Its the little things you notice …

Now that I have a few days on the Mac using it full time, I figured I’d post up some first impressions from a new user. More than that, observations from a new user who resisted the Mac when all his friends told him to go that way in the first place.

  1. When the light in the room gets too low, the keyboard lights up. At first glance this seems completely insignificant, but again, one of those little things that shows the care that goes into the design. It was definitely a pleasant surprise. In a normal company, something this “frilly” would have been cut to remove costs – but as a customer I was absolutely delighted by it.
  2. I like not having a key on the keyboard for every little thing. The modifier key thing is totally working for me for page up / down, etc. Its extremely intuitive once you figure it out (and it doesn’t take long to figure it out).
  3. Using two fingers to scroll with the mouse. Tom the Architect told me about this one. Much more intuitive than a touchpad with the right side dedicated to scrolling.
  4. For years I’ve been irritated with people turning auto hide on the Windows taskbar. For some reason, auto hide makes sense to me with the dock bar. Not sure why, but the whole metaphor of the docking bar works for me on levels that I couldn’t get with Windows
  5. I love the idea of one menu at the top of the screen, rather than a menu in every application. This also works for me on a number of levels.
  6. The overall look of things on the screen is beautiful compared to my Gateway box. Same applications, completely different feeling when looking at them.
  7. Installing software is really a brain dead process. Its the way software should work. On the other hand, I’m going to have to get used to not needing so much detail to get something working. I think I’m finally at the point where I’m ok with this. Must be a sign of getting old.
  8. There is absolutely no need for a “View Full Screen” option on any of these applications. I have enough of the application visible whenever I need it. I can even collapse the top of the window to get more room. Its a little thing, but another one of those “Wow” moments.

Overall, I’m completely impressed. While my initial resistance to going Mac had a lot to do with the price, there are so many little things that I’m finding that are valuable enough to make me feel better about the purchase price. You get what you pay for and I’m quite happy with the new purchase.

The Labs Adds A Mac

MacBook Pro

Your looking at the first post to this web site completely written on a Mac.

Yep, thats right. A Mac.

Since the release of OS X I’ve wanted to make the leap to the Mac. The idea of a Unix based system with the useability of a Mac intrigued me to no end. I also have a couple of friends that have used Macs from what seems like day one, and have always told me that I was missing out on something cool. I just haven’t been able to justify getting one in my own head.

I think the clincher for me that a Mac was in my future was when Jonna started bringing one home for her testing work and I was watching her use it. It just looked so cool! Its been on my mind for a couple of weeks now, so yesterday we decided to take a road trip out to the Apple store and “just look” at the Intel based MacBooks to see whether it might be something I want to commit to as my next machine.

Well, I wound up walking out with one with the voice of an Apple customer from the store ringing through my head, echoing softly, “Once you make the move, you will never go back …”.

I got the machine home and booted it up. Within literally 15 minutes or so, I was hooked to our wireless network here at the Labs. Another 25 minutes or so and all of the software updates were downloaded. A few trips to grab the software I use most, like FireFox, the Flickr uploader, etc. and I already felt like I was home.

Of course, being a developer at heart, there are a few things I just had to do as soon as I got the base software like my favorite browser installed. I had to dive to the Terminal window and see what was out there.

  • Perl? – Check.
  • Python? – Check.
  • Ruby? – Check.
  • Java? – Check
  • Subversion? – Nope, but a few clicks and it was installed.
  • Screen Capture Tool? Kind of – only supports TIFFS. I need JPG for Flickr. A quick Google search got me to Snap N Drag, a free screen capture utility that supports JPG files.
  • iTunes – Check.
  • Office Suite? Nope – not there. Have to install OpenOffice, which requires X11. I’ll do that tomorrow.

Here’s the great thing about the whole experience. Every scripting language I use for every day work is on the machine from the moment I opened the box, even my old familiar friend, the bash shell. The important software I use day to day is at least available for me to install.

My email, calendar and news reader? I use Google, for all of that, so there was no setup or importing of data required. I just log in and feel at home.

The loose ends I have to tie off at this point is moving all of my iTunes stuff to the new machine. I’ve found a few articles on this around the NET, but the volume of data I have to transfer is becoming prohibitive. For some reason, rsync just stops part way through the sync — but I’ll get this worked out.

I’m extremely impressed with the machine so far. It has all of the utility of Unix and all the beauty of a Mac. I’m really not sure what else anyone could ask for.

Customer Self Service

As a customer, I like to be in control.

Our family goes out to eat at least once a week (on weekends, mostly). Many times once we are seated we spend quite a bit of time waiting for our initial drink order to be taken, then for our actual order to be taken, then for the check to be presented, and finally for our payment to be taken by our server. I know, pretty normal scenario — what is there to complain about?

Well, I’m not complaining really, just thinking. How could you enable customers to order for themselves and pay when they are ready to leave? Would putting customers more in control of the things they have to participate in anyway increase their satisfaction with the service?

