Undercover Boss – service design bitch-slapping for clueless CEOs

15.06.2011 | Author: Eric Reiss

Are CEOs out of touch with reality? I’d say a lot of you are. Although you CEOs don’t have to go to extremes to improve things, most of you do need to do something, so listen up. If you don’t want the long backstory, skip ahead to the last subhead. 

About the title of this blogpost

Undercover Boss is the title of an American reality series. The premise is simple: an out-of-touch CEO puts on a disguise, takes a low-level job within his organization, and hears the truth about the company problems. After a week of play-acting, he goes back to his office and makes everything right again.

(By the way, I write “he” as I have yet to see a female CEO profiled. But I digress…)

There’s a great review of this episode by Ken Tucker at ew.com here:

Quick recap of the “Hooters” episode

For those of you who haven’t seen the episode or read Ken’s synopsis, the “star” of this particular show was CEO Coby Brooks of Hooters.

Hooters is a chain of restaurants featuring beer and chicken wings served by buxom young women in tight t-shirts and hot-pants. FYI: “Hooters” is a slang expression for breasts. In the United States, the cute Hooters owl-logo only misleads those who are certifiably clueless (you can see it on Coby’s shirt in the photo below).

Coby Brooks (at left - duh) with two typical Hooters employees.

During the show, Coby learned (among other things), that although men love Hooters, most women feel the concept is degrading. I would have thought this was kind of a WTF “no-brainer” observation, but it certainly surprised our friend Coby as he talked on camera to random folks on the streets of Dallas, TX. (Good we got him out of his posh office and cosy private jet).

Hey, the concept is demeaning. But let’s face it, Hooters knows tits, ass, and beer is a winning combination for roughly half the population. In the meantime, Coby is now promising to rethink the company’s image. “We’re gonna tell folks about all them Hooter gals who are now doctors and lawyers and rock stars and…”

Uh…and this proves what, Coby? Did you know that feminist Gloria Steinem was once a Playboy bunny?

Lesson #1

Coby’s advisors look more like his drinking buddies than business executives.

Dear CEO, don’t hire your buddies. Don’t hire ass-lickers. Hire folks who aren’t scared of you. Sycophants and spies will never tell you the truth. And don’t take personal offence when someone disagrees with you.

Lesson #2
Coby probably would have been a better CEO if his father hadn’t just plunked him down into his current position without either warning or training. Coby seems to have had a very strained relationship with his dad and it’s clearly been tough to fill daddy’s very large shoes.

Are you a CEO looking to turn over the reins of your business to the next generation? Think twice before giving the job to a family member. This has been the downfall of many a family-owned company. Put your idiot offspring in charge of a charitable fund or something else that’s fairly harmless, but keep him away from the executive suite.

Lesson #3
Poor Coby inherits a billion-dollar business and finds out to his incredible surprise that the folks making chicken-wing sauces at his dad’s old factory in Atlanta loved his dad, but hate the current owners (er…that’s you, Coby). Why? Because Dad walked the floor and knew all his employees by name. Coby is an “absentee landlord”. The employees feel abandoned and uncared for. Which was a theme throughout this show – also when Coby visited his restaurants. Good TV. Naïve management.

Dear CEO, go “walkabout” – an Australian expression for going into the wilderness. Get your ass out of your chair and walk the floor, greet the guests, answer the phones. Honestly, you don’t need a reality TV show to get you moving.

Lesson #4
Clients come to FatDUX precisely because we can uncover problems for them without bias – which is what all agencies should provide. The amazing thing is, the work is not always particularly difficult – although it often appears impossible to those inside the organization. That’s because it’s not enough to solve a specific problem; you have to deal with the generic cause of the problem. In service-design language, this means fixing the problem both ways. We can see patterns that are often invisible from inside an organization – the more siloed the departments and functions, the more invisible the patterns are to senior management.

Dear CEO, ask questions. Ask tough questions. Demand answers. Don’t accept “it depends” as an answer from highly paid consultants. Hell, everything “depends” so there’s no need to dwell on the obvious.

Lesson #5
Dear CEO, you don’t want to be on Undercover Boss. If you’re good, you’ll never be on Undercover Boss. You’re supposed to know what’s going on in your organization. That’s why you get the big bucks.

Folks, it’s easy to get folks to tell you the truth. Just ask. If you’re honest, open, and fair, people will tell you things. But you do need to go out and talk to people. Talk to your customers (alas, far too many companies don’t ask because they are scared of what they may find out). If you want to align your business goals with user needs, you’d better understand what these needs are. The magic word is “listen”.

Coby didn’t learn a thing he couldn’t have learned in much simpler ways.

An open letter to John Hancock Insurance

13.04.2011 | Author: Eric Reiss
The following represents strictly my personal views, which may or may not represent the opinions of the owners and employees of The FatDUX Group. This represents the essence of an email sent earlier today to the John Hancock Insurance Company, in response to a promotional e-mail.

To Whom it May Concern:

Thank you for your “personalized” e-mail. Thanks, too, for the useless flash animation. Perhaps, as promised, my personal information could have been edited but I didn’t have the patience to wait through the advertising crap.

While I have your attention, I’d like to mention that my mother paid almost USD 9,000 a year for home health care. She did this for well over a decade. But when she turned 90 and really needed your help, John Hancock made us jump through all kinds of hoops.

