Sunday, February 28, 2016

Customer Service - How not to do it

In the day of omnipresent internet, mobile, social media and instant gratification, customers crave for instant answers to their questions.  If the product doesn't speak to you (either by being intuitive or by literally speaking to you), the product doesn't fly. 

I recently stumbled upon a product that literally asked the user to send an email to obtain installation instructions or get questions answered.  Duh!  Are we in the 19th century or what? 

The picture above shows a card that was attached to a hammock I recently bought.  The design is pretty close to being intuitive but can be confusing when it comes to attaching the ropes.  I expected to see instructions printed on the card but all I find is an email address.

What happened to printed instructions?  It could be text or pictures.
What happened to a web site with a user guide?  Video or text or a downloadable document.
What happened to an instructional video on youTube? 

Companies need to embrace the current trends in marketing and attracting customers.  Not just stay in the 19th century. This is such a simple product, a few drawings showing how to tie the ropes would have sufficed.  But the company wants an email from you.  I wonder what happens if they get a million emails from their customers.  Think of the cost of answering them (nope, I don't want a robotic reply) versus a simple illustration on the card attached to the product.

Everyday, I learn something new. In this case, a 'what not to do'.  

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Delighting the customer

A while back I wrote about innovation in elevator technology.  Recently, I noticed the opposite in the heart of innovation: Silicon Valley. 

I was at the San Jose airport car rental center.  The rental center sees a lot of traffic and they have graciously installed what looks like a dozen elevators (it is actually a bank of 8) over a wide area.  There are several locations with buttons for summoning the elevators.

What is interesting about this arrangement is that when one calls an elevator, irrespective of which set of buttons you use to summon the elevators, any of the bank of 8 elevators could answer.  Seldom have I seen an elevator close to me answering my call.  What this means is that the user has to walk all the way (lugging their luggage) to the elevator.  Some times, the elevator moves away by the time you reach it, making it even more annoying. 

We all know that large traffic only enters the ground floor at the same time: whenever a flight lands.  The elevators be programmed so that any idle elevator car always comes to the ground floor to wait.  It may be a bit inefficient, but makes the customer delighted.  Imagine walking into the rental center to find one or more elevators with open doors waiting for you!  That should put a smile on anyone's face. 

Another feature that can be incorporated is assigning a bank of 4 elevators to the closest buttons.  San Jose has two banks of elevators and they could be separately programmed.  Paired with the previous suggestion, this will delight anyone visiting the Bay area. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Eindhoven GLOW Festival

Eindhoven, a city in the Netherlands, hosts an annual light festival called GLOW.  Eindhoven is known as the City of Light, mainly because of the fact that it housed several match stick factories.  And, then Philips established its light bulb factory. 

I was lucky enough to be in town to experience GLOW 2014.  It was a fabulous experience and some of the installations were mind-blowing.  The city had spent considerable amount of resources to put this project together.  The entire project spanned over 20 installations spread around the city center (Centrum, as they say in Netherlands).

The installations were in the form of light installations, sculptures, projections as well as live performances.  Some of the installations were elaborate and involved high-tech equipment. The entire 'show' started at 6 PM and went on into the night. 

One of my favorite installations was the 'Parklaan Flashback'.  This installation captured the history of Eindhoven at the beginning of the twentieth century.  The show was a light projection on two buildings facing each other.  Spectators stood between the two buildings and watch the show.  The show is synchronized between the opposite buildings and moves from one building to the other.  Different scenes are depicted and 'painted' on the buildings using light with accompanying music.  It made for a spectacular show.  I shot both video as well as still images.  Here are a few of the still images:

The 'Pendulum Wave' was a piece of art built on the principles of pendulums.  This was a great engineering installation with 15 pendulums of varying lengths suspended from a frame.  At the end of each pendulum was a lighted ball.  All the pendulums were simultaneously raised to the side (I guess, using electro-magnets) and then let go.  The pendulums formed interesting patterns governed by their lengths.  As the pendulums swung, the balls would change color.  The entire experience was enhanced with music and fog.

The 'Figures that Wander' was a shocker amongst all the exhibits.  This was the only 'live-art' in the whole festival.  The performance involved four dancers dancing behind semi-transparent plastic curtains.  They formed shapes using light and shadows.  Initially, I thought that this was a projection onto a semi-transparent screen, just like all the other installations.  After watching for a few minutes, I realized that this was indeed live, and there were people performing behind the screens.  This was the most creative, bold and provocative art installation in the entire festival. 

The 'Enchanted Cathedral and the Seasons' was an innovative art creation using high powered color projectors.  Computer generated images are projected onto the façade of the cathedral to depict the four seasons.  Again, the animation was accompanied by lively music.

Here is a view of the cathedral from my room.

