Tuesday, December 11, 2012

It's too damn easy

I was on Scribd.

I saw this advertisement:

I Googled "UN Small Arms Treaty" which led me to this summary on Snopes.

I read the summary, which presents irrefutable evidence that the above advertisement is false and misleading.

All of the above took me less than five minutes.

So why are so many people incapable of, or unwilling to, do the same? Why do people accept such bullshit? Because... They want it to be true.

Never underestimate the power of self-delusion.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Make fewer promises... and then keep them

The simple point of this excellent commentary by Aaron Levie, CEO at Box, Inc. is that making promises is much easier than keeping them. A less politic way of putting it would be that expectations are like babies; easier to create than to maintain over the long term, but so very rewarding if done right. OK, that was clunky, but you get my point.

I think this idea of making few (maybe even just one) explicit promise to your customers, and then exceeding it, is a great model for success. Why doesn't In-N-Out sell hot dogs? Because they are laser-focused on nailing their existing limited menu, and providing unparalleled customer service.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Who will replace the replacements?

So everyone - even, now, the President, it seems - agrees that the NFL replacement officials are overmatched, out of their depth, not up to the task. Everyone is now calling for the return of the "real" referees. Fine. But they are in the midst of a labor dispute and are locked out by the league owners. You can't just order them back to work without settling the dispute, can you? There are real issues at stake. And these guys are not air traffic controllers. We can live without football.

I am watching the escalating behavior of players, coaches and the media with an increasing level of anger of my own. They are attacking, intimidating and belittling these replacement officials, on the field and in the media. And most people seem to think it's not only acceptable, but actually noble. Angry, indignant, even mournful tweets by 8-figure athletes are met with the ultimate approval statistic: massive re-tweeting.

My question is this: What would you have these replacement officials do? Quit? Get better overnight? Are there far superior replacement-replacement officials waiting in the wings? Will all this bullying and whining by million-dollar athletes and coaches end once they bring on the referees from the Lingerie Footbal League?

But I have a more serious beef with, well... everyone. Look: I am also a referee; an experienced, unpaid, youth soccer referee. I've been doing it for over a decade. And the amount of abuse I take at any given game is ridiculous. The fact that some coach or parent will turn up at their son or daughter's AYSO game, knowing less about the game then they'll ever admit, and proceed to abuse a volunteer referee for the duration of the game - it disgusts me. Go take a class, get yourself a whistle, and get out here and do it yourself.

With regards to the replacement NFL officials, please shut up, just a little. These guys might not be great. Some of them might be terrible. But what else would you have them do? You want them to quit, or be fired? OK fine. Just so long as you're willing to grab a whistle and get out there and do it yourself.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A list does not an argument make

I received an email from a friend today. It contained a message that had undoubtedly been forwarded a thousand times. At the top was the heading "The Reason California is Broke and Will Remain Broke". Below the heading was a long list of California state agencies.

And below the list were twelve words:

 "This, and all the pensions that go along with them! Any questions?"

Yes, I did have a question: What is the actual relevance of this long list of agencies to our current financial crisis? I mean, a list (even a great big long list) does not an argument make.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that a state whose economy is bigger than all but seven countries in the world has a large bureaucracy, and no doubt there is waste somewhere in the system. But is the mere fact that there are so many state agencies "the reason California is broke"?

To quote a friend: "It's a longstanding canard that waste and inefficiency are the at the root of our budget problems." But there's no denying the fact that, as a state, we're broke.

So how did we get that way? I mean, we have Hollywood and Silicon Valley. We have aerospace, tourism and a thriving wine industry. We're an agricultural super-power, and we have fantastic and diverse natural resources. Hell, We have Disneyland and the Lakers!

So why are we broke?

First of all, those industries and resources are all hurting, or threatened, in one way or another. We still have a fantastic economic infrastructure, but it's taken a few body blows lately.

In the past few years, we've seen real estate tank (2007) and financial markets implode (2008), both  symptoms of a massive and over-arching credit crisis that was born, not in Sacramento, but on Wall Street. [Watch this.]

And we're not out of those woods yet. The credit crisis kicked our state where it hurts, and we responded by borrowing yet more money, while still maintaining high expenditures (to please the left) and low tax rates (to please the right). As the economy continued to suck, unemployment went up and consumer spending went down. Fewer dollars from both consumers and investors meant even more people lost their jobs (and their employer-provided health benefits), and consequently the cost of social services (including but not restricted to unemployment insurance benefits) went up, leaving even less money for re-investment and job creation.

Plus, more Californians are retiring than ever before. All those post-war baby-boomers are hitting retirement age right now, and a lot of them receive state retirement benefits. Coincidentally, our retirement system investment portfolio got taken to the wood-shed just like everyone else. (See financial market collapse, above.) As a result of both factors, state contributions to pension and retiree health programs have had to be increased substantially.  Call me a socialist, but I don't think we should stop paying retirement benefits to long-serving state employees just because Wall Street masturbated itself into collapse a few years ago.

State contributions to pension and retiree health programs for state employees, as well as contributions
to the teachers’ pension program, have increased substantially in recent years. [Src: CA LAO]

But who is the biggest culprit of all? I hate to be the one to say it, but... It's you.

Beginning with 1978's landmark Proposition 13, California voters have passed several major ballot initiatives that restrict the state's ability to collect revenues from taxes. Our state has caught the anti-taxation fever, while maintaining a crazy-high standard of living. As a state, we are spending money we don't have.

