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« August 2006 | Main | October 2006 »

Hugh nails it


More on Tweaking

My previous post got more mail than just about anything I've ever posted before.

As a writer, I'm used to working with editors. A copy editor is a freelancer who fixes my missspellings, my commas and my grammar. A line editor is someone who makes more aggressive changes, adjusting sentences or paragraphs without substantially altering their meaning. And every once in a while, a real editor, who tells me the truth about my writing and encourages me to discard whole chapters or change the rhythm of what I'm working on.

What I found fascinating about the email I got is that a large number of web people are still hung up on the technology side, on getting the code just right and, to use the analogy, the typesetting, not the words. The reason for this is simple: there's a lot of horrible web coding going on. There are huge gains to be found by overhauling a site and getting the invisible stuff right.

But that's not the opportunity I was talking about. Instead, I'm talking about turning an arrogant checkout into a useful one by turning off the button that automatically resets to opt in to the spam list every single time I return to the checkout. Or changing the size of the product photo from 144 pixels wide to 500, because making the product the star can triple clickthrough.

This is stuff tweakers know because they do it every day. Because they test and they measure. This is high return on investment knowledge, because it can take hours, not weeks to implement and test.

For example, a small businessperson named Dave writes in and says,

"our website is ok for an electronic sign . . . but its a “factory model” . . . as we maneuver through the curves any business experiences I want to accelerate through those turns because of the edge tweaking provides but I don’t want to get into a complete over-haul to do it ... my idea of a “tweaker” is the person who takes us beyond the “factory model” to continue your car and garage analogy . . . someone who says  STOP using this its not working and here’s why START using this it does work and here’s why CONTINUE using this and here’s why. . ."

Tom says, "My wife and I hired a designer who was a “tweaker.”  She didn’t come in the way most decorators do, with a whole design scheme and lots of new furniture.  She took what we already had, pointed out a few targets of opportunity, moved things around and added a few key elements, and for almost no money gave our house a whole new feel.  It took a couple of days instead of weeks."

I got plenty of people pointing out that they can't make a living selling to people like Dave and Tom. That Dave is too hard to reach, too cheap, too uncertain about what he wants... that Tom needs too much handholding.

My response is that it's not just Tom or Dave. There's no way Amazon or Eddie Bauer or someone running for the Senate is going to overhaul their site. Certainly no way they're going to do it every four weeks. It's too scary. Too disruptive. Too time consuming. Does every site need tweaking? NO, most need an overhaul. But hey, there's still a lot of sites left that need a tweak, not construction.

The opportunity, as the web becomes more sophisiticated and CSS gets implemented more often, is to figure out how to tweak a page while it's running and get 2% better response from that page. 2% isn't a lot--until you multiply it by a million page views.

My original point of the post was that I was looking for a tweaker for a specific page that we haven't yet launched at Squidoo. The mail I got, though, made it clear that I wasn't the only one.

I think this market problem isn't going to solved by a bunch of hungry tweakers making sales calls. Instead, I think those that need tweaking will go out and find the tweakers. So, that said, I've started a lens on tweakers (it's a unvetted collection of people I heard from) and even better, a Squidoo group on tweakers that will allow anyone who wants tweaker business to build a lens and tell the world about what they do. Now, instead of sending me mail about your tweaking services (stop, please!) you can build a lens and reach a lot of people who are looking for you. In the meantime, I've got a ton of really cool people to contact about our future stuff. Thanks.

Where are the tweakers?

If I want my car to go a bit faster, there's a garage in town that will tweak it for me.

If I want my stereo to sound a little better, there's a guy who will install cables and such and upgrade it.

There are more than a billion websites. Where are the tweakers?

Where are the talented individuals and small firms that want a closed-end engagement... not to completely redesign a site that's working, not to do any coding, but just to mess with the html and css a bit.

To take their learning from many clients and figure out that this works better than that.

To change the look and the feel but not the bones... plastic surgery for websites. Not a lot of meetings, not a lot of belief required. Instead, take the new one, take the old one, do a split test and see which one converts better.

