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|Tracking is not a dirty word. Understand customers through their actions.||
Tracking is not a dirty word. Understand customers through their actions.
Do you despise the thought of being tracked on a company’s website? Does your company use tracking data to make customer experience better? Let me know.
Originally posted on Meaningful Social
|One Year Lived - the book. Or travelers make the best team members.||
As a blog that looks at tech and business and organizational and social issues, I think I can get away with talking off-topic without really being off-topic. More importantly though, I value travel highly. I associate well with people who have chucked in a good job to pick up a backpack and see a chunk of the world that is more real than any resort destination. A country and population and slice in time that has grime and crime and interesting adventures. I work well with people like that too, as perhaps a side-effect of working for an Australian company west of London as the first job post-university that I chose, rather than it choosing me. Travel brings out the best and worst in people. It also really makes it pretty obvious what you are getting when you interview or collaborate with a traveler in a business environment.
Generally as corporate working people travelers are quite transparent as to what they want and what their goals are. This makes travelers an important part of a team. Not every person who has traveled like this will fit your team, but that's OK, because it will be more obvious who fits and who doesn't. Getting mixed up in difficult situations in places where you have no control and only hand-waving as a way to communicate can strip away a lot of stupid ego. So that is why I wanted to read Adam’s book. He’ll make a great employee and entrepreneur and CEO and floor-sweeper, and he'll do the one that makes him happiest, not the one that necessarily makes his ego tingle. And we can all learn from that.
As Adam experienced, you find out a lot about what you are good at in surprising places. Shepard, from North Carolina, and educated on a basketball scholarship up in Merrimack New Hampshire, was, not surprisingly, pretty good at hoops. But put him in the middle of Guatemala volunteering to help with kids and he tells us in plain, easy to read English how not only did this become one of the most memorable things ever, it helped him realize how he worked in a team. Or maybe how he didn’t. He certainly tells us how he can identify clearly the team players of the volunteers, the people great in their roles, the people he would pick for their enthusiasm, and the others who were there just until it was time to be somewhere else. And Adam was self-aware enough to know that in that moment he just wanted to be an individual contributor. Collaboration and team work wasn’t working for him. So, he made another brave volunteering decision and went to dig ditches for water projects alongside locals in Nicaragua, because there is not too much planning and collaboration to do.
In doing so, Adam learned more about what makes workers tick, and equally how important it is to ensure people have accountability in everything they do. A water pump, which you’d thing would be treasured and cherished in a small village without a clean water supply just dies and becomes scrap when nobody feels accountable for its upkeep. Finding the ways to give the right people ownership, was by the sound of it an important lesson.
In “One Year Lived”, you can read about a 30-year old man, Adam Shepard, who drops everything to go and travel, absorb as much experience, language and learning as possible. And along the way he works out what he’s good at and what seat in the eventual boardroom of life, corporations or politics he’ll occupy.
Adam has kindly offered some free e-books for download for anybody that shares this blog post over the next 48 hours. Make sure you follow and mention @consected in a Tweet or add a comment linking to your post below and I’ll send you a link to the book. Just be quick. And take a look at the One Year Lived website for great stories about the book and more information about the author.
|Nothing says privacy risk more than an API||
Less than a handful of years ago, mention the three letter acronym 'API' to a regular Internet user and you'd have got the look of "stay away from me, you scary unwashed software geek who is about to bore me to tears" (that's the bleeped version of the internal dialog). Now everything has changed. Not only is API part of the regular semi-tech word-dropping of web users, lack of one can raise questions about the viability of a modern web application. A publicly available API is a badge of honor for startup web apps that says "the information we have is worth being consumed by other apps, so its got to be good enough for you too".
The Application Programming Interface, or API, is the technical Lego brick that lets developers from across the globe plug into an application, to use the data and functionality of the website without the annoying user interface of that website getting in the way. It makes it easy for other applications to see the data that you as a regular logged in user can see, as long as you click the OK button to authorize it to do so. If you can see details of your friends lives, there is a good chance that by authorizing that app by entering your password that app can see the details of your friends lives too.
In the majority of cases the API itself is not the problem. It is what it stands for in terms of the sheer amount of data a web service has. Re-phrasing what I said at the beginning:
"API" says that a web app collects, stores and makes accessible a lot of potentially personal information that any number of third-party applications might find valuable to consume and reuse
The real problem is that in most cases the information web apps have is not original data and a work of exceptional creativity. It is data collected from its users who enjoy sharing details of their lives with their friends and occasional strangers. It is the data stored in LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, et al. The data is largely personal and untouched, beyond being transformed in a way that allows it to be retrieved in an instant. When you read "API" on a social networking site, consider this: the website in question probably collects a lot of personal information about its users and their daily habits and actions. Can you trust the developers that tap into your data through the API as much as you trust your friends?
|Big Data - and what we'll do with it||
Most rational people quietly accept that Big Data is mostly hype right now. Everybody is trying to stake a claim to their chunk of it and the chatter on social channels as marketers try to nurture the term into a real market is a source of big data in itself. The concept only starts being real as forward thinking CIOs focus less on the mundane IT networks and PCs and more on helping the business extract value from all the data they have access to using the tools borne of the hype. That is Big Data - the real use of analyzed data to help make business decisions, not just the technology hype about who has the best Hadoop or in memory database. Don’t know what these terms mean? You are a member of 99.999% of the business population, AKA normal people. Because you shouldn't have to know.
We are still in the early phase of the technology cycle for Big Data. The IBMs, SAPs and HPs of the world are still appealing to very early adopters who have money to burn on acronymic technologies that have yet to be formed into meaningful products with advertising friendly names. By 'meaningful', I want to imply that only a small team of consultants are required to install them and make them do something that regular business users and executives can make use of.
Currently most of the focus of the hype and actual product releases seems to be on the storage, manipulation, analysis and visualization of the data. I've seen little meaningful discussion about what I consider key problems:
This is where business process management (BPM), customer relationship management (CRM), and case management tools come into play. But not as the tech vendors might have you believe. The value is not purely from the extra data they pump into the system from day-to-day management of customer interactions and employee collaboration.
