Friday, December 12, 2008

The towering room service bill at Westin Seattle

Stayed at the westin in december while there for a short trip. youch. my advice, avoid breakfast in bed.

$18 eggs benedicts + 9.3% tax + 18% service charge + $4.5 delivery charge + $6 convenience charge. Ooops, sorry the last one was wrong -- thought i was talking about Ticketmaster. Either way, these are the kind of games that give big hotel chains a bad name, and leave the innocent delivery guy shuffling embarrassed and tip-free.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

please, stop the killing, and make babies

I saw yesterday that we launched a very nice looking phone the n97, but was dismayed that it was immediately branded an iphone killer. At least we had the good sense not to officially invoke comparisons, but we didn't discourage them.

Being described as a category killer is bad for two reasons. First, it just buckets us into a follower role - our moves are seen as defensive responses. But more important, it misses the point - the value is increasingly in the services and experiences, not the hardware. So, as the technologists froth over hardware porn such as 5MP cameras, buckets of RAM and the ability to play Flash videos, the real competition is in the service innovation. How will our new products reinvent old fashioned applications like the music player, contacts books and calendar and connect these to the web, and your friends and locations in truly unique ways? We shouldn't be making category killers, we should be making category babies and launching entirely new species.

My friend and visionary Wyndham put it like this in an email to me this morning about the iPhone: "It is the first time for years that people have overt behaviours around the applications and it is a focal point of conversation. There is a shift in the conversation since the 90’s when people last talked about their choice of phone." So, the big test for me will be when we roll out our innovations targeted at our lighting a fire under the developers and application makers, in light of the very real stat of 10,000 iphone applications.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

how i voted in the us elections

ok, well i didn't really vote but i went in the booth with my wife who is a bona fide american citizen and witnessed the process - quite sobering and perhaps of interest for those observing from across the seas. first impressions of our polling station in upper west side manhattan was good - was clearly marked (a local school) and there were no lines. cnn is reporting 3 hour queues in florida and apparently the whole of pennsylvania is becoming one enormously long line of frustrated mewling wannabe votees.

the process of voting in us elections involves being registered, finding your local voting station, knowing your precinct number (ours was 74, courtesy of a lady in the building), and then registering at a table inside. there were probably double the number of staff to voters in our station, and so we didn't have a hard time finding where to go.

but it did take a full 5mins before the lady found rita's name on the list and filled out a slip which gave her a voting number - hers was 211. there was a bit of back and forth between the staff about whether she'd filled out the form correctly, and whether it was neat enough and whether registering people on the list was more important than dealing with questions. not exactly slick, but i guess they only do this once every 4 years and these are unpaid volunteers.

the slip of paper was then given to us and we got into a queue to give that to another lady a few feet away, where we stood waiting for the chap to leave the booth. there was a set of lights on the booth with little obvious functionality - the lady told us to go in, but the guy was still inside.

so we go in to the booth area, shrouded in heavy black plastic bag material for secrecy, and are presented with a vast machine. i suspect these were designed by an epileptic monkey let loose in a tool shed at some point towards the end of the nineteenth century. there is a Big Grey Box, a Big Red Lever, and instructions. very mechanical, very retro. no chance of those nefarious electronic machines being tampered with in this outpost.

you have to flip the BRL over to the side to allow your vote to count then flip various mechanical switch from UP to SIDE next to your choice for president. there was one for obama and 3 for mccain -- he was also confusingly on the conservatives and independent columns. then there was another set of levers for supreme court justices. and then, randomly positioned on the bottom right hand side was another choice - it was a proposition 1 amendment or something about veterans rights. i could hardly understand the issue or figure out what i wanted, but thankfully the voting was done by the lawyer in the family who knew what to do.

and we were done - after spending about 5mins within the plastic bin liners. not exactly the white heat of technology, all rather manual, amateur and not really clear, but it did seem to work ok. we were in an affluent well educated neighborhood and the process was neither smooth nor transparent for the workers and voters alike. i can see how more people needing to vote would cause huge delays. we then went over to starbucks and claimed our rightful free cup of coffee that they give to all voters. let's hope that's just the start of the good times rollin.

so, in the end i didn't vote in the us elections. but if i had done, i'd have flipped barack's switch with pride.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Farewell to Bob Iannucci, Nokia CTO

Got back from honeymoom to discover that our CTO Bob Iannucci has stepped down - great shame.  Was lucky enough to work with Bob on a number of projects, most recently the various internal Nokia2.0 innovation activities which helped drive the 'Internet company' thinking and cool projects like Beta Labs as well as a bunch of stuff still under the covers. 

