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    Understanding your Baby (Err… I mean, USER!)

    Posted by on April 6, 2011 - 7:44 PM
     

    Translating Baby TalkWorking on User Experience is a lot harder when users cannot properly communicate their needs.

    I’m reminded of that now on a daily basis with my 4 months old daughter… In my line of work, Babies represent the quintessential user experience challenge:

    Understanding and satisfying the needs of someone with whom you have no common language, no shared experience or perspective.

    A baby won’t tell you if she’s hungry, tired, cold or bored. Their main way of conveying any message is by crying, so you must observe them in their own environment to really understand what they need.

    If you think about it, this is not much different from what happens in between IT departments and its users in global corporations like UL: even when all our users speak (fluently) the same language, which is rarely the case, they usually don’t know how to explain their needs and, when they do, their explanation may seem like complete gibberish to someone without the same work background and life experiences.

    Amazingly enough, these incomplete, roughly translated and out-of-context user requests are the base of system requirements in most corporations.

    My point is that without careful observation of your users’ actions and behaviors, we may end up answering only to the requests of whoever cries louder instead of learning the actual needs of our user base. This is akin to easing a symptom while leaving the underlying disease untreated. A mistake like that could end up killing your baby and that’s why parents go to such a length to bond with their offspring…

    Another thing that babies have in common with corporate users is that they are constantly changing. What you knew about them last month is no longer valid now. They evolve and change very rapidly so you cannot trust that what worked before will work the same way again now. You need to keep observing them and find out what changed in their environment before taking new actions.

    User Experience Design (UXD) in a project brings more than better interfaces, UXD techniques can help you understand your users‘ real needs, translate their requests and, most important still, validate their perceptions.

    So, for your next project, add UXD to your planning and see how much you can increase your chances of success. Meanwhile, I will go back to learning a bit more of baby talk



    The Importance of Being Happy

    Posted by on July 8, 2010 - 11:39 PM
     

    Be Happy!

    Various business and self-help books talk about success driven traits and behaviors. They will often praise the advantages of having good communication skills, the value of innovation, the benefits of assertiveness and even the importance of being earnest.

    They are all mostly right, but they usually forget a more basic trait that is at the core of any successful project I’ve been involved with in the past 20 years: Happiness.

    You should never underestimate the power of being cheerful. As an user experience expert, I learned in the course of my career that human beings are driven by what they feel and believe (perceptions & expectations) a lot more often than they are by rational thinking. So much so that, in almost any situation one faces, you can achieve more with a smile and a cheerful attitude than what any amount of reasoning could provide.

    But you may ask: how this post relates to User Experience Design?
    Well… It doesn’t!! At least not directly. Nonetheless, happy groups are proven to deliver better results and happy users have more goodwill towards the systems they are using. The first improves the chances of the second having a better user experience and the second will more readily recognize the efforts of the first, making them feel more rewarded and, thus, making everyone happier. It’s a virtuous cycle.

    Actually, being happy is so effective in facilitating change that it is linked to numerous “ripple effects” scenarios that eventually produced massive cultural shifts (see here a very entertaining presentation on “Creating Cultural Change” by John Rauser). Genuinely happy people can change other people’s behavior and, if persistent enough, this change can ripple outward until a tipping point is reached and, suddenly, an entire organization or society will change before your eyes. (for more on the subject see “The Tipping Point”, by Malcolm Gladwell)

    Here’s how you do it:

    1. Start by being sincerely happy (in fact, you need to be relentlessly and unashamedly joyful)
    2. Have fun with what you do (even if no one else gets it) and invite others to join in
    3. Keep trying new things (and be optimistic about their outcome)
    4. Be contagious (with laughs please, not the flu…) :)
    5. Be persistent (don’t be influenced by other people’s grumpiness)

    For me, in particular, being happy is more than just a state of mind, it is an essential tool in my day-to-day work. User Experience Design is intrinsically dependent on one being capable of transforming a bad experience into a good one and it’s amazing how hard this task can be when you are not glad to begin with…

    So, the next time you have a difficult UX Project ahead of you, don’t worry... Be happy!




