Customer relationships – Do yours mature and adapt?

One of the things that separates people from most machines and systems is their ability to adapt their interactions as the relationship matures.

A tough-as-nails 61 year old grandfather who supervises workers on an oil rig in North Dakota’s Bakken adapts his communication to the recipient when training a new guy to stay alive on the rig, and does so again when chatting with his three year old granddaughter about her Hello Kitty outfit via a Skype video call.

He doesn’t coo at a young buck and he doesn’t growl at his granddaughter. He adapts. It’s common sense.

Our systems, processes and communications don’t do enough of this.

Adapt to the relationship state

Why do our companies, software, processes, communications and systems so infrequently adapt to the state of our customer relationships?

An example I’ve used a number of times: You get mail from a company offering you a great deal “for new subscribers only” – despite being a subscriber for decades. It’s annoying, not so much because someone else gets a better price for a short time, but (to me at least) because they don’t appear to care enough about their existing customers to remove them from a lead generation mailing.

It’s a trivial exercise to check a list of recipients for a new marketing piece against a current subscriber / client list. Why don’t “we” do it?

For mailed items, it would reduce postage and printing costs. It would cut down on the annoyance factor in clients who inappropriately get special lead generation offers – regardless of the media used.

Adapting your marketing (for example) to the state of the relationship you have with the recipient is marketing 101. It’s a no-lose investment.

Adapt to the maturity state

Like the grandfather, most of us alter our face-to-face speaking to the state of the relationship and maturity of the other person.

Sometimes we don’t, but that’s usually because we haven’t had the opportunity to determine the maturity of the other person in the conversation.

I’m speaking of the maturity of the customer relationship as well as where the client is with your products and services. There’s far more to this than simply adapting to a client’s intellectual and age-related maturity.

Remember that “tip of the day” feature that was popular in software not so many years ago? The half life of that feature was incredibly small and the value it delivered was tiny when compared to its potential.

Why? Because few software development companies took the feature seriously once it had been coded and tested.

How can I say that? Easy. Did you turn that feature off once you realize the tips were of little value after an hour’s use of that software? Did you turn it off earlier than that because the tips were of no use at all?

My guess is that one or both of those are true. The tips weren’t there for users throughout their lifetime of use with the software. In fact, most of them weren’t very useful beyond the first hour of use. Every time we move the software to a new machine, it’s likely we have to turn it off again. ROI for that feature? Not so high.

The content of these tips was everything (in fact, the only thing) to the user of that software, yet the content in most tip-of-the-day systems appeared to be rushed out as an afterthought.

What does a software’s tip of the day feature have to do with your business? Everything.

Take your time, implement well.

That the tips rarely were of use to new users beyond the first hour or so of use shows a lack of investment in their content.

Imagine if these tips were sensitive to the maturity of the user’s knowledge and use of the software.

Some cars do this. They automatically adjust the seat and mirror locations when Jerome unlocks the car and use different seat/mirror positions when Carmen unlocks it. Adaptation.

What if your systems, products, services, marketing, processes and other client interactions recognized and adapted like this?

Adaptive interaction isn’t an all-or-nothing thing. It can mature over time, as other things do. Take your time, do it right. You tend to get only one chance to break a relationship with a client, but you can strengthen it with every interaction.

Adaptive behavior is all about making your business personal.

Where are all the programmers?

Programmer's aid
Creative Commons License photo credit: dunkv

Yesterday evening I posted a small C# project on Odesk.

By noon today, I had 19 responses.

Most of them were qualified (a few were VERY qualified) and had passed enough of ODesk’s tests for me to know that they could do the job. In the various .Net test topics, several had numerous scores over 95%, with one showing a dozen or more top 10% scores.

Of those, several had 500+ hours of ODesk work, great recommendations from prior jobs and fairly well written replies.

East 19, West 0

Yet none of those replies from countries that you would consider English-speaking, nor were they from Western Europe.

ODesk also has language skills tests to make sure the contractor can speak the language of the person who hires them. In my case, English is required because my language skills are limited to programming languages, English and the occasional ability to read French. In written English, several of the applicants were at 95% or higher, test-wise.

I talked about this with a couple of U.S. based programmers today and wondered aloud if this was a function of Western programmers who have “better” things to do, or that they don’t do piece work. Maybe Western programmers feel that freelance sites are for “commodity programmers“. I’m just not sure.