I figure if I'm looking for a tweaker, others are too. Send me a few details and I'll post a short list.

Look me in the eye

I bought some spinach at the farmer's market yesterday. The fact that the woman who grew it is the same person as the woman who sold it to me made the transaction fundamentally different than buying the same spinach in a bag at the A&P. It's not really surprising that factory farming keeps serving us poisons and side effects. It's fundamentally anonymous.

Today, as I was riding my bike along Rt. 9 outside of New York, a teenager in a cream-colored Cadillac Escalade (yes, I got the license plate) threw a bottle at my head. Only a couple inches from serious injury. I'm pretty confident he wouldn't have done it if he had been required to stand in front of me and look me in the eye when he did.

This is the giant advantage of the small. Small organizations have the privilege of looking their customers in the eye. Small doesn't necessarily mean small in numbers. It's an attitude. Does your organization require a form to get something done, or does one human choose to interact with another? Does bad news come in the form of memos that obfuscate the truth, or is it delivered face to face?

Conference Calls Unlimited has gone so far as to practically ban email in communication with clients. They call you after each call to see how it went. When I went to Stanford, the director of admissions called every single person they admitted to share the news. Compare that to the anonymous ALL CAPITAL LETTERS notes you get from your car insurance company.

Here's a fun project for this week: try to do as much as you can in person. Or by phone. Especially the hard stuff.

A little bit of Ford

Yes, I'm kicking them when they're down, but it's important.

A couple of decades ago, Ford had everything. Cash, brand, distribution, political influence, a trained workforce...

Then, through nothing but management hubris and arrogance, they destroyed the company. Making cars is not an unprofitable undertaking, unless you insist on making it one. At just about every turn the company ignored the market, alienated their workforce, distanced themselves from their distribution network, vilified their customers and chose short-term expediency ahead of long-term change. They lobbied to keep gas mileage standards high (doing the opposite would have increased the market for cars). They lobbied to keep SUVs unregulated (and got addicted to a short-term high-profit alternative to cars) and they bought remarkable brands and made them average.

There were hard things they could have chosen to do, things that would have meant change. There were short-term hardships they could have endured to fix their dealer network or reinvent the way they designed and built cars. Instead, they stayed inside the Detroit beltway, played the car game, managed the stock price and paid themselves a fortune.

Monday, when you sit down with your organization to plan the next decade, perhaps you could ask, "what would the top people at Ford do?" and then do precisely the opposite.

How to Deal with an Angry Customer

Every business encounters angry people. Not disappointed or confused, but actually angry. Here are a few steps you might want to try:

  • Acknowledge the anger. You don’t have to agree with it, but in order to have a chance at making it go away, you need to empathize with the person’s anger. You cannot sell something (even a solution) nor can you negotiate with an angry person.
  • Talk more quietly and more slowly than the person you’re talking with. Not an exaggerated mantra, but just enough that you will be de-escalating, not escalating.
  • Ask the person what it will take to help them not be angry. Repeat what they’re asking for, in your own words.
  • Ask them if that will not only solve their problem, but give your organization a chance to delight them.
  • If no, then ask again what it will take. (But only once. You'll settle for a benign grudge if you can get one.)

[It’s important to note that so far I haven’t asked you to give them anything or to actually agree with their point of view. Just to understand it and recognize it. You cannot negotiate with an angry person. Doesn’t work.]

  • Now, summarize. Human to human, not as a manipulator or someone following a list of steps read on a blog. “Sue, I’m really sorry you’re upset. I can imagine that having one of our room service people walk into your room at 11 pm, uninvited, and wake you up before a big conference could cost you a lot of sleep and really ruin your visit with us. It sounds like you’re hoping for an apology from our manager and a waiver of our internet fee as a way of showing you we really blew it. Would that help?”

Bingo. You’ve changed the dynamic. You’ve made it clear which side of the discussion you’re on. You haven’t set any expectations, but you’ve built a connection.

At this point, you have two options. You can describe what you CAN do, right now, in an attempt to make it up to the person. Or you can ask for time and promise to get back to the person after you’ve checked in with the higher-ups.