I always enjoyed working with Bob - he's super smart and knew what was needed to get stuff done. He could geek speak and get his hands dirty with code as well as being one of our most eloquent and convincing visionaries explaining how we're helping the future unfold.  He's a fellow non-Finn who spent time working at the mothership, and recently transferred back to the West Coast. I can sympathize with the regular travel and 10hour Palo Alto-Helsinki time difference that makes being a senior exec particularly tough, and wish him all the best. I've no doubt he'll reappear on our (small) screens before long. 

Friday, September 12, 2008

i want a "mylist", not craig's list

so here's a thought. my best man christian is coming to new york next weekend, and is finding it impossible to find anywhere decent to stay for less than $400/night. i have loads of friends in the city who'd probably be willing to put him up for free, or for less than $400/night, given that i can vouch for him. but i can't really spam them all with an email for this, and then something else in a few weeks. he's surfing on craigslist to try and find places, but neither party then has any independent reputation. 

why not merge craigs list with my contacts book, and add in a publish and subscribe element. so that way i can subscribe to topics that i might be interested, and know who the people are - as my  friends, or friends of friends. obviously this is the kind of thing that social networks could enable but i) none of them are comprehensive enough to include all the people in my contacts book ii) doesn't have good integration with  contacts books and ii) doesn't have a publish-subscribe element apart from the status update, which is rather a blunt instrument.  

we need a way of brokering interesting connections between people based on their collective set of interests that delivers a marketplace with enough liquidity (ie most people participate),  but also keeps  privacy and spam at bay.  another thing for the boffins to work on. 

Thursday, September 11, 2008

a month to get citibank to pay itself

one of the problems with coming to america is having to remember to pay off my credit cards in time. got stung last month as i just forgot to pay one of them off - citibank mastercard. whenever i went to the site it just showed some balance and some faroff date. when it stopped working i went to the site and it looked completely normal - no message such as - you're late. i then phoned them up and they said i was in arreas. i guess i was, but they didn't make much of an effort to let me know, apart from a monthly statement email - who reads that stuff?

anyway, i asked how i could "switch on" automatic debiting as i had in uk. presumably going from my citibank current account to my citibank mastercard should be a breeze. oh no. they had to send me a form - which took a week to arrive, and then fill in loads of fields and sign it and send it back (which of course i've failed to do so far). they say it'll take about 2-3 weeks once received to process. so well over a month to allow me to pay me.

this fascination with the mail and paper pushing is rather 1970s. c'mon citibank - get with the programme, and send some of your folks to see how europe has weaned itself off the paper monster.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

friendfeed acquiring my comments is like republishing ads

aggregation space is a hot. but am not yet convinced. i got an email notification from friendfeed that someone (hi Timo) has commented on one of my not recent and particularly insightful blog posts (timo was being generous). however, that comment -- generated from the content of my blog -- is now attached to friendfeed, and doesn't show up here. i have to go to friendfeed if i want to see the comments? seems a bit like a dirty trick - akin to republishing someone else's content to get the advertising revenues. 

i'd be interested to know more about whether the content sites that the aggregation engines visit are happy for this to happen. do they use an API, or just crawl?  why would blogger be happy to have this happen? 

