had a spontaneous urge to scale the building. Fortunately my agency partners were with me and kept me in the cab. Thanks Heather and Frank.

Forrester Finance Forum 2008 – First of Three

Great Customer Experience: Easy to Say, Hard to Do.

Just returned from the Forrester Research Finance Forum held in New York June 23rd and 24th. Forrester is a research company that does an excellent job at spotting trends, doing deep dive research, and providing companies with helpful insights. I have been a client of Forrester since 1999 and this is my 15th Forrester event. Time does indeed fly.

Photo Credit: Steve A Furman

The theme was How to Deliver Great Customer Experiences. A pretty broad topic, but the Forresterites did a yeoman’s job of spinning an anthem into a coherent, actionable program. Their format combines Forrester speakers, keynote talks given by high level execs from big companies, and smaller breakout tracks geared to a specific skill or practice.

I’m totally sold on the notion of providing a great customer experience as a building block of growth, and quite frankly am astounded that there are senior execs at major brands who still don’t get it. But such is corporate life. There are many factors at play for why people end up with the big jobs, but that’s fodder for a completely different blog.

Day one began with Research Director Benjamin Ensor giving a talk called Building Differentiated Customer Experiences. He invoked the Forrester Experience Based Differentiation tenant by saying that differentiation is more important than ever because:

  • The Internet fuels transparency (one click comparison shopping)
  • Consumers can’t see how financial firms are different (jargon, products are now commodities)
  • Trying to be the price leader is dead (introductory rates turn into unaffordable rates)
  • Product differentiation is difficult to sustain (easily copied)
One of the few things left to do is differentiate through superior customer experience. Agreed. But what happens when/if everyone, or your biggest competitors, all deliver great customer experiences? Perhaps that could be a topic for a future forum. I guess we have a ways to go before we need that therapy session. In the meantime Forrester urges companies to:
  • Systematically build loyalty through design and delivery of differentiated customer experiences
  • Obsess about customer needs (not just product features)
  • Reinforce brands with every interaction (not just marketing communications)
  • Treat customer experience as a competence (not a function)
At the core was a strong call to develop a culture, process, skills and structure to deliver on these ideal experiences. Benjamin held up Jyske Bank in Denmark as an financial institution that’s getting it right. The execs at Jyske Bank created lifestyle branches. They installed foosball tables and coffee bars that got their customers to stop worrying and start thinking about their financial lives. A simple, but powerful concept. They packaged their normally stale products as dynamic lifestyle products. Consumers were drawn to them, opened them, could see what appealed and then interact through scanners and videos. The results are impressive, doubling their acquisition rates since putting these new experiences into play.

Photo Credit: Forrester Research (Jyske Bank)

Other examples were also used. Fidelity’s human, innovative, empowering approach (mash-ups and podcasts) and Credit Suisse’s immersion program (requiring financial advisors to fill out their own product applications). But the Jyske Bank case study was the most creative and apparently the most effective in delivering business results.

As I was listening to Benjamin speak I had an aha moment. A brief glimpse into a way to actually orchestrate a great customer experience. Involvement of course. But there is a requirement to have shared involvement. It does no good to involve customers in your products unless you are committed to getting involved in the consumer experience. If you can do both, then you’re on to how to create a great customer experience.

Mr. Ensor said something I believe provides insight into a question that’s been nagging me for years. “Why do all the cool technologies show up in places other than financial services?” The answer is because Silicon Valley is attracted to more exciting areas vs. the low interest categories. Probably only partly true, but as someone who works in the FI space, I can tell you that the technology is rock solid and scalable, but not sexy.

Time for a quote from Confucius.

If you tell me, I will forget; If you show me, I will remember; if you involve me, I will understand.

He closed with this set of recommendations.

  • Don’t leave your customer experiences to chance
  • Nurture a customer-centric culture that focuses employees on needs of the customer
  • Reorganize to break down product and channel silos
  • Build processes and technologies that help deliver consistency
  • Align metrics and incentives with your overall strategy

More to come on the Forrester Finance Forum.