It’s entirely possible that the steps above won’t work. It’s entirely possible that Sue is so angry she’ll never ever return to your hotel again. That’s okay. You did what you can... but more important, you didn’t waste a lot of time and emotion and energy trying to solve a problem that’s not solvable.

15 Ideas (the summary)

Griffin does a nice job of summarizing some of the big ideas in the Big Moo:

  1. Real security comes from growth ( Page xiv ) To me this is the best statement in the book and it's right there in the preface.
  2. Wanting growth and attaining growth are two different things ( Preface xv ) - Companies usually end up paralyzed by trying to focus on how they'll grow instead of actually growing.
  3. Those who fit in now won't stand out later ( Page 5 ) - It's difficult to change once you get into a rhythm of mediocrity.
  4. If you name something, you get power over it ( Page 18 ) - Ever try to change a bad nickname ? When a name catches on, it becomes very powerful.
  5. Don't concentrate on making a standard. Once you create the standard, you've created a commodity and your customers will seek something like it, but cheaper ( Page 23 ) - *cough* Netscape *cough*
  6. Being efficient is not as good as being robust ( Page 52 ) - There's such a thing as "good enough". Being flexible is better than trying to squeeze out a few extra performance cycles.
  7. You can't predict the future ( Page 55 ) - ...
  8. Everything is version .9, waiting for just one more upgrade before it's done ( Page 86 ) - Releasing something stable, but not complete is better than waiting it's "perfect".  It will never be perfect.
  9. Betting on change is always the safest bet ( Page 91 ) - You can't constrain change.  People have scars from trying to.
  10. Creativity is made up of iteration and juxtaposition ( Page 95 ) - Mash things together enough times, and something interesting will happen.
  11. Compromise kills. Doing something half-ass is worse than doing nothing ( Page 97 ) - If you don't have enough information to implement something, ignore it and move on. It's better than trying to guess. Remember #7.
  12. Novelty for the sake of novelty is risky and a recipe for irrelevance ( Page 100 ) - Solve a problem. I've written about this ...
  13. The energy isn't in the idea, it's in the execution ( Page 101 ) - Everyone wants to sit around and think up cool stuff. Sooner or later, you're going to have to actually build something.
  14. A product is what the customer thinks it is ( Page 131 ) - How many times have you gotten pissed at a user of your software for "using it wrong" ?
  15. Don't let the seeds stop you from enjoying the watermelon ( Page 134 ) - The world is grey.  Every solution, product, feature is the result of several trade-offs.

Read his original post to find the crosslinks.

When the story doesn't match

1129starbucks Most people feel pretty virtuous at Starbucks. It's not really fast food, at least that's what we tell ourselves. Today's Times reports otherwise. It seems that the Large Java Frappuccino has 29 packets of sugar and the equivalent of 11 creamers in it. In one, not in a dozen. If you watched them mix it up, you'd feel different about it, no doubt.

Humans are funny. If something is "baked in", apparently it doesn't count as much.

Email is powerful...

Picture_96 More powerful than you realize, probably. The reason I killed my email list years ago was that it was too good at provoking a reaction. People are listening (which is good) so you better be very careful what you say and how you say it.

Even better, save your email for things you really and truly want to say.

Take a look at this email, just received from Amazon. Ouch.

Gotta love those 17th Century Monks

Estelle Havva points us to Baltasar Gracián y Morales:

"Know how to sell your wares, Intrinsic quality isn't enough.  Not everyone bites at substance or looks for inner value.  People like to follow the crowd; they go someplace because they  see other people do so.  It takes much skill to explain something's value.  You can use praise, for  praise arouses desire.  At other times you can give things a good name (but be sure to flee from affectation).  Another trick is to offer something only to those in the know, for everyone believes himself an expert, and the person who isn't will want to be one.  Never praise things for being easy or common:  you'll make them seem vulgar and facile.  Everybody goes for something unique.  Uniqueness appeals both to the taste and to the  intellect."

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