Of course, having a good insight into your customers and business activities is great. Being able to manage the flood of required decisions coming from future Big Data analysis is equally important. How do you actively handle all the business information coming out of the business? Losing it in email is not the answer. Never actually following up with your newly revealed best customers is just a waste.
Handling the flood of new work emanating from real Big Data analysis should not be yet another chore. This is going to be valuable stuff we never had access to before. Managing the work actively through flexible processes, using tools designed to help people follow up on decisions that need to be made, this is a key component of Big Data. Its not currently the sexy part (for geeks at least). But it is the final component that ensures that all the investment in technology, analysis and experience is not just lost into meaningless email conversations that go nowhere.
Speaking of conversations going nowhere... follow me @consected on Twitter
|Automation, BPM, ethics and competition. Or serving customers better.||
A recent discussion on the ebizQ Business Process Management forum asks: “what percentage of processes should be automated?”. In any given company, how many of those routine processes that get work done should be taken largely out of the hands of employees and made into software, or painstaking converted into automated manufacturing production lines? An interesting response came back came back from Emiel Kelly on the ethical implications of full automation. What happens to all the human-beings that previously had jobs and have now been phased out? This is not new news, but it did touch a nerve for me, as I was just reading George Orwell’s 1984, filling the huge gaps in my school history classes with some time skim-reading Wikipedia about Marx, and thinking how to avoid the “race to the bottom” in the world of software development as the low-cost offshore talent pool continually grows.
So, is there an ethical issue to automating business processes that can be fairly automated? The question is perhaps, “who benefits from business processes being automated?”. Should an organization be holding back improving its products and services, and providing a better customer experience because it is afraid of the moral implications of significant organizational changes? Or is it just hoping to cut costs to be more profitable and serve shareholders with larger dividends? Really the ethics of a corporation are guided by its own policies and mission statement, within the very loose boundaries of the law. If corporate governance suggests “employees first” then it can have an ethical issue with large scale automation.
The reality of the situation is that automation of processes and using BPM to reduce waste and improve efficiency are not big evil entities, out to strip every experienced employee of his or her pride. If BPM doesn’t improve the way a business performs and serves its customers, competitors in the marketplace will certainly ensure that hard working people in an 'overly' ethical company lose their jobs. Or those competitors will force that company into a position where business process outsourcing or offshore manufacturing become the only option. From the standpoint of supporting the local population with employment, outsourcing is no better when it comes to your complex ethical quandary.
Companies have to decide for themselves the right balance between:
At the end of the day, the majority of people want a secure job for a secure wage. Free-market economics, the social safety net, government (big or small) and technology all have a part to play in meeting the needs of the local population. There is no easy answer. But you can guarantee that by avoiding automation and organizational change for fear of facing such ethical issues, a more ruthless competitor will walk in and still serve what were previously your customers better than you can. A company remains in no position to employ people when it has no customers.
Automation and BPM can help a company advance to serve customers better, at a lower cost. This subsequently ensures the ability to survive, thrive, innovate and subsequently employ a greater number of local people.
Chat with @consected on Twitter if you think I'm missing the point.
|A Neaderthal named Grongus and Build Versus Buy||
A Neanderthal was the first innovator of business productivity tools and started the road to the big question of “build versus buy”. Long before Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, our early evolutionary ancestor (let’s call him Grongus) started spending the time to make tools. He probably didn't do this because it was fun (although maybe Grongus had a little time to kill between hunting and finding shelter). Like many an innovator he got lucky, by observing accidentally that a broken flint could cut things, allowing him to shape a piece of wood to fit alongside another piece of wood and make a frame for a shelter.
So add some time, thousands of years and a plentiful supply of flint, and tools became a natural part of what drew us out of the caves. It was long after Grongus that anybody started to think about making the creation of certain types of useful tools a repeatable thing - a product. Early craftsmen were the innovators of products (pots, spears, bags, etc), and we call all thank Grongus for why the iPhone exists today and you work with a PC or Mac on your desk.
Despite this long history, still today we struggle with balancing the cost of creating custom tools and the significantly extra time it takes to make them into useful, repeatable products. Modern day craftsmen, the innovators of products come at a cost. And as consumers of products we need to remember that if we want more of our unique desires and requirements for a product to be met, we have to pay for that to happen.
Software is a tool and it is the coolest thing, since it lets us create products that would not otherwise exist. There is not a person out there who doesn’t use software, on a PC in the office, an Android in your pocket, setting your microwave to cook a TV dinner, come to think of it the TV itself, driving a car, buying a train ticket at the station. Then there are all the amazing websites, the places where you can buy almost anything without disconnecting eyes and brain from screen (except to dig down the side of the sofa to find where your credit card slipped). And of course there is the enterprise and SaaS software that allow businesses to run more automatically and workers to be more productive.
I’ll say it again: software as a tool is the coolest thing, and that's because of the things that we can create with it. It also highlights the ongoing balancing act between tool and product. It is the balance between the effort to develop useful websites, automate business processes and build databases of your customers, and the exponentially larger time to make that pile of code into a product so that almost anybody can create a website, optimize business process management, or configure a CRM system.
The tool/product balancing act is always hard for innovators. It requires a strong business plan that shows you can create enough user-friendly functionality to hide the nuts and bolts technology, at a cost that is much lower than the number of times you think you can sell this product to people who find it useful. From the customer perspective there is a compromise, especially with business software. There are things businesses want to do with software that can’t be done with pure configuration of software products, especially if your business is in the slightest way unique. Most business software allows for customization, for additions to be made by smart software developers using tools. But then again comes a cost.
Balancing tools with products may mean buying a more expensive and more closely matching product up front to avoid manpower for customization. Or it may be in buying that more expensive product you are wasting a ton of stuff you don’t need, meaning that starting with a lean, lower cost product and paying for some customization is more cost effective. How much you tailor your software for the bespoke solution is often just a matter of taste.