How to Frustrate Your Site Users

AT&T is my home telephone provider. I switched from MCI WorldCom (remember Bernie Ebbers now incarcerated for fraud and conspiracy) because MCI couldn’t understand that they needed to come to my newly constructed home to actually connect the phone wires from the outside of the house to the inside switch box. You don’t want me to start that rant. Let’s just say I will never be a customer of MCI or whatever they’re called, ever, ever again. Not in this or any future life!

Back to the post. My credit card was re-issued with a new number so I needed to log onto the AT&T site and update my payment details. Hadn’t been there in a while because I am enrolled in auto payment and turned off my paper statement. The less I think about my phone company the happier I am.

I typed in att.com and was taken to the home page. When I clicked on My Account I landed here.

Perfectly attractive page at first glance, but the Cingular acquisition has added complexity. Three places to register, login or get support. Pretty well designed and labeled except for U-verse. What’s U-verse, another planet? In short order I found the home phone section, clicked login, and entered my credentials. So far so good. Since I last logged in they added two factor authentication to the site. Two factor is a federal regulation for some industries and others have adopted it as another layer of protection. It often takes the form of question and answer, knowable only by you. Turns out that when users set them up, they are so secret they can’t even answer them.

AT&T is a case study in why they can’t be answered. Here are the questions offered to me in the drop downs.

First and foremost best practice site designers need to follow in selecting these questions is the answer should never change over time. Your father’s middle name will always be the same, and very easy to remember, but what country you would like to visit can shift over time. Almost none of their questions pass this test.

This means returning users will have a much higher likelihood of failing to answer the questions correctly, become frustrated and call customer service. The exact opposite result that AT&T and the customer desires. Using personas and goal-directed design techniques would reveal that a meaningful amount of time will pass between logins. Don’t expect users to remember details that they rarely think about. It’s not a test. Back to the drawing board.


Wine – Just Enjoy It

Newsweek Magazine ran a short article summarizing a new book called The Wine Trials by Robin Goldstein. The trials consisted of 500 volunteers (everyday drinkers and experts) participating in a blind taste test of 540 wines, tasting over 6,000 glasses. The results? The subjects rated lower cost wines higher than more expensive wines. The scale used was bad, OK, good and great. When they were told that a wine was more expensive it was rated higher. Even when tasting the same wine twice without their knowledge, and told they were different prices, their choice was for the more pricy bottle.

Goldstein says, “If you hide the label, the truth comes out.” Have you seen the variety of labels on the shelves today? They may as well be hidden. Talk about marketers tinkering! To me this is not breaking news. The case is being made that marketers are trying to make money. Imagine that! They have created a mystique around wine to confuse the public and trick them into not really understanding the product, and feeling inferior that they don’t. After all, anyone with proper upbringing and culture knows wine, right?

There are so many other other factors in play. For instance. Have you ever heard a song for the first time on the radio or at someone’s house and it sounded fantastic, then you go out and buy it and listen to it at home and wonder if it’s the same song? You ask yourself, “Why did I like this so much?” That’s because so much of our experience comes from the environment. Were you enjoying a glass of wine when you heard it? Having a great conversation with a good friend? Does he have a better sound system than you do? Wine’s no different. You are out on a romantic dinner and the wine was “incredible.” Buy it in the local store and drink it alone a week later and it’s OK.

When you are in a fancy restaurant on an important business dinner and the wine list is presented. Most people pretend not to notice or are looking down at their shoes. My advice. Be bold and take the lead. You can ask for a recommendation from the steward, or just pick something in the medium price range. The environment will carry the day, and you will be hailed as cultured.

I absolutely love wine, and belong to two clubs. One sells their wine for a little less than the other. I’m partial to reds and so I naturally have more tolerance when it comes to quality. Both clubs give me good reds. But I’m much more selective with whites. The less expensive club lets me down most of the time on whites. So the preference factor is heavily at work.

