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Posts tagged ‘New York Times’

why I think something’s wrong with this picture

August 26, 2012

fransiweinstein

This past Friday a friend of mine, a former colleague from my Ogilvy days, posted a New York Times article from August 18 on his Facebook timeline.  Written by Alex Stone, it talks about how irate customers get when they are forced to wait in line, why it’s such a sore point and how some companies are dealing with it.

It’s a great article and, at first blush, my overall impression was that he had found some organizations who were being rather innovative.

For example, when executives at a Houston airport received tons of complaints about the length of time it took to claim luggage they decided to analyze the situation.  They learned that it took passengers less time to walk to the baggage claim area, then it did for their luggage to make it to the carousel, and into their hands.  Which, in turn, made the time these passengers had to wait for their bags seem that much longer than it really was.

So what was their solution?  They moved the arrival gate further away from the terminal.  Therefore it took passengers longer to get to the baggage claim area.  Which, in turn, made the wait time for their baggage seem negligible.

It worked.  Apparently complaints dropped to near zero.

Mr. Stone sites several other examples that make for interesting reading, but you should read his piece for yourself.  So why did I say “at first blush I thought these companies were coming up with innovative solutions”?

Think about it from the passengers’ perspective.  Traveling’s not nearly the fun it used to be.  Even a short trip becomes a long trip when you factor in the time it takes to get to the airport, check in and leave enough time for security.  So if you’re on an 8:00 a.m. domestic flight and live 40 minutes from the airport, you could be leaving your house at 5:00 or 5:30 in the morning.  If you’re slow, like I am, in the morning, your alarm would be going off at 4:00 or 4:30 a..m.  So a 2-hour flight is really eating up 5 hours of your time — before you land at your destination.  Let’s not even discuss the hassles there always are with luggage, how long it takes for everybody to board and get settled and the fact that, rarely, do planes leave on time.

So you have finally landed.  Safely.  You’re hot, tired, thirsty and hungry.  All you want to do is get your bags and get home — or to your hotel.  But now you have a considerably longer walk ahead of you than you did in the past.  All because those good folks at the Houston Airport were tired of fielding all those complaints and, instead of thinking things through strategically … instead of thinking of the customer experience … they solved a problem by creating another problem.  How customer-centric of them!

I’m not suggesting they had an easy problem to solve.  But in my opinion, their solution is not really a solution, even though complaints dropped off.  I travel.  And I hear passengers bitching and moaning about how long the walks are in airports.  All airports.  We may not write angry letters about it, because we probably don’t think there’s anything anyone can do about it, but that doesn’t mean we like it.  It doesn’t mean the ‘experience’ is good.  And it does mean that next time, we may consider taking the train or driving instead of flying, should that be a possibility.

Okay, so now let’s talk about what a great customer experience looks like.

Different industry.  Different challenge.  Different opportunity.  But the most significant difference is that in this company, the executives are 100% about maximizing the customer experience:

Buy anything in an Apple store.  You don’t have to stand in line to pay.  Any member of their staff can cash you out, anywhere you happen to be in that store.  No lines.  No waiting.  How brilliant is that; and on how many levels?  Well, for one thing, if they want you to “think different” it’s really nice to know that they do, too.  It proves that they understand, and appreciate, that their customers are excited to buy their products.  And they can’t wait to get home to play with them.  So their entire retail experience — not just the paying part — is designed to let you do that.  From beginning to end.  From the greeters, to the experts, to the genius bar, to the classes you can take that make you smarter about what you’ve just bought.

But they’ve also improved their own efficiency.  Now they don’t have a bunch of disengaged cashiers, just staring into space, while they wait for the next credit card carrying customer.  Instead they have motivated, engaged, enthusiastic, ‘facilitators’ whose sole purpose is to make sure that every individual who walks into a store, leaves that same store as a happy customer.

Because they know that every time someone walks into an Apple store, it is an opportunity for that customer to renew his or her vows with the brand.