After all is said and done when comparing software tools and products, calculating the “build versus buy” equation never equals a cost of ‘free’. The time you are pulled away from making your business more successful while you learn and configure software products, or the time you pay others to do the job through software development, it all carries a cost. If you have strong requirements for a website, a business improvement application or a customer marketing automation tool, you can expect there will be a price, in expenses or opportunity cost. The only way this cost (of the product and configuration and customization) can be avoided is to reduce your requirements and expectations to virtually nil, so you can use a free, advertising supported, sign-up and go product. And compromize heavily to accept where there are gaps.
If you have unique business requirements, creating the perfect product you can configure absolutely to your needs is time-consuming. With free products you get what you pay for with a leaner product that requires it to be customized with additional effort. Do you want to pay more for a product so you can do the work yourself? Or will you employ somebody to do it for you? One way or another software developers, business analysts, project managers and YOU all hope to get paid. You have options that Grongus never had: it is just about finding the balance of "do it yourself" or "done" that works for you.
Challenged with a build-vs-buy conundrum or selecting the right software for your business? Leave a comment to share your thoughts.
|Big Data, gold nuggets and the email abyss||
Big Data has sprung out of the desire for corporations to gain more meaning from all the data they collect every minute of every day. The information they are collecting about customers, about activities people perform, what they buy and the decisions they make. It is based on techniques grown in scientific research such as the Large Hadron Collider (that enormous “atom smasher”), that attempts to make the results of its 150 million sensors producing millions of sets of data every second into something that mere humans geniuses can understand. It provides medical research with a ways to make the human genome project into something more than a big experiment, developing drugs to address real diseases. And of course, government, with ways to meaningfully understand the requirements, trends (and tax evasion) of tens of millions of citizens.
Big Data is one big funnel, with megatons of data flowing in the top, and ounces of precious observation dripping out the bottom. And just like any organization, dealing with any insight, issue or lead it is at this point the Big Data analysis organization falls over and resorts to... email. All that effort in understanding an aspect of client behavior, drug interactions, or financial transactions takes real human effort. The care taken with a valuable result it is to dump it into a large abyss of junk mail and Facebook notifications.
Large corporations, governments and small businesses are all alike; everybody suffers from the same issue. They spend a lot of time working on problems, finding leads, understanding clients, but have no way of really organizing the useful information into something meaningful, to ensure that the value in the data doesn't get lost. That the potential new customer doesn't just forget she asked for information on your website. That your biggest client doesn't get upset at poor customer service and Tweet #fail about it to the world. That the analysis of your customer’s spending patterns doesn’t just leak out the bottom of a busy executive’s iPhone messages.
Sometimes email is good enough, but often we all need just a little more organization of information, a defined business process to follow and some simple management of who gets to see what, when. This combination of workflow and simple tools is all that is needed to prevent your own Big Data gold nuggets disappearing into the email abyss.
Follow more of my information management, Big Data and process rants: @consected on Twitter. Or ask me about how to prevent the precious information in your business leaking away.
|Methodology does not trump human nature||
Methodology. An ugly word. When used alongside business process improvement, 'methodology' suggests that there is a logical approach, a preordained series of steps, a pretentious way of saying there is a method to fixing business process problems. Like a workflow for fixing your workflows. At a high level, I’ll concede that this may be reasonable, but get much deeper than “analyze, measure, improve, rinse and repeat” and the methodology is just a hack of a bunch of experience and skills (I hear the Six Sigma guys beating at my door already). A methodology when used without care can blatantly ignore human nature, organizational behavior, and sheer common sense. I prefer my methodology to be more a constructive generic framework.
Things get even worse when the eventual goal is a strictly defined, no nonsense Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) map of the process. Any graphical notation for drawing ‘workflows’ that requires a 538 page PDF specification probably needs the support of an equivalently strict methodology so its developers don’t stray off too far from some form of best practice in drawing their pretty workflow diagram.
As we all know, there are many ways to actually handle the implementation of business process improvement projects:
The reality of many successful business process improvement projects, independent of the implementation approach, is that the more methodology you try and stuff into the analysis and development of the ‘solution’ to your problems, the less room there is to maneuver when it comes to the actual reality of business processes: human nature and company politics trumps everything.
My proven approach (call it a methodology if you must) to business process improvement projects, (whether they depend on software development, business process management (BPM) tools, or plain simple task lists) is simple:
flexibility, iteration and communication
I unfortunately haven’t had the pleasure of re-engineering a process of 15,000 people, which likely requires some significant structure to making it all work. My experience is more for the 15 to 150 people processes, and to do them well often requires less methodology and more flexibility.
Think I'm completely wrong? Follow @consected on twitter and tell me!
|Focus on focus. Focus on customers.||
With all the tweets and posts about 2012 highlights and 2013 predictions out of the way, I’m going to miss headlines like "Mayan’s preferred Microsoft", "Android buys iPhone" and "Big Data eats Samsung CIO at Las Vegas CES". But a heavy dose of reality (two weeks in, how am I going to make the next 50 really count?) has helped me focus on my focus - what does my company, and therefore what do I, do best?
Focus on the customer is the mantra of many of companies. Knowing your customer should be more than knowing where to send the bill. It includes organizing and making available information (not just data) of all types, to the right people, at the right time. What information?
Customer focus is an information problem for sure. It is also a process problem. The problem is preventing the day-to-day, week-to-week issues from getting in the way of a great customer experience. Put simply, it requires the back-office operations staying nicely hidden in the back-office, not leading your customer to fret about how disorganized you are and having to deal with unnecessary issues. Simply put:
Customer focus requires giving employees the power to service customers well. Your systems must support employees with all the information they need to make good decisions, and taking some of the load off them by automating some of the repetitive things that nobody really wants to do. Put this into a package and call it Customer Relationship Management or Case Management if you need a software industry term for it.
Recognizing how to change processes, information and technology is something that is hard to do when you and your employees are stuck in the middle of doing their jobs. An independent, outside-in view is often needed to recognize opportunities to work better and improve customer focus.