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Impressive new york taxis

Impressive new york taxis
Originally uploaded by sdbj

have to say am impressed with the consumer facing technology installed recently in the new york cabs. it's a in car TV + credit card consoles. impressive stuff. ok you have to put up with the anodyne vapidity of the talking heads talking about non stories, but the technology is good in that it i) works everytime ii) is super simple to use and navigate. this means i can see the weather forecast and pay a cab with a credit card relatively painlessly.

i've noticed that the interface in ny transport related machines is as good as i've seen it anywhere. in the cabs, the credit card payment is quick, and cheekily suggests (optional) a minimum fare of $2, even on a $4 ride. no doubt this was to keep the cab drivers from complaining about credit cards losing them tips. also when buying a ticket for the trains or the subway, the interfaces are easy to grok and lightning fast, and have only rarely seen them out of order. they do smart things like suggest common routes, whereas the ticket machines in london profess no knowledge whatsover of where someone in waterloo might be likely to want to go, despite legions of hapless and similar commuters having provided reams of data. it's the kind of simple yet complex challenge google would love. perhaps they're providing some of the secret sauce behind the big apple's splendid transport infrastructure?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Product request: car alarm fryer

Would be great if someone would invent a high powered directional-microwave-tazar-thingy that could be used to fry car alarms from a distance.

From where i write this - the intensely populated uppper-west-side - there has been a car alarm going off intermittently for about the last 2 hours. It is probably stressing out the several hundred people who are in range, hence inflicting thousands of dollars of pain and suffering.

Taking a sledgehammer to the car is very tempting, and as far as i'm concerned absolutely justified, but it would have the downside of probably putting me in jail. How much more satisfying to fry a car's innards from a 5th floor window.

Monday, June 09, 2008

The American service paradox

America is a wonderful place that revels in its leading edge technologies and superior service culture. Much of that is, much of the time, perfectly valid. But it seems there are various blackholes into which the latest techno wizardry and service with a smile disappears with a poof. Healthcare, finance and telecomms industry are three not insignificant industries where my recent experience as a fresh off the boat new yorker suggests much could be done to improve the situation with a dose of scandinavian efficiency.

My darling fiancee (more to come in future installments) has been witnessing first hand the need to improve the service experience in healthcare. Not only is the quality of the advice for her badly mashed up foot particularly patchy and inconsistent, but the process reeks of inefficiency. Having had a number of surgeries in the hospital, last week she had to fill out a whole bunch of
additional paper forms about some other procedure, all requiring the same mind numbing and time consuming repitition of standard info such as address, insurance providers etc. This is not only inefficient it can also affect the service experience - one of the times she noticed that the basic dates for the operations had been entered wrongly on a bit of paper, potentially resulting in all sorts of trauma.

My own experience of US finance is poor. Coming from First Direct in the UK, am staggered to find myself swimming in paper and a morass of expensive and impenetrable fees that are applied to you by banks for most of the functions associated with merely being alive. Getting my salary paid direct debit rather than by cheque is harder than it should be (can't remember when i last saw a cheque before arriving to the US).

And perennial favourite telco rounds out the list for my triple waaaaammy. As the nation crowded round their sets trying to watch Big Brown cheat history on Saturday we were frustrated as the local monopoly provider Time Warner had blackouts over the whole of the upper west side. We ventured out to a local bar which mysteriously seemed unaffected. On both the broadband and mobile side (Apple's singlehanded efforts notwithstanding) the US is a lumbering giant - an embarassment to this nation of nation builders.

Whenever I can I interact with these guys via their website, as to dial an 800 number is to consign yourself to a desperate game of eternal loops, bereft of logic, feedback and feeling, where the winning prize is a date with a bored and surly operator with interest in nothing except churning your call. Lots of room for these companies to start decentralizing the service experience back out to the edges and figure out how to let us better help ourselves, and each other.

Friday, May 09, 2008

What business is the Holiday Inn in?

Greetings from the Holiday Inn Express in Hammersmith - in the twilight zone between living in London and living in New York. Flat is packed, bags are bulging & Heathrow beckons. But I couldn't pass an Internet connection without asking the question - what business is Holiday Inn in?

I think it's the "affordable business travellers" market. The problem is that a customer segment is not an experience. The Internet connection here provides the example. They have a plug in cable, but the browser the opens up a page asking that you enter in your credit card details and address in order to pay £15 for 24hrs access. That experience is terrible - they do not even allow you to bill to your room.