    My Own Paradox of Choice

    Posted by on September 9, 2009 - 6:20 PM
     

    Little more than 2 months ago I left the company I’ve been working for since I came to the U.S.  With the current state of the economy and unemployment rates, I truly expected to face a long and winding road before deciding my next move, so I tapped my social network for all sorts of opportunities and, before long, I had several good options, including 2 opportunities to start my own business and 2 full-time job offers…

    The reason I’m telling all that is not out of any necessity to boast my feats or toot my own horn (well… Maybe just a little bit), but in fact to show how irrational our reactions can be sometimes.  Instead of being happy with my own good luck and grateful for all the help I got, I actually felt overwhelmed by my options and distressed with the prospect of having to reject offers and let down some of my good friends.

    If you ever read “The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Schwartz you know exactly where I am getting here  (in case you never heard of it, I recommend watching his talk on Ted).  The book explains how an abundance of choices creates the psychologically daunting task of making sure you are making an unequivocal right decision (which is impossible to assert)  so the more options you have,  the more mentally exhausting is the decision process and higher the expectation on the resulting outcome.

    It is not that bad when one option is clearly superior to all others or when all options are so very similar you can make a matrix of features and just pick whichever offers more.  However, in this case, each of my options seemed to be diametrically opposite to the other and each would appeal to a different aspect of my professional goals and still be too contrasting to be offered by one single place…  It was my own perfect paradox.

    So, knowing that, how could I make a swift and definitive decision without looking back and questioning my own judgment?  Amazingly enough, that wasn’t that difficult. I just turned to the most efficient and fast processing machine I possess:  My own instincts.

    The truth is I am a firm believer of the idea that 95% of what we do (most of our apparent behavior) is driven by decisions made in the unconscious part of our brains. In fact,  several recent neuroscience studies have showed that this irrational part of our brain is capable of processing a huge amount of sensorial input combined with our stored memory so fast that our conscious side doesn’t even have enough time to realize how we came to a conclusion, having then to run after the fact to find a reasoning that will satisfy our own need for rationalization.  So, in short, instincts are nothing else than the sum of all our experience, perceptions and expectations processed almost instantly in that irrational corner of our brains.

    The Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
    Image via Wikipedia

    Although I’ve always believed this idea, the first time I read about it was in 2005, in the book “Blink – The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” by  Malcolm Gladwell, showing several experiments and situations where spontaneous decisions are often as good as (or even better than) carefully considered ones.  Gladwell argues that intuitive judgment is developed by experience, training and knowledge and claims that, in an age of information overload,  experts often make better decisions with snap judgments than they do with volumes of analysis.

    Blink and Paradox of Choice may seem at odds with each other at first, but despite having different approaches, I believe they are complementary psychological concepts. After all, choices are good.  It’s our need to rationalize all our decisions that lead us to over-expectation, dissatisfaction and indecision. If we keep that in mind, it is perfectly possible to balance our rational and irrational sides to help us make better and informed decisions.

    For me it all just means that I needed to “walk the talk” and “put my brain where my heart is” (no pun intended), so I could stop overanalyzing the options and start trusting my instincts.

    So, without further ado, I am glad to announce this new chapter in my career where I will be working with User Experience Processes at Underwriters Laboratories (headquartered in Northbrook, IL).  I expect to keep this channel open for my rants and ideas and hope to be back soon with more interesting posts.

    See you soon!



    What American Taxi is doing wrong… (and maybe you too)

    Posted by on August 30, 2009 - 10:31 PM
     

    Lots of companies make the mistake of believing that just creating an online version of your services is enough to minimize costs, increase ROI and expand your market share.  What they forget is that bad implemented solutions (or weakly integrated channels) can hurt the customer experience more than the lack of service in the first place.

    Today I experienced an attempt from American Taxi (americantaxi.com) to offer an online service with a process so loosely thought out that is leading to the “Perfect Storm” of bad customer experiences.

    Being a satisfied American Taxi customer for the past 4 years, I did what I always do when in need to schedule a Taxi to the airport:  I call the number I have stored in my Cell Phone contact list and provide my on-file information to the attendant.  This time a new offering deviated me from my usual process right on the first step…

    Here’s a description of what happened:

    • I call the number and get a very long automated message announcing the availability of their new online service and  enticing me to use the site instead of the phone to order a taxi.