To me it has always been about enjoying the taste. If you like it, it’s good. Buy it and drink it. My recommended wine club is Ambrosia.


Human + Machine = Manifesto

For purposes of the post, Human is the Marketing department and Machine is the IT department. Manifesto is my rant. Nothing should be read into the terms. I have the highest regard and respect for IT and Marketing people (I am one) everywhere.

I attended Interwoven’s annual client summit, GearUp 2008, held in San Francisco April 22-24. Interwoven is a major player in the content management software space with over 4,200 customers in 60 countries. They develop enterprise strength solutions that help companies create, publish and archive all types of content.

A software application such as this has largely been the purview of the IT department. But Interwoven has been working to expand their offerings into a tool set suite in the hopes of transcending IT and engaging marketers, by allowing them to leverage content with increased relevancy. They are re-proclaiming that “content is king” and is the single most important asset firms have to influence brand consideration and purchase. With the explosion of online community and social networking this approach makes sense, and their extremely well run conference really got me thinking.

As a marketer myself, working in the Internet space, I rely heavily on my IT department to understand what I want to do in the online channel and then execute. We come at the world from very different mind sets, which sometimes makes communication challenging. I know the following dot points are oversimplified, but I believe they make my point.

  • IT works in machine code and Marketing works in human code
  • IT has build guidelines, Marketing has information architecture
  • IT writes code, Marketers employ goal-directed design
  • IT has an instruction set, Marketing uses personas

We have a great relationship with our IT team, but are always exploring ways to make it better and more effective. In my opinion a major point of convergence is in the offing.

  1. Companies should require regular strategic planning sessions that bring to the table the Internet solutions VP, the E-Business VP, the CIO and CMO. This will help the organization understand the breadth of what needs to get done from infrastructure to presentation layer, from database to targeting. These will be sobering conversations.
  2. CEOs should combine marketing and IT functions into one seamless high performance team. It will be required if firms want to accelerate the return on their already significant online investment and extend its effectiveness to drive business results.
  3. Get social or get served. This is a courage call. Think, smell, taste and breathe social (I know, duh). But not that many traditional companies are doing it for all the reasons we already know about. In order to get social, IT and Marketing must be one social team.
  4. Set up social tools for IT and Marketing to communicate and build their unique community. If given the chance and mandate, they will find common ground. Actually I worry less about the traditional marketing areas getting clued in, as their activities will continue to get more expensive and eventually will serve to support the richer interactive channels.

It’s all about having system(s) flexible enough to be both a marketing and servicing platform. Then it’s about the teams working to connect these systems in an online ecosphere. There are very big things looming on the horizon and companies that have not set-up their infrastructure and organizations to be more agile, will not grow. Or worse, they will be overtaken by competitors who are able to do this.

Now back to the Interwoven GearUp summit. Guy Kawasaki was a keynote speaker, tackling The Art of Agile Development. Guy is now a venture capitalist, but spent several years at Apple Computer in the late ‘90’s as their software evangelist, trying to get more coders to produce products for the Macintosh operating system. I first met Guy in 1996 in Chicago. He was on one of his road shows for Apple and spoke at the Chicago Public Library. He was engaging, funny and smart, and it appears that some 12 years later, none of that has changed. Guy knows the marketing speak, but he exposes the long held marketing doublespeak for what it is, and that rings true to IT. This is an important clue to getting the two teams on the same page.

You have to see Guy in person to really appreciate what he is saying. My notes can’t do that, so I won’t even try. I don’t have the slide deck presented at the summit, but this one is very close. Catch him live if you can. If you can’t visit Guy’s blog is here.

More to come.


In a Taxi? You Just Might Be On Camera

San Francisco is on of my favorite cities. What’s not to like? It’s scenic, progressive, and has so many landmarks; Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, the Embarcadero, Alcatraz. While traveling to the airport from the downtown district by taxi the other day, I noticed something I haven’t seen before. The cab had a small camera positioned above the driver’s inside rear view mirror pointed at the back seat (circled in red below). A passenger notice was posted on the driver’s side rear window that read, “You are on camera.” The service was labeled FairView™. Also on the sign was a reference to Silent Witness®, a maker of video surveillance equipment (acquired by Honeywell in 2003).