Many of the previous ODesk jobs listed for applicants as successfully completed (by the happy buyer) were 500 to 2000 hours in length. Full-blown internal development projects, software products and so on. I suspect some of the work is commodity programming, but I seriously doubt all of it is.

The commoditization of programming is not a new situation. Friedman’s been talking about the flat world for as long as anyone would listen, almost…

Where’s the West?

The skills that make a Western programmer valuable these days is business knowledge, vertical market expertise, project management abilities, responsibility-taking initiative, vision AND tech skills, to name a few. Being “just a programmer” is how you end up competing with someone who bills at 30% of your rate.

Perhaps being a Western programmer by the definition above means you’re automatically busy working. I could make assumptions, but I’m curious what your thoughts are – where are all the Western programmers? For my part, I guess they’re busy. The .Net guys I know locally all have jobs or long-term consulting gigs.

PS: Late in the day, I heard from an Ohio-based guy via Twitter who offered to take a look if I sent him a link to the project. I had already assigned the task, but will keep him in mind next time.  In overtime, it’s East 19, West 1.

Have you perfected the art of flawless first time deployment?


Curiosity’s shadow through the lens’ dust cover. Credit: NASA

Anyone who has built something for public sale has felt both the pain and joy of deployment.

Last night’s Mars Curiosity landing was a deployment that every software team or product developer should be in awe of.

That highly complex, if not seemingly crazy Mars Curiosity landing plan went without a hitch.

The first Curiosity photo returned from Mars showed the rover’s shadow, taken through the dust cover of the lens.

Millions of lines of code. A multi-step time-sensitive deployment where the smallest mistake likely means that we leave a very expensive pile of broken, tangled metal on the surface of Mars.

And yet, it went perfectly.

Thanks to the University of Arizona’s HiRise project, we even have a picture of Curiosity’s chute deployment, despite landing on the side of Mars we couldn’t see from Earth at landing time last night. Simply amazing.

Curiosity hangs below her chute above Mars.
Photo credit: Univ of Arizona HiRise project

Perfect first-time deployment?

Deployment in the field almost always comes with challenges and adjustments.

How can you possibly deploy something perfectly in the field the very first time?

“Simple.” – By not doing it for the very first time in the field.

These things happened perfectly the first time, in part because of redundant systems, but primarily because of testing of all kinds done well before anyone built the device, much less fired it into the sky toward Mars.

NASA does the same kind of testing that we talked about last week re: Intuit’s 10 million lines of code.

Unit testing. Integration testing. System testing. Testing redundant systems. Simulations. Much of it automated so that nothing gets missed and everything possible is tested every single time it or a related component changes.

It’s not “simple”, but it’s what professionals do. Test. Everything. Not just manually, not just once the thing is done and ready to roll out the door. After every build. Automatically. Long before liftoff.

Congrats NASA.

How the Yahoo password breach could affect you, even if you don’t use Yahoo

Power Of One
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ian Sane

On July 12th 2012, Yahoo confirmed that a large number of passwords originating at its Associated Content site were leaked.

If you ever used Yahoo Voices (formerly known as Associated Content), you should check to see if you were affected, particularly if you have a habit of using the same username/email and password combination on multiple sites.

Even if you never used Yahoo or Associated Content, your customers might have. If you have online systems that your customer access, this might affect your customers and your internal systems, so please read on.

Were you or your customers affected?

To see if your username or email is on the leaked list, visit http://dazzlepod.com/yahoo/ and enter the login you used at Yahoo or Associated Content.

If your login name is on the list of leaked logins, it will be shown at the bottom of the page – without showing your password, of course. If it’s there, you need to change your password and more importantly, you need to change your password on every site that uses that combination of username and password.

Need new passwords?

When I need high-complexity passwords, I use the GRC Password Generator, which randomly generates complex passwords with each visit.

To test the strength of each password you chose to replace the leaked one, you can use GRC’s Password Haystack, which analyzes the complexity of your password vs. the brute force computing time estimated to try enough combinations to find a match.

An interesting sidebar to the Haystacks password complexity analysis is this XKCD passwords cartoon. The XKDC password fares quite well on the haystack test, while remaining easy to memorize.

What about my customers?

If your customers have online accounts that match a login on the leaked Yahoo login list, you should disable them and contact your customers with instructions explaining how to update their passwords.

Feel free to point them at this piece to explain the situation. Doing this before a problem develops is good, proactive customer service to help them protect their accounts (and possibly your business) from fraud.

Lessons your small business can learn from this breach

These lessons apply both to the login/password pairs you use and those your systems might store for your clients.