My mother died before your policy finally “took effect”. You never paid out a cent. Good business model. Bad user experience. Your 100-day waiting period is quite effective. Alas, most needs for home health care arise quite unexpectedly. Ah, but you know this, of course :)

When you transferred her policy from one agent to another (the original agent retired many years ago – that’s how old the policy is), you kicked two numbers: the policy number and her social security number. Despite hours and hours on the phone (mostly listening to your Muzak), I don’t know that this situation was ever resolved – whenever I called, you were never able to find her policy. Yet you kept magnificent track of her bank account across at least two account changes.

During her memorial service (held at her home), I received a phone call from your organization (the fourth), requesting an appointment for one of your “professional advisors” to inspect the house to determine if my mother was really entitled to your help. Pardon me. I think I may have been rude to your representative – I was missing my mother’s eulogy.

I’m posting this on a user-experience blog because I think someone at John Hancock needs to sit up and take notice: you have a customer who paid over USD 100,000 to you and was kicked in the balls for the privilege. Imagine my joy to find I am still on your mailing list.

Eric L. Reiss
son of the late
Louise Z. Reiss
of Pinecrest, FL

Eric Reiss
The FatDUX Group
Copenhagen, Denmark
office: (+45) 39 29 67 77
mobile: (+45) 20 12 88 44
skype: ericreiss
twitter: @elreiss


If you received this in error, please let us know and delete the file. FatDUX advises all recipients to virus scan all emails, and to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables daily.

- Show quoted text -

On Wed, Apr 13, 2011 at 12:16 AM, John Hancock South Florida Group
<XXXX@jhnetwork.com> wrote:
> Dear Eric,
> Every few months, I try to keep my clients and friends up-to-date with current financial issues or critical concerns. Here is the latest.
> Access Here for Your Information.
> If you want more information on this subject, just click-on the additional details box at the end.
> Feel free to send me a message. It’s always good hearing from clients and friends.
> Sincerely,
> John Hancock South Florida Group
> (305) 579-4026 (O)
> xxxxx@jhnetwork.com
> John Hancock Financial Network
> South Florida Group
> 1101 Brickell Ave. 16th Floor North Tower
> Miami, FL 33131
> http://www.jhfnsouthfloridagroup.com
> If the link above does not open, try this link – or copy and paste this link into your browser.
> http://ebriefme.com/1/?d=411&r=4mcM1zuoLkqlUa2-XXXXX>
> Registered Representative/Securities and Investment Advisory Services through Signator Investors, Inc. Member FINRA, SIPC, a Registered Investment Advisor
> This material does not constitute tax, legal, financial or accounting advice. It was not intended or written for use and cannot be used by any taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding any IRS penalty. It was written to support the marketing of the transactions or topics it addresses. Anyone interested in these transactions or topics should seek advice based on his or her particular circumstances from independent professional advisors.
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Content strategy for dummies

14.11.2010 | Author: Eric Reiss
Have you heard about “content strategy”? If you work in website development, the chances are you have. But what is it exactly?

What is content?
In the online world, “content” means stuff you put on a screen – words, pictures, videos, animations, sounds. Of course, there is also offline content. For example, when Tommy Hilfiger stations cute little pippins in tight dresses around your local department store to hand out white paper strips that stink of some expensive smell he’s created, well, that’s content, too. The sexual allure is content. The fragrant strips of paper are content. The Tommy Hilfiger logo is content. In my world view, “content” affects all five of our senses.

But for the most part, “content” means words and pictures on a website or application. OK?

What is “strategy”?
In the military, there is talk of “strategy” and “tactics”. Mostly, strategy relates to goals whereas tactics relate to the methods needed to achieve these goals.

Strategy (as expressed by the Lieutenant): “We need to take that hill, men.”

Tactics (as expressed by the Sergeant): Fat guys behind rocks. Skinny guys behind trees.”

What is “content strategy”?
“Content strategy” means giving visitors – to a website or department store – whatever “content” they need to make a decision or carry out a task. The strategy part lies in how we present this content to influence these decisions and tasks. If we’re doing a sitemap for a website, we call this “information architecture”. If we station a girl in a department store, we call it “service design”. But it’s all closely related.

Here’s an article that shows how many content strategists view themselves:

Please note: I take exception to a couple of the things said in this article. I include it mainly to provide equal time to the hard-core proponents. I’m not out to declare war on anybody – but I do have a low tolerance for bullshit.

Birth of a buzzword
How did the web survive for so many years before “content strategy” came along? Surprisingly well - because “content strategy” has always been part of the picture. It just got a new name and has since become a buzzword. I’ve had it on my business card for years simply because my clients didn’t understand the term “information architecture”. Incidentally, when I googled “content strategist” back in 2004 (when I first put the title on my card), there wasn’t a single hit.

My story isn’t unique. Many folks came to information architecture from a writing background. Think of “content strategists” as librarians who read and write. Since we understood the content and were often providing it, too, we were the ones who got to create the sitemap.

Just for the record, my very basic description of information architecture is this:

- We gather stuff into convenient categories
- We call stuff by names people will recognize
- We put stuff where people can easily find it.

Remember, this is IA on a high, strategic level. Naturally, when you get down to the tactical nitty-gritty of information architecture, you’d better understand taxonomy development and the other cool stuff they teach at library school. This is also why there are no easily defined borders between the worlds of IA and CS. And if you ask me, who really cares as long as the job gets done properly – and in a way that provides measurable benefits.

Content becomes valuable by virtue of context
Here’s a piece of content:

“Strandøre 15. A ten minute walk north from Svanemøllen Station”.

For 99.99% of the readers of this blogpost, this snippet of content is irrelevant and therefore worthless. But if you were taking public transportation to the FatDUX office in Copenhagen, the content becomes useful and therefore acquires value. If content is king, then context represents the kingdom.