My search on the City of San Francisco official web site did not yield any information about FairView™. I’m assuming the system was installed to monitor activities taking place in cabs in an attempt to reduce crime. The driver did mention anything about it, so if I hadn’t seen the sign and camera I wouldn’t have known.

While I personally don’t have an issue with this practice, some will feel this is yet another invasion of personal privacy. Leads to some questions. Are the images being stored? How long are they kept? How secure is the feed and storage? Who has access to the content? Is audio being recorded as well? Who pays for it?

If the system is effective in reducing crime or improving the safety record of cabs, we will probably be seeing a lot more of this?

Photos by Steve A. Furman


United is Winning Me Back

September 30, 2016. Update to this post. United has not won me back. Loyalty has been broken. I pick my flights based on price and availability. Same goes for American.

In the early ’90’s I frequently found myself on an airplane. Calling Chicago home is really a good thing for so many reasons. But one of the best reasons is lots of planes land there on any given day, so it’s much easier to get home than if you live on either coast. Two carriers own Chicago’s O’Hare airport, United and American. During those days I took dozens and dozens of trips to New York, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles, racking up some pretty hefty flier miles. My airline of choice was United. I prefer the Boeing aircraft over the McDonnell-Douglas planes American flies. Not a big fan of the MD-80, and after last week, I probably have a lot of people with me. United always treated me well and it seemed that a new 757 or 767 was entering the United fleet weekly. I was on a lot of those brand new planes.

But right after the employees took over the airline, things began to go south. I remember being in Terminal 1 at O’Hare on the day they took ownership. Everyone from pilots to baggage handlers were walking the terminals shaking hands and passing out pamphlets explaining why it was going to be so much better. Well, it wasn’t.

They lost my loyalty, so much so that I wrote them a letter after being diverted to Philadelphia from my original destination, New York. It was a personal trip, so it was even more disruptive. I came to learn that these diversions were commonplace. Overall the customer experience just fell off a cliff.

So I did what most customers do when they feel this way, I tried the competition, American Airlines. Since 1997, American has been my first choice. Naturally, it helps that the company I started working for in 1999 has a corporate relationship with American. My wife also has an American Advantage Citibank MasterCard and thank goodness all that shopping has helped us fly around the world. But at the core, American has done very well by me. You can read a previous post here about a recent experience that is typical with how I have been treated.

However, in light of all the problems American has had over the last week or so, I am having second thoughts about them. I was in Los Angeles when the MD-80 grounding took place, but fortunately was not affected, as my flight back to Chicago was on a B-757.

After a brutal winter in Chicago, my family deserved a little R & R, so we choose Arizona. We needed sun and warmth. I started at United’s website which was relaunched a few months ago. Very clean, easy to use and fully alligned with their brand. The fares were less expensive than American’s and once I booked, United offered me an opportunity to move to Economy Plus for less than $300 for all 4 travelers. A must on a flight of this length. This booking was on Ted, flying an Airbus 320, seats 7A, B, C, and D.

Image Credit: Ming Lee & Associates

Terminal 1at O’hare was a great experience in 1988 when it opened, and continued to be a great experience this past weekend. United has refined and extended their EasyUpdate concept with flat screens at each gate giving the customer critical information during the wait time. Type of aircraft (including a seat map), up to the minute status on number of passengers that have checked in, upgrade and standby lists, weather on both ends, and more.

During boarding the Captain and First Officer greeted the passengers. My three year old was interested in seeing the fight deck and they were more than willing to show him. They let him enter and explained the various controls. Even offered to have him sit in one of the seats. He was a little shy, or this post would have a great photo.

Everything about the flight experience was first rate. Bottom line. My next personal trip will begin at United.com.