I’d love to see a restaurant in which you are handed a wireless device with a card swiper as you are seated (or it could even already be at the table). The device can be used to select your drinks, appetizer, and meals which is routed to the serving staff (haven’t figured out the specifics of this one yet) who can then fill the order and bring it to you. Once you have finished your meal, the device can present the charges for you, allow you to swipe your debit and / or credit card and pay for the meal. Absolutely no waiting involved except to have the actual things you order delivered to your table.

Tom the Architect has told me that they have something like this in Vegas. I can’t wait for it to get to the mainstream. As a customer, I like the idea of being able to take care of the things I’m able to take care of without waiting on someone else to act first. I like to be in control — and I’m guessing that most people feel that way. I’m more satisfied when I feel like I’m more in control of the situation.

I think the one area that would have to be worked out is the security of the system. As we were sitting in a restaurant one day, I decided that I would enlighten my wife, Jonna, about these ideas. The first thing she hit me with was the opportunity for credit card fraud (she has the innate ability to point out flaws in the utopian ideas I come up with).

She brought the same thing up a couple of weeks ago when I was complaining about having to wait on someone to come over to the Jewel self-service checkout aisle to press a button to allow us to buy a six pack of beer. I started railing on as to why friction had to be added to the transaction, since the bank that we have the credit/debit card knows how old I am and can verify my age electronically. Jonna brought up that it would be quite easy for kids to take their parents credit cards and just go buy alcohol if age verification was done from the credit card (see, I told you she was good — I didn’t think of that).

Ok, thats a problem. What if in these situations you could get the benefits of “frictionless shopping” if you transacted with your debit card only and kept the PIN away from your kids? Then I could have my “lack of friction” and we could ensure that the kids weren’t off buying Tequila on my identity.

These are just a few things that I think about every now and again when I have to wait around for things that I know technology can solve. I love the idea that we are getting to the point where we can automate the friction out of a lot of the transactions we perform in daily life. Now and again, I’m disappointed that we haven’t removed all of the friction that we could out of the process.

As a customer, I just really like being in control.

Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup At A Time

Pour Your Heart into It : How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time The last post talked about my opinion of the three things I find extremely important for a company to do in order to succeed. It was initiated by the treatment that I had received the previous day at Starbucks and a posting by Jason Kottke. The timing could not have been better for Tom The Architect to recommend I read the book Pour Your Heart into It : How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time, the inspring story by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz on how he built the Starbucks brand and business on – you guessed it – the three things mentioned in my previous posting.

The book begins talking about Howards childhood and the origins of his drive to succeed being based on his fathers unhappiness and hardships supporting his family. We go through college with Howard and his first job, as a salesman, on to his first exposure to Starbucks corporation, a coffee roasting company dedicated to bringing fine coffees to its customers. Howard is completely caught up in the passion that the company owners have, and persue them to hire him as an employee. Finally, after a lot of convincing on Howards part, they hired him.

We then go to Milan, where Howard is first exposed to the espresso bar. He is captivated by the environment which these bars create and takes an idea back to the Starbucks owners to begin opening espresso bars in the Seattle area to recreate the environment he encountered in Milan. The owners of the company are resistant to the idea, fearing it will comprimise the standards they have set for themselves in being the finest coffee roasters in the Seattle area.

Finally, Howard decides to leave Starbucks and start his own company running his own authentic espresso bars in the Seattle area. His Il Giornale stores are highly successful. By the time Howard has 3 stores (to Starbucks 6), the owners of Starbucks decide to put the company up for sale and Il Giornale buys the company, changing it’s name to Starbucks.

The remainder of the book chronicles the building of the Starbucks we know today and the journey from small entrepreneurial company to a large, multi-national, professionally managed one. The most amazing thing about the story was the adherance to the core values that the company was founded on and the unwavering belief that customers and the employees drive business success. The company is living proof that success (financial and otherwise) is a by-product of doing the right things for your customers. It is also is a very good example of how valueable a mission statement that articulates the values of the company can be as a “measuring stick” to help you make decisions.

Reading this book was a breath of fresh air for me. I highly recommend it as not only a fascinating story in general, but for the lessons in leadership that it offers. Howard Schultz is very honest about both the things he feels he did right and mistakes he thinks he’s made. He shares the heartbreak of being turned down for venture capitol, and the elation of succeeding in the business of his dreams. He explains some of the real challenging times he has had as CEO of Starbucks, the issues encountered when a company grows really quickly and the ways in which these issues were handled. He outlines his creation of a “leadership pipeline” and his long journey towards being able to let go of the details and finding people he trusted to take care of them as the company grew. Finally, he talks about the delicate balance between values and Wall Street, and the stress that the shareholders can bring to a business.

This is probably the best “business” book I’ve read in quite a while. It has everything you could possibly want in a book about leadership, vision, and values. I highly recommend it if you are looking for a truly inspiring story.

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.