Monthly Archives: June 2009

jetting into the blue.

I enjoy stumbling upon great brands, so I quite pleased to almost literally fall into the seat of JetBlue when flying to and from Seattle on vacation. I’d known it for its good prices, but never flown it … and I was particularly impressed with the brand’s emphasis on user experience.

The brand’s tagline of Happy Jetting! won’t win any awards for cleverness, and their advertising makes the point that you aren’t flying with them, you’re Jetting. Beyond playing on their name, the point of their branding is differentiating from the average flying experience. And in that they do succeed.

Like with 36 DirectTV channels, which allowed me to watch U.S. Open golf and the U.S. soccer team’s tough 3-2 loss to Brazil in the ConFed cup (the number of whoops and fists in the air when the U.S. scored its second goal showed how many on the flight were watching). Or 100 Sirius XM stations — the grunge-era rock of Lithium when I wanted to stay awake, and the mellow electronica of Chill when I wanted to relax. The headphone jack works with any iPod or similar earbuds, though if you don’t have headphones, they’ll sell you one for the high price of … $1. An airline not taking advantage of a captive audience! Inconceivable!

JetBlue doesn’t serve major meals, just snacks such as chips and cookies. Though not only are they good chips and cookies, but after meal service you can just walk back to the flight attendant ask for more. As many times as you like. Again, differentiation from the normal experience of getting a small meal and that’s it for the flight. Generous legroom and plush seats plus ample restrooms (three) also help with the comfort factor.

The attendants handled issues pretty well. One row had TV screens that didn’t work, just flickered annoyingly, but those passengers were given the opportunity to move (on a nearly full flight) if they wanted. Overall, there seemed to be a why not? attitude instead of the usual why? when they received a request. That’s a great customer-service ethos. And a day after the trip out to Seattle, an email asking for my feedback and opinions on the flight appeared in my inbox.

I’m not exactly sure how JetBlue, like fellow price-hawks Southwest, manages to deliver both low fares and a great user experience. But needless to say I’d happily fly with them again. Er, correction, I’d happily Jet with them again.

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finding great food, service and spectacle.

The place isn’t for everyone. It’s loud. It’s chaotic. It’s a bit confusing. But if you drop all pre-conceived notions of staid, orderly eateries, the Guu Japanese restaurant in Vancouver’s West End may be one of the most entertaining meals you’ll ever enjoy.

Fig. A: A traveler enjoys his meal and the never-ending show.

Fig. A: A traveler enjoys his meal and the never-ending show.

The moment you enter, the hostess shouts hello, which is repeated by the uber-busy chefs in the very visible kitchen and the busy-as-bees wait staff. Every order and course delivery is shouted from one worker to another to another with the repetition taking on a comical rhythm. Side dishes of witty banter — albeit hard to understand unless you speak Japanese — break out among co-workers in the course of their job, and it’s very apparent they’re having fun.

Get beyond the seeming disorder and you’ll see the frenetic movements of the staff are more like a well-choreographed ballet. Three chefs work the long narrow kitchen dashing back and forth but with little wasted motion as the delicious dishes come together. The servers dart in, around and under people quickly delivering the various courses of meals. Service proves quick and exceedingly friendly. Visiting on a rainy Wednesday night, Guu projects a buzz of energetic activity where no table is open for more than a minute.

And practical business lessons are apparent if you pay attention. It’s a user-driven experience where you can order whatever you want whenever you want, with the attentive wait staff allowing (encouraging) you to re-order, add to an order or share plates all the time. The food is creative, delicious and well-priced. Staff members clearly have defined duties, but hustle to help in any area whenever needed. Whoever developed Guu’s restaurants — four dot the Greater Vancouver area — understood what Tom Peters calls spectacle: businesses with a performance component providing great customer service. Beyond the enthusiastic greeting, the staff always smiles and provides an infectious exuberance. It’s hard to imagine the atmosphere not putting you in a good mood.

Chances are you’ll leave a Guu restaurant energized, full and talking about it. Moreover, you’ll want to return … and wouldn’t you like that to be true of any place you go?

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a lesson on kindness and problem-solving.

Trivia question: What do the Ferris Wheel and Seattle's Space Needle have in common?

Trivia question: What do the Ferris Wheel and Seattle's Space Needle have in common?

Currently on my third day of vacation in Seattle (and soon to be in Vancouver). And while I’ve seen and done a lot of cool things, one of the most memorable took place in a Tully’s Cafe on South First Street.

A homeless gentleman stopped in and inquired about using the restroom. The folks behind the counter said they could only allow customers to use the restroom, noting if he could buy just something, anything, their least expensive item was $1.65 for a soda. The employees seemed sympathetic but afraid of violating the policy.

