Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Customers spending real dollars in virtual worlds

Last week I wrote about on-line gamers. My colleague Lynne Kennedy sent me this story she saw on CBS News about Second Life, an on-line virtual reality world. People are spending more than 40 hours per week on line in these worlds, and are buying and selling virtual objects like clothes, land, etc. While it sounds crazy to me, as I prefer real experiences, I think it's something none of us can ignore. If you visit the site, you'll see that more than half a million people are participating, spending real U.S. dollars there.

Tip of the day: It's important to keep up with trends, even if they don't interest you, so you can keep your products and services relevant to customers.

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Broken Customer Experiences, part 2

This is a continuation of yesterday's post about Seth Godin's talk, found on Google Video, referenced with his permission. More examples can be found on Mark Hurst's Web site,

Another way that customer experiences can be broken is: "I'm not a fish." The experience is designed by someone who isn't the user. (The reference is to a culvert that's designed by a person, not a fish who needs to swim upstream.) You can find many examples of this in appliances. Just try cleaning the inside of a refrigerator, designed with nooks and crannies that don't seem to have a functional purpose other than to capture food particles. Here's an example from Phoenix:

This bench at the Desert Botanical Garden looks like a portion of a concrete culvert or pipe. It's at an odd height and angle, and looks like it would be impossible to actually sit on. Or perhaps, as one person suggested in my last Experienceology workshop, it's broken on purpose and is actually a barrier to keep people out of the cactus. Seth reminds us "broken on purpose" is never a good strategy, as it just makes customers angry.

Another category is Contradictions. Here's the entrance to the park at the base of the TransAmerica building, one of the most famous in San Francisco:

The bronze sign reads, "Provided for the enjoyment of our employees, tenants, and friends."
You can enter this park from just a few feet down, but why lock this gate? The friendly brand message is contradicted by the chained gate, which has clearly been closed for a long time.

Tip of the day: Take a look at your customer experience and make sure you're not sending mixed messages or offering customers something that's broken on purpose.

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Broken Customer Experiences, part 1

This material is based on Seth Godin's talk, available on Google Video, and is referenced with his permission. More fun examples are available on the Web site:

Seth's hilarious talk has great examples. His content is worth examining more closely. One category is, "It's not my job." If someone makes a sign they know doesn't make sense, but has to do it anyway because it's not their job to solve the real problem, that tells you that the system is broken.

Here's an example I found from the Phoenix airport parking garage.

For whatever reason, the numbering/lettering system that was painted in the parking garage doesn't match the system the rental car company needed to use, so they "fixed" it with this temporary sign. It wasn't someone's job to see if they could change their system to match the parking garage, which would be expensive to repaint.

I had to look at this sign from San Francisco several times before I thought I knew what it meant. (That weirdly-shaped blob at the top I think is a stylized hand, dropping a very stylized piece of litter!) I'll bet the guy who fabricated it thought it didn't make sense, but it wasn't his job to talk to the design department and suggest that it might be broken. How many of these do you think they made, and did they test them on the street with people to discover whether or not they made sense?

Clearly the staff here are problem-solving as they go along, as there must be many visitors to this visitor center who don't read "Closed." But perhaps it's time for a real sign?

I agree with Seth, any time you see a hand-made sign, you are looking at a customer experience that is broken.

Tip of the day: If you are in management, look around for signs that your employees have made. Use that opportunity to discuss the underlying problem, then empower your staff to fix it.

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Friday, August 25, 2006

Street theater invades Home Depot

Those of you who have attended one of my workshops might recall Improv Everywhere's Central Park experiment, where they got hundreds of people to zombie-walk across Sheep's Meadow before playing a huge game of Simon Says and Rock, Paper, Scissors. Well, they have been at it again.

On their latest "mission," they sent more than 200 people into a Home Depot in New York City to walk in slow motion and then freeze for five minutes. See the video.

Tip of the day: Consider how you might make use of street theater or other creative local people to stage experiences at your business.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Ford just doesn't get it

Here is a recent statement from Ford CEO William Clay Ford, Jr, the guy who's been in their commercials this summer assuring us how much Ford cares about cars, communities, and the environment. "An unprecedented spike in gasoline prices during the second quarter impacted our product lineup more than that of our competition because of the long-standing success of our trucks and SUVs."

Let me get this straight. We've been at war in the Middle East for 3 years. Surely it occurred to someone at Ford that war might affect gas prices. And he's actually saying that their competitors are not as affected by high gas prices because "we've always sold a lot of trucks and SUVs in the past." No, your competitors are less affected because they didn't bank all their efforts on large, inefficient vehicles that no one wants now.

(I don't have anything personal against this CEO. I know spin when I hear it, and he is blaming me, the customer, for not wanting his product. I have been driving a Ford Contour since 1996. It's been a great, dependable car that gets about 24 mpg. I'm waiting to buy a hybrid. Most new cars, costing $20,000+, don't get better gas mileage than my Contour! In ten years, I would have expected at least an improvement of 10 mpg. in efficiency.)