The hotel have outsourced Internet provision to an intermediary as they don't think they're in that game. Nothing else is obviously outsourced - hot water, bed and food are considered core. Sure, go ahead and price discriminate for movies or the mini bar (or the Internet) if you must, but make it as simple as typing in your room number on the screen or just grabbing a bottle. an easy and integrated Internet experience is not a fundamental requirement of today's travelling business exec on a budget, I don't know what is.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Note to Tyler Brûlé and departing EOS employees: Service is relative

I was happy to see the return of Tyler Brûlé's Fast Track column in today's weekend FT. It provides breezy opinion-rich accounts of the life of business travel of the black credit card variety - no Little Chefs here.

Despite regular suggestions from an unbelieving public that Tyler's column, which charts the antics of a diva-like jetsetter stomping carbon footprints around the globe, must be the handiwork of one of the FT's relentless micky takers, the man does actually exist. Tyler made his name founding Wallpaper* magazine and is now back with Monocle - a cross between the Economist and, well, Wallpaper*. He does indeed live a colourful life, bouncing around the globe with boundless enthusiasm. I've met him several times and enjoy his company - though can't keep up with his travel tales, since Nokia's travel policies make me turn right at the plane door.

And business travel is the subject of his column today. He is shocked by the failure of EOS, an all-business-class airline that jetted execs between "London" (or Stansted, 40 miles north) and New York. He provides some lessons in hindsight, but I think he misses the most important one that applies to just about any "all elite" service such as an all business airline. It's an oxymoron.

Elite is relative.

It's not just about having more leg room. It's about having more legroom than you.

Of course, I'm humble (see above note about turning right) and can't afford to have an ego or let such superficial, competitive thoughts enter my mind, but how many fat cat businessmen are as charitable as me, St. Stephen? These people eat babies for breakfast and oneupmanship makes them tick. They're unhappy with a million dollar bonus if their mate gets more. So I'd suggest that a good part of the value they receive when their secretary pays several thousand pounds for a flight ticket is comprised of exhibitionism and the feel good sense that comes with attaining what others can't get, and want. Gore Vidal put it well, "It's not enough that I succeed. Others must fail." And there's no point in succeeding if you're hidden from view in a separate airplane and a separate airport.

I'd hazard a guess that the Venn diagram of people rich enough for such premium services, and those immune to such posturing has not much by way of overlap.

With that in mind, am interested in how Singapore Airlines will manage the experience for their customers of their new Suites product. It uses the massive space on the A380s to take first class to a new level of exclusivity, providing enclosed cabins for those paying £6k each way to escape from the crowd. But, as a word of advice from me - don't cut them off too much. Give the execs the joy of jealous looks from those traipsing to economy class, or the ability to share a smug smirk with their fellow cabin-travellers. After all, if good service was everywhere, it wouldn't be good any more.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Stephen's Charitable Foundation for Household Appliance Engineers

Continuing to document my service experiences good, bad and downright ugly, today's gas stove engineer was probably among the most expensive experience on a per minute basis. £70 for approximately 600 seconds (most of which involved opening his magnificent toolbox and displaying his wares). I really felt like a chump - scared off by the fiddly screws and 50,000 volt mini lightning strikes that the ignition switch creates that can floor a rhino (maybe).

However, I blame Google - I tried various terms relating to "sticking ignition on NEFF stoves" hoping to find some forum of technically-adept housewives chatting endless about modding their domestic appliances, but oddly the cupboard was bare.

So, who needs to be a lawyer earning $700/hr - you can double that by just grabbing a toolbox and finding dopes like me wrestling with domestic appliances.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Coming to America. With thanks to the US Embassy.

(Pic from National Geographic, link embedded)

This blog has been ambling along with no particular theme - an aide memoire of things that make me go aha or err. But I have noticed within me in the last few weeks an urge to reach for the keyboard when confronted with especially good service. And for regular readers, my Heathrow inspired frenzies suggest that I love documenting bad service too (if only to save on medical bills). So, this blog is developing a service-related theme, and that suits me fine. More about that in future.