    Hmmm…  Interesting… I didn’t know they had a way to do that online.  It may be useful to have it all set up so I can use it later if needed…  Let’s test it!

    • I immediately hang up the phone without hearing any other options and type “www.americantaxi.com” on my browser.

    Not very pretty.  Looks kind of amateurish, but the options are clear, no doubt what I need to do… Let’s move on!

    • I click on “Order a Taxi” and then “Sign Up
    • I enter my phone number and click “Continue”
    • The system shows me my Last name and address and 2 buttons: “This is me” or “This is NOT me

    Not bad…  Very easy and simple to use… The displayed information is a bit weird, part of the address (City, State and Zip Code) is truncated showing only the first letter and my last name is slightly misspelled…  Well,  despite small errors, this is clearly all my information so no big deal, I can always fix the information after I  register…

    • I click the “This is me” button
    • The systems returns a message “User Already Exists” accompanied by “If you forgot your password, please click here

    OK.  So it’s saying that I already have an online account (despite the fact that I never created one) with no help or hint on how that could have happened.  My only option from this screen is a link to retrieve my password, so let’s try it! (Who knows, maybe they created the account automatically and this is the only way to reset the password for first time users… hmmm…)

    • I try the “forgot your password” link
    • It leads me to a page asking me for my email

    hmmm… How can they have my email if I never registered before.  Well, maybe I provided it over the phone at some point although I can’t remember anything like that.  Well, It won’t hurt to try and now I invested way too much time on this to give up…

    At this point it is pretty clear to me that the process is flawed and that they’d probably migrated their call-center database to the internet without considering how the lack of user information in one system would affect the customer experience flow online.  Or, even worse, they created the new feature online and integrated their systems without mapping how their customers would navigate from one channel to the other and how they would interact with the new service for the first time, thus not planning accordingly for it.

    Even though I know what is going to happen from this point on, I am now curious to see how far the problem goes, so I shut off my technical side, put my “User Tester” hat and go ahead as a regular internet user would.  I try all my emails and keep getting the same expected answer:  “the email provided could not be found”

    OK… Nothing else I can do here.  Better get some help”

    • I grab my cell phone and redial American Taxi’s number.
    • The automated system AGAIN recommends me to use the website (I’M TRYING!!!!) and instruct me to press 1 to never hear that message again.  I press “1″ immediately and the system forwards me to a live person.
    • It takes me a while to explain what’s happenning and even more to understand what the Call-Center rep is saying to me.  He  seems to have no idea the website exists or how to help me.  He gives me the company’s main number (the one I had just called) and asks me to call and press the option to talk to a representative (which is what I had done).

    Ok.  They probably outsourced their call center operations to India, since the guy on the other side of the line has an accent so heavy I can hardly understand, but that is not an excuse for not knowing about the service that their own system was trying to sell me…
    Disclaimer: I am Brazilian and also have a thick accent that a lot of people have trouble understanding, but then again, I’m not working on a call-center trying to explain to users how to register on my website.

    • I decide to test my luck and call again, hoping to get some other person that can help me.
    • The automated system YET AGAIN recommends me to use the website and instruct me to press 1 to never hear that message again…  I press 1 AGAIN and once more the system forwards me to a Call-Center representative
    • I explain my situation to this new guy (apparently in India again, with a slightly heavier accent than the first one), and he tells me that I am having this problem because I already have an online account that was probably automatically generated at some point by their system, but without any real information besides my last name, phone number and address (which is exactly the information I provide every time I schedule a taxi pick-up).
    • I ask if it’s possible to delete this account to create a new one or to provide me with the system generated login and password so I can go online and fix the information myself.
    • He says he cannot help me since I am calling from my cell (which is not on file) and asks me to hang up and call again from my HOME phone number (the number on file).

