Tuesday, September 26, 2006

CSS Guidance

12 Lessons for those Afraid of CSS

Monday, September 18, 2006

Biometrics is not [necessarily] Security

Don't believe the hype on biometric security. Yes, it can be secure but most implementations are not. Just because one has Hollywood security, doesn't mean it's secure.

Mythbusters-Beat Finger Print Security System

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Truth Will Set You Free

I'm a conspiracy theorist at heart (no, I'm not a wacko about it...more a hobby than anything) so I really enjoy "dispelling myths" offerings: Freakonomics, John Stossel's new book, the "10 Things..." series in SmartMoney Magazine...

Here's a hilarious and well-written article in The Economist detailing a lot of airline travel myths. It's so pleasing to call "B.S." on some of this garbage.

Wright Tosses Microsoft

I'm not familar with this gentleman but I admire his pursuit of passion. This is something I've not done a good job managing in my career. Peter seems bitter but I can understand; I've developed with Microsoft products my entire career. I think it's important to remember though, Microsoft helped us get where we are today. If nothing else, they pushed technology and other firms to innovate.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Reflections on 9/11

I finished watching 'The Path to 9/11' last night. Factual or not, it brought back a lot of memories. I can easily play back the 24 hours following the attack in my head. My wife was on a plane due to arrive at LaGuardia around 9am. She was diverted to Philadelphia. Thank God she was ok and I was able to drive from Chicago to pick her up and bring her home.

It is easy to look back at the years since 9/11 and criticize. Despite this, I think the criticism is warranted. Terrorism has not won the war but they've won the first several rounds. They will continue to win as long as we continue to focus on politics and spin ignorning positive change.

Watching 'The Path to 9/11', it occurred to me that I really don't care who is to blame. Democrats simply drew more attention to the program by flipping out over it a few days beforehand. I don't care if Clinton screwed up. I don't care if Bush screwed up...the CIA, FBI, INS, Congress, Democrats, Republicans, the Florida flight schools, the Pakistanis, whomever! I don't care. I don't care because it doesn't matter.

Certainly, we should seek to learn from history. Let's all read the 9/11 Commission Report to understand what happened--and why. But let's apply that knowledge and proactively go out and do something with it. If I learned anything from 'The Path to 9/11' (and from living though the last 5 years), it's that we failed ourselves. Politics and spin failed us. Everyone covering their butt and suppressing the truth or failing to do the right thing, failed us. Not asking the right questions, failed us. Not cooperating amongst ourselves, failed us.

Since post-WWII, we've managed to put spin and politics in front of getting things done and doing what is best for our country. The few obvious exceptions include the fall of the Berlin Wall (and thus the end of the Cold War) and putting a man on the moon. It is past time we put our personal agendas and egos aside and start working for the betterment of this country.

So let's cut through all the crap and do something about it. My recommendations:
  1. Pull out of Iraq. Not immediately and not on a time table but enough is enough. Maybe our departure will focus their resolve. And if not...well, maybe they didn't want it bad enough. But don't think we've forgotten about you. If you can't manage it, we'll be back but in a different manner...
  2. Form a new, under-the-radar government agency with broad powers and a big budget to eradicate terrorism. Call it the U.S. Counter-Terrorism Agency or something. Give them a staff of, say, 500 elite fighters and intelligence personnel. Something like a Mossad or SEALs (actully, Rainbow Six from Tom Clancy's head comes to mind...). Deploy them throughout the world, one problem country (starting with the U.S.) at a time, to bring terrorists to justice (or their demise). It's surgery--not demolition. The broad sword of the military is ineffective (ok, that's a strong word...how about not the most effective option) here.
  3. Forget bin Laden. Who cares? Every time we mention this guy, it fuels the flames. He's the poster child for the movement. Even if we get him, he'll either become a martyr or be replaced by someone else.
  4. Open oil drilling in ANWR and off the coastal shelf in the short term. Seek rapid elimination of foreign oil dependence. Dial it back once we're independent.
  5. Build 35? safe, nuclear power plants in the U.S. Use them to power corporate and residential needs. Build new cars to use electricity. Eliminate dependency on foreign oil.
  6. Build 55? safe, nuclear power plants in China. Use them to power corporate and residential needs. China needs oil to fuel their economy. They have cash. Iran has oil. Iran needs cash. Russia has oil. Russia needs cash. Venezuela has oil. Venezuela needs cash. (You see where I'm going...) Bad guys exploit their natural resources to fuel their regimes. Take natural resource markets away from bad guys. Bad guys lose cash. Bad guys lose power. Bad guys no longer a threat.
  7. Recruit the best and brightest students to the U.S. Where are the Google guys from? Not the U.S. Where was Einstein from? Not the U.S. We're a melting pot. That's what makes us unique and powerful--well, and the fact we're a free republic.
  8. But build systems to track (with accuracy!) all foreign nationals. Seal the borders tightly.
  9. Profile. Wire tap. Infiltrate. Do it legally but do it. These guys are brazen. If it walks like a duck and looks like a duck--it's probably a duck.
  10. Prepare. Prepare for the next attack. Prepare mentally, emotionally, and physically. Disaster preparation will be key to survival.
  11. Leave the Solar System by 2050. Whew, that one threw you! We need to progress. To progress as a society, as humankind. We are desperately in need of a lofty goal to challenge ourselves and to focus our talents and energy. How much money have we spent on military operations in the past 55 years? (ok, yes, military operations also fuel scientific discovery but work with me here...) Probably trillions in the U.S. alone, right? (It was $455B in 2004.) I'm confident we could pilot a manned space craft out of the Solar System for $2T. Eliminate all this terrorism and wars and we'd have my budget in just a few years!
And don't think all these need government sponsorship or ownership! Yes, some--but business and people in general will flourish (flourish!) once government gets out of the way. We have the technology and smarts to achieve brilliance! Just let us do it.