Well today's experience of submitting my US visa application was a case in point. I have been transferred to the USA with my employer Nokia and need to get a US work visa, with a view to heading over to US in the next few weeks. So goodbye London, hello New York City. Should be a relatively easy transition with Big Co supporting me, but I had mentally prepared myself for turmoil and trauma - from the lawyers processing the case in the bowels of our corporate bureaucracy to the steely faced unflinching staffers behind perspex in the Embassy who would rip your painstakingly created application to shreds for not documenting every single country you'd visited in the past 10 years, or for not including the middle name of your former boss's labrador.

Well, I was wrong. First our lawyers delivered reams of paper work in short order, with no obvious typos. And second, and most surprisingly, the officials at the US Embassy were courteous, efficient and welcoming. I did try dot Is and cross Ts ahead of time, but still I was expecting some resistance. A probing examination of my motives; a frustrating queue to be told I needed to be in another queue. Not a bit of it. I went to Belfast since the London Embassy had a month wait, and apart from the initial 2hr queue, the processing and interview process took approximately 2 minutes. A nice American lady asked me one question about Nokia, cut me off as I was getting long and boring about Nokia's impending strategic shift to Internet services and my role within it, and said Welcome to America, your visa will there in a few days (now my faith rests on the slightly less broad shoulders of Royal Mail. Hmmm).

God Bless Uncle Sam. Here I come, America. Land of the Free. And now, me.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Simon Johnson - Heathrow's finest shoe shine

simon johnson - heathrow's finest shoe shine
Originally uploaded by sdbj

The shoe-shiner is a dying breed. Despite no pressure from the menace of outsourcing (quite tricky to shine shoes by phone), this anachronistic service has been kicked into touch by our scruffy and frenetic lifestyles - bespoke Oxfords gave way to tatty trainers made of chemicals, not cows. These cheap canvas concoctions are always running to the next thing, with little time to stop and smell the polish. Simon's customers are usually running to a plane, as he plies his wares in Terminal 1 domestic departures, and has recently been seeing depressingly few patters of feet in his direction.

I got chatting to him today as I had my shoes shined. Despite his booming presence and a magnetically sunny personality (his other jobs include childrens' entertainer, actor and musician - I have his card) his quaint and comfy seats only attracted four bums the whole of this afternoon. With that kind of result it won't be long before he packs his brushes for good. So if your leather brogues are a tad scruffy and you're flying via Terminal 1, take a few mins to sit and chat with Simon and let him put a shine back in your stride.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What happens to us, when our cars get increasingly smart?

I have a 5yr old VW golf, and one of the reasons I like it is that it lets you kill yourself if you want to. Well, more specifically, it lets you drive without your seatbelt on and does not disturb the peace with a wretched warning bing bing, that seems to be the preserve of most cars nowadays. If the car really thinks you'll injure someone else because you don't have a seatbelt on, why not kill the engine. If it thinks you'll injure yourself, same question, but also another one - why not give me an option saying, "I'm happy to take the risk, bud". The problem is with stuff like this, that you can't ever do things outside the proscribed intentions of faceless mandarins thinking up use cases. Maneuvering around a parking garage or jumping in and out of the car to post letters aren't in defined use cases, and fall through the cracks.

Same with GPS. Whole villages are being cut off by lorries that take short cuts and get stuck - oblivious to reality, the drivers outsource reason to a $200 plastic console on the dash.

And according to today's USA Today, 5 US states have introduced legislation requiring people with drink driving convictions to blow through a breathalyser contraption in order to start their car, and you have to do that at random times to keep the motor running. Wonderful idea, I guess, but what if they have a sober passenger? How soon before it's a requirement on all cars?

Seems like quite a dangerous alignment of increasingly capable technology and increasingly pliant populace which is seeing us outsourcing decision making and responsibility to faceless others and none too smart black boxes. I, Robot, here we come.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

First taste of Terminal 5. Nice building, shame about the moving parts.

Just had my first experience of Terminal 5. Thought I’d pen some notes about it on the plane, rather than bite the head off a chicken or similarly handy rodent.