Information architects need to understand content. Content strategists need to understand context. In terms of traditional sitemaps, the boxes have no value without the interconnecting arrows. And the arrows have no meaning if there are no boxes to which to point. And that’s why there is so much gray area in the definition – and why the pedants will spend years fighting over definitions in the years to come.

Form cannot exist without content
There’s a video on YouTube that has achieved cult status. It is of the Russian singer, Eduard Kihl, featured in a 1966 video where he “sings” his hit song, “I Am Glad I'm Finally Going Home”. Actually, in the repressive Soviet Union of 1966, the lyricist apparently was unable to write a suitable poem that would meet with Party approval. So Kihl simply trololo’ed his way through the melody and today we giggle at the results.

My point in mentioning the "Trololo Video" here is that form without content becomes absurd. And now that I've provided some historical context for the video, perhaps you'll see that it is actually more tragic than comic.

The most attractive website cannot survive without meaningful and useful content – content that is arranged in a meaningful and useful way. And somebody needs to do the work - no matter what their official title.


Delectable UX at Gordon Ramsey’s “Plane Food”

27.03.2010 | Author: Eric Reiss

Sign of good things to come..

About a month ago, I visited the much touted Terminal 5 at London’s Heathrow Airport for the first time. The airy, vaulted space is the nicest of Heathrow’s offerings, but that isn’t really a recommendation – Terminals 1-4 set the bar pretty low as these things go. But I did have an opportunity to eat at celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey’s “Plane Food”.

Let me put it this way, the experience was so good, I just might start flying British Airways again. For those of you who have seen my service-design presentation, you’ll know that this is high praise indeed.

An airport restaurant by design
The first thing you notice is the friendly, attentive staff. There are a lot of them in crisp black uniforms. These are not kids who took a low-paying job that bores them to tears; the “Plane Food” crew is professional, polite, and efficient. And they actually know something about food.

Next, there’s the menu. Real food at affordable prices. And a full bar.

The table is set with good china, decent glasses, and steel cutlery (in a security approved design).

And finally, there’s the layout. For once, a designer has understood that people in airports drag around rolling luggage. Plane Food features ample space between the tables so you can concentrate on your meal and not on keeping your bags from being kicked.


The entry leads visitors away from the hustle of the terminal and into a more relaxing environment.


Great food, superb service
My entire extended family was on its way to Miami from Copenhagen. While the women opted for noodles at Wagamama, my son-in-law, Lars, and I were curious to see what Gordon Ramsey had to offer. After all, most of the world has seen the foul-mouthed chef on one of his various culinary reality shows. Well, Chef Ramsey clearly knows how to create a successful restaurant – even in an airport terminal.

The menu was large and varied – something for every taste, yet wonderfully uncomplicated. Lars (who happens to be a professional chef) opted for pasta, I had a mushroom and truffle risotto. Both dishes were exquisite; the pasta homemade and perfectly al dente; the risotto velvety and with real truffles, not just a few drops of oil.

And our servers were as good as any I’ve met at other restaurants.

The picnic box
For those of us who loathe airline food, Gordon Ramsey has reinvented the picnic lunch. For GBP 11.95, you get a full three-course cold meal in a nifty insulated canvas lunchbox. Just to put this into perspective, Scandinavian Airlines charges just about the same for a tired old cheese sandwich and a canned Bloody Mary on board their flights.

The picnic menu offers a choice of four starters, four main courses, and four desserts. There are options for both vegetarians and meat-eaters (strict vegans are advised to stick to Wagamama).

When returning to Denmark a week later, the entire family bought picnics to take home. Here's mine:

Tiger prawn salad with watercress and soy sesame dressing
Cumbrian honey-roast and parma ham with slow roast vine tomatoes
Chocolate and pecan brownie with crème Chantilly

Absolutely fabulous!


The picnic box contains everything you need for a great meal, from sauces to cutlery.

UX and the British Airways business plan
FatDUX Creative Director Søren Muus and I are off to the IA Summit conference in Phoenix, AZ in a few weeks time. We actually booked on British Airways just so we could visit Plane Food. Hmm…maybe Gordon Ramsey should take over beleaguered BA CEO Willie Walsh’s job for a while. Who knows what might happen?

Full menus, prices, cocktail lists, and more photos can be found at Plane Food's website.

The 10 dos and don’ts of website development

14.12.2009 | Author: Eric Reiss
For about a year now, FatDUX has been sharing the following article with business leaders and potential clients around the world. The feedback has been tremendously positive. We'd now like to share it with you. Happy holidays.

Feel free to use this in your own work. Here's an easy-to-distribute PDF (25 kb):

Download: 10 do's and dont's of web development

The 10 dos and don’ts of website development (that every CEO should know)With the current economic downturn and significant layoffs among sales staff, the web has become more important than ever as a means of communicating with customers/clients/membership. But I have yet to meet a CEO who likes website development. It makes business leaders uncomfortable. The web experts speak in a cryptic language – CMS, KM, XML, CSS. The site seems to take forever to build, costs more than expected, and invariably provides less value than the organization had hoped.

No one likes signing a big check without some idea as to what they’re getting. So if you’re a business leader, here are a few basic, non-technical tips that will significantly increase your chances for online success. And they let you do what you do best – lead.

