Inside Out or Outside In?

Working teams sometimes get locked in difficult battles when it comes to settling on a creative direction or execution. I’ve noticed that many of these encounters are caused by how the two sides, usually in heated debate, are either looking from the inside out or the outside in. Both are adamant that they are right, and in a way they are.

Inside Out

Brand people come at if from the inside out. They work extremely hard to craft the Brand essence, steward it along and look for ways to find an edge against the competition. This naturally drives them deeper and deeper down into the brand while the customer remains on the surface. Their strength is having a rich understanding of the Brand and how people might be drawn to or influenced by it. I said people, not necessarily customers. When they move to execution they struggle, because they know so much about the brand as well as what their competition is doing, and want to include much of it in the work. The result is often cluttered with not clearly connected phrases and symbols.

Outside In

On the other hand the Customer Experience folks suffer from the opposite syndrome. They frequently look down into the brand from the outside trying to solve a problem or accomplish a task for the customer. Their approach is often very rational and functional. It will get the job done quickly. Perhaps too quickly. Removing friction is their goal and in doing so they miss opportunity to create a bond with the customer and extract extra value.


Agencies or even other people within the company can play a role in helping to resolve the problems. Being a diplomat and brokering a compromise can work quite nicely. It’s tricky because there is a tendency to split the difference, which usually means you end up with One solution is to allow each side to put their work in market and let the customer decide. That is more expensive and takes longer. Another way is to look closely at the problem to be solved. In most cases one can spot which side of the field should get priority. Look again at the objectives, research or the creative brief. The nuggets should be there. Make that the tentpole and sprinkle (or hint) the other stuff around it. Mind you this method works best with messaging or communications like emails and landing pages. Once you are in functionality land, all bets are off. I’ve seen it be a very effective device for educating customers on complex features or benefits as well.

Try hard to be the one that steps through the door and looks back at the other view. It will enrich the experience, and it’s always good to take in new scenery.

Graphics: Rafaël Rozendaal

Say Goodbye to the Call Center

Earlier this week I attended the Customer Response Summit in Hollywood, Florida. It’s an In The Know event, a company that stays on the forefront of how corporations are dealing with customer care and customer experience in this rapidly evolving digital landscape. We used to call it Web 2.0, but that doesn’t capture what’s happening today. Now it’s mobile, social, video and audio. Consumers adopt new technologies quickly. Certainly not everyone is on the cutting edge, but the numbers  of people grow with each new cycle. They are the ones that demand firms adopt these new channels and they can no longer be ignored.

I was a speaker at the event and my topic was How to Turn Social Chaos into Valuable Brand Engagement. I shared my experiences, successes, and challenges of using Social Media to reach, engage and service customers. We operate using a very simple framework for social. Don’t over complicate it. Align it to your current business objectives, translate the tribal language into something more familiar, and prove it’s value.

I was impressed with the speaker lineup that included executives from FedEx, Time Warner Cable, General Motors, Disney, GoDaddy, ConAgra and others. I gleaned a number of takeaways:

  • Corporations are all working hard on how to improve the customer experience
  • Social Media and Mobile are moving much faster than corporate America
  • New customer care technologies will need to be considered and installed if firms wish to keep up with customers
  • There is no silver bullet; time to focus on weapons not ammunition
  • Everything you know is transferrable, but it will need to be re-interpreted
  • Data is still overwhelming insights
  • New silos have emerged (Great, more silos)
  • People are beginning to get it, proving value and taking steps
  • The call center of tomorrow will look very, very different (Think internal targeting, fewer phones, more direct contact with consumers on the web)
  • Consumers are gaining more and more power (That’s fine, just be gentle guys)
  • Embrace change, or risk being irrelevant some time soon
  • Call center managers are starting to shift their thinking from controlling cost to creating value
  • It’s very, very difficult to move away from “average handle time” (AHT) for hard core call center types
  • One of the most frequently asked questions for Disney is, “When time does the 3:00 parade start?”

What i’m seeing is the way we service customers is rapidly changing. Consumers operate in real time while firms operate in batch. There is a serious need for a centralized customer database that’s agile and can be easily shared by any of the marketing and service channels/departments that exist inside as well as outside a company.

Partnering is becoming even more important. If your company has an “It’s built better here” mentality, you are already falling dangerously behind. No one firm can keep up with what’s going on out there. Truth be told, they never could, but the pace of change was slow enough in the past to not be too damaging. Today that pace can cause fatalities.

