Designing An iPhone App

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As I expand my business model, reaching out to my mobile users is hugely important. While some CEO’s might hire an expensive consultant or purchase expensive software, this CEO is old school. Using pen, paper and ruler I sketched out an 8-page iPhone app for my online fitness log.

While I am sure a lot of our world focuses on technology to make life more efficient, it’s the pieces that start on the napkin that are most intriguing. To capture something from the mind and turn it into a real thing is a process that takes time and a team of talented people. But it’s the old school tech that really makes it happen.

I wonder how many of my iPhone users realize that what they are using today got a low tech start?

Mazda3 – The Companion, The Car

Mazda3 – The Companion, The Car

The bond between a driver and their car can be so tight, words can not describe it.  When shopping for a car, we typically look at the functional side (what type & size), then we look at ownership experience (reliability), and then its the image that it projects (the styling and accessories).   The goal is to find the right combination of the three that triggers an emotion that makes just gotta have it!   It might take time to develop this emotion and the buying decision might even take on function above everything else.

My most recent car purchase was certainly a grand combination of functionality, ownership experience and image.   Pulling into the Mazda dealership in my stripped down 2001 Ford Focus, with hand crank windows, hubcaps, and nothing more than a/c and a cassette player, and seeing the Mazda3, it was love at first sight.  In fact, it was the beginning to something so fabulous, I grin every time I think about my car.

While I had admired the Mazda3 in automotive magazines like Car and Driver and Motor Trend for years, I never really thought I would own one.  My Focus, as boring as it was, was a good functional car that got me from home to work in relative cheapness.  It never left me stranded, it never required a serious repair during the first 60,000 miles and it was comfortable for a stripper.

The Car

Then came the day I took it in for service to complain about a strange noise coming from the front end.  It wasn’t long before I got the call from the service adviser asking if I was okay with a $1800 bill to replace the bearings, shocks, and front brakes.  I baulked.  The car had nearly 80,000 miles on it and was starting to show its age; maybe it was time to think about that Mazda3.  The one that all of the automotive journalists raved about, called it “their daily driver of choice” and photographed speeding around the race track in all of its glory.  That one.

Sleek styling makes this car a winner.

After speaking with the sales guy and taking a test drive, I wanted one.  What impressed me the most was the quiet interior, the throttle response, and the versatility of the 5-door with folding rear seats.  I thought I could fit a lot in the back of my Focus, but this thing could even get the kitchen sink in.   It was a Galaxy Grey one with black interior.  The car looked like it was racing around a race track just sitting there.  After stepping out of the driver’s seat after the test drive, I couldn’t get the Mazda tagline out of my head ‘zoom-zoom’ the voice kept whispering. “Geez, Mazda!  you guys are good!” I said to myself in response.

It took less than 30 minutes to clear the financial department, sign the title of the Ford over and drive off in my new zoom-zoom Mazda3. The emotional tie between driver and car had only just begun.

The Companion

Over the past three years, it is safe to say that I consider my Mazda3 more than my best friend, it is my life companion.  From road trips where it happily zips along to windy back roads where it pretends to be a kid in the candy store, the Mazda is ready and willing for all kinds of adventures.  It also swallows everything I can image in to put in it.  As a triathlete it can swallow my bike, wetsuit, and the rest of my gear with ease.  When a friend and I went up to the Santa Ynez valley for a lengthy bike ride, it swallowed both of our road bikes (sitting up), all of our gear, and even had room left over for a few cases of wine.  Wow.

Two bikes, lots of gear and room for two cases of wine!

The ride is smooth, yet sporty. The dash is readable and modern.  The dash says “hello” to me whenever I turn the car on.  The six disc in dash CD-changer keeps me entertained when not using the auxiliary jack with my iPhone.  With cup holders galore and a seriously large glove box and center console, it is easy to lose stuff in the storage.

The only thing not to like about it is the fuel economy.  The Mazda3 can be quite thirsty at times going up hills and cruising at high speed.   Even with hyper-miling, I have been unable to get the lifetime fuel economy beyond the 24.8 mpg average.  But with so much else to enjoy, it is hard to really hold this against this car.  Heck, gas is still far cheaper than what they pay in Europe, right?

The Brand

After 40,000 miles, I have yet to witness even a hicup.  My zoom-zoom Mazda3 has been such a great car, I can hardly imagine driving anything else.  With maintenance costs comparable (so far) to the Ford, the Mazda3 has been cheaper than expected to operate.  My experience so far has turned into a huge fan of Mazda and this is coming from a guy that tries really hard not to get sucked into the “brand” thing.  But Mazda’s brand is irresistible.