The homeless gentleman gave a downcast look, as if not even having that much on him. But one of the customers said: Can I buy him something? Would that make him a customer? The employees said that would work, and she bought him a soda.

The guy behind the counter then gave the homeless man the key to the restroom. And, in what I found kind of neat, the worker even thanked the customer for the ingenious and generous bit of problem-solving.

One lesson is that the world is indeed full of good people. And that there’s often a way to solve a challenge if you think creatively enough. I didn’t need to travel across the country to know that, but I’m thankful for the reminder.

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usability = good business.

How does a Web page’s usability — its ability to easily deliver what its users want — impact business? Last week, that factor determined which of three hotels in Lake Placid I used when going up a day early for the SUNY CUAD conference.

The budget hotel I planned to use the night before the conference was further out than expected, so I pulled into a parking lot with three downtown hotels in view and pulled out my iPhone. This night was coming out of my own pocket, so I really just wanted a bed at a reasonable rate. You’d think price information would be easy to find on their Web sites, right?

Choices from Hotel A’s main page don’t help. The Online Reservation option sends to a third-party page requiring me to fill in a form, including lots of typing and pull-down menus. Not great on the mobile Web. Are the rates are listed elsewhere? Not under Specials, unless you want a two-night golf package. Lodging? Just big glowing room descriptions. The site isn’t designed with users in mind.

I want to give Hotel B a bit more of a shot, feeling guilty about using its parking lot as I surf. OK, Rates and Availability clearly listed. Work a few pulldown menus, and hit enter. That brings me … back to the original page and asks me to re-enter the data. I do again. And get bounced again. The submission form is either a) broken, or b) won’t work with an iPhone. Next!

Hotel C has a page labeled Rates. I click and, voila, it gives me — wait for it — rates! They look reasonable, and minutes later I check into Northwoods Inn at a reasonable price for a wonderful view of Mirror Lake, a kitchenette and a nice bed. Truth is, all I wanted was the bed … the rest was a bonus.

Fig. A: The view of Mirror Lake at dusk. Priceless.

Fig. A: The view of Mirror Lake at dusk. Priceless.

Fig. B: A kitchenette ... with a second TV!

Fig. B: A kitchenette ... with a second TV!

So why do hotels — or sellers of anything — make it so hard to find out how much something costs? Do they think that once you’ve clicked through countless pages and filled out forms that you’ll feel sufficiently committed to close the sale?

Similarly, Mary Beth Kurilko made a great point during her SUNY CUAD presentation: The thing parents most want when they come to college Web sites is how much the school costs. So what do most colleges do? Make it as hard to find as possible, as if we’re ashamed of it. With a tight economy, most consumers — of hotels or schools or products — are looking for value. If we make this hard to find, we shouldn’t be surprised if frustrated users keep looking down the road.

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less is more: suny cuad web roundup.

Doing more with less.

When we were planning the SUNY CUAD conference months ago, in the shadow of down economy and budget constraints across our state public education system, that was our unofficial theme. And all four speakers in the Web track hit on that thread in one way or another. From digging back through my notes on the #suny Twitter stream, here is my best synopsis of the many noteworthy bits of each speaker.

Karlyn Morissette, @KarlynM, DoJo Web Strategy (and Dartmouth), Goal-Driven Web Strategy: Implementing Technology with an Eye on ROI
– Anecdotal evidence is nice, but eventually you’ll need numbers to convince your college social media has value.
– Think tactics, not just tools (or the latest shiny object).
– Four steps: 1) Set strategy. What do you want to achieve? How will it benefit the college?
– 2) Plan tactics. What tools/media are best way to reach strategy? Who are your audiences? What is your time frame?
– 3) Execute communication. Are you using in-house/contacted email service? Are you looking at social media for its strengths, not just its buzz factor?
– 4) Assess your results. What was achieved as a direct result of the campaign? (Tools like Google Analytics very helpful.) Always review campaigns to see what you can do better next time.
– When determining return on investment of online campaigns, you can consult an ROI calculator once you’ve figured factors including number of pieces, total cost, response rate, conversion rate and ‘profit’ per sale (what a ‘yes’ means to the bottom line).
It’s not uncommon to see high ROI for email marketing … it’s a cheap medium and tends to draw high return rates.
Share your successes! Make it tangible. Give it context. Offer other areas of campus recommendations how to use it.
– Facebook especially good campaign option, since that’s where your target market already is.
– Facebook/email/social media cheaper than glossy mail campaigns (more with less).

