The Self Checkout Line at The Grocery Store

We went to Jewel tonight to pick up a few things before coming home from Christmas shopping. We had only a couple of things and wanted to go through the self checkout line. The lines were full and the Jewel person that was assigned to watch the lines was extremely busy helping a woman check out her full cart of groceries.

This is the second time that I’ve seen this. If you have a full cart, go into a regular line. The self checkout line is for people who want to get in and out of the store quickly. If you are going grocery shopping for a week, stay out of the self checkout line so that those of us in a hurry can get into the store and get out.

The Cluetrain Manifesto – Still Reading it, but WOW.

I’m still working my way through The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business As Usual (also available on cluetrain.com) and I’m finding it an extremely exciting text to read.

The book does a really great job of explaining what the web means to business culture as a whole. Unfortunately, as I look at it I see that while its first publication was in 2000, companies are obviously still stuck in their ruts as to how they think they should be run.

Last night while dinner was cooking I was reading the chapter by David Weinberger entitled The Hyperlinked Organization. In it, David outlines ten bullet points in which the “Company” does in order to accomplish certain things while the reality is that the company produces the exact opposite result. This section hit me really hard, because it strikes me as absolutely true. I’m hoping that my reproducing these isn’t a problem, because I think that the text deserves the additional exposure.

Here are the ten bullets outlined in The Hyperlinked Organization:

  • The company communicates with me through a newsletter and company meetings meant to lift up my morale. In fact, I know from my e-mail pen pals that it’s telling me happy-talk lies, and I find that quite depressing.
  • The company org chart shows me who does what so I know how to get things done. In fact, the org chart is an expression of a power structure. It is red tape. It is a map of whom to avoid.
  • The company manages my work to make sure that all tasks are coordinated and the company is operating efficiently. In fact, the inflexible goals imposed from on high keep me from following what my craft expertise tells me I really ought to be doing.
  • The company provides me with a career path so I’ll see a productive future in the business. In fact, I’ve figured out that because the org chart narrows at the top, most career paths necessarily have to be dead ends.
  • The company provides me with all the information I need to make good decisions. In fact, this information is selected to support a decision (or worldview) in which I have no investment. Statistics and industry surveys are lobbed like anti-aircraft fire to disguise the fact that while we have lots of data, we have no understanding.
  • The company is goal-oriented so that the path from here to there is broken into small, well-marked steps that can be tracked and managed. In fact, if I keep my head down and accomplish my goals, I won’t add the type of value I’m capable of. I need to browse. I even need to play. Without play, only Shit Happens. With play, Serendipity Happens.
  • The company gives me deadlines so that we ship product on time, maintaining our integrity. In fact, working to arbitrary deadlines makes me ship poor-quality content. My management doesn’t have to use a club to get me to do my job. Where’s the trust, baby?
  • The company looks at customers as adversaries who must be won over. In fact, the ones I’ve been exchanging e-mail with are very cool and enthusiastic about exactly the same thing that got me into this company. You know, I’d rather talk with them than with my manager.
  • The company works in an office building in order to bring together all of the things I need to get my job done and to avoid distracting me. In fact, more and more of what I need is outside the corporate walls. And when I really want to get something done, I go home.
  • The company rewards me for being a professional who acts and behaves in a, well, professional manner, following certain unwritten rules about the coefficient of permitted variation in dress, politics, shoe style, expression of religion, and the relating of humorous stories. In fact, I learn who to trust — whom I can work with creatively and productively — only by getting past the professional act.

This very accurately describes the corporate environment as I have experienced it, and its a sad, sad thing. As a matter of fact, I still remember the look of puzzlement I received at one company when I had asserted in a meeting that for development teams to be productive they have to have space to “play and make mistakes” without consequences. I received a look like I was from another planet. This was in response to a request to begin measuring defects on work in progress (pre-integration or QA) in order to measure developer productivity. Yes, that’s right, measuring defects on work that is still in major development. I never put this into action.