'Stereo' was the video mapping projection done on the façade of the Augustijnenkerk cathedral.  This cathedral was right next to my hotel and I could see it from my window.  This audio-visual production transformed the cathedral into a living and moving structure.  Set to music, the high powered projectors painted the façade with features and made the features undulate to music.  It was an interesting way to convert an irregular surface into a projection surface and paint pictures. 

There was another show inside the cathedral.  Even here, they had used a half dozen synchronized projectors to project images onto the tall ceiling as well as the walls of the cathedral.  I was surprised to note that each of the projectors was using film instead of digital technology.  The entire show was cued to baroque music.

All in all, it was an amazing experience.  I heard that other European cities are also hosting such GLOW events and I can't wait to visit them and experience GLOW again.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

"What do you do?"

A simple question that reveals how passionate someone is about their occupation. You meet someone at a gathering and ask them their name, and they enthusiastically (and almost immediately) reply. You ask them where they live, and you get a similar enthusiastic quick reply. Then, you ask them what they do, and you will see two kinds of people:

The first kind is the group of satisfied and successful professionals who exude the confidence and are enthusiastic about their profession. They reply with the same enthusiasm and quickness.

The second kind is the group of people who are not really excited about their occupation, and are just going along to make a living. These people will drone about what they do without any excitement or enthusiasm. These are the ones that need to look inside themselves, find what they are passionate about, and go after it.

Find an occupation that makes you proud. Find an occupation that makes you get up everyday looking forward to going to work.

I remember reading a resume writing book where the author said that we should fine tune our resumes until it is fit to be framed and hung on the wall. Same here. You need to find a profession that you are proud of proclaiming it and announcing it to the world.

Find your passion today and go after it.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Airplane seating

How many times have you boarded an airplane just to stand behind a bunch of people trying to cram their luggage into the overhead bins or waiting for others to give way so they can get into their window seat?  I have been in a lot of these situations and that is what got me thinking about how an airline can make this more efficient.

A plane on the ground is a plane not making money for the airline.  That is the reason why airlines try to turnaround their planes as fast as possible. 

Disembarking is simple and happens efficiently: passengers milling out of the plane starting from the front to the back, aisle to window.  It is boarding where all the confusion lies.  There are three predominant patterns used by most of the airlines: free seating, back to front and zone based seating.  United is the only airline that uses outside-in seating. 

Southwest uses free seating.  The main problem with this approach is that everyone wants to sit in the front of the plane (less engine noise, faster to disembark, less lateral movement, etc.).  Also, no one wants to sit in the middle seat.  This means people start filling the window and aisle seats from front to back.  The problems with this approach are that people have to wait in the beginning since others are holding up the line as they find their seats up front.  Later on, the process speeds up as people start moving backwards.  And, at the end, it slows down again when the middle seats get occupied.  One advantage is that there is never a situation where two people have to get up to let a passenger get to his/her window seat. 

Most of the other airlines seat from back to front in zones.  This causes packs of delays within the zones as people board in random order within the zones.  Add to this mix, the elite travelers who board prior to all others.  A lot of elite travelers prefer the aisle seat leading to more delays as the other seats are occupied. 

United's approach loads the windows first, followed by middle and then the aisles.  This would mean that there is no need for any passenger to get up once seated.  But, unfortunately, the elites mess this up too.  The elites board first and could be seated anywhere on the plane. 

We could come up with all kinds of sequences to make boarding as efficient as possible, but, still we will have issues with each of these approaches.  The main culprit being carry-on luggage.  Finding space for carry-on luggage is the biggest concern for all passengers, and hence the rush to board. 

In an Utopian world where passengers did not carry any luggage on them, boarding would be a cinch.  Any of the above approaches would work pretty well. 

One obvious answer is to eliminate carry-on luggage, especially the ones that fit in overhead bins.  Laptop bags, backpacks and purses that can fit under the seat and could be fine.  The big increase in carry-on luggage has happened since airlines started charging for checked-in baggage.  It would be interesting to see how this has increased the boarding time.  If it is significant, then, airlines could charge for carry-on luggage too.  This would bring us back to the good old days of no charge luggage.  Airlines can make more money from baggage fees, as well as increase the turnaround time. 

Another answer is to open all doors and load passengers from all of them.  Especially on the wide body jets with two aisles, opening doors on both sides will speed boarding incredibly.  For the smaller planes, opening doors in the front as well as the back would do the trick.  But, that is not really possible since all airports have only one jet bridge assigned to a gate.  A redesign of the gates and bridges would be very expensive. 

A few airlines are still experimenting with various strategies for boarding (alternate aisle and window, back to front, eliminate elite early boarding, etc.).  But, the airlines are knocking on the wrong door.  The boarding process is very well optimized.  It is the carry-on baggage issue that needs to be addressed by either eliminating overhead bins, or by reducing the carry-on luggage.  This would either mean charging for carry-on baggage or eliminating them completely.

It would be interesting to see if there has been an uptick in boarding times since baggage fees were instituted.  If there is, it makes sense to address this problem by focusing on the carry-on luggage.