Follow me on twitter @consected and Google+ for updates on process, information and technology.
|Mobile and tablet technology is more than a distration||
If you are new to this blog, welcome! If you have been following for a while, let me apologize right away for the break since the previous post. Over the last few months I have been focusing on the direction of Consected, to continue to serve our customers well, and to attract new opportunities. So you could say that my creative juices have been directed elsewhere. What does this mean for you, the blog reader? Hopefully, it means that you’ll be seeing more fresh and interesting posts from me on a regular basis.
Over the last couple of years, technology, both consumer and business, has been absorbed in the explosive mobile technology space. Consected and this blog have been following closely from as soon as the iPhone really started to impact the way we thought about the lump of plastic we wedge against our ears and shout at. The desperate catch-up scramble from Android devices led to some messy (and ongoing) patent disputes that resulted in interesting competition. Then the iPad hit the streets. The Netbook revolution that never really happened got swamped. Everybody wanted a slab of supercomputing plastic and glass. Consumers led businesses into what many would identify as the Star Trek tech era. After all, why would you want to lug around a monster laptop, with a charger and battery that weigh more than a large house brick, when you could enjoy having a slim, light tactile device in your hands at any time?
Businesses are still struggling with the idea of employees buying their own devices that trump the work PC, which they want to attach to the corporate network. The ‘bring your own device’ (often referred to as BYOD) struggle continues. As does the love-hate relationship with social media.
Consected and therefore this blog has been following all this, for the sheer novelty of it all, and because we know there is a real business (and technology and social) impact. For me, the mobile / tablet revolution has opened my eyes to several things:
So my focus for this blog, and Consected the company, is to really start addressing these things holistically. We have a lot of experience with mobile web technology now. Consected has some great mobile products to help others with that experience. The aim for all of us is to start pulling mobile technology, the use anywhere / use easily devices and apps, back into the business processes that are the life-blood of larger companies and organizations. From the point where we start to meet new potential customers (our leads), through to when we are serving them well and eventually dealing with issues that arise, online and offline devices matter. Facilitating employees to do their jobs better and more easily, and to remove (or at least hide) some of that annoying administrative stuff that detracts from everybody working well and being profitable.
That’s my round up of where me, Consected and this blog have been, and a little of where we are going. Our big exploration into the mobile space is part of a bigger-picture, and I hope it really is a great opportunity for everybody to work better.
|APE it up. Author, publish and market your own creative genius.||
APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book is that book, which of course, is itself published by the authors themselves.
Personally, I haven't felt the urge to lock myself away to author a serious work. My simple endeavors into writing some free e-books on the subject of mobile websites and e-commerce have demonstrated to me that writing is a time consuming, and quite frankly wearying experience. But I have friends and family who are serious writers. And my wife recently led the production and promotion of a serious business book on Engagement Marketing for small businesses. So I read a review copy of APE with interest.
The book is honest when it suggests it be read quickly, from cover to cover the first time. To get a sense of what matters and what is involved in self-publishing, or even the initial writing and editing of a book, skimming through the chapters in an evening can make you much more of an expert than you were previously. This is what I did. Each chapter of APE gets deep into the details of every step of the writing, publishing and marketing of books, so the skim avoids you ending up in the weeds. But even if you do so, the book handles those weeds in an unintimidating, easily accessible way. Sometimes even just skimming through, one of the many illustrations, screen-shots or photos catches your eye and you start reading about details that you'll possibly never need. But the writing draws you in as the personality of the authors shows through.
Overall, Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch have done an excellent job with this book. It is quite possibly going to become the self-publishing bible that it pitches itself to be. And its own success will be the best review and recommendation. So if you are serious about authoring and publishing a book, whether you are considering self-publishing or not, this could be the best ten dollar addition to your e-book collection there is. Find it on Amazon: APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book
By the way, I've been terrible at writing this blog recently for all kinds of 'overworked, underpaid' reasons. I promise in the New Year to do better! Happy Holidays / Merry Christmas to you all.
|Growing customers - advertise to attract, reward to retain||
In the last week or so, Constant Contact has released a new 'deals' product designed to give Groupon and LivingSocial a run for their money. Or more importantly, Constant Contact's SaveLocal aims to help small businesses control the deals they offer. With discounts they can afford businesses attract new customers by rewarding current customers that share their coupons with their network. It is an interesting concept, and just one of the tools that small businesses can use to attract new customers. But do deals just downplay the value of what a business offers, cheapening the product and the vendor?
The concept of SaveLocal, is that by offering rewards to current customers for sharing your coupons with friends, you are more likely to grow a local and loyal new customer base. Today's New York Times online article, A Groupon Alternative Aims to Offer Small Businesses a Better Deal talks with Constant Contact's CEO to flesh out the details of the way it works. When it comes down to it, the argument is that small businesses typically thrive on referrals and endorsements from current customers, since the new customers they bring in are likely to provide repeat business.
Groupon on the other hand does the opposite, focusing on a mass of previously unknown wannabe customers sharing with their bloated social networks, in order to satisfy the entry requirements for getting 50% or more off. The Groupon masses are likely to just take the discount and never be seen again. Which means that your discounted rate minus fees still has to cover costs, because a businesses is unlikely to recoup much from a new customer base. If profit margins are over 75% on your products (remember that Groupon takes half of your discounted coupon value, so you effectively see 25% of the full price) then Groupon can get you a flood of customers really fast. Some may come back.
This is the issue with deals to attract new customers: like any discount scheme, the customer's expectations have now been set based on the discounted rate. In future they may not want to pay double what they paid the first time. And if a sub-standard service was offered, there will be no repeat business anyway. There are not many wins in this.
For years, this approach to attracting and retaining customers has worked for companies big and small:
market for awareness, advertise to attract, reward to retain
Advertising your products at full price, spending 25-40% of your sales on advertising may ensure that your brand doesn't suffer a devaluation up front. With new customers in place from advertising, the SaveLocal approach can then help keep them loyal, since they've paid full price for the products and now feel rewarded for coming back again and again, and encouraging their friends to do the same.