In a news story about the plant closures last week, the reporter said that Ford blames high gas prices, which "pushed consumers away from its trucks and SUVs." This is a classic example of the old business model of push communication: "If you build it, they will buy." If Ford had been ahead of the curve, working on hybrids and other types of highly efficient cars, instead of continuing to make only big trucks (Ford spokesperson, "But our F-150s run on ethanol!") they could have matched this "unprecedented spike" with a great new line-up of fuel-efficient cars that consumers were ready for.

Ford (and the other U.S. automakers) banked on the old business model, and lost. And all their employees are losing, too. When I think about the ripple effect that these plant closures will have on entire communities, I feel disappointed in this company and all their talk of innovation and "Bold Moves" sounds hollow. Now that higher gas prices are here to stay, why aren't American car companies ready? Where are all the hybrids? They're on order at the Toyota and Honda dealerships, where you can't even test-drive something because they can't keep demos on the lot.

I feel sorry for the Ford employees who are paying the price for the company's short-sightedness. And, while I'd like to support American business, no one has the hybrid I want.

Tips of the day: Make sure you don't change your message mid-stream, because consumers remember and know when they're hearing spin. Don't blame your customers for not wanting your product if you aren't paying attention to trends. And, stay ahead of the curve. Listen to your customers today so you have the products or services they want tomorrow.

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Monday, August 21, 2006

Why you REALLY need to be worried about negative word-of-mouth

In my Experienceology workshops, I talk about the well-worn statistics of negative word-of-mouth advertising:

A person will tell about 10 other people about their bad experience with you (but only about 5 people if their experience is good)

If 3 customers have a bad experience, and they tell 10 people, you can have 1,000 negative impressions out there.

Only about 1 in 26 people will complain to you.

Forget all that. Because now we have people complaining on the Internet. So one bad encounter is multiplied by the millions. Check out this post by Mark Hurst, founder of Good Experience. One bad experience with Comcast became a YouTube video... yikes.

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If it's broken, it's broken

Just read a post on Customer Experience Crossroads that's worth checking out. Seth Godin's hilarious talk on broken experiences is a must-see on Google video. If you watch it, please let me know what you think. We've all had broken experiences... this helps you understand why, and how you can fix things at your own workplace that are broken for your customers or visitors.

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Friday, August 18, 2006

On-line gamers the same as museum visitors, really!

Just read a post on Design Observer by Dmitri Siegel about online gaming that caught my attention ( World 6.0: Same as the Old World?). He is talking about on-line games that hundreds or thousands of people can play at once. These are truly virtual reality worlds where you create your own character, called an avatar, who lives, works, plays, and earns money in the world. I pulled a short quote:

"Game designers have identified the primary motivations for these massive multi-player online role-playing game users:

exploring: seeing what is there and mapping it for others;
socializing: forming groups and having shared experiences;
achieving: building things and accumulating social respect; and
controlling: directing and dominating others..."

Those of you who work in the museum community should be familiar with these types of motivations, as they are the very same motivations that museum visitors have in exhibitions. Visitors want to be able to explore and lead their social group, be able to socialize with their friends or family, be able to engage in fun activities like building things or using interactive elements, and feel that they are in control of their visit.

If you don't think that we need to pay attention to these virtual worlds, here is a statistic from Dmitri's article: "Over 10 million people currently spend over 25 hours a week in a synthetic world; the number of synthetic worlds is doubling every two years; and by 2030 the population of synthetic worlds will reach 100 million."

Twenty-five hours a week. How much time are they spending at your museum, store, restaurant, or other leisure destination?

Dmitri's article is based on Edward Castronova’s recent book Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Negative word-of-mouth is a brand-killer

My neighbor just moved in across the street. When we saw him last night, I asked a simple question, "Did you get your rental truck returned okay?" I then got an earful about how horrible his experience was with U-haul, and he will never rent from them again, and he should have known better, as he'd had problems in the past.

In less than a minute, I got a powerful negative brand impression that will be hard to shake. Companies really need to be paying attention to every aspect of their customer experience, because once those negative impressions are out in the marketplace, it's almost impossible to overcome them. And people love to repeat their negative experiences.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Put "The Secret" to work for your business

At the recommendation of two different friends in the same week, I just spent this weekend watching a DVD called The Secret. It was originally on TV in Australia, and is similar to What the Bleep Do We Know? I found it highly inspiring, and started thinking about how it can apply to experience-based businesses.

In the movie, they talk about the Law of Attraction. Positive thoughts bring positive results and vice versa. If you have a positive dream for your business, and you visualize hundreds of happy customers having a great experience when they visit, you are using the Law of Attraction for the good of your business.