Our track record of "do the right thing" and "do it better" seems to have slipped in the recent past. We started out so strong: exploring and discovering the northern hemisphere, founding America, declaring independence from England, forming a free republic, abolishing slavery, championing capitalism, leading the world to democracy, landing on the moon, defeating communism...but I fear we've lost our way.

The path to success lies within ourselves. We must cast off our incessant agendas and egos. Get out of the way you sycophant politicians and lobbyists. Stop the partisan bickering and get to work. And that doesn't mean increasing the size of government--just work more effectively and more efficiently. Let's get down to business and solve problems--before we no longer have the opportunity to choose.

You've Been Marketed!

My office "won" a free lunch yesterday at a local eatery. Unsuspecting, naive professionals that we are, we all figured, how fortuitous of us--we won! Wrong. We were about to be 'marketed'.

Gathering at the front door of the restaurant, one of our crowd didn't belong. Who's this guy, I thought. Oops, I'm out of the loop again...new employee. Nope, that's not it. Why is he wearing a suit?

"Hi, I'm Ron. I'm hosting your lunch today. I have a table ready over here for us." Ok, so this guy is with the restaurant. He's milking the opportunity to show off the restaurant. Fine. Although, what's up with the suit?

After we sit down, Ron goes on to explain he's a financial advisor with Ameriprise. Huh? Where'd you come from pal? Then it hits me: he's "purchased" our time. Brilliant! Now I'm really into this. I start reviewing the marketing:
  • captive audience
  • getting something in exchange for listening to a pitch
  • targeted marketing (I doubt it was a coincidence our firm was picked...and Ron could have performed reconnaissance ahead of time)
  • folks who actually might need financial services
  • all in a comfortable, neutral setting
Ron let everyone order (requesting to keep it around $10/person) and then while we were waiting for our food, Ron gave his 5 minute pitch. Afterward, he had us complete a survey with contact information and financial needs (he said it was a NASD requirement...I need to look that one up). And then he left--left us to contemplate what just happened! I think most of us already had financial plans in place but I saw a few folks putting thought into Ron's survey.

Overall, I was impressed. Impressed that someone had punched through my marketing firewall without leaving me feeling like I'd just encountered Slimer. I received something in exchange for my time. It was a bit misleading but I'm willing to let that go. I also admired the initiative. It had to take guts to pull off the presentation. I really hope this pays off for Ron--I'd love to know conversion rates on this approach.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Broadcast 'The Path to 9/11'

The blogosphere is erupting this morning in debate over ABC's "docu-drama" (?). Democrats want it pulled from the airwaves. ABC is [reportedly] taking a ton of heat.

I support the airing of this program. Yes, it needs to be historically accurate and correctly identified (is it a documentary?, is it complete fiction?, is it historical fiction...?) but the message should not fail to air due to political pressure. Our country was built on freedom. Let the people judge for themselves. If it doesn't air, should we then burn the 9/11 Commission Report?

Only a single poster on Jim Rose writes intelligently this morning on the issue:

Seriously, this is a really sad affair for our country. We have a group of politicians that are willing to abuse their power and bully a corporation in order to get their way. I've said time and time again, the new war is not the war on terror, it's the war for the control of information. Take it to the bank.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Tracking your Buzz

Not a lot of buzz here at Effective Thoughts...yet! Regardless, here are some tools to track popularity.

An Open Letter to Sears...

Related to my previous post seeking a refund for a part ordered from Sears, a fellow blogger (thanks for reading, Ellen!) posted a provocative comment prompting me to take the next step: propose some solutions for Sears to improve their customer service. The old phrase, "if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem" comes to mind. In that spirit, I propose several actions Sears could take today to improve customer satisfaction:

#1 Assume a "One Sears" Attitude and Structure
I've always been impressed at the businesses Sears tackles: retail, installation, parts, contractor work, finance, etc. However, it appears these many aspects of Sears also creates fragmentation which further distances Sears from customers.