    I’m getting tired and very stressed with all these steps…  I can understand the need for security that forces me to call from a number the system can recognize and allow them to accurately identify me before providing access information to the site, but I don’t think any other customer would have tried that hard!!  I’m very persistent…

    • I hang up,  grab my home phone and call the number again.
    • SURPRISE, SURPRISE! The automated system once more recommends me to use the website and instruct me to press 1 to never hear that message again…  Once more I press 1 and this time, instead of forwarding to a live person, it goes through a never ending stream of options.  I press 7 for help.
    • Another guy in India answers with heavy accent (I swear this was the worst one of all) and asks me something I really couldn’t understand.
    • After repeating myself a few times (and asking the guy to repeat himself a few more) I was able to explain the situation.
    • The guy first recommended me to do what I had already done (try to sign up), then to use the “Forgot your password” (which I couldn’t) and finally asked me to just login because I already had an online account (that’s what I’ve been trying to explain all along!!!).
    • After a few more communication misunderstandings, He finally told me that my both my login and password were in fact my phone number

    Wait… What???? All this security procedures and hoops they made me jump when their system generated login and password are the dumbest and most unsafe credentials EVER??? I don’t know what to think anymore…

    Any perception I had from their 4 years of good service is being quickly erased and it’s all downhill from here.

    I take a deep breath and continue…

    • I ask him to wait on the line until I try it.
    • I try.  It didn’t work…
    • The system returns “Invalid Username or Password
    • I tell the guy what happened and ask him if I should maybe add dashes or dots to the number for it to work.
    • He says: “hmmm…  Just a moment please…” and HANGS UP!
    • My phone goes mute for a second and then I hear the automated system telling me “You’ve. Been. Disconnected…  Goodbye.

    Ok.. Now I really give up!

    No need to say that, for all purposes, I am an unsatisfied customer who is never going to use their service again and has vouched to tell everyone how much their service sucks… (even though my problem wasn’t with their core service but with an extra feature I never thought to use until then)

    The real issue here is:  By advertising a new (simpler) way to do something at the exact moment I intended to do it, they created both the need and the expectation of the service in the customer’s mind.  From that point on, my experience is defined by their PROMISE of an improved experience and not by any past good experience.

    Past good experiences will fill up users’ reservoir of goodwill and allow you to make a few mistakes without jeopardizing the whole experience, but no amount of goodwill lasts forever and badly planned experiences can start a chain of events that will burn your users’ goodwill as fast as a Hummer burns gas.

    If you don’t have the budget to correctly plan and implement the user experience, you are better off not offering any new online feature at all.  And if your competitors are starting to do it and you are afraid of being left behind, then MAKE THE BUDGET.   Either they will be successful and increase their market share (at the cost of yours) or they will fail to provide a good experience after creating a new demand and expectation in their customers’ minds.  Either way the bar will be raised…

    …Does anyone know a good taxi company to recommend me?




    Keeping up with the times (and your users)

    Posted by on June 15, 2009 - 8:32 AM
     

    Everything changes all the time; it’s just the nature of our modern world.  The real problem is not how fast things change but how out-of-control we usually feel for not knowing where all these changes will eventually lead. We are all afraid of missing the boat for the next big thing.

    Social Media, Netbooks, multi-touch devices, mobiles, streams, waves, web2.0, cloud computing, the Wii and motion detection, not to even mention all the new startups with crazy ideas bringing even more new ways to see and use the internet.  As an early adopter of technology of all kinds, I know more than 90% of those new ideas will be dead in less than a year, but any single one that survives will change how we experience the internet in ways that we cannot even try to predict.

    Why does that matter?

    Because even though we cannot keep up with technological evolution, we can (and MUST) keep up with users’ expectations and that will give us an insight on developing behaviors.

    A few weeks ago, a friend of mine (@ginidietrich) wrote a blog post on the “Death of the Corporate Web site” based on another post from Mashable (Is Social Media Making Corporate Websites Irrelevant?) that created a lot of debate. All of this got me thinking that the key point here is not whether Corporate websites are going to die or not, but how they will need to evolve to catch-up with these new developing user behaviors and expectations.

    What WILL change?

    1. Information Streams – In the next few years, users’ online behavior will quickly shift from “surfing pages in a website” to “surfing streams of interconnected information.”