Heathrow’s Terminal 5 is a slap in the face of the current UK government’s love of big tangled public private partnerships. It was surprisingly delivered on time and on budget primarily it seems because there was actually somebody responsible for getting it done. While there were subcontractors, there would be no mealy-mouthed blame-shifting and finger pointing when it failed, was shoddy, late and over budget, as big projects in this country inevitably are. There would be no tangled webs of intricate outsorcery, no rapacious subcontractors sucking eagerly on sweetened, risk-free deals, only to sue at the drop of a hat for little breaches of large contracts. With this government’s prediliction to fudge and quango (is that a verb? should be) there is often no real sense of right and wrong and clear ownership. The lawyers and economists trough happily, while Joe Public normally gets trampled underfoot.

So my heart was lifted when I heard that Terminal 5 touched down on time with perfect poise – one in the eye for common sense I thought. And the pictures of the terminal were indeed not bad for London, used to dealing with the infra-tragedy that is Heathrow Terminal’s 1–4 – a creaking, dirty place that makes Zimbabwe look like a bation of good management.

And how many airlines have the luxury to have their very own terminal, all to themselves? BA must have been delighted themselves that they could finally set aside their usual excuse of shoddy experience – not us gov, it’s BAA – and work to make this the best in flight experience money and technology could buy. The website holds little back: “The creation of Terminal 5 was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to redefine air travel. Our aim was to replace the queues, the crowds and the stress with space, light and calm.” Fat chance. Their proud claim in the adverts of 10 minutes from check in to departure gate even had me rather excited. Fuggedaboutit.

The news stories started to flood in – perhaps with a sense of schadenfreude. I checked mine – still on time – and checked-in online at BA’s site - all working fine.

When I arrived to catch my flight I had left half an hour to get through security. In terminal 1 there is a separate section for Exec Club members and biz class, and it’s really pretty good most of the time. When I arrived the massive foyer of Terminal 5 it’s not obvious what you do. I asked where to go through security, and they said – South securty was full, so go to North security. Er, ok. Any Exec Club Gold Card option? Er, they might be one over in South side, but it was “miles away” and not worth the bother.

>> Figuring out where security was: 2 minutes.

So I head to the North security. Nobody had told us that there doing biometric checks before security. Seemed to be taking pictures of everyone. Why? Apparently because international and domestic passengers were mixing up. And the point of that is what? This system was completely borked. Long lines just to get through to the next lines waiting for security. As the queues mount, flustered staff run around on walkie-talkies. There are absolutely loads of them with blue Tshirts on offering to help. But it seems they spent on all money on greeters and none on the security desks. So, they decide that anyone on international flights can just go through without getting their brained scanned, iris extracted or first born branded, or whatever they were doing. We trundle through to cattle station 2 security.

>> Waiting in a fruitless line to get a biometric whatsit taken, but then just being ushered through: 20mins.

Inside a big airy hall there are about 50 security machines. Unfortunately there are only about 5 open. I hear someone say there’s a fast track line over there, so I trundle through (even though wasn’t biz class, i reckon my gold card sort of counts, no?). Getting to the second line it doesn’t seem to be moving. There are about 10 staff on the solitary machine, and each seem to be having long conversations with each passenger and moving at a glacial pace. A bunch of people rush to the front of the queue with that serious “i’m going to miss my flight but i’m also a bit embarassed to be queue jumping look on”. We stand around. As am getting close to the front, an uninspiring lady says – “go to the next machine, this one’s broken”. Sorry doesn’t seem to be in their vocabulary. Trundle off to next door machine. Bags go in. Laptop stays in bag – yay – and am through security.

>> Getting through the world’s slowest “Fast track” security line: 20mins

And then I have to figure out which gate am meant to be going from. Ooh look – big shiny LCD screens. near the exit from security. But no, they are for adverts. There’s a big screen in the middle of the foyer, I go there and find that I’m in Gate B45. That means getting to the shiny shuttles – reminiscent of most American airports I’ve been to. So on i hop, and emerge at the B gates.

>> Going from security to the B gates. 10mins (includes running up two escalators with bags)

I arrive breathless at the gate, and despite being after the gate closing time, we’ve not boarded. Great. Mill around for a while, and then when we are called to get on, they announce that the shiny new walkway is not working, so we’ve going to have to take steps down to the tarmac, then steps up to the plane. That’s my favourite bit about Heathrow – they always seem to have broken walkways, but this on day 4 of the next terminal seems a bit rich.