1. Don’t confuse marketing with communication

Most marketing efforts are concerned with gaining the attention and interest of a particular target audience – often quite aggressively. But on the web, your audience has come to you voluntarily. So, lighten up on the promotional hype. Yes, your site can become an important sales tool, but it should do so in straightforward, conversational language. Don’t let an eager salesrep talk you into blinking banners on every page. Instead, regard your website as part of your service mix first and your marketing mix second. It’s about creating a valuable experience for your site’s visitors, about starting a dialog with your customers (and potential customers). Therefore, make sure your web team represents a good cross section of disciplines in your organization.

Do: View your website as part of your customer-service package.

2. Don’t view your website as a software development projectCreating and maintaining most informational websites is no more a “software project” than publishing your annual report. You write reports using a standard word processing program; you publish to the web using a standard content-management system. There are dozens of superb systems available, and hundreds of excellent add-ons (survey systems, social networks, video channels, wikis, etc.) so don’t let anyone talk you into building one from scratch. That’s also why this activity shouldn’t be handed over to your IT department. Granted, a site with very sophisticated functionality will probably require special programming, but don’t count on your in-house skills as being enough.

Do:  Whenever possible, purchase professional web-publishing software from a single-focus vendor (Important note: Microsoft, IBM, and SAP probably shouldn’t be on your shortlist, despite anything your IT department tells you).

3. Don’t couple unrelated initiatives

Just because one project concerning computers and customers is in the works, you won’t necessarily create synergy by tacking on other initiatives that also involve computers and customers. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a frequent sinner. But unless you have a huge budget and sophisticated needs, both your website and your CRM activities will be far more successful (and much cheaper) if you tackle them one at a time. Keep your intranet development out of this, too (although you can probably use the same publishing software used for your website). In other words, don’t let HR take over the project either. And don’t turn your website into a software development project.

Do: Deal with your website – and just your website. Then take care of the other stuff.

4. Don’t be afraid to set measurable goals for your website

Your website can be an active part of your business plan. In fact it should be. Don’t just view it as your extended business card or think that a graphic redesign is going to help you attract new customers/clients/members. Your website should be assigned targets just like every other department in your organization. And don’t just go for easily measurable numbers. Merely increasing the number of visitors is a poor goal. Shortening the sales process is better. Increasing your conversion rates is great. Streamlining logistics is a good goal. Reducing manual intervention in a sales or service process is a good goal, too. And there are dozens of others that have a direct effect on the bottom line – even for companies that don’t run an e-commerce site. So get your web team to tell you which needs they have identified, the goals they have set, and how they intend to achieve them. Since most in-house teams have limited experience in web development, this is one of the key reasons for hiring an outside strategic consultant.

Do: Insist that your website become an integrated part of your company’s business activities.

5. Don’t confuse your needs with those of your visitors

You may want your website to communicate your company’s values, service offerings, products, or something else entirely. But visitors to your site will have their own agendas. Your web team needs to identify these needs and address them with relevant content and functionality. The simple truth is, unless a site fulfills the needs of its visitors, it will never fulfill the needs of the site owner. Give your web team the time and budget to do their homework and actually talk to potential users. Very few companies truly understand how their customers use the internet.

Do: Encourage research. Accept surprises that go against your basic assumptions.

6. Don’t view your website as a fixed-term project

Your website is a process, not a project. Unlike a printed brochure that might have a useful lifetime of a year or so, your site’s content should be reviewed regularly (even daily) so that it remains accurate, interesting, and dynamic. For the most part, maintenance only takes a few minutes a day. But someone has to keep the process going, studying the statistics that tell you who has visited and what they did, and adjusting the content so that it becomes even more compelling. And that means you need to allocate resources to this critical task. Your website needs to be included in your annual budget each and every year.

Do: Once you start the process, make sure to keep it going.

7. Don’t confuse print design with web design

You probably have an ad agency. For them, “concept” means look and feel. But on the web, the “concept” is what your site can do. Your brand consists of how your website “acts” just as your brand is affected by how your employees act. Don’t let an old-school art director force you to sacrifice usability for the sake of a design guide developed for printed communications.

Do: Acknowledge and embrace web best-practices that run counter to your design guide.

8. Don’t let personal opinion cloud your focus

When it comes to websites, everyone has an opinion. But don’t just assign tasks to the people who are most enthusiastic or most vocal. Instead, find people with proven expertise and then do everything you can to help them do their jobs efficiently. And as the project progresses, try not to let your personal taste get in the way either. The only opinions that really matter are those of your website’s visitors – not your friends, family, or the well-meaning wife of the chairman. Ask yourself: “Do I want to get my way or do I want to get rich?”

Do: Seek out proven experts and support their work.

9. Don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions

There are no stupid questions. And no one should make you feel like you’ve asked one. But be prepared to remember the answer – asking someone to walk you through the same subject six times is bound to create friction.

Do: If in doubt, ask. Always.

10. Don’t hide in your office

Your active support for a web project can make the difference between success and failure. Make sure everyone on the team is pulling their weight – particularly those who are responsible for writing and updating online content. Make sure the team leader has access to you when policy questions arise. That said, don’t become a micromanager - hire the best and let them get on with it.

Do: Demonstrate your active support for the project. Keep the whole team inspired.

My thanks to the dozens of CEOs who have critiqued this piece. You've all contributed valuable information. Thanks for sharing with me so I can share with others.

Three short service stories

09.12.2009 | Author: Eric Reiss
Three service experiences from a recent trip to Miami, FL.

At Whole Foods in Pinecrest
Me: “Hi. I’m looking for vermouth.”
Whole Foods: “That’s like beer, right?”
Me: “It’s like a strong wine.”
Whole Foods: “This is the wine department.”
Me: “Yes. I know. Where do you have stuff like port?”
Whole Foods: “Which port? Is this something you got on a cruise ship?”