    It might look like it is the same thing, but it changes drastically how users experience the web and navigate through sites. Traditional information architectures, that guide users through your site’s in an orderly fashion (sequential) will not be capable of predicting or controlling the user’s navigation. Users will come from anywhere and land anywhere in your site.  All pages will be landing pages and will have to fully support the user’s objective, lead them to a call-to-action and, probably, be customized to tell a consistent story every time.

    A site will become more than just a collection of pages under a URL. It will encompass every digital manifestation of your brand and services wherever they reside in cyberspace (Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, posts, comments, reviews and maybe even emails if Google has its way with the new “Wave”).  With this behavioral shift, Homepages may lose most, if not all, of their importance.

    2. Multi-Touch – Touch-screen wireless devices (including netbooks and tablets) will change the way people interface with the computer, which eventually will change the way people interface with websites.

    If you have an iPhone or an iPod Touch, I bet that at least once you accidentally tried to repeat the same gestures/finger movements on a regular phone from a friend out of habit.  After playing a Wii game, you certainly have the sensation being a bit “limited” when you have to use a regular joystick.  The reason for that is simple: whenever you find an easier or more natural way of doing something you adapt to it almost immediately and going back to the old ways is like trying to unlearn how to walk… You just can’t.

    In the following years, more and more devices will be touch-sensitive and there are already companies trying to adapt the iPhone “experience” for netbooks, tablets, laptops and even desktops.  Soon, the way we interface with a webpage or navigate through a site will be impacted by the use of such devices and systems.   Users will get used to these experiences and will demand sites to act in a similar way.

    3. Augmented RealityAugmented Reality (or Enhanced Reality) will eventually eliminate the need of physical devices or accessories and the internet will be more ethereal than ever (a real web of dispersed information).

    This is not science fiction. A couple of years from now we will be taking pictures by looking at things, receive detailed information about objects (and people) directly from the internet while we handle them, all without looking at a computer or cell-phone screen. There are ongoing studies on how to use the internet to “enhance” our perception of the world around us without the need of physical equipment or accessories.  A group at MIT even created an amazing prototype using readily available materials under $350. When the internet is no longer something you see through a display in some device, today’s website will be seen as just a collection of information about an entity without full context to what you are doing at the moment. At this point, the concept of a website in the way we experience today will become a distant memory of how we did things in the past.

    Ok, Now What?

    If you ask me how this new website structure or concept will look like in the near (or not so near) future, I’m not certain I know the answer. There are only 3 things I can say for sure:

    1. Your customer experience (or at least your user experience) will be fast, ephemeral and dispersed.  People will be (they are already) assaulted by information from all directions presented to them in quick bursts and ever smaller chunks. People will suffer more and more from information overload and the capability of capturing and retaining one specific message will decrease (there are even studies showing how the new generation brains are adapting to handle the speed of the digital life). To stand-out from their stream of information, you will need to have a consistent digital strategy, comprehensive understanding of all your customer touchpoints, strong branding and, above all, be able to CONNECT and ENGAGE with your customers on a personal level.  It is the ultimate one-to-one relationship for mass-consumption.
    2. What you see today as your website will become just an end, not the means.  People will get there to consume and convert, not to browse, since its navigation will have no boundaries. It will require a more flexible information architecture where every piece of information (or page for lack of a better term now) can stand alone when pushed into an information stream and still lead the user to other in-context information and call-to-action.
    3. No matter how traditional your customers are they will be affected by changes around them at some point and won’t be able to tell you before it happens, because they won’t see it coming themselves.  Survey and Market Researches are useless to predict behavioral shifts because these behavior changes occur on an unconscious level and users only start to rationalize how much their needs and expectations changed a long time after it’s happened. This is why innovative companies like Apple avoid asking their users for what they want in a product; instead they observe their behavior to understand what they need without knowing and only ask their opinion after the product is almost ready to market (e.g., the iPhone).  If you don’t adapt to your users’ future needs and behaviors, your digital strategy is doomed.

    ——–

    So traditional websites (like most corporate sites) WILL die… we just won’t notice!  They will be replaced with something new and better suited for this different perspective and expectation. We will look at them and believe they have adapted and evolved.

    Maybe that’s all the same thing anyway…

    But the real question here is: will you keep up with times and allow your digital strategy to evolve or will you hang on to what you know today until everything around you has changed? Are you going to keep up with the times or forever chase your own tail while trying to keep up with the Joneses?