And THAT is why California is broke. I think. (Maybe not. Ask an economist.)

Look... California is an immensely large and populous state, with the nation's second highest unemployment rate. (Congratulations, Nevada.) We have an immense, beautiful and fragile coastline. We have nuclear reactors, oil fields, particle accelerators, weapons laboratories and more colleges and universities than any other state in the union. We have the nation's biggest and most complex highway system, and three of its busiest sea ports. And I'm pretty sure we have  the most toilets in America.

My point is... there's a lot of shit to manage.

We need a variety of effective government agencies to monitor, regulate, patrol, educate, facilitate, protect and improve our state's population, infrastructure and natural resources. We also need to reduce spending, state-wide. But it's complicated. Slashing and burning a long list of state agencies just because you don't personally think you need them, or don't even know what they do... That is not the solution.

The problem, frankly, is much bigger than that.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Equipment failure = customer service success

I love snowboarding. It's fun and pretty easy. I hate it when it doesn't snow (like this whole season), or when I can't go up to Tahoe, or when my equipment breaks.

This past weekend, I was up in Bear Valley, having a good day, when a thumb screw popped off one of my bindings, rendering me kind of ... screwed (no pun intended) at the top of the mountain. I made my way down very slowly, all heel-side (sooo boring), and went to the shop at the bottom of the hill.

Yes, it's a bummer when stuff breaks, but it's also cool when people step up and demonstrate great customer service. The loss of one little thumb screw led to two great little experiences:

#1: The repair shop at Bear Valley Mountain Resort: 
The guys were super-friendly and really helpful. They did not have the part I lost, of course, but they were full of great ideas to jerry-rig a solution to get me back out onto the mountain. They gave me a couple of zip-ties that worked great. No charge. You guys rock.

#2: C3/Union Binding Company: 
I went to Union's web site late on Sunday, but couldn't find what I was looking for. (Hint to C3: Make your parts store easier to find from your brand web sites.)

So I tried the LivePerson chat (without really expecting success at 10pm on a Sunday). I asked my question and was not surprised to find that their CSRs were not currently on-line.

Totally reasonable: This is not the NOC for some server farm; it's an outdoor products company. I don't expect 24/7 live customer service. I figured I'd just come back the next day and try again.

But C3 (parent company to Union) beat me to it! They had logged my late-night chat request, and I woke up to an email from Paydn, Rider Services rep at C3 Worldwide, with the answer to my question, and a link to the exact parts page I needed. (I probably should send Paydn a beer, but he might be under-age, and I don't want to contribute to the delinquency of a minor.)

Kudos, guys!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Tru-ly gross

A a web products guy, I'm totally fascinated by the whole "daily deals" industry: Groupon, LivingSocial, PopSugar and the like. (See my earlier post on the subject.) Sadly, I think it will all inevitably implode. But at least it ought to be an interesting ride down.

I've talked to a lot of merchants and vendors who have tried these services, and most of the time, they have ended up regretting it. This is a marketing expense; the merchants lose money on the daily-deal customer. If the customer doesn't come back, then it's a failure. That seems too often to be the case.


Often, it's the type of customer these deal sites attract. These folks (and I admit to having been one of them, from time to time) are only there to take advantage of the discount, with no intention of becoming a "regular" customer. Some people take this to truly immoral extremes (by buying multiple discounts under aliases, for example), without ever trying to appreciate what the merchant has to offer.

And then, all too often, it's the merchants themselves who fail to capitalize on the moment. The whole point, from the merchant's perspective, is to get more people through the door. Once we're there, the battle's half won. Now all you have to do is make a good impression, and maybe you'll convert us into repeat customers. That's what's supposed to happen, anyway.

Well, here's the story of one place - Tru Spa in San Francisco - that failed.

I bought a LivingSocial voucher for a massage. (What? I work at a computer. I get a stiff neck.) I made my appointment and showed up on time. Here, in order, are the things that just sucked about the whole experience, and why I will never, ever go back:

#1. The exterior: I know this isn't really their fault, but is there an uglier building in SF?

#2. The interior: Straight up WHORE HOUSE vibe. Gah.

#3. Men's waiting room: Tiny and cramped. A platter of truly scary dried cheeses, table grapes and a few crackers and brownies, which had obviously been sitting out  for hours. Double gah. There was a tin bucket holding a few bottles of Anchor Steam beer. Thanks! Unfortunately, the bottles were floating around in luke-warm water, which had no doubt been ice at one time. No thanks!

As complement to the overwhelming despair of the waiting room, there was a wall-mounted TV which happened to be showing the most depressing shit-hits-fan section of the movie Good Fellas (the part where Henry Hill is getting arrested and his wife is running around flushing bags of coke down the toilet and stuffing a handgun into her panties). What the eff?

#4. The massage itself: Competent but not great; inoffensive but forgettable.The massage therapist seemed to be hustling through the whole routine, moving just a bit too fast. That seems counter to the whole point, if you ask me.

#5. The checkout process: This is where they really dropped the ball. There was a mandatory tip of $26 applied to my bill. This was not optional; it is "policy" (although not stated on the Living Social voucher) to apply a 20% gratuity to all Living Social customers. I understand required gratuity at restaurants for tables of 6 or more. But for a massage? That's just bullshit.

In summation, no go back.