543 Parking Spaces Remaining

April is a heavy travel month. Three business trips plus a very much anticipated week long vacation; a delayed spring break. Today my travels have taken me to Columbus, Ohio, spending two nights in a Hilton Hotel near a new and brisk residence and shopping district (Easton).

While we were waiting for a dinner table I happen to glance out the window onto the shopping scape. The usual can be seen, Macy’s, Barnes and Noble, etc. As I continue to scan the horizon my eye rests on the corner street sign; something new. A stack of three signs mounted atop a pole. One is the standard parking symbol (a big red P), a second points the way to the Hilton valet. The third one, sandwiched in between the other two, has a digital readout embeded in it. Bright red numerals that display the number of spaces available in one of the parking decks. It changes real time, as cars enter and leave the structure.

Not only is this really clever it’s good business. First-timers to any shopping area will be looking at signs to help guide them, so the displays will be easily seen. By positioning them at the entrances and not on the parking structures themselves, customers will be able to gage where available spots are without driving around. Once you are familiar with the location of your favorite shops and restaruants, finding parking is a snap. It also works as a retention tool. Imagine it’s the busy holiday season or a random rainy Saturday afternoon. You just might choose the Easton shopping center over others because you know the parking experience will be better.

Of course it makes me wonder about the accuracy. How do they record entrances and exits to the deck? Is it by space or simply by counting vehicles that come and go? What happens when it’ s busy and the display shows only 1 space remaining? Are shoppers off to the races? Who will be the first to hack the system to ensure there is a place waiting for them on Black Friday?

Ultimate convergence will be achieved when this information can be pushed real time to your car’s GPS displaying the deck, level number and exact space available.

I gotta say that I didn’t expect to find something this forward thinking on my trip. Great job Columbus!

One Laptop Per Child Update

In an earlier post I wrote about the One Laptop Per Child Foundation and their Give One Get One donation program. Simply support the cause by purchasing a laptop for a needy child in a developing country, and get an XO laptop for yourself. Apparently they have had tremendous response, which is great news. And although my laptop has yet to arrive, I am happy to report this group has absolutely nailed the customer experience by keeping in regular communication. I received 4 emails from Dec 22nd through January 31st, informing me of what was happening. The latest email told me that additional laptops were being built and would be delivered in 45 to 60 days.The OLPC Foundation mission:

Empower the children of developing countries to learn by providing one connected laptop to every school-aged child.

Here is where it really gets good. They gave me the option to reconsider my contribution and offered to issue me a refund by calling a dedicated 800 number. In the same message they told me where recent laptop shipments have gone; Mongolia, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Rwanda and Haiti. The Give One part of the deal has not been delayed. They included a link to photos of children using the XO laptops delivered this January to Mongolia. I snagged a couple of these amazing photos for this post.

Photo Credit
: Carla Gomez Monroy

Of course I will NOT be asking for a refund. The whole motivation for me, a strong believer in their mission, was to help them distribute the device. They have done that. Getting one of their laptops is a nice perk, but my 3 year old son who already has everything, can wait as long as necessary. I am sharing these photos and the foundation’s efforts with him so he can make a connection as he learns along with these other children.

Photo Credit: Carla Gomez Monroy

Nicholas Negroponte and OLPC, thanks for staying “on mission” as well as remembering to treat me with respect. If you are reading this and inspired to help, or simply want to find out more, go here.

Netgear Fails to Connect on First Impression

In a previous post I wrote about a great out-of-the box customer experience I had with an Olympus E-510 SLR digital camera. Of course for every great experience there is likely to be one not so great. I think you know what’s coming. Very recently I opened up a new wireless router, the Netgear RangeMax WPN824, all eager and ready to install it. Here’s what happened.