So it seems that deals can be seen less as pure devaluation of your products and more as rewards for loyalty, as long as you use them right. Huge discounts to an unknown crowd seems like a risky proposition. I think I'll stick to marketing with valuable content (does this blog count?!), using free business listings (Manta, Google Places and Consected's own Roaming Local), Google AdWords for online advertising (contact me for a $100 coupon to get started - no obligations), and rewarding my current customers in very individual ways.
A post from the Improving It blog
Let us help you improve your business today. Visit www.consected.com
|Business excellence - how do you know you've got it?||
There is a concept of 'excellence' that is often used in business improvement to show that we are doing something so well that everybody agrees that we are excelling at it. On the BPM ebizQ forum this morning, the question came up of what is process excellence, and what is a key metric to show it?
A great response from Steve Weissman sums up the difficulty of measuring any form of excellence:
It's sort of like pornography in that – as Supreme Court Associate Justice Potter Stewart famously once wrote – it's hard to define but "I know it when I see it."
My thinking was along similar lines, that excellence is hard to measure but easy to know when you observe it working in practice:
I'll suggest that process excellence is an emotional response to a process or set of processes. "Happiness" could be the very untechnical metric.
As with anything we do in business, happiness with processes just means that they are delivering the results that everybody wants without getting in the way. So maybe I could have suggested an even better non-metric to define business or process excellence:
If you don't notice that you are performing a process or activity because it is so easy and natural, and it has the desired results every time, you have probably achieved excellence,
A post from the Improving It blog
Let us help you improve your business today. Visit www.consected.com
|Facebook welcome pages - but why?||
Last night I received a question from a customer asking how his new Facebook welcome page can help the ranking of his main website. He suggested it was a dumb question, but when you think about it carefully it is hard to see the link between all the effort that goes into Facebook and getting the rankings on a regular website up so you can convert more visitors to new business.
So, it is not a dumb question at all. Here is the way I look at it, and it is likely that social media gurus will be able to scream at me and say I'm missing something. So go ahead, scream! That's what the comments box at the end of the post is there for...
But back to the real issue, how does a fancy Facebook welcome page help drive up your main website rank?
In short, the more people you can get to Like the page, the more likely you are to keep them engaged and have them share things you post that point back to your website. This will get you more traffic to your main site, and will get you a bigger likelihood of links from other blogs and sites. This drives up page rank.
Of course, people aren't going to do much if your Facebook timeline is empty. So it is essential that you share something at least once a day on the Facebook page to make it worth people coming along and coming back to take a look.
And if you'd like a Facebook page like Consected, just drop me a note!
A post from the Improving It blog
Let us help you improve your business today. Visit www.consected.com
|The end of RIM is nigh||Image via Wikipedia
I remember using a Blackberry for the the first time. My boss at the time was driving to meet a client, and I was riding shotgun. Of course, he had no idea where he was going, so he handed me the blue device and said "look in my email, you'll find their phone number". Without fear, I found the little thumbwheel thing did just what I expected. A big block moved up and down and pointed to just what I needed. The device was more intuitive than I could have imagined. Even when it came to opening a browser to find the elusive phone number, then just clicking the link to call it. I needed no instruction. It just worked. So, dear Blackberry makers, Research in Motion (RIM), what happened?
I'll admit that I remember that first Blackberry use more vividly than other tech experiences. So I understand why people (especially salesmen, bored in airports) got hooked. The 'crackberry' was addictive. People needed them. So what changed? It certainly wasn't the Windows Mobile devices, which looked similar, but had the intuitiveness of a brick.
Well, the Appboy blog claims that you can blame the late, great Steve Jobs, not for changing the mobile market (at least not in this context), but for being the presenter and imperfect idol that he was. He just set the bar too high for RIM executives. His flair and presentation, his innovation, just made it impossible for a little accidental success like RIM to survive. Certainly an interesting take on it, and a scathing judgement of the new CEO.
Then of course, there is the likelihood that there were Blackberry users who wanted a big screen device (those were the days when mobile phones were getting smaller, not bigger) that felt solid and real. They weren't Blackberry fans though, and quite easily were taken by the bigger screen iPhone. Close to useless for business people in its initial form, with poor email support, virtually unusable calendar and a single mobile carrier (AT&T) unable to manage the load. So the few accidental Blackberry users who didn't really care about corporate email moved to iPhone, the masses moved to iPhone and the mobile market changed beyond recognition.
But, Blackberry should still have had a grip on the business market. It had infrastructure to support them, and an apparently intimate knowledge of how their users could make subtle shifts of their thumbs to control their electronic world. No repetitive strain inducing swiping a whole hand to scroll through your email. Typing in a moving car on potholed Boston roads was possible with a real raised keyboard (as long as you weren't driving). But still RIM lost the plot.
A touch screen Blackberry was a nice idea, though you couldn't exactly type in a car any easier than an Android. The Playbook was just stupid branding in my opinion, and apparently it didn't have a native email client, so it wasn't really a Blackberry, just a toy for the kids of Blackberry owners. It touted that it had support for Flash, just as Adobe announced that it was going to scale back development of Flash on mobile devices. Bad luck, or bad planning?
If RIM is to survive, seven minute monologues by the new CEO is not going to save them. Neither is another Playbook. As Appboy said, innovate, innovate and innovate some more. Hell, make a tablet called a Workbook with real email support. That's your market, so stop trying to expand out of the one you've got when you are barely keeping a grip on it.
I have to say, good luck to RIM. There will be disaster in corporate IT if you go away. Many people rely on getting their email through your servers. If the company goes, the infrastructure goes, and that possibly makes the devices instantly obsolete. Don't panic!
|Aspen QR Code review - 100% fail!||
I had the pleasure of spending Christmas and the New Year in Aspen, Colorado, skiing. It was a great place, although Mother Nature could have lent a hand with some more snow. While I was there, I picked up some of the local free papers and glossy magazines, with the intention of testing my theory that advertisers and marketers are starting to understand the value of QR Codes and the importance of mobile friendly landing pages and websites. Aspen is a pricey place. Consumers are wealthy and many have ample free time to spend a small fortune. Extracting some of this fortune is the top priority of businesses. Advertising should be top-notch, right?