At Macy’s in Dadeland
Me: “Hi. I’m looking for black, canvas tennis shoes.”
Macy’s: “Canvas? Is that a kind of leather?”
Me: “No. It’s heavy cloth. Like what they make sails out of.”
Macy’s: “Like nylon? We have Docksides. But they’re not made of nylon.”

At Staples office supplies
Me: “Hi. I need an At-A-Glance calendar refill.”
Staples: “What year?”
Me (biting tongue): “2010″
Staples: “But that’s next year.”
Me: “Er…yes…I need a refill for my current calendar.”
Staples: “We don’t carry that brand.”
Me: “You have an At-A-Glance display over there, but there’s nothing in it.”
Staples: “That’s a mistake.”
Me: “That you have the display or that it’s not filled?”
Staples: “Yes. Sorry we can’t help you.”

And we web designers wonder why folks can’t fill out online forms…geez.

7 rules for customer service

03.11.2009 | Author: Lynn Boyden
Bill McLaughlin

CEO – Select Comfort

Minneapolis, MN

Dear Bill,

I have the most wonderful bed in the world, a Select Comfort bed.  It has two air chambers zipped into a padded quilted mattress cover, and attached to a pump with two controls.  Each sleeper can adjust the firmness of the mattress to his own preference with just a button.  We’ve had it for over 15 years.

Its only flaw is that every two or three years one of the air chambers inside the mattress starts to leak, and pretty soon it mostly deflates every night.  The only thing to do is to get a new one shipped out from the company.

Because it was my side of the bed this time, I was pretty motivated to solve the problem.  I went to the Select Comfort website, found their customer support contact page.  It was late, outside of their call center hours, so I decided to get the process going by email.  I chose my problem from their dropdown list (“Previous purchase questions”), entered my name and address and phone number and email (all required).  I also entered a description of my product and my problem.  Oddly enough, this was not a required field.  I unchecked both the “o please send me more promotional material!” boxes and submitted the form.  Immediately in my inbox was an automatic confirmation that they had indeed received my email, and would gladly get back to me within two or three days.  And that if I wanted to call them, they’d take my call right away.

Rule No. 1 – Respect your customer’s mode of communication.

If you’re going to offer email customer support, it should be at the same level of service as phone support.  A real response should come by the end of the next business day at the latest.

Two days later I got a nice email from the customer support specialist telling me that my name and address wasn’t in their database, and asking me if I could send any other names or addresses that might have been used.  I did, and shortly received an autoresponse thanking me for my interest in their product and informing me that they would be sending out the DVD package that I had requested right away.

Rule No. 2 – Listen to what your customer says, and remember it the next time you speak.

I had already provided them with a description of my problem AND a backend database code for their use by selecting “previous purchase question” as my subject.  And remember?  I had also unchecked both boxes asking them to send me more promotional literature.  (I’m still getting it; the DVD arrived in less than a week, and I’ve gotten follow-up postcards every three or four days so far.)

I replied that I didn’t want any DVDs, but that I did want a new single-port chamber for my dual queen size bed and inquiring how I could go about getting one, just as I had in my original email to them.  I got another immediate autoresponse telling me that they had received my email and that they would gladly get back to me in two to three days.

In a couple of days another nice customer service rep gave me instructions on how to confirm that the problem was indeed in the air chamber and not in the pump, and asked me to get back in touch with them after I’d verified the problem.  I was pretty sure that the problem was with the chamber, but I followed the directions and confirmed it for them by email: definitely the chamber.  After getting the expected autoresponse from the customer service ‘bot (2-3 days!), I then got an email from the support staff that said that it sounded like I needed to replace the chamber, and that I should order it from Customer Service.  They gave a toll-free number.  They also let me know that they couldn’t find me in their database.

Rule No. 3 – Respect what your customer knows.

Not only did I already know what the problem was with the bed and what I needed, I also already knew that I wasn’t in their database, and I already knew that email responses were running at 2-3 days’ response time.  A full week was wasted with this back-and-forth.

Meanwhile I’m sleeping on stacks of pillows every night because I start out with a bed full of air and by 3am it is nearly completely deflated, my butt on the slats of the bedstand.  I can’t pump it up in the middle of the night because the pump makes a heinous racket to which the DH for some reason objects most obstreperously.  My neck and shoulders and lower back are all killing me.  And then fall rolled into Los Angeles, and I found myself at the mall, looking for sweaters.  And there, across from the Build-a-Bear was a Select Comfort retail store.  So I popped in, spoke with the nice man there.  He listened to my story, looked me up in the database (“Yep, you’re coded as a prospect!”) and surreptitiously gave me a queen dual chamber that he had lying behind a big cardboard display.  I took it home and pumped it up, but it turned out to have a leak as well.

I was at the same mall a few days later and returned it to him.  He gave me another one, but while he was digging around looking for it, another customer in the store who was purchasing a bed and some accessories asked me if I liked my bed.  O how I did wax prolific on the wonders of the bed.  I truly love it.  At least fifteen years of slumbering bliss on this bed.  A testimonial, dear brethren!  After this, the nice store manager gave me the chamber.  I asked him, “If this one doesn’t work, can I come back here and order it from you?”  No, he said, I had to order it from Customer Service.

Rule No. 4 – Empower your service workers to provide service.

There was a customer sitting at the counter while I was there, checkbook in hand, ordering a bed and accessories.  We all of us there in the store know that orders can be placed through the retail store.  Why can I not get the replacement item I need from the nice person I’ve now got a relationship with?  Why can the email support staff not take my order?