I expect to have many, many more zoom-zoom moments with my Mazda3.  The 2008 vintage sitting in the driveway is just getting broken in and will be the best companion for years to come.  The emotional bond will only get better.

Those Simple Gifts

A gift does not have to be big nor expensive and it must be given without any expectation of something given back in return.

Receiving a gift from someone, be it advice, an unexpected phone call, or even a small quarter can be powerful tool. It triggers those warm fuzzy feelings that makes us feel great. It makes us feel like we are valued and respected.

Gifts should be a regular part of any customer experience. Whether you give the gift of top notch customer service, free products, or incredible ease of use, gifts can separate you from the competition.

Why Starbucks VIA Ready Brew Will Succeed!

Starbucks is certainly a company that knows how to sell coffee.  Heck, it was Starbucks that helped save us from the percolated Folger’s of yester-year.  They even saved us from those coffee crystals that our grandparents swore by for years.

That is why many people are having a hard time with Starbucks’ new VIA Ready Brew instant coffee.  How dare the king of coffee take us back to the product that they saved us from.   However, this isn’t your grandparents’ coffee crystals.

Sure I was skeptical, but I ordered a pack of each flavor, Columbia and Italian Roast, from starbucksstore.com to get an early taste here in California.  As I tore open the stylish package and dumped it in the cup, I realized that there was something different about it.  It looked absolutely nothing like the instant coffee that is currently on the market… it looked like coffee.  Imagine that!

Adding the water and stirring it up produced a cup of coffee not that far from fresh brewed and without the wait.  Fresh brewed coffee, when done right, takes upwards of ten minutes to prepare (grind, heat water, pour, seep, taste, etc), but you can get something close in minutes with VIA.

So, why do I think VIA Ready Brew will succeed? Here are the major points:

1) It is a refreshing 21st century take on the old instant coffee of yester-year.

2) VIA looks nothing like what is on the market: from the awesome slender pocket friendly packaging to the real coffee look of the product.

3) VIA comes with the wonderful Starbucks buying experience that we love of their retail stores.  Baristas with smiles simply can’t compete with the grocery store clerk when you buy Folger’s.

4) The product has many uses: sprinkle it on ice cream, add it to a vinegrette or your favorite brownies to please any coffee lover

5) It is great to take with you.  The ultra-portable and stylish packaging fits in your pocket/purse and all you need is a cup and some hot water.  That stale workplace coffee will be getting even more stale with VIA Ready Brew in your cup!

While I was skeptical of VIA in the beginning, after spending one week with these little packets of awesome coffee goodness, I really think Starbucks have shaken up the instant coffee market by bringing us a pleasantly refreshed version of my grandparents hideous crystals.

What do you know… Starbucks has still saved us from instant coffee nightmares!

Don’t Forget the Details!

Today, I received my package from Starbucks containing two packs of their new VIA ready brew instant coffee.   It is not available locally here in Santa Barbara until the 29th of September, but you can order it online.  I am impatient so I order one pack of Italian Roast and one pack of Columbia and had it shipped. This was my first time ordering from StarbucksStore.com.

Opening the box, I was surprised to see a wonderful appreciation message with warm regards and a free pack of After Coffee Mints.  After digging through the package and extracting my goodies from the peanuts, I realized that something was missing from this Starbucks experience.  It was the detail of refined packaging with a human touch.

1) The appreciation letter is printed and feels more institutional.  Perhaps a signature at the bottom from someone at Starbucks would make it more personal and make me feel like I am reading something more important than an insert.

2) Opening the box and finding peanuts is old school and does nothing to inspire me to order again.  If Starbucks is going to use peanuts, be creative! Why not use peanuts in the shape of lattes or coffee beans?? Make the experience unique and you make it personal.

While I am extremely pleased with my order, transaction, and buying experience, I expected a more personal, unique experience from Starbucks.  Nothing stood out to me unpacking my order…  so un-Starbucks.

I firmly believe that if you have fun with the details and provide the customer with a unique experience, they will love you forever!

Communication Can…

Communication can be a powerful thing.

Communication can bring synergy to the workplace.

Communication can save customers and increase revenue.

Communication can get you a raise.

Communication can get you through traffic and avoid congested areas.

Communication can get politicians elected.

Communication can solve problems.

Communication can make us happy.

Communication can …

What can communication do for you, personally, professionally, or romantically?