Strategies that will help keep your small business safer:

  • Don’t use the same password on multiple sites, otherwise one successful effort to get your password means the criminal could gain access to more than one of your online services/accounts.
  • Don’t store passwords in plain text. Hash them. Hashing is, in simple terms, a one-way form of encryption. A password string can be converted to a hash string for storage, but hashing techniques create a hash that cannot be converted back to the password. A staffer with access to the hash can’t use it to access a client’s account. Question is…how’d they get the hash and what else can they get to?
  • Have your IT staff salt your passwords (ie: add a random character to them) before hashing them for storage.
  • Change your passwords frequently. Many of the login/password pairs in this breach were quite old and from inactive Associated Content accounts, yet they still worked on numerous sites, judging from the number of accounts disabled by Google and other vendors.
  • Don’t write the passwords on Post-It Notes and stick them to your monitor in a public place (like your workplace).

Read this Information Week piece for additional discussion on lessons to learn from the Yahoo password breach.

How do I manage all these passwords?

By now, with advice like “change your passwords frequently” and “don’t use the same password for multiple sites” swimming in your head along with the thought of how many different accounts you have, you’re probably wondering how you could possibly manage to remember all those different login/password pairs.

Of course, I keep them all in my head.

Yes, I’m kidding.

I use a password management tool called RoboForm Everywhere (secure download here).

RoboForm integrates with my browser (and Windows/Mac) to remember passwords for me (in encrypted form) and will only fill them in for me after entering a master password – so I have one password to remember no matter what, rather than dozens. I’ve used it for some time and it’s a great time saver that helps me use good password management practices.

When you visit a site, RoboForm shows you a button (or drop down, if you have multiple accounts at that site) that will fill in the password for the site – after you enter your master RoboForm password.

You can disable the master password question for some or all logins if you wish so that you’re only asked for the master password on various intervals. Disabling the master password might be OK for your home computer, but I wouldn’t do it in your workplace.

Other password management solutions include 1Password, KeePass (free, open source) and LastPass. I’ve tried LastPass and didn’t mesh with it, but you might.

The important thing is not what password management tool you use – but that you protect your login/password pairs and use them wisely – and make sure your staff does the same.

 

Changes and Clipboards

While the world wrings its hands over the tax implications of LeBron James’ move to Miami, the rest of us didn’t even look up.

We’re working hard to create (or advance the progress of) our next big thing.

Meanwhile, the economy stumbles forward in some ways, races in others, and limps in still others. Change, both for the better and the worse.

Now is the time to take a look at all the processes in your business and see what can be eliminated (presumably not service, unless people don’t want it), what can be fine-tuned and what needs to be added.

Put a fine chamois on that

Even here at business process improvement’s global headquarters (or something like that), I can find things that need to be systemized or further refined.

For example, I noticed that some of the things I do didn’t have enough of a feedback loop in them. Sure, I ask but I really hadn’t formalized it into a system that *anyone* could use (even me before coffee). As a result, I’ve added a feedback loop in after every coaching session.

I realize that I needed to automate some additional parts of my follow up timeline by creating some tools to talk to QuickBooks and produce email, letters and a checklist of stuff for me to do based on recent sales, expirations of a period of time since a last sale (such as a coaching session), and so on.

Naturally, this is being pushed to my Google Calendar, so I get appropriately nagged by smartphone, iTouch and/or Things.

But you’re a lone eagle

Why did I do all that for a one dude office? Because things (lower case) get forgotten or fall between the cracks, no matter how big or small a business is. Putting these tools in place makes sure that I touch all the bases after hitting that home run.

Why is that important? Because it’s easy for the massively polished sales forces of organizations like Chet Holmes’ (who produces really good sales training materials) and George S. May (etc) to slip in under the radar and try to swipe a client from me. Or 10.

The same thing can happen to you. It’s easy to attract a local small business’ business until you goof up and drop the ball.

Clipboards

When I walk into a business and see 2 dozen yellow pads on clipboards hanging from a matrix of nails on the wall, I know there are balls being dropped.

I know it because those clipboards don’t scream at people who walk by and say “Dude, you haven’t called the customer on this page and told them that their order was delayed because it was damaged during shipment.”

Automated process management systems, even simple ones that “talk” to QuickBooks, can do that. At the very least, if you prefer a human touch (recommended), they will remind you and your staff to follow up (and tell you why). Better that you call before it was due and share the bad news now vs. sharing it 2 weeks after the promised delivery date.