I got the second replacement chamber home, and it leaked even worse than the first one.  I’m not too upset, because I didn’t pay for either of them.  I girded my loins, picked up the phone, and called Customer Service’s toll-free number.

It was busy.

I called again.  I got a recording that said, basically, that they were too busy to take my call, and I should call back later.  Click.

I called three more times and it was busy.

The fourth time I got put into the queue, after selecting the most likely-sounding option from the voice menu.  After about 10 minutes I was connected with a lady who asked me briskly for the name on my account.  I gave her my name.

“I can’t find you in my database.  What’s the phone number that might be on the account?”  I gave her that.

“I can’t find you in my database.”  I tell her what I want to do, to buy a replacement chamber.  She begins to go through what I recognize as the troubleshooting script, the one I have already been through with the email folks.  I stop her and start to say that I’ve already identified my problem, and that I just want to order the replacement chamber.

“I’m trying to solve your problem!”

“You haven’t even asked me what my problem is yet.”

Rule No. 5 – The customer’s problem is the one that needs solving.

So far my primary topic of conversation with these people, across ALL their modes of communication, has been about their database.  Now I didn’t call them up because I’m not in their database.  I’ve got a bed that deflates every night.  I just want my good nights’ sleep back.  I called them up because I need a single port dual queen replacement chamber, stat.

I tell her that I’ve followed directions given by the email team and have confirmed that I need a new air chamber.  “Well you can’t buy that from me!”  She says she’s going to put me in the database and then connect me with the right department.  I give her all my information (again) and she enters it all into the database, and she gives me a customer number (2275984) that I can give to the next rep so she can pull up my record.  And then she transfers me.

After a few minutes on hold I am connected to a new person who promptly barks, “Name on the account?”  I give her my name and, she says, “I can’t find you in my database.” At this point my weasel is pretty steamed.  I tell her that I have just gone through this exercise with the previous rep, and that she had put me into the database.  “She even gave me a customer number so you could find me.”  She asks for it, and I give it to her.  She tells me, “I can’t find that in my database.  You’re not in our database.  What did she use to give it to you?”

“Her voice,” I said.  “And I wrote it down with a pencil on paper.”

Rule No. 6 – Don’t ask the customer for any of your internal codes or identifiers.

How are the customers supposed to know which of your internal systems were in use?  At this point I’m pretty sure that I am in all of their databases and that customer number 2275984 is CSR-speak for “Give this customer some serious hell!”

She begins the troubleshooting script.  I stop her.  “I’ve already done that.”  After a fair amount of wrangling I force her to take my order NOW for a non-returnable $200 item.  I ask for the name of the VP of Customer Service and she gives me the name and mailing address of the CEO.

And since it had been such a <sarcasm> pleasant </s> experience overall, I replied to the last email that I had finally managed to order the replacement chamber from customer service, and that I’d be grateful if they could let their VP know that he could expect me to pitch him soon for some business process redesign work.  A few days later I got this response:


My replacement chamber did finally come, and it has worked very well.  I still love my bed, and I’m sleeping great again.  But I am afraid that any recommendation I make for Select Comfort’s product in the future will have to be tempered by serious reservations about their service.  And in the 21st century, is there any difference between the two?

Rule No. 7 – Customer service is the product too.

Give us a call, Bill.  We can help.

Sogni d'oro,


FatDUX Los Angeles

Why I hate the United Parcel Service (UPS)

12.09.2009 | Author: Eric Reiss
FatDUX needed a book – fast. Amazon US had it, Amazon UK didn’t. So, we ordered from the American .com site and paid a fortune for two-day, international courier delivery. This was last Wednesday.

Friday comes and goes. No word. No tracking number. No joy in Mudville.

Saturday, a disturbingly thick envelope arrives via snail-mail from UPS. Tanya Neerskov from UPS Danmark A/S has determined that FatDUX Copenhagen ApS (an officially registered company in the Kingdom of Denmark, with a completely legitimate tax number), is not registered as an “import organization.”  Er…well…no. We design websites and such.

The thick envelope contains masses of paperwork that will need to be filed before we can receive our book (to be sent via snail-mail - "changes will be effected within 14 days"). According to Tanja, FatDUX Copenhagen must be re-categorized as an "officially registered importer of goods from outside the EU.”

There is a telephone number I can call for assistance. I call Saturday morning (about five minutes after the letter arrives). A recording tells me that if I really am desperate (I am) I can call another number (I do). The second number also tells me that I am out of luck until Monday at 8:30 AM.

Sunday, I write the client report that might possibly have benefited from the knowledge purported to be in the book we ordered from Amazon.

Monday, 08:32
I call UPS. Unfortunately, Tanja is out sick that day. But Charlotte is very helpful. She explains that we need to pay sales tax on the book (normally, we do this at the post office and it takes no time at all). But because UPS has set these strange procedures in motion, we must now go to our “local tax office.” (Jeez, the total charge is only about USD 12) Good news: if we pay this today, UPS will send the book the very next day (Tuesday).

Charlotte explains that Tanja certainly must have called our office to determine the best way to expedite this package (she didn’t – I questioned everyone at FatDUX who was near a telephone on Friday when the book arrived at the UPS terminal). Also, Charlotte reminded me that we really should re-register our company so that we can avoid these problems in the future (er…I paid more for shipping than for the book and suddenly the delays are my fault???)