One day a few weeks ago, none of my 5 computers or Sonos boxes could access the Internet. OH MY GOD! WE CAN’T GET ONLINE! My oldest son felt violated. Apparantly losing Internet access is comparable to having a plague on your house. This is red alert time, so I sprung into action. After all we do EVERYTHING online, even order groceries, so that means no food. I checked all the cable connections and rebooted the modem and router, and still nothing, despite all lights flashing green. A call to Comcast told me that my connection was live and strong, and my modem was working, so it must mean a dead router. My first router was also a Netgear (RP614) purchased back in 2000, when you could only get hardwired models. It cost me $50 about 8 years ago, so it seemed fair enough to me that I would need to replace it.

Did some online research, then headed for the local Best Buy. Lots to choose from, but since I have Macs as well as PCs in my home, my choices were narrowed. Netgear had treated me well, so I picked up the WPN824 and came home to install it.The out-of-the-box experience was not what I had expected it to be. Here’s the post describing the Olympus digital camera experience. Netgear’s box was well designed and informative, but the magic stopped there. The CD had some quick start instructions that told me to insert the CD and click on the index.htm icon. But it was repeated in 7 other languages. Hate that. I reviewed the Getting Started sheet and followed the Apple Mac instructions to the letter. It promised me a Smart Wizard Configuration Assistant would be conjured up to lead me seamlessly through the process. After about 5 minutes of rubbing the lamp, and using up my 3 wishes, no one appeared to help me, and I wasn’t online. Here’s the CD sleeve.


The box promised 24/7 technical support, so I reached for the phone. In short order I was speaking to a pleasant gentleman (probably in an offshore call center). He was excellent. Asking specific questions to understand what was going on, and giving me extremely good direction. I asked him why the Smart Wizard didn’t show up, and he informed me that the CD does operate on a Mac.

“Why does Netgear pack Quick Start documentation in the box that gives me instructions for installing on a Mac when you know it doesn’t work?”

He deflected the comment and focused on trying to solve my problem. When I threw him another curve ball he said, “That’s no problem, we can work around that.” In less than 10 minutes he had the router configured from my Mac G5 and insisted on staying with me until I had accessed the Internet with all my computers. So kudos to Netgear for having a well trained and available staff.

However, I am not a nascent when it comes to technology, and fully expected to get up and running with the new router on my own. So while Netgear has done a good job training their most expensive customer service channel, they failed at helping their customers in the much less expensive self-serve channel. Most of what was provided to me in the box was either wrong, or would not work with my operating system, despite claiming compatibility on the box. They should trade in their so called Smart Wizard for one that is more effective at conjuring. By paying closer attention to their out-of-the-box experience they will can deliver a better customer experience for less money.

Obviously I am back online (having averted yet another crisis) and fully expect my Netgear router to serve me for years to come, just as the last one did.

Olympus Gets the Quick Start Guide

The holidays are probably a dim memory, with most of us having been sucked back into the rock pile. That makes it an ideal time to look back on a customer experience I had with one of my electronic gadget gifts, an Olympus E-510 digital SLR camera.

My primary digital camera for the last two years has been a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P200, and pretty happy with it. It gave me good quality photos and the compact size was great when traveling. But when your primary photo subject is a 3-year-old, perpetual motion machine, the shutter delay is murder. You miss so many moments.


Needless to say I was quite pleased to receive the Olympus. Felt great holding a substantial camera body again. Like the old days, when we all used to shoot on film. Now getting electronics as gifts has been known to strike fear into the hearts of normally courageous men. We’ve all been there. You tear open the box and want to dive right in. But the manufacturer just didn’t put much thought into how to help the average consumer get up to speed quickly. What a lost opportunity. It has gotten better over the years, but it is still an uneven experience. You never know what you’re going to get when you break the seal.

So there I am. Box open, excited, ready to take pictures NOW! The Olympus out-of-the-box experience was really first rate. The Quick Start Guide was just that, a quick start guide. Divided into 14 equal and distinct sections, the guide takes the user from unpacking the box, through taking a picture, and connecting to your computer so you can see that first photo. Exceptionally well done, including how to use the control buttons, adjusting for image quality, using flash, etc. You really don’t have to crack the manual to get a lot of use out of the camera.