I’ve worked for some companies that I hated, due to their “factory” mentality of software development. One company that I despised working for I have a new respect for nowadays, because they actually had a newsgroup on UUNET (back in the 90’s) in which the development and technical support staff were allowed to contribute freely to. The lowly development staff were actually allowed to interact freely with customers. I always thought that that was a really cool thing for a customer – to have a problem with a piece of software that I had written and get answered by the guy who wrote it to either receive a way to work around it or be notified as soon as a patch made it to the tech support area of the web site. I haven’t worked for a company that understood the importance of this concept since then.

So what am I getting out of this book? I am getting confirmation, first and foremost, that I am not some nut with unrealistic ideas about the effects that the internet has on business and customers reactions to them. I am getting affirmation of the belief that if you just think about the experience you want on the internet as a customer, you can completely change the way your customers think about you.

And I’m learning that its the little things that create revenue opportunity, many of which you don’t make money with, but because they are base expectations. They are a barrier to entry for customers if you do not have them. One of these, I believe, is the conversations with real people rather than a corporate entity.

One thing this book obviously does is make you think — at least enough to brain dump some very disconnected but long dwelled upon concepts into your Labor Day Sunday blog entry.

Reaching “Norm” Status – The Ultimate in Customer Service

An interesting thing happened to me in the local Starbucks the other day. I reached “Norm” status.

“Norm” status is what I call the point when dealing with a vendor (like a Starbucks, a local restaurant, a local bar, or even a web site) when you walk into the establishment and your order is started before you are asked what you are there for. They know you well enough to give you what you need with no effort on your part.

I coined the name from the TV show Cheers, where Norm would walk into the bar, everyone would yell “Norm!”, and by the time he sat down he had his beer in front of him – and his stool was always open and ready for him.

“Norm” status is the ultimate in customer service. It’s the point in the vendor/customer relationship where the customer feels they are important enough to pay attention to and they don’t have to work to get exactly what they want.

In a conversation with Tom the Architect yesterday talking about good web sites, I realized that one of the reasons I like Amazon.com so much is that I have reached “Norm” status with them. As soon as I log in, they tell me what they recommend. If I need to find something, I can find it in a matter of minutes. I never spend more then ten minutes on Amazon without finding exactly what I need and the status of where my order is with them. I never walk away disappointed or with unmet expectations – and I rarely log out without having placed an order for exactly what I want, and knowing approximately when I’ll get it.

“Norm” status is the ultimate in customer service. It is personalization at its finest and it makes the customer feel important. The more the customer feels important and gets what he wants (or at least knows he can’t get it), the more he or she will return because you’ve treated them well.

After reading Jason Kottke’s My Business Influences I started thinking about the things that I think make businesses great. I came up with three things:

  • Values – Running business according to your values rather than making revenue the primary value. This is a lot of what Jason was talking about
  • “Norm” status – Making the customer feel wanted and important. Personalization of experience and the customer walking out of your business thinking you “know” them is very important to repeat business
  • Integrating into the customers life, rather than making them work to integrate you. Amazon does this really well. Not only do they become part of my buying life because they treat me well, but because of their service enabled system, I have the ability to reuse their store at the application level. I can integrate them into things like WordPress that I use in every day life. Because they integrate into my every day life so invisibly, I automatically default to using them because they are there – not because I have to think “Gee, maybe I’ll check Amazon”. This integration into my every day life and tools creates opportunity for them to receive referral business from me when I find a book or product I like and want to recommend it to others. This effects their overall revenue numbers.

I believe these three principles are a few of the keys to a businesses success. The core values must be centered around the customer. The customer has to feel important. Finally, you have to be present in their lives without them having to think about it, by integrating into the things they do every day.

These three things should be what goals are built around. Revenue should never be the primary goal of a business, because in my opinion it is a natural side effect, or by-product, of satisfying these three core principles.

Now … if you’ll excuse me, I can use a Venti-triple-shot-skim-no-whip-mocha now.