    It’s totally up to you[r users].

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    My #FollowFriday List on Twitter

    Posted by on May 30, 2009 - 5:40 PM
     

    Usually, I don’t use this space (my personal blog) to talk about Twitter stuff, but a couple of friends started a new trend on Twitter that has the potential of making my Friday’s tweets way easier…

    If you have been on Twitter long enough, you surely have heard already about #FollowFriday (if you didn’t, here’s a link to a post explaining it by the guy who created it: @micah). I particularly love FollowFridays and I stress over it every week trying to remember everyone I need to mention on my tweets.

    But FollowFriday tweets are only useful to others if you tweet a reason for your recommendation, so they can decide if they want to follow that person or not. As your follower list grows, it gets harder and harder to write decent 140 characters explanations for each recommendation without having to used canned answers or taking the whole Friday off from work.

    Then a friend, @Area224, decided to find a way to give order and reason to this mess and so he created the FollowFriday #tlist (Twitter List – You can find his list here).  Since then, another good friend, @ginidietrich, decided to copy his idea and, since I didn’t want to be the last one to join the cool kids club, I decided to do the same.  :-)

    So here’s my list (It’s a working document, I update it every Friday to add new people and keep it current):

    1) People I love connecting and talking every day (or at least every once in a while…)

    @Gofurther – He works with me every day and somehow has managed not to kill me (YET)! he’s a good friend that’s always concerned with the wellbeing of others and ready to help.  On top of that, he’s a brilliant customer relationship person who has fascinating views on digital user experience.

    @GiniDietrich – What can I say about Gini? She’s a natural people connector (and a very good one at that!).  She becomes the center of any conversation without any effort and has an immense capability of making everyone like her immediately. She’s smart, intelligent, witty, sassy (she’ll love to hear that) and has tons of sense of humor even when the joke is on her – except when you start spreading around that she is a White Sox fan… Then she becomes a real hooligan ;-)

    @Hooshy – Hooshy could really make a living out of interrogating people.  She has one of those trustworthy faces that get you spilling the beans about your whole life in just a few minutes (not matter how shy you may be).  She’s is very funny and seems to be honestly happy all the time (and she has a crazy idea for a new restaurant that is just awesome.  If I had any money i’d be investing on her).

    @JuliBarcelona – She’s a sweetheart. Always smiling and trying to connect with people.  She keeps saying she is shy and not good at networking with people… So far I don’t believe it at all ;) When you get to know Juli she is very funny, smart and determined

    @SEOCopy (she also goes by @level343 and God know how many others) - Gabi is one of those non-stop persons.  She has a serious case of multiple personalities on Twitter and all of them are fun to talk with.  In a place where people try to create a brand out of themselves and be recognized every single time (Twitter), she goes the opposite way and is always surpising me with different twitter handles and a miryad of ever changing avatars.   But I really do love that she always have that almost subtle sarcasm and keen irony on everything she writes.

    @SarahRobinson(I will have to paraphrase Gini here) Oh Sarah, Sarah, Sarah. She is one of my all-time favorites on Twitter and she’s the creator of #TweepleTuesday.   I never met her in person but from talking to her on twitter I have the impression she is one of the sweetest person in the face of earth.  Somehow she made me her unofficial twitter apps beta tester (LOL!) and I willingly accepted the role…

    @justinthesouth - Justin is the type of guy that (if you let him) will keep the conversation going over and over.  He’s always fast to reply and is always adding more people to the conversation.  He will definitely entertain you and keep you from closing twitter ;)  I hope to meet him in person one day.

    @FoiledCupcakes Mari looks at first like a shy and quiet girl but when you last expect she opens a huge smile and tell you dirty words in Portuguese! :D  She’s very fun to talk to and she is the owner of Foiled Cupcakes. Her cupcakes (the chocolate ones at least) are highly addictive and i can surely tell, because I used to hate cupcakes before meeting her.

    @JeannieCW I worked with Jeannie for close to 4 years and just the fact she was able to “get”  and handle me when I was barely capable of making myself understood in English says a lot about her (Nowadays my english has improved but I still barely capable of making myself understood one way or the other…) She is nice person even though she can surprise you with her musical taste (you will have to ask her that :-D).

