Nov 30, 2011

Forbidding email is not a solution*

There's been news flying around that some companies are abandoning email. Atos Origin for example is going so far that they are forbidding email totally according to Computer world. I've seen many similar news from other sources also, claiming that big bunch of emails are waste. I have to say I second that, majority of emails are waste. There's no question about that. What's worrying me, is the proposed solution to that problem.

In organizations, there's natural demand to communicate clearly to large groups. Often the sender of the message can't be sure whom all would benefit from the information in the message. This causes, that many of the emails have receivers who are not interested about the subject. This then starts to cumulate, when people in the mail chain start to answer and will not drop anyone out from the mail chain, due to they are not sure why the people was there in the first place. From both of these, there comes the waste.

Solution for the waste problem doesn't go away with new tools like social networks, intranet feeds, wiki's and instant messaging chats although the problem does change a bit with these tools. With these people need to themselves tune in to the forums they think are relevant for them. This will cause at the end that people are tuning in to all news sources they think might be relevant for them. This then will cause the same information overflow as with email quite soon. And at the end it might be, that people will use even more time with these new tools than used with traditional email for example.

Don't get me wrong, these new tools, IM, Social Networks, Wiki's and whatever are really essential for any company to communicate better. These just will never replace email. There is a need and place for all of these. Problem isn't in any of the tools, but with the people using those. With short and effective trainings, people would learn to use right tools for right communication. There are always subjects that go best with email or social networks and subjects that require more rapid feedback either face to face or with IM.

Also there's the second thing. Tools rarely work when forced. Tools which are irrelevant will die away when there are better ones available. Tools that add value, will find the way to be used. For example forbidding the use of email, will make people angry and frustrated. Offering better tools for communication and letting people to find the benefits themselves, will cut some of the email communication automatically.

The real problem with communication, isn't in any of the tools. Noise is the real problem, not email or any other tool. Learning to cope with noise is a skill that should be taught and learned in all organizations. It's a new skill in a history of mankind, but it's a really important skill for the knowledge workers of today. And noise isn't going away anytime soon, but it will keep increasing, because sharing information is getting easier all the time.

Solution to noise is always changing the behavior of the people, not changing the tools. Offering new tools and ways to use old tools can help with noise, but only if person understands and agrees that noise exists. In modern organizations everyone should learn to cope with noise and at some point also to reduce the noise they are making. And at the end, even noise isn't the real problem, it's the lack of skill to cope with it.

* Title was changed from "Don't blame email for the noise" to the current 1.12.2011

Written by +Henri Hämäläinen

Nov 22, 2011

Book Review: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield was a book I really looked forward to read. It had been mentioned as reference in so many different books and so many interesting people, that I just had to read it. Even with high expectations, but no real glue of the style of the book, it surprised me how wonderful it was.

The book is about making things happen. How one can truly follow it's calling and actually make things happen. It's a perfect guide for everyone to start creating the things you want to and stop making excuses why you couldn't be doing these things. It talks a lot about writing, but the learning's can be reused for anything one wants to do.

Most important part of the book is the explanation what is resistance. Resistance is the force is in us, that prevents us doing things. It's the rationalization, fear and everything else in one package telling us reasons, why we shouldn't do somethings. Everyone finds it in themselves. If they don't, then they have lost the game totally to resistance.

Book does tell also about turning in to a pro and fighting the resistance. Still the important part relies in acknowledging the resistance. When you learn to know it's there, you can fight it. If you don't learn to recognize it, you don't have the change to beat it. Such a powerful and cunning it is.

I loved most of the contents of the book, and in addition I loved the way the whole thing was presented. Chapters were really enjoyable and short enough with excellent stories in those. It really was fun to read. Couple of times, it really struck me with such a good insights, that I got surprised and even offended before I realized truth in those. It was a true self learning journey for me.

As a foreign English speaker, the text was bit difficult sometimes. I've been reading lot's of business/science books lately and those use easier language most of the time. I can notice that Steven Pressfield is a novelist in his heart and he uses more variety in words than regular business writers do. That made the book even more interesting to read, but it also did it bit harder for non native English speaker to read.

Book is a true masterpiece. I loved and hated the book at the same time. It revealed to me so much of myself, that I got amazed. When you want to achieve something, get this book to you hand and read it. It's worth every page.
Written by +Henri Hämäläinen

Nov 20, 2011

Social media has ruined headings

Many websites title their texts with headings that don't tell exactly what the text is about. Those use headings with falsely sets the expectation about the article, but then at the end article isn't really living it's promise.

I blame social media for this. Some websites think they can drive traffic to their site, with interesting headings. Then they post the title to all the different medias and hope for people to catch the link and come to their site. Headings role has changed from telling about the text to being the sales guys of the text. Heading is the one time shot to get person to be interested on the text.