As you've probably guessed already from the title of this post, my theory that QR Codes have "come of age" was squashed. In the Aspen Daily News and the pull-out TimeOut supplement for December 23rd, there were only five advertisers that I spotted using QR Codes. In 56 pages. That says to me that QR Codes are by no means saturated yet. They are still unusual and readers of printed publications will still notice them.
Worse still, of the five QR Codes I noticed, only one scanned with my old iPhone 3G. A phone with autofocus might do better, so I'm not going to beat people up over my outdated technology. Target consumers in Aspen have the latest and greatest, so I'm just not representative. Still, two of them were completely unscannable even after digitally enhancing with photoshop. That's just a waste of ink. And my question is whether the people designing the ad even bothered to scan the QR Code on the proof before going to print.
Most distressing of all though - 100% fail - not one had a smartphone-friendly website sitting behind the QR Code. Beautiful websites they may have been when I got home and looked on my PC, but unusable on my phone. Why bother with a QR Code if you are going to send a visitor to a site that just annoys and frustrates them. Have them call you or email you instead to find out what they need.
A new years resolution for all print advertisers should be to investigate QR Codes. They stand out. And when done right, your company will stand out too.
|QR Code Blunders #2: Heinz Ketchup - Our Turn to Serve||
This is the second in the series of QR Code blunders, which I think is not as bad as the first, but a little unfortunate given the worthy goal. This time around, Heinz Ketchup features a QR Code on restaurant squeezy bottles of ketchup, which can be scanned to quickly help you support veterans. The idea is that you scan the QR Code, and either 'like' Heinz Ketchup on Facebook or send a veteran an electronic postcard, and Heinz will make a 57 cent donation to the Wounded Warrior Project.
Here is a photo of the bottle, sitting on the bar at a local watering hole. There is a nice blurb about the project and a decent sized QR Code to scan. Now, this restaurant has decent lighting, but I still have an older iPhone (the 3G), which does not have autofocus. Still, it can still take a decent enough photo and scan a reasonable QR Code. In this case though, the blunder is not in any of the instructions, or the size of the QR Code.
In this case the blunder is a simple one: the QR Code contains a full length URL (not a nice shortened one), so the number of blocks that make up the QR Code are a great many more than is necessary, making them too small for older phones to pick out clearly. I'm not the only person in the world still toting an older iPhone or Android, which is why this is unfortunate.
When I got home, I did a little image manipulation to see what the QR Code contained. Here is the link I managed to get out of it:
And please do take a look. There is nice mobile friendly website under it, and more importantly you too can add your own little contribution through a like or an e-postcard.
What should the QR Code have looked like? Not like the one below that I extracted from the bottle. Way too many blocks.
Here is more what it should have looked like (I faked the blur and background on this for effect to show how larger blocks show up better). A shortened URL like the one that this contains ( http://cnsd.co/7vq ) takes just a few seconds to produce, and generates QR Codes that are readable in worse lighting by older phones.
The rule is to always, always shorten a URL before creating a QR Code. This gives you three benefits:
For more information about QR Codes for effective mobile marketing and producing mobile websites to support them, visit http://consected.com/mobile
|QR Code Blunders #1: Beck's Vier Ireland||
I've been meaning to start this series of blogs for ages, and tonight I realized that I had too big a blunder to miss. This is a QR Code blunder that is just too big to pass up. I'm currently in Dublin, Ireland, a land where competition for beer consumers could be considered to be large. Very large. So seeing a QR Code on the beer mat pictured here, I had to go with it.
The QR Code on the beer mat could be considered to be a smart marketing ploy (it is one I have suggested in the past and actually have a small, regional client in the UK doing). Imagine this following scenario. Think of grown men, in pubs in Dublin during the day, a bit bored while their friends go off to get another pint from the bar. Ooh, shiny object (QR Code), let's see what it does.
Well, in the case of the Becks example, not a helluva lot. Or if you have an older iPhone, even in great lighting (not renowned in pubs, anywhere), nothing at all. Beyond the fact that the QR Code is too small to scan and doesn't use a shortened URL, so it is more pixelated than it needs to be, there are a bunch of other failures:
So my pint turns up, and Beck's still only has 2184 Facebook friends, and everybody thinks that QR Codes are a stupid idea. Not really, you just have to do them right and target your audience better.
Cheers to them for giving me a great example to kick off this series of QR Code blunders. And feel free to visit the Facebook page for the unreadable QR Code at http://www.facebook.com/becksvierireland (I had to take a photo with a good quality digital camera, then photo shop the image to get it to scan.)
I hope that Bulmers, the owners of the distribution rights to Beck's Vier, and eightytwenty/4D who announced with such pride that they are handling the digital activity for the Bulmers brands realize the error(s) of their ways. And its easy for me to criticize here and now without offering solutions to the problem, but let me suggest that QR Codes work if you actually try scanning them with a real phone, life-sized, before going to print. And you don't rely on Facebook for your MAS (minimum attention span) marketing to mildly intoxicated blokes.
|Go Mobile, Global||
Google is finally shouting about mobile websites. They have released GoMo and are putting on a mobile event in Alabama to start pushing businesses to convert their regular websites to a smartphone-friendly format. At Consected, we feel we need to crash the party, although we're not going to Alabama. We're not even going on the road. Read on to find out about our global party-crashing plans...
Google probably feels it can focus on mobile websites having reached a milestone with the Android platform, overtaking Apple and the iPhone as the operating system the majority of smartphones are running. They have 200,000 apps on the Android marketplace, although a large proportion of these are meaningless copies of poorly performing websites, with little or no advantage to Google in promoting their advertising. So Google has (rightly in my opinion) decided that real, mobile-friendly websites need a little helping hand. and GoMo is the way they are shouting about it - along with some expensive sponsored listings from vendors who they claim can get businesses going fast. But before you go, let's revisit why you want a mobile website and not just an app.