That’s one way that the young whippersnapper (who is 52 and freshly laid off) gets in the door on you because they are more attentive, more timely and they follow up when it makes sense.

Kudos to them if they are on the ball rather than you. They’re hungry.

As long as they don’t forget as their business matures and the client list grows, you’re fighting a tough battle to supplant them.

Meanwhile, you’re fighting all those battles and dealing with inefficient business processes, it makes it that much harder to you (and/or your team, if you have one) to create that next big thing that’s going to be your Hank, LeBron, Junior or Martha.

Speaking of that big thing

You *are* working on or trying to advance your next big thing, right? You aren’t waiting for the economy to “turn”, I hope. Your next big thing is part of what produces that turn. If you’re too busy playing customer service Whack-a-Mole with a wall of clipboards, the time to create that next big thing is hard to find.

Is there something that needs some work? Put your Mark hat on. What could use a little chamois (or even a Sham-wow) to polish it up a bit?

How do you welcome them?

We’ve all been there.

You mosey (at least I do) into a doctor’s office for the first time and the experience is practically identical to almost every other first visit to almost every other doctor’s office.

You get handed a clipboard of paper forms to fill out, as if they don’t know you from Adam. Yet you have an appointment, so they already know your name and at least some (if not all) of your contact info.

The forms usually require that you repeat yourself, filling out the same contact, insurance and referral info over and over again because the office’s intake process that hasn’t been examined for efficiency, functionality or intelligence. In many cases, the forms are copies of copies of copies as if no one has a clue where the original is.

The process almost always seems to make you feel as if your time is worth nothing – and in fact, as if theirs isn’t worth all that much either.

Intake Process?

That’s what they call what happens to you when you enter a doctor’s office – you go through their “intake process”. Maybe if they called it “New Patient Welcome”, it might become a more patient-friendly, efficient, intelligent process that becomes a(nother) competitive edge for them.

It isn’t just about the doctors though.

You’ll find a similar situation when being “welcomed” to many service businesses. In those cases, the business hasn’t gone to the trouble to transform their “first impression process” from the lowest common denominator to “welcoming, efficient (cheaper, more accurate, time-saving) and intelligent”.

As a result, new customers experience the same process as a customer who has been coming there for 20 years. Not necessarily a positive thing.

What really stands out is the process at a business that has studied what they do, why they do it and made (often minor) changes to streamline the process.

You may have seen some of those. Some offices, usually those of orthodontists or chiropractors, offer a completely different front office patient experience. The reason is that the “practice management” industry is better at getting into their offices than those of other specialties. The best practice management firms excel in making the processes of medical/dental practices more welcoming, efficient, intelligent and yes, profitable.

Most doctors and dentists (and their office managers) could learn a thing or twenty simply by making a friend of a local chiro or orthodontist and sitting in their office, observing what happens when a new patient comes in.

Yes, I said a doctor’s office could learn from a chiropractor’s office. Get over the AMA vs. chiro religious argument for a moment, please.

Don’t be the LCD

Most intakes are at the lowest common denominator. If you are going to stand out, you have to do things differently better and *constantly* be on the lookout for ways to improve. Not just the care/service you deliver, but how you deliver it.

While I realize that there are some legal hoops to leap through (HIPAA, for example), when I am referred from one doctor to the next and the originating doctor’s office actually makes an appointment for me, we’ve already crossed a line.

Upon referral, there is zero good reason (including HIPAA, unless you’re lazy) that I should have to sit down and fill out forms that contain contact, emergency, insurance and holy cow, which doctor’s office referred me (remember, they made the appointment for me). Likewise, I shouldn’t have to write that info multiple times on different pieces of paper.

That leaves me open to making mistakes, introducing errors from my horrid penmanship, while creating unnecessary work of your staff, since they’ll have to interpret my hieroglyphics and enter the info into the office computer (once again introducing opportunity for errors).

I’m not talking about putting the Fed’s Universal Health Care Data Chip in my head. I’m talking about streamlining processes and creating efficiency – and yes, within the bounds of the law.

Waste

As you might have guessed, I had this joyous experience recently.

After the initial paperwork lovefest, I was pleased to see a tablet pc used to get a “reservation” started for day surgery (nothing serious, relax folks), but disappointed to find that the doctor had been nailed for $30K for the tablet system. Despite that price tag, it still didn’t communicate directly with the hospital that was so close to his office, I could peg the day surgery front door with a baseball from his parking lot.