The call center will evolve into a contact command center. More consumers will self-service through progressively easier to use interfaces and devices. Agents that answer the phone today will be transformed into agents that use their web browser to connect with consumers. Information will be pushed to their desktops by sophisticated listening devices constantly spidering the ether for immediate response. Proactive not reactive. Pre-service, like pre-crime from Minority Report. The agents of tomorrow will be more aligned with the business and more empowered than ever. This in turn will empower consumers and leave us all more time to focus on what’s really important.

The networking was the most valuable aspect of the event for me. I met some outstanding professionals and had some great conversations that I hope will continue. View some of the event videos here.

Can Customer Experience Drive Business Decisions?

Companies are getting more serious about delivering a better customer experience. Thanks to research firms, passionate consultants and champions inside company walls, senior executives are more aware of CX and willing to support staff and programs to improve it. So how far will they go? Right now it’s about making business decisions and then trying to wrap a better customer experience around how that decision plays out. This is a good start, but probably won’t be enough long term. More on this later.

Why the hesitation? Pretty simple. Senior execs are comfortable with the notion that a good customer experience will mean a positive brand experience in most cases, and they will even extend that thought to believing that this will cause a customer to be more loyal. But the data to support that is slippery. Not necessarily because it’s not there, but because it’s more difficult to track and prove. All of us need help here.

I respect and closely follow Bruce Temkin. He is a real customer experience transformist (his word) having spent time at Forrester Research and is now out on his own. He seems to have devoted his entire life to defining and championing great customer experience. In 2008 he set forth a collection of fundamental truths (according to him) about how customer experience operates. Here are his 6 Laws of CXP:

  1. Every interaction creates a personal reaction
  2. People are instinctively self-centered
  3. Customer familiarity breeds alignment
  4. Unengaged employees don’t create engaged customers
  5. Employees do what is measured, incented, and celebrated
  6. You can’t fake it

I would encourage you to read his blog, Customer Experience Matters on a regular basis to get first hand observations, research reports and opinions from a true professional in the CX space. There is no doubt that he has a guaranteed spot in CX Heaven, if there is such a place.

Back to the corporate world. Yes we must.

Some big companies are beginning to appoint a customer experience leader, give her authority, a budget and the ear of a very senior exec so there is bite to the bark. This is great, but it cannot be the “flavor of the month” or a “one year program.” Employees see right through this. They will play along, but will not seriously internalize it into their daily routine. You either make it part of what you do and how you do it, or not, long term. It’s that basic.

A great customer experience can be difficult to define, but everyone recognizes it when they see it. This is the core of CX and why data is so hard to come by. It’s at the whim of human interpretation. But it’s important to recognize that it’s not magic and not always emotional. It’s what’s right and people know when it’s right. I’m frequently tempted to say Human Experience, not Customer Experience. You heard it here first. People design the systems, functionality, rules, policies, and basic standards that a company creates on a daily basis. Empower your people to create what’s right and you will be well on your way.

How will you know when you are making progress? When you CEO or President or CMO comes to you and says something like, “I want to make business decisions based on how we can deliver a great customer experience.” The best strategy could be faxed to your arch rival and it would be useless to them because they either wouldn’t know what it meant or couldn’t possibly execute it themselves. Right now, today, if you had a real customer experience strategy you could fax it to  your competitor. That is if you could fax it.

Graphic courtesy of

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.

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.


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
  • 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.

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

Understanding Customer Engagement

I attended the Forrester Marketing Forum in Los Angeles (April 7-9), where over 850 marketers from many of the world’s best known brands gathered to discuss customer engagement. I know customer engagement is not a new concept. We throw it around the office all the time. But what does it mean? How do you measure it? Better yet, how do you create more of it among your customers? Asking these kinds of questions, then providing guidance on how marketers can answer them for their own business is what Forrester Research does very well.

Brian Haven, Senior Analyst at Forrester, presented a framework entited, Engagement: A New Approach to Understanding Your Customers. He recounted the true story of Jen, who is super passionate about Ikea. She lives in Cincinnati and would travel hundreds of miles to shop at Ikea because there wasn’t one in her city. Jen started a blog four years ago in hopes of getting the Ikea execs to build a store in Cincinnati. Ikea corporate was well aware of Jen and her blog. They eventually decided to build Cincinnati, and when Jen applied for a job, they didn’t even give her a call back. Wait, it gets better (or worse). They also asked her to relinquish her domain ( because when execs searched Google Jen’s site got top billing (another consumer blow to the evil empire). Ikea also made her post a disclaimer on her blog. Why would they do these things? Jen doesn’t write bad things about Ikea or any of their products on her blog. In fact it is quite the opposite, see for yourself.