A mobile website helps every potential customer who wants to use a service, not just the limited number who have a phone that works with the app. Apps are great for software developers who have a contract from big corporates to build them, first on iPhone, then on Android, then maybe a Blackberry version. Apps are great for consumers playing games and using real productivity applications (think of Excel on your phone). They are completely unnecessary for the majority of mobile marketing requirements (I don't need an app to search for special offers from my favorite retailer, TalFart). And, as people are starting to find out, many apps don't work well on tablets like the iPad or Galaxy Tab, well unless you like a pokey little mobile phone sized app in the middle of your large screen, or want to pay the developer even more money.
Having a mobile website is essential if you have a business with customers on the go. So feel free to try out some of the services that are being touted through the Google website. Please accept a little advice though -- spend some time really looking at the result. A nice menu, all the text from your website pasted blindly on the page, much of it irrelevant to a customer trying to find you on her smartphone. Everything else stacked at the bottom, as the robot creating your site didn't know what to do with it. And really very little control over the end result (pink or blue is about the choice). This is why Consected wants to crash the mobile party. A mobile website is not just a vertical version of your current website. It needs some TLC and a real person.
Here is where we crash the Google GoMo party. We will create a custom mobile website, by hand (think of an artisan mobile website) for any customer who prepays for a 12 month mobile website hosting service with us. You'll get:
You don't have to be in Alabama to claim it. You don't even have to be in the US. The time for us to build the website by hand exceeds the value of the hosting service, making the mobile site effectively free. Free is a pretty good deal for a mobile website that looks professional, useful and something you can use to promote your business.
To join us in crashing the Google GoMo party, and claim your own mobile website, built by hand, just fill in this quick form: http://cnsd.co/5n5
|Mobile, local and loyal - small business customers||
Many people are saying that the daily-deals sites like Groupon are struggling, especially after they turned down a once in a lifetime $6BN opportunity to be acquired by Google and had to drop a proposed IPO. The reason I believe is that consumers are maturing, or maybe just reverting to human nature. We shop, eat and enjoy ourselves more when we don't have to travel halfway across the country to do so. Daily deals give the impression of offering local offers, but local just means Massachusetts or Ireland, not Boston or Dublin. People are getting tired of this and so the announcement today by theadmenu.com about a new local online service [also see the Irish Press Releases site] is really interesting. I've been working with theadmenu.com for a little while now, so this makes it even better!
If you run a small business, a shop, restaurant, bar, hair salon, car dealership or lunchtime deli, you know that your customers typically come live or work close by. They are local. Since you have the type of business where the number of feet through the door is proportional to the amount of business you do, you know that you need to catch the attention of people on the move. Your potential customers are mobile.
The thing that many small businesses struggle with is persuading customers to come back again and again. Your most profitable customers are not one-offs, they provide repeat business and so you need loyalty. Beyond one on one exceptional customer service, loyalty is hard to promote. But we all know that there is big business in loyalty, since every big brand store, every airline, even the railways have loyalty programs. The question is how can smaller businesses get in on this?
TheAdMenu, the new service I've been working with, is based in Dublin, Ireland and aims to address "local, mobile and loyalty" for local businesses. It is quite simply a mobile-friendly website that uses the location services of smartphones (also known as GPS, geolocation, satnav, etc) to help customers find the services they want in the local area, at the best price possible. And it then takes the one-off special offers, and helps customers and businesses benefit from loyalty, by making it easy for business to provide repeat promotions to existing customers, and customers to find out what deals or new services their favorite shops are offering.
Mobile sites, like the cities that will be represented by theadmenu.com should be targeted at their local audience, not just a way to try and sell the same old stuff to bored commuters across the country with iPhone or Android in hand. With Consected mobile sites technology, I'm proud to be helping TheAdMenu deliver simple loyalty programs to local business that want to attract and retain mobile customers.
|Apple does little but keeps app developers busy||
Apple collected a lot of tech reporters together for an event to make a big announcement. Everybody held their breath, guessing at what the next big revolutionary change would be in the mobile space. What huge leap would we see in smartphone technology? According to Mobile Marketer's Chantal Tode, this amounted to not a lot except that the Apple iOS update poses challenges to existing apps in App Store. Yes, there is an iPhone 4GS, the next version of the ever popular smartphone, but its not ground-breaking. Instead, it was time for the operating system software, the "face of the phone" to move forward.
And this represents a dilemma for many people. Unless you are desperate, you're not going to buy a 4GS, knowing that the chance is greater than ever of an iPhone 5 with a great new screen and cool new stuff being just around the corner. If you are the owner of the iPhone 3 (like me), with a device that is running slower and crashing more than ever, will you even have access to the new iOS upgrade to hopefully fix some of your issues introduced by Apple's previous update? That could give your phone a few months more life (hopefully not screw it up even more), perhaps putting you in the running for an iPhone 5 (not me, I'm going to try Android next time).
And for app developers, the guys and girls building all the apps you find in the App Store, the 200 new features that could help some apps work better, break others, and finally completely replace others still, make for a busy time. The iOS software is tired, it need some TLC to make it more desirable, and hopefully add some of the missing essential business features (rich text emails for example). It needs to allow me to get notified of things that are going on with less pop ups. But any major change to an operating system represents a challenge for developers. In testing, in new development to benefit from new features, in quick fixes and late nights.
Of course, if you don't want to have to worry if your business's mobile app will work on iPhone 4GS, 5, Android, Windows Mobile, etc, etc, then it is worth considering developing using open standards like HTML5. Otherwise known as good old "web development". With some work, a mobile optimized website can avoid the constant arms race against for each vendor you want to support, giving you a consistent, easy to use and highly functional mobile website or app.
Thanks Apple, I won't hold my breath until your next big smartphone breakthrough. Mobile web optimized apps are already on their way, and companies like Consected are making them more about configuration and self-contained solutions, and less about development.
|Being mobile is having a location||
Location matters, even online. We are social creatures. We love interaction with real people. We don't just "like", we love people that we have conversations with (even on Twitter and Facebook). This human nature extends to "being local". It is not just for reducing a carbon footprint that people are interested in local businesses. We like our communities, and we love the businesses that serve them well. Yeah, we can all jump in the car and drive for an hour to the big box store. But there is a warm feeling that comes from chatting to a local shop owner before buying something, then stopping for a coffee at the local cafe, or a pint at the pub. So how on earth does this work when you are online?