I really hate this. I check tens of texts a day because of a title shared in social media. Too many of those are disappointments due false headings. Headings and the text don't match at the end.

I already have a list of sites I never go since they always exaggerate with their heading and don't really tell anything valuable with their texts. They just make headings out of speculations or copy news from others. Or then they do the worst tell old news with new headings.

Fake article with striking header
Too often there's headings like: "Google's social site is doomed. Will be closed in few weeks!", and then the news is about ending Google Buzz, which no one cares about anymore. So they are not totally lying, they are just setting totally different expectations towards the text.

This tactic might work for a while, but hopefully people will start to realize, that these companies are always playing tricks on us. Setting expectations higher than delivering, is never really a good tactic. I believe that delivery (here meaning quality of the content) is the key to success. Even sites are getting faster growth rates with sensational or striking headings, it still might turn out to be more valuable to make truthful headings about the content in the long run.

I would imagine, that in some companies there are discussions ongoing, that we should concentrate on the texts and contents, not just driving the traffic to our site. Traffic is important and valuable, but traffic with high bounce rate and unsatisfied customers will hit websites to their own ankle in the long run. I would hope that there comes a time, when deception is not a good strategy. With a world of quarterly business plans and short term bonuses, deception is a really good strategy to meet the targets. It's just not good for us the customers.

Written by +Henri Hämäläinen

Nov 8, 2011

Book review: DNA of customer experience by Colin Shaw

Customer experience in it's all forms is my favorite subject. I love to analyze how things could be done better and what makes a good or bad customer experience. Lately I got my hands on the book DNA of Customer Experience by Colin Shaw. It's about the emotional side of Customer Experience. It was a really exciting book experience for me.

Book introduces four major categories (or clusters as called in book) of emotional states, which affect customer experience. Those categories are explained really well with many good examples. Those categories are further broken down to emotions. Emotions in those categories really seem to make sense and finds a true counterpart in real life situations. This gives a good start to deeper understanding the meaning of emotions to customer experience and business figures.

The categories introduced in the book are Destroying cluster, Attention cluster, Recommendation cluster and Advocacy cluster. Most of those are quite self-explanatory. In the Destroying cluster are the feelings when people are disappointed and frustrated towards a service or a product. Those are the worst ones and maybe the easiest to fix. Then on the other end there is the Advocacy cluster, in where are the feelings to really feel belonging to something. It's the most happiest feelings towards a service you can get.

What I like in this book is, that it acknowledges that improving customer experience might need a strong business cases behind those activities. In order to get support from management there might need to be prove that it helps the business. The book makes a business case out of almost all examples. Some of those seems a bit artificial, but at least there are numbers behind improving customer experience. Those might really count in some organizations.

I've been a big believer of emotional side of customer experience already before reading this book. This was the book that gave me lot more facts on top of my own thinking. Emotions are really important when dealing with people. Even you give a good service, you might be missing something to really affect the person. In many business areas this is vital. People can be really loyal, when they have a good reason for it, or then they can swap between companies, if they are not emotionally attached to it. Emotions really matter. If you don't believe it, read this book.

My only criticism towards the book, is that it uses a lot of Beyond Philosophy's methodologies and terminology on measuring customer experience with emotions. This means that you can't really implement these things directly to your business, but you should actually buy the services from them. So there's a slight taste of marketing material in this, but you should get over it, due the actual content of this book is so brilliant and important.

I really recommend this book to everyone. This book is the key on understanding why some services or products just feel better than others. Even you wouldn't be directly involved in dealing with customers, you should read it. This is such an important book to understand what customer experience is all about.
Written by +Henri Hämäläinen

Nov 5, 2011

Does everyone need to have their own web stores - two stories of bad customer experience

I've stated it earlier that I'm a big buyer from online stores. Nowadays I buy most of my stuff from online stores. I've just recently had couple of really hideous experiences with online stores which are side products of a service. One is from airline loyal customer program and second is from sports website.

Here's the first story. With airline loyal customer program, I got notified that some of my points were going old. As I didn't have enough for any decent flights, I thought I order some stuff from their online store. Everything went well and I placed order successfully, only small things was that products never arrived. As I had waited for a 6 weeks (look at my patience), I gave them a call. As usual, then number on their website couldn't answer to my worry and I had to call to another number. From there I got a responsible person to the phone and she told, that it has been very unfortunate that some of the items in my order are not available and they need to wait for those  before sending those to me. She promised that in 3 weeks I would receive my package.

After 3 weeks, nothing arrived, and actually nothing arrived in 7 weeks. I had almost forgotten the whole thing and then an email came and said, that they are sorry for the delay, but some items are still missing from my order. It stated that they will add a special gift to the package. This time they didn't give me any estimate of delivery. It haven't yet arrived. Let's see if it arrives for Christmas.

