Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A commitment, not a license

I spent an hour or so at the Washington State Department of Licensing last week getting my driver's license renewed.  It's a task we all sort of dread, but I have to give my State credit--even while cutting back the number of staffed licensing offices due to budget they have increased the things we can do on-line, even renewing some licenses.  Mine was not one that could be done from the comfort of my computer however.

After taking a required vision test and getting a new mug shot, the agent gave me my temporary license and told me if should receive my permanent license in about two weeks.  That was fine--I don't have any travel scheduled until later in June, which was why I wanted to get my renewal done.  But in Saturday's mail my shiny new license was delivered.

Now I should be happy about that, and I am.  But it really made me think about where we've gone with customer service.  "Under-promise and over-deliver" has been a tactic that has served me well over the years, but I'm afraid it has been abused to become a license for inefficiency.

Good customer experience is a commitment by the giver to the receiver.  "Did I solve your problem today?"  "Is there anything else I can help you with while you are on the line?"  It's a promise to value your time and your business.  But the laziness that has been created by companies and agencies purposely padding times to assure meeting a service goal has taken my old mantra to a place it was never meant to be.

I'm sure you hear about it all of the time.  In Washington State it often shows up in government.  A new bridge construction project is awarded to a contractor, who pads the time it will take to complete and then negotiates a bonus for finishing early.  A weekend road closure turns into a one-day project and the State announces "we've finished early!".

If you work in an e-commerce company you may see it in bloated engineering man hours for the project you are sponsoring.  Or in inflated heads needed for Customer Support to meet the response commitment SLA.  This concept not only costs you money, but it limits how much can get on your product roadmap and allows your competitors who work efficiently to out-perform you.

The fear of failure often drives the padding of delivery times, whether it be for software or services.  And the permission to fail that can offset this downward spiral has to come from the top.  I'm not blaming the folks on the front lines as the main culprits here.  As is often in what separates good companies from mediocre, it's the culture that is created by senior management.

"Under-promise and over-deliver" is a commitment to excellence.  It's saying that I will work hard to exceed your expectations.  But it's not a license to become a society where everyone gets a trophy and there are no real winners.  And it's not an excuse for inefficiency.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Loyalty matters

"Loyalty is what we call it when someone refuses a momentarily better option."  Seth Godin

Barry Salzberg, CEO of Deloitte LLP, was asked in last Sunday's NY Times if he could ask interviewees only a few questions what would they be?  Barry said he would ask "what are the values that are most important to you?" and "How have you demonstrated those values in the past two years?".  Both great questions I think.  Reading this, I thought not only how I would hope those that I interviewed to join the Blurb team would answer but how would I answer this myself.

There are a multitude of values that are positive, but in my mind the one that encapsulates them all is loyalty.  A loyal person is honest.  They are compassionate to those they are loyal to.  They are faithful and fair.  They speak with candor and truth.

We hear a lot about loyal customers, and that is the loyalty that Seth Godin discusses in his blog post quoted above.  But there is also loyalty to each other in business, with your co-workers, bosses, or vendor/partners.

Especially in a rough economy, folks will almost always take a loss to get new business away from others. They know that the hard work has already been done and the cost of goods and services likely includes some re-coup of sunk discovery and development costs.  But taking those "momentarily better options" may very well be the worst thing you can do for your company.

Good business is about a mutual benefit.  And unless you are a huge company with vast resources you need trusted and loyal connections throughout your supply chain to keep you successful.

Staying loyal may not always make you the most popular person with the Finance folks, but in the long run  I've found it pays dividends.  Make loyalty part of your personal brand and you'll be amazed with how it will continue to pay you back.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Update on Indigo ink permanence

I have a guest post at the Blurberati Blog that is an update of my post last year on the permanence of pages printed on HP Indigo presses.  Might want to take a look!

Monday, May 16, 2011

How I learned to love ink on paper (and the people who print)

From my earliest memories I really loved photography. My mother worked in the local photo lab after WWII so we always had lots of photos and I clearly remember those first color snaps that revolutionized consumer photography at the time.  After high school I first majored in Fine Art with a photography emphasis, but I quickly realized that my mentor, the late Wayne Brannock, had already taught me more about photography then I would ever learn from the artsy folks at Missouri State.  So I changed my major and packed my camera bags for the University of Missouri.  My relationship and love for silver halide lasted through the 80's and 90's, through the advent of digital photography and the fall of Kodak.

My photography always had a commercial bent, be it my time shooting for Columbia Records or working my way though school shooting weddings and portraits on weekends.  But during my time at Corbis, I realized the real action was not in the commercial or professional realm at all, but on the consumer side.

It's still amazing to me the transformation that happened in the late 90's.  Digital color printing had already made it's mark, primarily with "good enough" color on devices like the Canon CLC500.  But digital photography was getting ready to further blur the lines between photographs and offset-style printing.

In 2000 it became clear to me that this transition was the future of how consumers will purchase physical media.  I joined a company that was using wide format ink jet to print maps and historical documents from the Library of Congress but soon became a consultant to the originator of the consumer hard-bound photo book.

Now, thinking about what I really love about what Blurb is doing, I'm really happy that I've been able to maintain relationships with the folks that actually get things done in our business--the print service providers, or PSPs.  Much like my days working in professional photo laboratories, most of these are closely held, often family-owned businesses.  And like photography in the 90's, they are dealing with changes at often lightning speeds, not knowing where the next threat to their existence might come from.  These are the people that write the checks to buy the heavy iron that makes the product you see everyday in an economy that is often  less than friendly.

Blurb has indeed helped to democratize publishing.  But without the people on the front lines what we built would have been but another business presentation for a start-up that couldn't get going.  I'm personally grateful for all of the friends I've made along the way as I transitioned from photo to print, and I see a very bright future for all of us.