Next task - finding out where the local tax office is - we've never had cause to visit them. It turns out, the "local" tax office is about as far from our offices as two locations can be within the confines of Copenhagen County. But WTF…

Monday 12:16
Just after noon, I've now fought my way across town, arrived at my “local” tax office, and paid my sales tax (12 damned dollars). The genuinely charming woman behind the counter at the tax office explains that she must now fax (yes, fax) a note to the customs officials that the sales tax has been paid. “They go past the fax regularly. Your book will be released from customs very soon.”

Monday 13:55
I call UPS to hear the status. I am transferred to the sales department. But they need a shipping number, which I don’t have – only my customs number. No. They cannot transfer the call. No. Their system cannot access customs-clearance numbers. No. This is just not the right number for any help whatsoever.

Monday 14.01
I  call UPS again and am transferred to the customs department. I get the proper freight number. No, they cannot transfer me to the sales department. No. They cannot expedite the package. No. This is just not the right number for any help whatsoever.

Monday 14:05
I call UPS again (the operator now recognizes my voice). The sales department checks my freight number. No. The package has not cleared customs. Sorry, nothing they can do about this. I will need to take this up with the customs department.

Monday 14:07
I call UPS (the operator and I chat about bureaucracy and the limitations of modern technology). The customs department asks me to fax my tax receipts to them. After some negotiation, we agree that a scan sent as an e-mail attachment is also a viable legal instrument.  At any rate, UPS promises to send a reminder to the Danish customs authorities.

Monday 14:11
We scan all our documentation and send it to the e-mail address provided by our new friend at UPS, Hinna Somia. She (and the operator) are the first sensible people we’ve encountered at UPS.

Monday 14:13
Hinna forwards our mail to Kim Andersen at the tax office.

Monday 17:25:36 +0200
Kim Andersen announces that our book has cleared customs. Clearly, it took Kim from three to five hours to take care of this major task.

Tuesday (all bloody day)
We wait. No book. No e-mails. No nothing.

Wednesday 08:31
I call UPS. Message? The book went on the truck at 06:47 this morning “This is an express package, so it’s getting special priority”.

And I’m silently cursing, “don’t pee on my boots and tell me it’s raining…” Define "express" please...and "priority" too.

I then ask, “Why didn’t the book go out yesterday as you had promised?”

“Promised? Who promised? UPS can't make promises. We cannot be held accountable for unforseen delays. Besides, your company isn’t registered properly. And even after it cleared customs, we had to wait for an inspector to come by and approve the package.”

"Er...someone from the tax office came by to inspect the package? Yesterday," I ask, slightly astonished.

"Yes," came the cocky, self-confident reply.

"Why? I'd expect an inspection to take place BEFORE I paid import duties and tax.

"Don't tell us how to do our job!" The UPS phone didn't slam down, but it came damned close...

"Hello??" I asked...but the line was dead.

Wednesday 10:54
The book arrives. The package is unopened. Not sure what any "inspection" might have consisted of...

Gosh, I’ve been receiving books in my company’s name for almost a decade. No problem – the customs people ask me to pay sales tax or import duties and I do. Simple – I do this at the post office when I pick up my package and it takes no time at all. And no one has ever asked my to reregister my company! Why should the procedures for importing a book be so much more difficult when a courier service is involved?

Honestly UPS, how could you possible waste so many people’s time? My goodness, the Kingdom of Denmark has actually lost money on this deal. My tax was DKK 79.70 or about USD 12. But if you work out the salaries for everyone involved it must be at least 10 times this amount). And UPS, why did you lie and say you had “agreed on procedure with my office” when you never called? And I strongly suspect you of lying again when you tell me that a package needs to be inspected after it has been released from customs.

Most importantly, how can you, dear UPS, rationalize delaying a priority shipment for five days after its arrival? What authority have you given Tanja Neerskov have that she has the audacity to tell me my company is improperly registered? (Tanja and Charlotte are what we used to call "skrankepaver" in Danish.

And Amazon.com. Are you aware that I will NEVER EVER EVER use this service again?