The instruction manual gets even better. First they include a different copy of the manual for each language, instead of cramming English, French, German, Spanish and Chinese into one super thick book. What a joy! Thank you Olympus. Could immediately put the other manuals into the recycle bin and know that I will actually be able to read every word of every page that was left behind. This is particularly important, as this feature-rich camera will require frequent reference during the first few weeks of use. No more fumbling through the pages to find the King’s English.


The authors of this manual clearly have pride in workmanship. They took the time to organize it logically, separating camera basics from mastering the E-510, so know when you’re graduating to the next level. Another plus is the manual is written for the E-510 and only the E-510, vs. trying to cover several cameras in one document and leaving it to the user to sort it out. It’s rounded out with a well appointed index; always a sign that no one got lazy or rushed in the end.

I am happily snapping away, capturing even more great images to be enjoyed for years. Consumer electronics companies. If you’re reading this, take a lesson.

Hollywood Movies Rest In Peace, Long Live Film

Theatrical box office ticket sales for 2007 were slightly up (4%) over the previous year, but attendance was not. Hollywood is still addicted to the franchise sequel formula, which gets riskier with each year and will eventually wear thin. The box office winner was Spider-Man 3, followed by Shrek the Third, both of which produced healthy ticket sales even as a third installment in a series. Rounding out the top ten were, Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Bourne Ultimatum, I Am Legend, 300, Ratatouille and The Simpsons Movie. Clearly Americans love fantasy/science fiction stories, with animated feature length movies having earned their place along side live action pictures some time ago. With so many tickets being sold on sequels, audiences seem to prefer familiar characters.


Source: Media by Numbers Chart: The New York Times

But the high water mark for ticket sales in a single year was back in 2002. Why has Hollywood been unable to grow their market share? Certainly we know there is competition for leisure time, particularly among the young. A significant amount of time is being soaked up by online usage. Each year more and more resource is being poured into an ever-shrinking number of pictures. The stakes get higher and higher for fewer and fewer films. Marketing budgets are huge now and are boosted even further by support from campaigns launched by secondary products, such as books, toys and video games. The studios are also pouring millions into stand alone Internet sites to promote film releases. The viral components of these interactive sites are beginning to crack open a new marketing avenue, which should help.

Hollywood shoulders most of the blame, but the exhibitors are also at fault, as the overall show going experience has deteriorated over time. When you enter a multiplex (no longer called a theater) you are immediately bombarded by repackaged television promotions and product commercials. Then there is the parade of public service announcements. Pleas for the audience to silence their cell phones and leave the talking to the actors. That’s how far we’ve veered from a respectful theatrical experience. No one takes watching movies seriously. It’s become like television. Acceptable to answer the phone, talk, get up to get snacks, etc. I long for the day when exhibitors publish the actual movie start time, so I can calculate my entrance accordingly. Generally I am fine with trailers, but those have become formulaic as well (will save that for another post). Compare what I just described to the pre-event atmosphere you find while waiting for a dramatic play, or a classical music performance to begin. Miles apart!

But I posit that there is a fundamental flaw in the final product being produced by Hollywood. There is very little pure film DNA found in today’s movies. If Hollywood doesn’t turn it around soon, they will find even fewer butts in their seats over the next few years. Now I’m not all doom here. There are still serious films being financed, shot and released. But the money will dry up for those real cinema films. The current Writer’s Guild strike has yet to be a factor for Hollywood, due to lead times, but if it drags out much longer it will be a big problem. I submit the following observations about film.


Film is an art form that has been perfected and refined by masters of cinema past and present. Individuals that were/are students of a revered craft, and contributors to its ongoing aesthetic.


Compared to the recycled content we see today, which I refer to as strictly a movie.


There is still time to make a change. The question is, does Hollywood have the courage, business creativity, and ability to identify the talent necessary to pull it off? I hope so. In the meantime, I am hopelessly passionate about film and will continue to buy tickets while watching for signs of change. One thing is for sure. When I do see great work, I appreciate it so much more. Then there is always my home film collection available to me whenever I want. That’s what really keeps me going.