Dream big. And, let me know if you have seen this movie and what you thought about it.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Blank building hides customer experience bonanza

San Francisco, CA: One evening I was walking around the Embarcadero, looking to have some dinner. The Embarcadero is the business and banking district, so much of it closes down at night. I was walking past the Ferry Building, which is a historic building on the water, with a large, blank facade. Streams of commuters were hurrying into its two entrances, but nothing beckoned me in.

Then this small sign caught my eye, and on a whim I decided to see if the farmer's market had anything to offer.

I walked in to an explosion of music, food, kids and families, beautiful produce... it was astonishing! How could I have known, from the outside, what a great experience it offered?

If the vendors and sponsors of this Farmer's Market are wise, they will work on festooning this building with large, fun signage, as I'm guessing I'm not the only person who has no idea this is in there.

Tip of the day: Don't assume customers know you are there. Your business should telegraph its existence from a half a block away.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

How to set up an RSS feed

An RSS feed (RSS stands for really simple syndication) is a nifty piece of software that sends out a signal when a Web site or blog is updated. Setting up your own list of RSS feeds means that you don’t have to individually check each Web site or blog that interests you to see if they have new posts or information. Your feed reader will show updates automatically.

The easiest way to do this is through a “My Yahoo!” page. If you already have a (free) Yahoo! Account, you already have the option of the “My Yahoo!” page and probably just haven’t set it up.

On the new Yahoo home page (you might have to click to see this if you haven’t updated to it) there is a “My Yahoo!” button on the top left. Click on that, and log in.

Click on the “Add content” button.

Click on the small link that says, “Add RSS by URL”

Open another window in your browser, then go to the blog/page you are interested in. To add my blog, go to

Right-click (or Control-Click for Mac users) on the “chicklet” (so named because they look like those little pieces of gum) and choose “Copy link location”.

Now, return to the other open browser window to the “My Yahoo/Add RSS by URL” box. Paste in the link, and click “Add.” You should get an immediate message that your link has been added. (If not, try again. If it still doesn’t work, try in another day or two. Sometimes a new RSS feed takes time to get registered by Yahoo.) If the blog or Web site has a “My Yahoo!” chicklet, it’s even easier. Just click on that and it should add it automatically.

To customize your My Yahoo! Page:
Click “Change layout”. The various feeds (including what Yahoo is giving you by default) appear in a box. Click the up arrow to move them in the order you want, and the X to remove one you don’t want.

Now, whenever you log in to Yahoo, you can check to see what’s new on the blogs that interest you, including mine. :)

Monday, August 07, 2006

Unnerving elevators mar a good customer experience

In June I stayed at the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero in San Francisco for a conference. It's a nice hotel, with good customer service, but the interior atrium is bizarre. It looks familiar because it's been used in several movies, notably High Anxiety by Mel Brooks.

Unnerving glass elevators

What they don't tell you, on their Web site or when you make a reservation, is that this is not the place to stay if you have vertigo. Your only choice to get to your room is one of these glass elevators. While I don't have vertigo, every time I stepped into the elevator it was uncomfortable. I can only imagine how horrible it would be to arrive here and find this rude surprise if you suffer from vertigo or are afraid of heights. In designing the customer experience, the architects may have been looking to create something spectacular, but forgotten about psychological comfort.

Tip of the day: Make sure your design doesn't make your customers uncomfortable, and give them more than one choice.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

How to make massage therapy to "memorable"

I just received a massage here in San Diego from a woman named Derith Mason. I've seen her a few times before and really like her style. There are three elements of her business strategy I'd like to share.

She's in an old Victorian house with a number of other wellness practitioners. It's a nice, somewhat funky, space. As a one-woman business, she does not have the resources to provide a lot of the frills you might find in a high-end spa. But she is intuitively doing everything right.

Besides a warm greeting and a great massage, she completes the massage with a hot towel foot rub. When I asked her about it, she said started doing it because she herself didn't like putting on her shoes after a massage with oily feet, and a number of clients would come in and comment on their feet being "gross." So, she looked around and found a towel warmer through a barber supply company, which was much cheaper than those available through a massage therapy supply (solving the problem in an affordable way).

Next, you get a bottle of water as you leave. Massage is supposed to release a lot of toxins that need to get flushed out. She is the first massage therapist I've seen to follow through with the recommendation to "drink lots of water today" with an actual take-away. (Bottled water is very inexpensive in bulk, but I think about her all day while drinking it.)

Yesterday, she commented that she had missed my birthday in June. It surprised me that she had even made a note of it. She then told me she gives a $20 discount in your birthday month. What a nice, unexpected surprise! It's another reason I'll be going back, and taking more of her cards to pass along to friends. Offering random or unexpected discounts is very effective in creating customer loyalty.

Tip of the day: Even small businesses can put all the pieces together right to create a great customer experience. It doesn't take a fortune, just some thought.

Update on 8/07/06: Derith works at the Healing Point on First Avenue in San Diego. You can email her at derith [AT] for an appointment.