Customer-service reading list

22.06.2009 | Author: Eric Reiss
After my talk on e-service, many folks have asked me to recommend books written by those "middle-aged guys in white shirts." Well here they are.
E-service: 24 ways to keep your customers - when the competition is just a click away
Ron Zemke, Tom Connellan
(Amacom, 2000)
Zemke has written 27 books on service management since the mid-80s, so it was only a question of time before he got around to the web. Apparently, he has conducted extensive usability testing in which he examined e-mail response time, shipping time, quality of product packaging, on-line help by actually having professional testers order products from Amazon and other on-line companies. Good stuff on hockey-stick satisfaction. Interesting reading for 35 year old managers who were too young to experience the service revolution in the 80s.
E-service: eat or be eaten – speed, technology & price build around service
John Tschohl
(Bestsellers, 2001)
Another of the off-line gurus makes his mark. For the most part, Tschohl applies typical off-line techniques to improving help desks and other semi-on-line activities. Not a bad book, but not as great as it could be. I really got the impression that he simply doesn’t understand either the UX or usability communities.
WAYMISH: why are you making it so hard for me to give you my money?
Ray Considine and Ted Cohn
(Waymish Publishing Co. (Pasadena, CA), 1996)
Considine was one of the great pundits of the service world and a personal friend. Alas, he died on Thanksgiving Day back in 2006. In WAYMISH, he describes a litany of service-related crimes caused by uninformed, inflexible, or just plain stupid service providers. A must read for all middle managers, and very useful for the UX crowd, too. I think a newer edition is available.
Customers.com: how to create a profitable business strategy for the internet and beyond
Patricia B. Seybold, with Ronni T. Marshak
(Times Business, 1998)
This high-powered CEO of the Patricia Seybold Group was one of the early proponents of business-process integration and has consulted extensively for Fortune 500 companies. Her observations are sharp, her sources are impeccable. Don't let the 1998 publication date put you off - rarely have the ground rules for e-commerce been explained so clearly. There is also some food for thought from a UX/customer service perspective, although this isn’t the main thrust of the book.
Service America: doing business in the new economy
Karl Albrecht and Ron Zemke
(Dow Jones Irwin, 1985)
This was about the first “new economy” not the digital revolution. I mention the book here because there’s some good SAS / British Airways stuff, plus Don Porter’s stats on customer surveys at Heathrow. Time Manager International and Scandinavian Service Management are also mentioned.
Dazzle Me! – how to deliver uncommonly good customer service every time
Editors at Dartnell
(Dartnell, 1997)
A little too much hype for my taste, but a typical book for the off-line crowd. Actually, if you can get beyond the noise, there is a lot of good advice. However, it will be up to you, the UX professionals to apply this knowledge in a meaningful manner when designing on-line ventures.
Improving Customer Satisfaction, Loyalty, and Profit
Michael Johnson, Anders Gustafsson
(Jossey-Bass, 2000)
Very solid old-school style textbook from the University of Michigan Business School. Good stuff on customer satisfaction surveys and defining usable metrics.
Talk to the hand: the utter bloody rudeness of the world today, or six good reasons to stay home and bolt the door
Lynne Truss
(Gotham, 2005)
Not exactly a service book, but brilliant nonetheless. Ms. Truss knows exactly what ticks people off – and that’s exactly the kind of stuff we want to avoid when designing an on-line experience.
Why we buy: the science of shopping
Paco Underhill
(Simon & Schuster, 1999) 
The most authoritative book on shopping ever written. I’ve learned bunches from Paco.


Busy booksellers in Montana

01.05.2009 | Author: Eric Reiss
I bought an interesting book in the United States a few weeks ago. It turns out, it is the second volume of a trilogy – but the first volume is now out of print. So, I turned to Alibris, the well-known online used bookseller for help.

Since I live in Denmark, I naturally chose the UK site rather than the US version. And I found a bookseller, John B. Driscoll, Ltd, who had the book at a reasonable price.

On April 14, I placed my order.

And waited.

On April 23, I received an e-mail that my order had been shipped “today.” Except that according to the actual order, my book had been shipped two days earlier on April 21.

Upon closer investigation, it seems John B. Driscoll, Ltd. is located in Helena, Montana.

My book is expected to arrive on May 9.

So, here are my questions:

First, why did an American vendor get priority exposure on a UK site? Why even bother with a UK site if it isn’t selective?

Second, why did it take a full seven days to wrap a book and put it in the mail? It seems booksellers in Helena, Montana are busier than I would have thought.

Third, why did it take a full two days for Alibris to send an e-mail telling me the book was in the mail?

Quite frankly, I am seriously underwhelmed. I know that when I deal with companies online, I generally get a better selection than I would find at a bricks-and-mortar shop. And the tradeoff is that I accept having to wait for an order to arrive – no instant gratification here. But I do expect online service providers to make a modest attempt to keep my waiting time to a minimum.

"We shipped your order today" wrote Alibris - a full two days later on April 23. This gives a whole new meaning to the concept of "today".
Equal time to Alibris
Before publishing this post, I did pose exactly these questions to Customer Service at Alibris.

After the usual problems of finding a useful contact e-mail, which was buried somewhere in the FAQ, I did receive a prompt and somewhat helpful answer from Tim Garvey, Alibris Client Services. Here is his explanation:

"If you're ordering on our UK website to ship to an European address, shipping costs will be less than the US website."

OK. A thoroughly reasonable explanation. However, cognitively, this makes little sense to me as I don't understand Alibris' distribution routines. I would think that the company would always try to achieve the lowest shipping costs no matter which site I use.

Tim continues:
"The delay in shipping you saw was the seller sending their book to our distribution center for consolidation before it was shipped to you."

Again, I have no knowledge of distribution centers or other logistical elements within the Alibris organization. So, if Mr. Driscoll can't get his act together and send the book promptly, well, here's a customer-service aspect that is begging for improvement.

Tim concludes:
"I can't speak to the exact reason for the delay in shipment notification, but I'll be sure to look into that for you and make sure it doesn't happen again!"

Good, clean answer. But my advice would be that all three of the problems need to be addressed in some way.

Fix things BOTH ways
As is the case in every complaint situation, fix things BOTH ways. In other words, make sure to fix the root of the problem, don't just make me happy. Here's how.

The first action should be to ask John B. Driscoll, Ltd. why they waited so long to send the book to begin with. Next, find out what the average delay is across the board - how many other booksellers are equally slow? Then figure out if there's any way Alibris can encourage booksellers to expedite orders on a same-day basis - carrot (loyalty program benefits), stick (we'll kick you out of the system if you don't perform). Finally, follow up with customer satisfaction surveys to establish a baseline and revisit these issues regularly.

There's also a basic disconnect between what we customers perceive as happening when we place an order and what actually happens. If the point of the UK site is to reduce shipping charges to European customers, then this needs to be communicated more clearly. However, I do wonder if this is enough reason to justify the existance of a UK site. If I am to believe Tim Garvey's answer, this is pretty much the ONLY reason for this site - which, as a web strategist and businessman, makes no sense to me.

Do you have any other helpful suggestions to give these folks?