American Airlines Finds A Way

Several posts ago I commented on a recent experience traveling United Airlines. It was a mixed bag, as anyone who travels by air these days knows is a generous statement. But I recently had an experience with American Airlines that proves a great customer experience can be delivered regardless of the state of an industry, or the attitudes of C level executives.

My oldest son is an Aspie (Asperger’s Syndrome). See my earlier post here for a more detailed explanation. He is an experienced air traveler, but if there is a gate change or things don’t go as expected, he gets rattled and confused. To avoid this I obtain a gate pass and accompany him through the concourse and then wait until he boards the plane.


He was recently booked on a flight from Chicago to Philadelphia but we couldn’t get a seat assignment. We went to the airport, checked his bag and instead of the self-service check in machine giving him a boarding pass we got a slip of paper instructing us to go to the gate for the seat. Here is where American personnel really delivered. The coach check in line was extremely long, so an American employee directed us to the First Class check in area where there was no line. Have you ever noticed that the First Class check in countertops are made of granite vs. the formica you get in coach? And instead of the cattle maze being flat, black straps, they’re velvet ropes. Sorry, back to the story. I was immediately issued the gate pass, and was told that there were blocked seats on the flight and to explain the situation to the gate agent. He notated my son’s status in the system so they would know when we got to the gate.

Once at the gate, we learned the flight was oversold and they were asking for volunteers to take a later flight that connected through Dallas. When I explained to the agent about Julian’s situation, that he couldn’t really handle connecting flights, and his bag was already checked on this flight, she said she would do all she could to get him a seat.

During the wait she used the public address system to update us on the status, even calling Julian’s name to remind us she hadn’t forgotten about him. She did this several times. As small as this sounds, it meant a lot to Julian. He was able to stay calm and hopeful. As the flight was boarding, she happily called his name and handed him a boarding pass. To top it off, it was a First Class seat, 6A!


A great customer experience goes a long way to keep customers loyal. In many cases it is just as important as price. Hats off the the thoughtful American Airlines employees, who on this day, took the extra time to put the customer first. If you are someone that interacts with consumers on behalf of your company it is critical to remember the following. What a customer experiences defines the brand. Maybe American really does know why we fly.

Disney’s DVD Fast Play Technology Isn’t Fast

If you have kids you know what I’m about to describe. You have wiped the fingerprint smudges from a Disney DVD, loaded it in the player all while your kids are screaming to see it. On comes the FBI warning, then the Interpol warning (sometimes in French, that’s really helpful), then comes Disney’s extra special patent pending technology, Fast Play.


While you are trying to decide whether to be sucked in or not, a friendly voice says the following:

This Disney DVD is enhanced with Disney’s Fast Play. Your movie and a selection of bonus features will begin automatically. To bypass Fast Play, select the Main Menu button at any time. Fast Play will begin in a moment…

Here is where it breaks down for me. Shouldn’t Fast Play actually start the movie fast? But if you make that selection it actually just starts the parade of trailers; one mind-numbing preview after another. All the while your kids are losing it and demanding to see Bambi. But if you select Main Menu instead, you bypass the trailers and can start the film much more quickly. One additional tip here, you can actually speed up getting to the feature by going to Scene Selection after arriving at the Main Menu and selecting a chapter, usually chapter 1. That little trick can reduce screams by as much as 15%.

I know Disney wants to promote their other products, and they have a right to do so, but don’t mislead and frustrate parents and their children with this kind of labeling bait and switch. You can read Disney’s FAQ on Fast Play here. I get a kick out of how they spin it as if they are helping families. One other thing, Don’t you love it when someone gives you one of their old Disney titles and it shows a preview for a film, then proudly announces that it’s coming Fall 2002?

I bought the movie on DVD, and I should be able to use my remote control to start watching it immediately. It’s fine to put promotional material on the disc, but give the customer real choice, not a corporate contrived choice. Just wait till I blog about the experience we are now made to endure when we pay for a first run film in the theater.