Doc sounded confident that process of integrating with hospital systems was underway and I hope he’s right. At the time, it seemed like a waste to fill out a form on a tablet pc and then print it out and walk it across the street where someone else will likely scan it and/or re-type the info yet another time.

Can you say increased health care costs? Yes, I thought you could.

Be Welcoming

While few probably have sympathy for the medical industry because of the “class warfare training” we get from the media, this isn’t just about the medical business.

Can you remember the last time you walked through your business’ intake process and experienced what your patients (clients) deal with? Even if you change oil in 19 minutes or less, you still have an intake process.

I’ve found businesses doing things because of the ways things had to happen back in the days of mimeograph machines, or because of the limitations of 1990s-era fax quality.

Why are we even talking about such things? Neither should be a barrier to improving processes today.

How To Fix It

Your goals: Get your work done efficiently and intelligently. Send me home in a frame of mind that has me unable to stop talking to my friends and family about something as mundane (yet “Wow”) as a doctor’s office visit.

Mining shoeboxes for customers

Prospector
Creative Commons License photo credit: ToOliver2

In these days of oil spills and mine disasters, it might seem a little off-base to ask about mining, but I think you need to become an expert at it – and do it regularly.

It’s a critical skill if you’re concerned about keeping your business pump primed with new and returning customers – especially returning ones.

When I say mining, I mean mining your customer/order database.

Yellow pads and shoeboxes

No matter what you use to keep track of this stuff; a yellow pad, QuickBooks, a ledger book, your CRM (customer relationship management system) if you’re using that tool like a shoebox, you’re likely making a five or six figure mistake.

What I mean is by shoebox is stuffing receipts and sales data and similar info into it all year long and never referencing it again until it’s time to do your taxes.

That shoebox is your gold mine. It’s the asset that many businesses ignore – often at their own risk.

Missing out

Let’s talk about Mary. She owns her own business and has 14 employees.

You would typically know this because you saw a profile of her business in the paper. How do you remember that fact?

You put it into your CRM (again, customer relationship management system), tickler file or *something* that organizes your data so that you can search for it later (I’ll get back to that).

Out of nothing more than gut feel, you know that she visits your restaurant 3 times a month and you also see her occasionally at events you cater.

What you may not know is that Mary’s business entertains clients twice a month and has an in-office staff appreciation lunch every other Friday.

Have you ever catered those events?

If not, does she know that you cater? She should, because she attends events you’ve catered – so why doesn’t she use you once in awhile?

Have you asked her?

It’s possible that her current caterer rocks the house *so well* that you might not ever get a chance to show your stuff.

One thing is certain – if you don’t ask, you won’t likely get a shot. Tantamount to that is *knowing that you should ask*.

The who

A message that is in context to the proper person is miles ahead of a generic message to everyone.

Have you made any effort to let your regular customers know that you offer catering for their special events? More importantly, do you know exactly which regulars would have a use for those services?

Do you know how to get in contact with them? Do you know when they last visited your restaurant? Do you know what kind of experience they had during their last visit?

Your customer / order tracking system should allow you to store info that lets you find out such things. If yours doesn’t, get a new one or at the very least, find a way to export the data into something that allows you to search this info.

Things you’d like to know:

  • Who has reservations this weekend who also owns a business?
  • Who has reservations this weekend who hasn’t visited in two or three times their normal visit frequency?
  • What regulars have we not seen in a month or more?

The answers to these questions will yield info about your customers and more importantly, about what you’re doing, how well you’re doing it and best of all – what customers you should have a catering conversation with.

If they do, who else does?

Here’s where the mining comes in handy…

If your catering gig database is sorted by “What do the businesses do?” and then you ask to see only those businesses that use you monthly, what do you ask for next?

Let’s sort them by what they do. Maybe the top 3 types of businesses are architects, real estate brokers and luxury home builders.  You can guess, but you won’t know until actually you collect this data.

Now take a look at your entire restaurant database of regulars. How many of them are in those 3 lines of work?

Hmmm. Wonder if any of them need catering?

PS: If you don’t have a restaurant, look at this through the lens / terminology of what you do. The same concepts apply no matter what.

Why people don’t use the “Tip of the day”

Seemed like such a good idea at the time…that “Tip of the Day” thing that you see in your favorite software.

Like Microsoft’s Clippy, everyone seems to either ignore or despise this function.