Fictional Web Wanderer store
The second story is about sports website. I really love the site and they are doing really good work on their sports journalism. That was one of the reasons, that I decided to order some sports equipment from their web store. Everything worked like a dream, order went well, I got notified that they posted me the package next day and it arrived two days later. The only thing was that it was missing 2 out 5 items I ordered. There was no notification of partial delivery or actually it didn't have any document at all. I decided to wait 3 more days, if they were just sending the order in two parts.

As you might guess, nothing happened. I emailed the company, and CEO of the small company got back to me soon, saying that 1 of the 5 items had been out of stock and it's coming to me in 2 days. I stated again that there were actually two items missing, but I didn't receive any answer. Again I waited a week and nothing happened. I mailed the CEO and he told that it should be there today or if it's not, then he's going to send me those again. Not very convincing, since they are not sure if it was send or not. This case is also still open and I'm eagerly waiting what's going to happen with it.

What's common with both of these cases is, that online store is a secondary business for them. For airline, keeping loyal customer is a key thing, but actually operating the store isn't. Same goes with this sports website, their main thing is to make good journalism and then they make some money out of their web store for selling sports items.

Maybe in both cases they should consider partnering. There's tens of excellent web store all around the world, and I would imagine one of those would be really happy to co-operate on selling their goods. And I bet they could even find someone to operate it totally under their own brand. Definitely their profit per sale would decrease, but also their cost per sale might decrease at the same level. Also there might be real savings on time spent on web store compared to their main activity.

These companies are in totally different situations. For an airline, running a online store is not a big cost, but they might consider it to be strategically important for keeping loyal customers happy. Then for small sports website, having an online web store might be a vital to keep the cash flow. In both cases still they need to improve their customer experience. If they are having a web store, they must do it well. It might cause them much more harm than there is benefit, if they serve their customers like I got served.

Most of the customers are already sharing many of their experiences around the web. This trend is not going anywhere, but it will increase over time. Default level of customer experience have raised a lot with web stores. People expect to be always aware of their order status. They expect to be notified on any delays or changes. That's the basics web stores nowadays have to come up with. If they want to please the customers, they need to do lot more.

Written by +Henri Hämäläinen

Nov 2, 2011

How teleconferences really work - how they differ from f2f meetings

I've been in big companies for long enough to have quite good understanding how teleconferences really work. The idea is the same than in face to face meetings, people get together for a reason or another and discuss their way forward. But teleconferences have so many other additional aspects compared to f2f meetings, that you should be aware of those when participating one.

Here's a basic setup for a teleconference. People phone in with their mobile phones, computers or teleconference phones. Quite often there is also online presence so people can actually see the same presentation in their screens if they are with computer. At first it seems to be quite the same as face to face meeting, where people would all be together in the same room.

Basic setup of online telco meeting

In reality the picture below might look like more realistic setup. There's three people in the same green room, two people in other location in the grey room and rest are individually located in different places. People in the same room will actually have their own co-operation and discussions ongoing during the meeting. This happens even without words, since people communicate so much with only gestures. Most often there is also real discussions ongoing in these rooms either concerning the meeting subjects or not.

How people are often set up for an online telco
But that's not all. There's actually way more communications ongoing in teleconferences than there would have ever been in face to face meetings. When people are sitting with computers, there's possibility to chat with others even they are not in the same location as you are. This possibility wouldn't be there for f2f meetings. It gives a different twist for discussions, because people can co-operate more on the background. Responses and issues raised might be result of communication already happened and not raised first time for discussion as spoken once. That makes it easier to raise concerns, when people have backed up their items with checking with some other participants in the teleconference.

How online communication tools are affecting online telco

Still there's lot more on teleconferences than just the communication happening for the meeting subject. When people are busy, alone with the computer and in a meeting, there's a strong temptation to do other things at the same time. Many people do check their mails or RSS feeds during these meetings. And some might even check the social media for latest happenings. Meeting subject will not get full attention from all the people in the meeting all the time. That just never happens.

Then there are the other disturbing things to online telco's

You can't prevent people on doing these things at teleconferences. This is the nature of teleconference. There's lot of good on it also. People often hate meetings and quite often for a reason. Online teleconference is a half of a meeting. It saves time from people not needing to travel and not needing to pay full attention. This all comes with a price, because not having a full attention, just means that meeting results might not be as good as with face to face meeting. That's the balance you need to consider when running a teleconference and not face to face meeting.

Teleconferences and online meetings are not that bad. It's just good to realize how those actually work to understand how to make most out of those.

Written by +Henri Hämäläinen