Rachel Reuben, @rachelreuben, SUNY New Paltz, Doing More with Less: Creating an Online Community for Accepted Students
– Cafe New Paltz = first-time online community inviting students who had been accepted but had not yet enrolled. Goal: high yield for most talented students.
Social media helps inexpensively with personal attention, helpful conversations, viral marketing, boosting student comfort in your college environment, social proofing (showing your college is one of the ‘cool kids’).
Social media is not a tool to blow your horn, jump up and down and say ‘look at me!’ It’s a place to have conversations.
– Cafe New Paltz uses Ning, generally free but paid $24.95/month to get rid of Google ads (or just $149.70 for six months).
– ‘Baristas’ were a graduate assistant and an intern, which also made project cost-effective. They were moderators and facilitators, though professionals could jump in if needed. Baristas also created videos almost weekly, usually to answer submitted questions.
In search for roommates, Cafe New Paltzers posted photos/videos of how they decorate their rooms, looking for those with similar styles.
– Despite ease of uploading photos/videos and in making comments, nothing inappropriate showed up in Cafe New Paltz. Closed, moderated system, and students wanted to stay up with community expectations.
– The conversion rate of highest selectivity group proved excellent (i.e. the most outstanding potential students chose New Paltz from among options).
Don’t worry about loss of control; do consider time commitment. Don’t dilute your message into every social media area just because it’s there; do what you can to avoid information overload.
– Project’s points for success: Answer questions promptly. Join conversation. Encourage interaction (introduce those who could hit it off). Promote through links in email correspondence and admissions programs.
– So popular that students didn’t want to leave community, wanted to keep it going. Current plans are for student life to take over site and run through fall.
Think of ROI as Return on Influence. The project has a long tail, in that students connected with each other and important parts of college life.

Colin Nekritz, @imagewrangler, ImageWranglers (sometimes SUNY Oswego), Print, Web and the Content-Driven World: Timely Matters and Middle Ground
People come to your Web site, pick up brochures for your content. Design serves content. (Web sites, like Niagara Falls, are destinations because of the content.)
We are all content designers. Whatever you do in communications or design is content management. Content is king.
Looking at college Web sites, you can feel the pull of a committee. Too many sites designed to please committees when they should instead focus on what users want.
The concept of Occam’s Razor — the simplest answer is usually the correct answer — is key Web consideration.
When it comes to marketing materials, you should do more with less. Simple is better.
Good design and good content isn’t additive. It’s subtractive. Too many words, logos or gimmicks get in the way.
– Consider eliminating clutter everywhere, including in your personal life to do everything better.
If you let people do their job, they’ll do better than when it’s all about ego and control.
Communication Arts, a popular site for designers, gets it: Form follows function.
Like early bands on MTV pretending to play the instruments (cheesily), you can’t pretend that Web is print. Duran Duran understood video was a new media and used it to fullest potential.
The best graphic designers are not programmers. The best programmers are not graphic designers. The two areas aren’t the same.
Graphic design for marketing is not about pretty pictures. If you just want to make art, become a painter.
Avoid Flash whenever possible. Not accessible/ADA compliant. Google doesn’t play nice with it. Needs arcane scripts to run. Sloooow.
– Sites like University of Virginia use dynamic animation with browser-friendly programs like jQuery.
American Airlines had over 200 people involved with Web site’s look. It was horrible, cluttered, unusable. Lesson: Committees inhibit productivity.
Top 100 Web sites (Google, New York Times, Facebook) tend to have lack of graphics. Visited not for images, but for CONTENT. Not coincidentally, top sites have streamlined decision-making process.

Mary Beth Kurilko, @girlmeetsweb, (recently Temple,) You Can’t Please Everyone (But Let’s Give it a Try): Usability on the Cheap
– You don’t need a huge budget for usability testing. Sometimes can be done for the cost of pizza and soda.
– Avoid organization-chart navigation for your Web site. People from outside don’t care how you’re organized, they care about finding information.
– Don’t say Welcome to My Web Page! People don’t want to be welcomed, they want to be informed and/or have problems solved.
More than anything, usability testing is about LISTENING.
– Why are we so scared of listening? Is it fear? Do we not want to hear bad things about our site? Or are we despondent over our helplessness from decisions forced upon us from on high?
– Can organize site by closed-card sort tests. Give users/potential users cards of specific information and categories, asking subjects to match them. Consider the way majority of respondents would seek information.
Don’t call it ‘quantitative reasoning’ … call it ‘math.’ If trendy insiders call it ‘study away,’ but the world calls it ‘study abroad,’ go with what users know. That’s how people will look for you, including those on Google.
What do parents want to see more than anything else on our site? Tuition. So we do we bury it? Make it easy to find!
Don’t just test your site. Have users test other colleges’ sites, especially ones that involve interesting or unusual content you may consider for your Web site.
Less is more. We don’t read Web sites. We scan them. So why should we expect users to read reams of copy?
If the opposite is ridiculous, don’t write it. We have accessible faculty … as opposed to impossible-to-reach faculty? Tell stories instead of writing in cliches.
There is a slight preference to left-hand navigation. People prefer a clean layout. Don’t differentiate on fancy navigation … differentiate with great content.
Good navigation outweighs flashy design. Don’t make users think too much; make it easy for them to do what they want.
If you have money for a redesign, put it into writing and content creation. With the evolution of the semantic Web, content will be more important than ever.