It is alright to have an online personality. OK, its better than alright, it is essential, if you want to be part of the social media conversations that people crave. So if you have a personality online, why can't you have a location too? Everybody recognizes that your presence is faked if you appear to be online 24 hours a day. Instead you are somebody real if you are in a location that finally recognized it was time for the sun to set and you to go offline. That is only one way to have the appearance of "location". If you truly are a local business, one that requires people to inhale the aroma of your coffee as they sit and enjoy sipping it, or discussing the merits of this widget over that one when fixing a blocked drain, then you need to go a step or two further.
As a local business, having a website is essential, even though 99.999% of the world's population will find it irrelevant. But you do want your online presence to be relevant to 100% of your local population and visitors who might want to make use of your services. For this, your website needs to do three things:
1) help people find you
2) help people learn more about how you can help them
3) help people remember you
Maybe you'll be surprised that being local to people online is easy. In fact, you can be closer to potential customers than perhaps you would like to be in reality: nestled in their pockets and purses. Yep, you need to be on the smartphone that people resort to when they didn't plan well enough before leaving the house so they can find your address, in Google mobile search results when they are looking for a place for lunch, or finding out how to fix that blocked drain from somebody who knows. Being mobile is having a location close to your customers, whether they search for you or scan your local newspaper ad with a QR Code. Having a website just isn't enough.
With a mobile friendly website, people can find you when they are close to you and ready to buy (there are some trick to this that make it work even better). They can learn what you have to offer when they have found you. And if you are smart they can remember you by a quick click to Like their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter or join your email newsletter. Because the best customer is the one who is local and comes back again and again. Being mobile gives your location and online personality a meaning, and gets you more of the best customers.
|End of summer - plan for better, not cheaper||Image via Wikipedia
Is it me or are the days feeling noticeably shorter already? There are pluses and minuses to the end of summer. Kids are back at school, the weather is cooling down and companies are planning for next year. Depending on your viewpoint, all of these can be good or bad. It is also the end of the year when companies in the US start to really look at what the outlook is for the next year, and what resources they need to achieve their goals.
For many, this end of year 'planning' is unfortunate, since this often relates to cost cutting and downsizing. And as the news already starts to leak out about large corporations across the country shedding staff, I know that the end of the year can really be a time for corporate change. But why can't change occasionally be a good thing? We rarely hear about companies planning to improve business processes, bring in new trainers to help employee development, or add new websites to improve online customer service.
Unlike politics, where it seems politicians rarely have time to do anything positive before they are back on the road for re-election, companies could take the option for longer-term planning and change. The reality of the situation is that stock price drives decisions, and Wall Street and the City vote on a daily basis how we should feel. How often does the Board of Directors vote in favor of the CEO with long term goals at the expense of short term stock price?
At this end of the year I would love to see companies present a positive approach to their investors. Aim for growth, by changing things that help attract new customers more easily, retain customers who buy more, and develop employees to be more productive happily (and not just through fear for their jobs). And I mean present this approach as real strategies, not just investor spin.
I'm already working with companies making changes for the better, so I hope this is a sign of renewed fortunes in the economy. Business processes, employee development, software and marketing all go hand in hand. Let's consider how we can work with next year's forecasts for a turn-around in fortunes, by using the tools we have available for real, positive change.
|The Consected Blog on Alltop||
The Consected Blog has just been added to Alltop along with other great business technology sources, so take a look at what is out there. And welcome to Alltop readers as well.
With some new inspiration, I'll be back to blogging about business technology and mobile marketing very soon.
|Reporting - or processes 'gone bad'?||
My clients have a range of experience in improving the way their business processes run. They range from "expert" to "what's a business process?". After a little while working together, they generally come to the agreement that the Phil Ayres view of the world is that "everything is a process". Not in a bad, bureaucratic way. Instead, if there are a series of steps to be followed to achieve a task, and you have to do the same work more than once, why not make it easier for people by providing them guidance for what to do next, and maybe even automate a little to remove the drudgery of some really repetitive activities? Not surprisingly, I would treat many of the reporting functions that businesses perform as potential processes, gone bad.
Businesses create reports of everyday activities for many reasons. They believe that it is to provide supervisory control over the work that people are doing, to make sure that nothing is missed. In reality, mostly reports are created and used just because that is the way the back-office computer system manages can tell them what is going on. Why reports? Because it is easy for a system to put together a snapshot of data of the status of work, and dump it onto paper. Many systems have very little understanding of a business process, beyond the series of options they present on screen during data entry. A report is the best they can do.
Reports can be really troublesome for businesses. They represent a queue of work from yesterday, or last week. The information on them is already out of date, and there has already been a lag in handling any of the items on the report. Sometimes, batching up work like this can lead to more efficiency (i.e. less overall manpower required to finish the work), because one person plods through each item in turn without having to thing too hard. Sometimes, it just means that people get upset waiting for a response to a simple question. Really, if a report represents a list of work that is currently outstanding, and tomorrow it will show the same work with a different status, how does it really help us, beyond showing us that we have work?
Of course, sometimes you just can't get away from reports. They make sense. They show what is going on in the only way the back-office systems know how. In many cases, managing people from the information on a report is going to lead to trouble. In other cases, I have been asked to put processes around the distribution of reports, to make sure people actually read them to know what work they are supposed to be doing. In some cases, this is acceptable - its just a checkbox that says, "I did my review". In other cases you end up reporting on reports of reports.
Consider the reports you have in an organization. Look at the ones that are handed out to people to check off their work as they do it during the day. Behind each line on that report is often a business process. The person doing the work knows that process. But if that person takes a long trip to Hawaii, do you know what that process is, beyond highlights on a printout? Wouldn't it be better to notify people of the work sooner, and guide them to completing it faster? That is what business process improvement gives us. Escape from "processes gone bad".