First and foremost, consolidate customer touch-points. Sears has (as far as I can tell) dozens of 800 numbers as well as local numbers. There are also contact points through the web site and email. Consolidate these such that any time customers contact Sears, they follow a consistent experience. I shouldn't have to maintain a PhD in research to find the correct department or phone number to use given my situation or need.

Related, Sears must improve its call-in Integrated Voice Response (IVR) menu system. I'm a systems person with information architecture experience so I consider myself adept at navigating IVRs. Not this one. It took me 5 minutes to find the correct path--and even then I needed to speak with someone.

Contrast this with Southwest Airlines. My wife had a question about refundable fares. I knew the number (the ONE number) off the top of my head: 800/I-FLY-SWA so I called. Within less than 5 seconds, I was speaking with a person! I didn't have to touch one button or say "Customer Service please" into the phone. Take a lesson Sears: THAT is good customer service. Also, SWA answered my question in about 10 seconds with a beautiful response: we don't charge a fee for changing your flight--the customer only pays the fare difference. Delightful!

Secondly, Sears must instill in its employees, a culture of "One Sears". There are no local offices. There are no corporate offices. The local office telling me to call the corporate 800 number is unacceptable. I'm the customer and I'm calling Sears. Period. I don't care if the local office doesn't have that system or this system. I'm calling Sears. And I want Sears to answer: collectively, cohesively, and effectively.

#2 Proactively Employ a "Reputation Deputy"
Hire someone today to peruse the Internet all day long looking for Sears complaints. Empower that person to make things right. End of story. I would pay this person a ton of money, give them a very powerful title, a small staff, and have them report directly to the COO or CEO. This department might "cost" a few hundred grand a year but I assert the good will produced would easily head into 7 figures. I can already picture it...

"Hi, Jeff, my name is Mary Smith, I'm with Sears. I work for the CEO. I saw your issue on your blog and have investigated. We're very sorry for consuming your valuable time with this issue. It's our fault. I'm right now posting a credit to your Visa for $56.84 and I'm also sending you a $100 Sears gift certificate to your home. We hope you'll reconsider Sears and forgive us for this trip-up. Is there anything else we can do to make your experience with Sears right again?"

No business is perfect. Mistakes are made. As a customer, I completely understand. I mess up all the time. However, these complaints are right in front of Sears' face. Customers without alternatives turn to the media to voice their opinions (the Internet, in this case). I wasn't able to punch through the Sears bureaucracy--I turned to the Internet. I handed them an issue on a silver platter. If they were to (or do) resolve it to my satisfaction, I will continue to shop at Sears and I will sing their praises. All I want is to be listened to!

Update: Guy posted Monday on this topic. I swear I didn't read it until after my post! My comment...

#3 Empower Customer Service Representatives
$56.84. Seems like a trivial sum for a company with almost $50Billion in revenue last year, huh? Assume for a moment my claim is bogus and Sears doesn't really owe me $56.84. How much reputation damage have I caused (not vindictively, of course)? I've told almost a dozen folks (personal acquaintances) my story. They've relayed similar stories. Will those folks return to Sears? I've published this story on my blog. I've commented to other blogs. All of this could have been avoided.

I spoke with Sears representatives 5-6 times. I pled my case. I did exactly what they told me to do. I waited patiently. No refund. The final time I spoke with them before "going public", I spoke with the highest authority I could find-a supervisor. Even she tried to go toe-to-toe with me. Over $56.84! Empower your people to make things right for the customer. I don't care if your warehousing/inventory partner can't find the return. It's not my problem. Admit you screwed up and make it right. A supervisor should have authority with no questions asked to resolve issues of $250 or less. Done. Happy customer. No bad feelings. No bad publicity.

#4 Improve Technology
I saved this one until last because it will be the toughest and most expensive to institute; that doesn't make it any less important. Every employee (local, corporate, mobile, etc.)
interacting with customers needs desktop access to the same Customer Relationship Management (CRM) suite of applications. An employee anywhere in North America (if not the world) should be able to reference a customer account, their order history, and their case history.

I abhor technology for technology's sake, but for goodness (and the customer's!) sake, enable the customer to cancel an order. I couldn't believe Sears lacks the ability to cancel a part order--the day after it was placed! Hello?! The '80's called and they want their systems back. I assume this relates to channel partnerships: order comes in from customer, goes out to (for example) UPS, UPS ships order to customer, etc. However, those systems need to communicate. Cancellations are a fact of consumer life. Don't make the customer jump through a bunch of hoops because your systems are inadequate.

Summary
Personally, I want Sears to succeed. This open letter is an attempt to help Sears improve customer service. Let me know if I can be of assistance. You all have a lot of work ahead. And right now, Lowe's is looking light-years better (but that's another post...)

Jeff...