>> Getting on the plane and dozing the stress away: priceless.

So, in the end i got my flight. Yet it was just a collossal disappointment that had nothing to do with a bunch of lost bags. It was as if we’d spent £4bn on a nice shiny car, but nobody had bothered to learn how to drive it. There really should be as much thought going into the processes and the staff as the buildings, and that is where I blame BAA management for now figuring out the process better. It wasn’t a question of early hitches - this seemed like a terminal without a plan and the people didn’t seem to have been told what they should be doing. Still, the good news is maybe they’ll learn given the massive media pressue, and the roof looks nice. The bad news for me is they won’t learn by the time I have to use it again – twice – this week.

Monday, March 17, 2008

American Golf vs. Stephen Johnston - the saga continues

Lo, my trust in the perky and honest sounding chap on the end of the phone at American Golf to get me off his mailing list about 6 weeks ago was misplaced. I just received another monthly installment of the (for me) zero value, environmentally ruinous monthly mailing, again forwarded from my old address, which just made me mad. Grrr.

So this time, I wrote to them saying please remove me from the mailing list, enclosed their brochure, and then put it in an envelope (cost 35p) with a stamp (cost about the same). So, best part of a quid, and a couple of grey hairs later, I'm wondering if this is going to be effective, but rather expecting that it's not.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Spamming the spammers

There has to be an easier way to remove your name from a company's database. We've all done it - absent mindedly give out your address while engaging in a low level transation with some shop or other. In this particular example that has me riled, I was getting some new grips put on my golf clubs, at the cost of about £20 at the Sunbury Outlet of AmericanGolf - a fairly large chain of golf shops that seems to have nothing to do with America. Anyway, I signed up for the club card for future discounts at the shop, but was assured I wouldn't be contacted. However, since then have been receiving the general marketing crap by both email and post - colourful yet anodyne brochures and emails.

Since I seem to be unable to remain in one place longer than a few months, I am deeply wary about giving out my home address to marketers. Not only do I inflict annoyance on the next inhabitant of the flat for years after the original post office redirect has run out, I stand the chance of occasionally missing something that I might like, and also needlessly wasting resources and paper etc. I'd love to know how much of a company's mailings of this type are to the wrong address, or if the right address are unwanted. I suspect more than half. And that's a whole lot of global warming and lost profits.

So back to the story. I unsubscribed fairly painlessly from the emails from American Golf, but getting my name of the mailing list for their brochure fluff has been a tragi comedy. The phone number on the brochure only ends up at a store locator. So I phoned up the original store I went to and asked them to remove me. The confused sounding guy cautiously said OK, and I didn't expect it to work. It didn't - the fluff continued to come. Having just received another one I was getting really annoyed, so went to their website, searched around a bit, found another number that seemed to be more about general company enquiries, phoned it up, spoke to a nice lady, she said hang on a minute, and passed me over to another department, and a nice chap in this department said, yes, he could do that for me, did i have my membership number. No, of course not, but he was able to locate me by postcode, and then with so authentication model in place to prove i am who i am (confirmation if any was needed of the low value of these transactions), said i'd no longer receive mailings.

Will it work? I hope so - the guy sounded fairly sane.
Do I want to have to do this detective work for every company that i might someday have a relationship with? No, absolutely not.

What we've got here is a broken process for managing the distribution of my contact details and the ability for me to update my preferences for receiving marketing information from different companies.

There seem to be four approaches to this:

1. Distributed permanent addresses:
This is the status quo today. Quickly becomes inefficient as the contact information gets out of date, or my preferences change.

2. Distributed temporary contacts
This works ok for email - I could have given them an email for example, and then delete that email when i don't want to subscribe. But this quickly gets hard to remember who you said you were to whom, and doesn't solve the problem that they're still sending out spam emails ineffectively. This could work for a phone number, but they're expensive to do using the telco world, so would need to have some kind of web based system like Jaxtr. Again not easy to manage. Could in theory work for physical addresses, but harder to manage since you end up with physical not just digital backlog once you stop using that address yourself.