This is a common reaction among execs of big brands when consumers take control. They just don’t know what to do with these super consumers. There is so much inertia built up around wanting to maintain control, “Our brand must be controlled by us, protect the brand.” What a missed opportunity! Ikea had a fanatically engaged customer spending her own time and money to advocate for the brand, and they wouldn’t even let her work in the store.

Marketers want more customer engagement, but are we ready for it? The web has flattened the world. Are we ready to deal with excessive customers like Jen? They aren’t about to go away, and if we’re not careful, it will be the super customers’ sites that rise to the top of the Google search result page. And since consumers trust consumers more than companies, guess who will get the clicks. So if you’re ready, here’s what Brian has outlined.

A simple 4 i’s framework for thinking about customer engagement. First ut all this on paper.

  • Involvement – The presence of a person at a touchpoint.
  • Interaction- The action a person takes at the touchpoint.
  • Intimacy – The affection a person holds for the brand.
  • Influence – The likelihood of a person to advocate on behalf of the brand.

Everyone wants the magic bullet metric, but there isn’t one. Customer engagement is human engagement, not physics. Brian then laid out three exercises steps to help get started on building an engagement strategy. Next, define all these.

  1. Define engagement – Establish your own benchmarks for engagement. In other words define what is excessive use (Jen) or non use and what is average. Remember to include context (what channel). Establish engagement personas and an engagement hierarchy.
  2. Measure engagement – Pull together your existing measurement sources and data. Get data from all channels. Supplement from outside sources to fill in the gaps. Be sure you can track the excessive use or non use benchmarks.
  3. Encourage engagement – Once you have tied all these points together, it’s time to take action. Provide more content in the appropriate context (touchpoint). Offer more tools to help the customer. Ask for more information from your customers, but be sure to give something in return.

Being the good analyst, he placed the 4 i’s in a quadrant. I couldn’t couldn’t keep up with the slides, so this sketch is a little well, a little sketchy. But I think you get the basic idea. Next, place your specific business metrics inside the appropriate quadrant (from the 1, 2, 3 exercise above) and you get a the beginnings of a roadmap.

Keep these following tips top of mind as you go through the exercise.

  • Think life-cycle, not just point in time. Getting customers to more deeply engage with your brand requires we establish a fundamentally different relationship with customers than we are used to.
  • Think like a media company. The raditional media channels are weakening. Control is in the hands of the consumer. Create content and tools, publish cross channels, unlock your content and information.
  • Put your product devleopment hat back on. Products for the people. Solve a customer problem. Keep it simple. Iterate.

Here are some of my personal experience tips. I’m pretty old and have been around the block a few times.

  • Always validate your numbers with the finance department.
  • Involve your public relations and legal teams. They will be afraid, very afraid, so you have got to reassure them.
  • Be sure you have senior management buy in once you create the framework.
  • Start small, measure, learn and then inch forward.
  • Include all channels in order to have the greatest impact.
  • Once you have begun and people see that the sun still rises they will feel more comfortable.

This was the first presentation of the forum, and Brian did a great job of setting the stage for what was to follow.

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!

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.

Sonos Solves Leopard Issues and Delivers a Great Customer Experience

I’m a huge fan of the Sonos music system. As posted a few weeks ago I was unable to get it to work with Mac OS Leopard. In that post I called for Sonos to develop a new version of their desktop controller software that would be compatible with Leopard. They actually did that in short order, posting a new download on November 20th.

I installed that download but still couldn’t get it to work, so I called their tech support. The customer experience was excellent. First their IVR phone system told me where I was in the cue and gave me a choice of what I could do next. I could either wait, or elect to have them call me back when it was my turn. This is really great. When I selected that option it read my phone number back to me to ensure it was correct. This made me, the customer, feel as if they know who I am.

In less than 5 minutes a call came in. They were not able to fix it in that session, but kept the ticket open. Two days later they sent me an e-mail asking me to call back to speak to a tier 3 support person. That guy was busy, but Matt, a tier 1, wanted to try something, so I let him. In less than 15 minutes he fixed the problem.

Thanks Sonos. I am enjoying music throughout my house again.