<< Overall, an outstanding set of speakers. Feel free to follow and/or contact any of the presenters for more information. They are all knowledgeable and helpful and, as the conference showed, have no problem with sharing what they know.

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: )

Dale Carnegie provided, albeit unknowingly, an important lesson for Web writing long before we were born. In his classic 1936 book How To Win Friends and Influence People, he titled one chapter A Simple Way To Make A Good First Impression. His advice, put simply: Smile. Actions speak louder than words and a smile says: “I like you. You make me happy. I am glad to see you,” Carnegie wrote.

Think about it. Let’s say you’re one of the first people to arrive at a cocktail party. Two people who are otherwise fairly similar look up as you enter. One smiles at you; the other offers a blank expression. Who are you more likely to talk to? And when you’re talking with someone on the phone, you can sometimes tell if they’re smiling on the other end. Doesn’t that make you feel better than if they sound frustrated or unenthusiastic?

I always preach the importance of writing Web pages in conversational, not institutional, style. For the most part, pages should read like a friendly chat, not a stern lecture. Consider the differences:

Institutional:

At Random University, students pursue rigorous curricula that construct relevant components of knowledge. The college’s mission statement is to use time-honored pedagogy, best practices and benchmarks to provide intellectual growth and authentic learning.

Conversational:

All of our 8,000 students could tell you interesting stories. Read their blogs, watch their videos or follow their Twitter streams to learn about just some of our bright community members. … You can make friends and enjoy the activities available in our more than 150 student organizations and 24 sports. But seeing is believing. Schedule a visit to start building your success story today!

OK, perhaps extreme examples, but note how the latter uses compact sentences, lively verbs and positive words to read as if the Web page itself is smiling and enthusiastic. It’s also about the reader (you) NOT the institution. When we visit pages that make us feel welcome, engaged and excited, we’re more likely to stay for a while. If that’s what you want, why not write with a smile?

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jump-tweeting to conclusions.

I’m repeatedly amazed how, when the subject is Twitter, writers and readers will jump to all kinds of conclusions from any scrap of information, however suspicious or specious.

The latest came in the form of a Wall Street Journal blog entry titled Is Gen Y Tweeting?, which immediately was linked and retweeted throughout the Twittersphere. But looking at this article about the most fictionalized modern generation shows there’s less than meets the eye, and makes one question the common sense of serial RTers.

The headline conclusion found the oversimplified group known as Gen Y just isn’t that into tweeting, as only 22% of 18- to 24-year-olds used Twitter. Well, sort of. According to one study. And one with a laughably small sample size. A marketing firm partnered with Pace University’s business school on the study, and polled the 200 Generation Y-ers — mostly Pace students — on their social-media habits, according to the story.

Hang on. Is 200 a sufficient sample size to categorize the habits of millions? Moreover, such a homogeneous group mostly at one college? (Not to get too deep into statistics, but the margin of error for such a small, uniform sample would provide a very low confidence level of interpolating the result to such a large population.)

Remember that Twitter, like any social-media manifestation, is viral in nature. Most of us start using it because others we know use it. Malcolm Gladwell, in his much-read The Tipping Point, notes that for anything to go viral, you need mavens — who discover and share information — to interact with connectors, who spread the word to others. This cultivation of any movement, including Twitter, varies by location and introductory forces.

Example: Until I showed a Music Business class on our campus about Twitter, I knew of no students who tweeted. Some of those students started using Twitter, told friends, who told their friends and now I see a lot of our students on Twitter. It’s quite possible colleges with more mavens and connectors have double the Pace user base, while others may be well lower. But to draw conclusions on one isolated geographical population is to ignore what we should know about social media and how actions spread.

In a related development, I discovered the Wall Street Journal is on Twitter, so I can confidently interpolate that 100% of print publications have Twitter accounts. Seems just as valid a conclusion.

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