3. Aggregator
This means that one company keeps the contacts details and preferences of lots of people. I can then manage my contacts details on their site and the companies can go and get information about me - depending on whether i've granted them permission. Lots of heavy engineering, data servers etc to manage that system, and then the user control & management piece. Plaxo is the start of something like this, but doesn't seem to be moving to the B2B direction yet.

4. Distributed
This means that I have the list of my contacts and who gets to see them under my own control - either hosted by me on a server or on a trusted 3rd party site. (Certain similarities to openID here, except that this is not just about identity abut about relationships. Does OpenID2.0 and OAuth take us further here I wonder?) There shouldn't be any reason why i can't have multiple locations to store my things - so i could use Fodor's to manage my favourite hotels, Zagats for my favourite restaurants and Bloomingdales for my favourite clothes companies. I could go to their sites and say - ok, am fed up with receiving Ralph Lauren catalogues but happy to have a closer relationship with Gant. And then my inbox would respond accordingly. This would probably require a certain amount of standardization in approach, or it could be done at a sector level (all restaurants adopt a marketing outreach format from Zagats). In theory this could be completely distributed, with some kind of web protocol (XML) sitting between me and the companies that i like and informing them of the information that i am permitting them to have access to, and the appropriate way to contact me.

One of the elements of a distributed approach could be the creation of a people-generated company address book, to turn the tables on the companies who are great at getting hold of our information but seem strangely opaque about giving out their own. This Wiki White Pages could be a rich resource of company contact information, what tones to press on the IVR to quickly get through to British Airwarys or what the name and mobile number of the CEO of that company you're receiving spam from is. Then if you consistently get annoying material from a company that does not sign up to this system automatically, you can return the favour and send multiple requests to their CEO to stop spamming you. Should get the point across quite quickly.

Is option 4 a pipedream? Something like this seems to be increasingly important with the growing eco-awareness, antipathy towards waste and need for better ROI on marketing campaigns and also increasingly feasible with the arrival of web standards and a browser on every phone. If and when something like this gets off the ground, here's hoping that American Golf will be one of the first to sign up.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Is it safe?

Is it safe?
Originally uploaded by sdbj

Just stayed in a hotel in Berlin.

Good news - there was free Wifi

Bad news - it involed a 26-digit WEP key to get to it.

This took me three goes to get right, and at the end I was cussing and spitting like a navvy. A competitive advantage in hotels would be to make getting on the Internet as easy as turning on the hot water. Low tech solutions such as cables work fine for me, but if it's got to be wifi, a simple human readable name is surely enough.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Happy New Year - and a resolution

A new year and new resolutions. They seem to have a similar theme - get fit, get better at my job, and do more for charity. Don't have a particularly good record at achieving them, but I see it as a war of attrition - in the long run I'll grind them down. This year i added one - do more blogging. It's not much a resolution, but it's one of the things I enjoy, and if anyone else benefits, that's a bonus.

Now as my New Year resolution suggestion to the rest of Nokia, I'll propose one -- get better at listening, in particular to our expert users. It's sometimes hard when things are moving so fast, in particular as we're trying to come up with new services ideas at the speed of those nimble startups, but i really think a lot of the time we can save ourselves pain and expense by listening more. Here's a case in point - this is a round table chat by a bunch of Nokia-focused external bloggers that was held at Nokia world in Amsterdam in December.

Carlo Longino pointed me to this, and it's quite fascinating hearing people talk with passion, knowledge and plenty of opinion about our range of products and services. As Carlo said in his email, "I know Nokia does tons of research on its customers and users, but I thought this was a good example of how social-media marketing isn't just about spreading the word about a company's products, but can also be turned around and harnessed by the company to help it build better products."

I think this is a great example of really valuable insights from some of our expert users that we can harness - for free. Let's hope that Charlie and his new team of Nokia bloggers and social media gurus harness the outboard brains of these guys, and work out how to turn their insights into new products and service innovations, rather than just convince more people to buy the current stuff.

Happy New Year to one and all. Looking forward to talking a bit more and listening a lot more.