As I started to think about writing this blog, I realized that it might come off more as an Andy Rooney rant than “Oprah’s favorite things” this year. It feels like there have been more misses than hits.
I write this as most of us are knee-deep in the holiday gift-buying season. I, like so many people, am anxiously trying to get through my holiday list and relying heavily on e-commerce – especially Amazon. As I read about the injuries that Amazon warehouse workers endure, I can’t help but feel bad about my frustration with packages being delayed (as if two days was not fast enough to get that book I won’t read for weeks). I wonder how Amazon is going to balance the inherent tensions between service levels (that have literally changed the game when it comes to e-commerce) and human safety.
Then I start to consider how Amazon is likely imagining and designing a future warehouse devoid of humans – and then I get even more anxious about what the future holds. Watching the new HBO show Years and Years hasn’t helped that – and helped me make a decision to not use self-checkout whenever possible. As much as I love that Amazon will give me a grocery or music credit if I choose slow shipping, I’d forgo the credit if I knew slower shipping meant their workforce wasn’t risking their lives to get my purchases to me at lightning speed.
Speaking of Amazon, one of the epic service fails for me also came with Amazon this year. I had purchased an item on Amazon that fell far short in meeting my expectations. The first red flag should’ve been the card that came with it stating that if I wrote a five-star review they would send me a gift card. That didn’t seem quite right, but it would explain all the five-star reviews for the crappy product. So, I wrote a review explaining how terrible I thought the product was. Then I got an email from Amazon saying that my post violated the community guidelines (but didn’t link me to anything so I had no idea what review it was for). To make a long story short, there were a lot more crossed wires and my money wasn’t refunded. I still have the crappy product (I feel bad throwing it away) and I’m left feeling like Amazon values this terrible vendor more than me in this situation.
That experience reminds me of another Amazon purchase -- this time it was a roof rake (yes, if you don’t know, it’s a thing). Instead of receiving a roof rake, I received an ultra-small envelope in the mail that contained one fluorescent-colored shoelace that said “roof rake” on it (yes, that’s also a thing). I thought it was some sort of pre-shipment gift, but then, after waiting and waiting for the real thing to arrive, I realized I had been scammed like many other buyers. After I filed a claim, Amazon immediately refunded my money. In this age of automation (and Amazon knowing more about me than my closest companions), couldn’t Amazon have figured out that I probably got scammed, proactively asked me about it to confirm, and routed me a refund sooner?
So what? Some of this is heavy stuff. Design tensions (“there’s this… but then that…”) are never easy. Identifying the tensions and working within and around them is a good early step to good design. Consider how you’ll balance inherent tensions between customer groups. Who matters? Who will you prioritize? What principles and values will guide decisions down the road?
Ok, my Amazon rant is over.
Next Big Idea Club
I made a bit of a resolution to read more fiction and to cut down on the work-related books in 2019 in the hopes of finding more balance. It mostly worked. It fell apart completely as soon as I heard of the Next Big Idea Club– a two-book (or more) quarterly book club with books picked by some of my favorite organizational psychology-type writers, teachers, and researchers (Adam Grant, Malcolm Gladwell, Susan Cain, and Daniel Pink). I chose the hardcover options (there is an e-book option) and am only two boxes in (and only finished one book – still trying to stick with my resolution) but can’t wait to dig in more.
The unboxing experience made me giddier than when I got my first Birchbox – high quality cardboard, the physical books, companion manuals, coordinating pencils, a notebook, and stickers! The second box included a bonus book including Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, hot of the presses. I felt like such an insider!
Even though I haven’t been able to dig into all the books, I’ve enjoyed reading about them and the authors in the email newsletters and in the group’s private Facebook group (side note: unlike so many other design affinity groups going the Slack route, that was a welcome decision for my older-Millennial self). Conversation from that group (that includes the authors) resulted in a Google Sheets document where members are adding even more authors and researchers to the list to help other members learn and discover other great research and writing. Local meetups are being arranged. The business model is nebulous to me, but I’m gladly paying my membership fee and have already recommended the group to many like-minded people.
So what? Well, I obviously love this. The entire offering and experience are a well-thought out mix of both physical/low-tech and digital/higher-tech touch points with a lot of options to engage at high and low levels. With only three subscription options, it still provides several ways for every member to customize their own experience. I wonder what happens if I cancel – will I lose all the perks? Can I stay in the community? At some point, it will be a good test to see if the exit is as good as the engagement.
Rent the Runway
If I hear one more good thing about Rent the Runway (RTR), I may just have to try it. I’ve heard about it from friends who are using it to refresh their daily wardrobes and from others who have only used it to rent outfits for special occasions. Their word of mouth reach is pretty impressive (and their digital marketing is following me everywhere now).
I’m sure there are a lot of RTR collaborations, but the one I’ve heard about and think is genius is with Weight Watchers (WW). RTR and WW have a partnership for a free first-month trial of unlimited rentals ($159 value). “It’s an incredible way to upgrade your everyday style as your size and personal style change along your wellness journey,” the website says. What an amazing way to keep members motivated and excited about their progress with a zero-dollar commitment to start. The collaboration seems like an obvious solution to a common need for many WW members (or anyone going through a personal transformation like this).
So what? If you’ve spent any time with me on a project, you’ll hear me get on my soapbox about how we tend to focus too much on the pain points and not the “gains” when it comes to thinking of user needs (pun not intended here). Anyone who has had a fluctuating waistline knows that buying new clothes (and not knowing if you can let go of the other ones – bigger or smaller) is a pain. WW and RTR have found a way to not just alleviate that pain point, but to deliver a solution that takes the solution to a next level where it becomes a gain and a delight that members didn’t even know they needed before.
Lakeview Veterinary Clinic, Madison, WI
An aging dog means I’ve had to spend a lot more time than I would like at the vet the last few years. At an appointment a few months ago, I noticed an unlit LED candle at the desk with a sign that said, “If this candle is lit, someone is saying goodbye to their pet. We ask that you please talk softly and with respect during this difficult time…” I took a photo of it that day because it was such a wonderful and subtle way to tell other animal lovers what was happening. I’ve been in that incredibly sad situation more times than I would like to remember (and don’t even want to think about it again).
The last time I was there, the candle was lit. I didn’t notice it right away, but I got choked up as soon as I did. I brought my voice to a whisper and kept my furry guy close so he wouldn’t bother anyone who might be exiting one of the rooms. The signal had its intended effect and it will be the first thing I look for the next time I’m there.
So what?Not all great ideas come from big companies and unicorn startups. A simple LED candle and a sign went a long way in changing a behavior and showing other clients how much the clinic cares about people in their toughest times. What are the low-tech touchpoints and signals you might be able to employ to demonstrate your values? What can you do when a customer is at their lowest point to bring them comfort?
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