Need Intelligent Software

Today on Seth Godin’s blog, Seth posted a bit of a rant titled The End of Dumb Software. Seth brings up some great points about access Notes and the logic behind 2 am meetings.   Perhaps it has become time for software to be a little more intelligent and user friendly.  I am surprised that a company like Apple has not already given intelligent software with logic.

Building Confidence in Your Customers

One of the most important qualities to companies is that their customer have confidence in their product.  So, how do you build confidence in your customers?  Simple, honest, heart-felt interaction.

Selling
When you interact with a customer, whether it is online, via email or phone, remember that you are NOT selling a product.  You are selling a relationship built of trust from human to human.  Discussing the customer’s needs and your product’s abilities in common terms is the best way to the customer’s heart. Throwing in some simple compliments too won’t hurt.  Even if the customer does not buy, you still want them to walk away with warm fuzzy feelings that you helped them

CRM
Remember, customers are human and do not like unexpected occurrences. Communicate with your customers frequently regarding product upgrades, changes, service windows, and even outages.  No one likes being left in the dark.  Look at it as an opportunity to have fun and communicate in creative ways. When something goes wrong, be creative with your apology. Heck, who can get angry at Twitter’s whale or Cox’s Digi. The more effort you take to talk to the customer and inform them, the more they know you care and that is confidence inspiring!

Retention
Let your customers go, but be sad about it. Holding a customer hostage is not going to help them or your business. Allowing your customers to leave when they want, opens up the front door and builds their confidence.  No one will buy a car that they are going to be stuck with.   When they cancel for reasons within your control, listen, listen, listen. While you lost them now, making it clear that you heard them loud and clear during cancellation gives them confidence in returning later.  Let them leave on a heart-felt, positive conversation.

By following some simple rules, you can build an overwhelming amount of confidence in your customers.  So much so, referrals may some drive more business than your outbound marketing campaigns.  If so, this is the best compliment a business can have… you know your customers are confident in your business, interactions, and product.

Lessons in Customer Experience

Today I had the pleasure of seeing both sides of customer experience; the good and the bad.

First, the bad.  I received a voicemail from the membership department of the gym I am a member of (Goleta Valley Athletic Club), announcing that I had won some free personal training sessions.  I was stoked, especially after spending many thousands of dollars with one of their trainers over the past few years.  Finally, something free. Not quite.  After speaking to the gym and informing them of my history (they didn’t know who I was and never looked at my account), they said I was ineligible because I had already been training.  The drawing was for new members only. Make sense, although the gym just shot themselves in the foot.  Here’s why:

1) No where was there fine print to announce that current members already training with a trainer were ineligible.
2) Pronounced me winner before getting their facts straight.  How hard is it to look up a name?
3) They announce me as a winner and then revoke the winnings, never offering any type of compensation.
4) At no time prior to the announcement did the gym bother to check my history, which would have eliminated my entry, prevented the phone call and I would have been none the wiser.
5) Even after knowing my membership status and becoming aware of my value to their, did they seem to care.

While apologetic, the gym has burned one of their more valuable members.   I have a call into the general manager to discuss the problem further, so I will keep you all posted.

(Update 9/5 – I was at the gym today and they clearly changed all the signage and wording around their alleged drawing to “win free personal training.” The entry forms clearly state that the drawing is for first time clients only.  I am happy to see the gym being more transparent with their eligibility rules.)

Now, the second; the good.  On the heals of being treated poorly by the gym, I went to a popular, health food eatery here in Santa Barbara.   I was so impressed with the service, I couldn’t help but leave a $3 tip in their tip jar.  The gentelman whom took my order was courteous, answered all my questions, and showed sincere interest in helping me make the right salad choice.  They even gave me a discount because it was Labor Day weekend (not quite, but I’ll take it).  Not only that, but the food was brought to me with a smile and a huge Thank you for choosing them. They even shook my hand.    In addiiton, the receipt not only has coupons that I will actually use, but it details the nutritional value of my meal.  The transparency, service, and food blew me away.  I am so happy that good people and good companies still exist. (Check out Silvergreens – Santa Barbara)

It is interesting to me that both of these experiences happened back to back.  After getting burned by my gym, I was not happy to have to order food.  But the food experience was so good, I left smiling! After sharing these experiences, I hope you walk away with the power to think about your day to day experiences with the people you choose to do business with.  Please make your own decisions based on the customer experience.  If companies value you, they will show it.  If they don’t, walk away and give your money to the ones that do value YOU.  It is the power of the consumer.