Houston.  We have a problem.

and here I sit, uncomfortably, between a rock and a hard place

December 26, 2011

fransiweinstein

I just read an interesting article in yesterday’s Sunday New York Times — “Publishers vs Libraries: An E-Book Tug of War” — in Sunday Business, Digital Domain by Randall Stross.  Interesting, depressing and thought-provoking — all at once, and on many levels.  Not the least of which is, I’m writing a book, so the issue this article is confronting is bound to have a direct impact on me.

This story deals mainly with the fact that book publishers are now being forced to compete not just with e-books in general, but with the e-book sections of public libraries.

Not good news when, as Mr. Stross points out in his column, “Last year, Christmas was the biggest single day for e-book sales by HarperCollins.  And indications are that this year’s Christmas Day total will be even higher, given the extremely strong sales of e-readers like the Kindle and the Nook.  Amazon announced on December 15 that it had sold one million of its Kindles in each of the three previous weeks.”  But, as he goes on to say, “We can also guess that the number of visitors to the e-book sections of public libraries’ websites is about to set a record, too.  And that is a source of great worry for publishers.”

As if publishers didn’t already have enough to worry about.  In David Gaughran’s blog, Let’s Get Digital, his latest entry “Publishers Desperately Trying to Protect Print Sales, And Failing” shows the most recent revenue numbers as reported by the American Association of Publishers and they’re not good.  In fact, overall revenue is down significantly in print books but there are dramatic increases in e-book market share.

What’s this got to do with me?

Well, for a first time author, it’s already difficult enough to get a book published (even if you’re already a professional writer, as I am).  Unless you’re an established writer whose books are in great demand, or a celebrity, agents and publishers are loath to take a chance on you for one, simple reason.  They can’t afford to.  Not any more.  It’s as simple as that.

It’s tougher and tougher to actually sell them.  Book retailers are closing down one after another.  Go into any Indigo store and look at the amount of books that are on the “price reduced” tables.  There have been several interviews with Heather Reisman (Indigo founder and CEO) in Canadian newspapers lately.  Her future plans do not include the buying and selling of more books.  She’s now including more and more articles ‘related’ to reading like lamps, shawls, tea, cookies and even the odd piece of furniture.

What we’re dealing with here, is a vicious circle.  Because it’s harder to get published more and more writers are self-publishing.  Which only hurts the publishing industry more.  Which will, in turn, make it even more difficult to get published.  And round and round and round it goes.

And eventually those of us who love to write (and try to earn our living from it) may very well find ourselves with increasingly limited options and opportunities to sell and share our stories.  And those of us who love to read may very well find ourselves with fewer and fewer choices — especially if the publishers and libraries can’t come to terms — and, for that matter if the publishing industry can’t find a way to become more profitable in the face of all the e-competition and the economy in general — books, unfortunately are a discretionary spend — when you’re worried about the mortgage and putting food on the table books are a luxury many people can no longer justify or afford.

Which brings us right back to the problem identified in this New York Times article — because now publishers are threatening to limit, if not entirely block, libraries from having access to their e-books.  So much for the general population reading (and tempted as I am to speak about Toronto’s own special nightmare, Mayor Rob Ford and his view of libraries), it’s Christmas and I’ll spare you.

So I’m smack, dab in the middle of this stinking mess because I love to do both.  And my desire to have access to books wherever and however I want them, and for as little money as possible is the very thing that is making it more and more challenging for me, the author.

This is not an easy problem to solve.  But there is an awful lot at stake — and I am not referring to authors’ royalties and an industry’s revenue potential.  Books take us to places we’ll never otherwise see … they introduce us to people and ideas we’ll otherwise never be exposed to … they teach us things we’d never have the time or the opportunity to learn in school, in business or even in life.  They help us, inspire us, thrill us, make us laugh and cry.  And, lest we forget, they teach us to read.  Literacy is at stake here.

If ever there was an opportunity to be innovative, this is it!

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