    @BLFarris has one of those infectious laughs. When he laughs, you can’t help but laugh (his voice and laugh can be recognized a mile away – which is good because I am usually the loudest person in a room until he arrives).  Plus he has great business ideas and insights.

    @Gennefer@DaveJohnston – I follow Gennefer since she was known in the twitterverse as @Acclimedia.  She always has something to say about Branding and Customer Experience (good or bad) and I have learned to respect her opinion.  Also, she introduced me to Dave who is a crazy fun guy always ready to tweet his opinion (wheather you want to hear it or not) :)

    @DanielHindin and @big_teeth – Great guys doing great work with video.  I’m just getting to know them and they are as funny in person as they are online.  Besides, if you follow him, you can join #embarrassdanielhindin, just because it’s fun.

    @LenKendall – Len is a great guy. I started talking with him without actually knowing who he was and how well recognized he is within the Twitter community.  Seems to me that he one of those few with a reputation that reflects who he genuinely is.  Totally worth following.@Julito77 – When I was introduced to Julio on Twitter I could swear he was Brazilian… He’s not, but he does  have latino blood and seems to be always excited and happy with life when he talks. Very easy going and overall nice guy (and his brother, @fernandovarela, is a great singer).

    2) Some good people I don’t talk quite so often (but should)

    @PaulaMBHall – Paula is a fellow brazilian that works in PR and lives in Phoenix.  Amazingly enough, we never met in Brazil and were introduced by e-mail through a common (American) friend that moved from Chicago to Phoenix (small world, huh?).  So far I learned that Paula has a great sense of humor and is extremely engaged with people’s rights and politics.  I’m looking forward to get to know her better.@luckee13 – She is a felow chicagoan that brings up good discussions and information. Always a good voice to hear in the twittercrowd.

    @GeorgeAtha – He’s always helpful and reachable and he seems to be genuinely interested in what you have to say.

    @CesLSU Ces seems to be a very energetic and fun guy.  I didnt have a lot of opportunities to talk with in directly yet but have been following his tweets closely and I can say for sure that he is very engaging and is loved by a lot of people that I respect.  If that doesn’t make him worthy of a recommendation, I don’t know what does :-)

    @BillTamminga – He reaches out to people and has a spiced sense of humor sometimes (anyone that can take @ginidietrich out of her cool deserves some attention).  All in all he’s a nice guy.

    @hollisthomases – Witty tweets and funny remarks. I barely started following her and already get curious to see what she will tweet next.  We have so many friends in common on twitter that we were bound to cross each others path at some point.

    3) People from #sushiclubchicago:

    These tweeps I can talk more about them in person than actually their tweets, but I meet all of them through Twitter in one TweetUp or other.  Now they are all meeting for sushi at #sushiclubchicago and they are great people to hang out with:

    4) People I follow just to hear what they have to say:

    Even though I use Twitter mostly as place to connect with others, there are some people that I like to follow either because they are always tweeting about good links and references (things that are either very fun or very useful for my work) or they are Authorities on their fields and sources of information you cannot just ignore.  Some of those are:

    If you’re not on this list, I swear it wasn’t on purpose. I tried to get through as many people as I have engaged with either in real life or on a daily basis on Twitter. Don’t be afraid to DM me so I don’t miss you next week and feel free to add your comments!

    Thanks,

    @Luiserpa



    Value is a matter of perception.

    Posted by on May 7, 2009 - 11:47 AM
     

    Last week I participated in a very good discussion about the value of a service from both the agency and the client’s perspectives (see the post that originated the discussion and the follow-up post, both by @ginidietrich from Arment Dietrich PR).

    It’s very interesting to see how passionate people are about the value of their work (and about the perception of value for the same service in the client’s eyes).  Despite how much this topic is discussed, I don’t think we will ever see a simple answer for it.

    The problem here is that there are several different ways to understand “Value” in a service, so a “Value-based” pricing model will never be unique from agency to agency or client to client, and not even within the same agency and the same client.

    To understand the value of a service, we need to consider 3 factors:

    1. Expectations – No matter the case, value is a matter of expectation. Setting the right expectations from the start is, in my experience,  the only way to ensure satisfactory results and to avoid discussions on the actual value of the service provided.  (I wrote about it 2 years ago – click here to see the post)
      Now, how to set the right expectations? It is a mix of confidence in your own capabilities and knowledge of the market you work in. Each professional will deal with this in its own way, but successful professionals can set right expectations without any effort, because they know their capabilities and limits as well as the current state of their markets. This, of course, doesn’t take into account unforeseen circumstances, but remember that acknowledging the possibility of unexpected outcomes and planning for them is ALSO part of setting right expectations to your clients.
       
    2. Trust – A good level of trust is essential to both sides. The agency needs to trust the client and, even more, trust the client’s products or services being advertised. No matter how much effort is put into the message, customers won’t be coming back and the campaign success will be short-lived if the service is not good enough for them.  Agencies that work with products they don’t believe are just fooling themselves (and their clients) and, in the long run, are compromising their relationship, results AND the perception of value to their services.
      On the other hand, the client need to trust the agency and its methods so they can give them enough room to do what they believe will work better.  Clients that question the agency’s strategy every step of the way don’t really trust the agency’s capabilities and intellectual authority.  They are looking not for brains to bring them solutions, but hands to implement their own ideas and strategies. There’s no real perception of value in this kind of relationship and there will never have any.  If you need to do a project like this, charge an hourly rate…
      My analysis here is that you CANNOT work based on value when there’s NO trusted relationship established with the client yet.
       
    3. Risk – As with everything, a value-based pricing model is about taking risks (for both sides) and making them worthwhile taking (again, for both sides). The best approach is the one where the agency minimum costs are covered (no one will risk for long if they have to pay to keep working), the main fee is based on achieving expected results and there’s a percentage (bonus) based on overachieving milestones. Clients usually don’t have any problem in paying more for these stretch goals as long as they believe they are proportionally getting (way) more in return.
      Another approach is to agree previously upon separate cost streams based on risk:  
      -  A minimum monthyly retainer cost for allocation of resources for the whole duration of the project (no matter how long);
      -  A main fee based on specific goals and milestones ;
      -  A percentage of revenue, based on a pre-agreed KPI for results clearly above original goals.
      This way each party shares the risk of a minimum cost for believing in the engagement (or the need of the engagement), a fair price for its success and a premium for any extra ROI provided.

    I know this answer is not a simple one, but I learned over the years that nothing is simple in our line of work, that client relationships can never be understood by simple numbers and practical wisdom (or just plain common sense) and real empathy are our best tools in the process of understanding the perceived value of our servies (see Barry Schwartz’s video presentation on Practical Wisdom at TED).

    All in all, it is good that it isn’t easy or we would all be out of jobs…

    Follow Luis on Twitter at www.twitter.com/luiserpa



    Using Technology to Save Lives at the Grocery Store

    Posted by on March 31, 2009 - 9:53 PM
     

    Why put the responsibility on customers to check out recalled products that can hurt or, sometimes, even kill them? 

    Yes, companies (or interested parties) try all they can to push the information to all involved so they can take action before something happens, but why not use the power of technology to avoid a potential customer experience nightmare?

    Well, some ideas around that are starting to brew among California lawmakers:  program supermarkets computers to trigger an alert when recalled products arrive at the checkout counter.  This would be a perfect way to stop tainted food from ever reaching the consumers’ table.

    The idea seems sound and is actually not that difficult to implement.  Most big chains already have systems in place to process marketing and loyalty promotion associated with products at checkout. Adding another trigger is mostly a matter of finding an effective way of distributing updated lists of recalled products.

    Besides the obvious reasons to do this (say: saving lives!), it could save the companies a lot of money in handling after-the fact complains and, in the worst cases, negative publicity. 

    I can’t wait to see something like this being implemented outside of California and beyond just supermarkets and grocery stores.  With something like that, the next peanut/pistachio salmonella outbreak may look a lot less scary on your grocery shopping experience. 

    Wouldn’t you agree?

    See original post at Vox Inc - Customerspective Blog
    Follow Luis on Twitter at www.twitter.com/luiserpa