I think folks genuinely liked the idea at first. Yet…when it comes down to actually using a program’s tip of the day feature, I usually see people turning it off or just ignoring it. I’m the same way. The info is usually not so helpful.

The reason is pretty obvious once you think about it.

What normally happens

As you know, tip of the day content is (always?) displayed when a program is opened.

As a result, it’s very rarely in context with what you’re doing. When you open a program, it’s usually because you need to perform a specific task. You’re focused on that task – only to be sidetracked by this tip that has nothing to do with the task at hand.

Think about this – have you *ever* read a tip of the day and ran down the hall to another user of the same program and said “Holy moly, have you tried THIS????”

I’ll bet you haven’t.

What would make tip-of-the-day worth doing

Imagine being in the middle of a complex (or new to you) process on the computer and pausing to think for a minute because – as always – this function is complex or confusing or makes you think or whatever.

15 or 30 or however many seconds later, an in-context perfect-timing-kinda-tip appears in the corner of the screen (totally out of your way – but visible).

If that tip was like a bright light in a dark forest…you’d tell someone. And they’d appreciate it.

Where they come from matters

Imagine if tips were actually info that you’d want to use. Say…tidbits from your internal end-users of the product – perhaps even **oh my goodness** tips from actual customers who use your program. They’re the ones who actually use this thing day in and day out to make a living, they might actually have a piece of useful advice, ya think?

That would be far more preferable to the current source of tips : they tend to come from some poor schlep who pounded them into the program just so they could say that they had entered them. We’ve all seen ’em. Yawn.

Social proof for tips

If software authors wanted to add a social proof aspect to their tips, provide a voting capability (useful for experts, useful for new users, not useful at all, incorrect).

The program could sense your level of expertise by how long tasks take, the amount of time you’ve spent using the program, or the number of times you’ve used this particular part of the program.

Suddenly, I’d see the best tips for me, from other users, based on my level of expertise for this part of the program.

All kinds of opportunity to teach and learn could come from this. Your programming team could learn a lot from this as well.

Are your tips of the day being ignored?

All post long, I’ve been talking about how a tip of the day feature gets ignored because the software delivers the wrong message at the wrong time, and how it could be improved by delivering in-context tips that *actually help*.

Interestingly, the same concept works with your marketing (and elsewhere)… Speak in context or you’re likely to be ignored.

Maybe that was a little sneaky – but do you want people treating your marketing messages like you treat the tip-of-the-day?

iPads for business? Yes. Start now.

Trust me on this. Your business needs an iPad.

I know what you’re thinking. It goes something like this:

Why does this Apple fanboy think I need this thing? It’s just like a dinky little laptop with no keyboard. I can’t even plug my USB thumb drive into it. There’s no camera.

I hear you, but I ask that you think forward a bit. The iPad available today will seem like a lukewarm joke in 5 years. Your kids won’t even touch it.

If you wait 5 years until “the space is ready”, you’re gonna be 5 years behind – maybe more.

Maybe the winner in 5 years will be an Android-based GooglePad. Maybe it’ll be a Windows-based GatesPad. Maybe it’ll be one of the tablets from the folks at CES this summer. But…

IT. DOESNT. MATTER.

What matters is that you shift your thinking.

This stuff is going to impact your business and your life (and the lives of your clients) – and I can say that not knowing what you do for a living.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

First off, don’t worry about what it won’t do. Focus on what it *can* do for you instead.

There are at least five areas that need some strategic thought on your part:

  • How your staff will use the iPad
  • How your customers will use the iPad (and iPhone/iTouch)
  • How a phone-enabled, GPS-enabled tablet (generally speaking) will change your work, your clients’ work, your clients’ personal lives and so on.
  • How this “intelligent”, connected form factor will change how people consume information – which includes information that brings them to your business.

Note: The same things will apply to the HP Slate and other touch devices already in the pipeline.

Portable, connected – and finally, capable – touch-based interface devices are here to stay. You can either take advantage of them or watch someone else and then whine about the competition.

Answer this 27 part question

The iPad gives you a way to show your clients and prospects touch-navigable information that is *already available* but often poorly presented. That info is rarely displayed in context with anything else.

That’s gonna change.

Here’s an example:

“Show me a map with the locations of the three best italian restaurants on the way to the bed and breakfast we’re staying at tonight (it’s just outside Glacier Park). Include an overall rating from previous reviews, an option to read those reviews, directions to each restaurant, menu items with photos of the food, prices and eliminate the ones that don’t have a table for six at 7:00pm. Oh and a photo of the front of the place so we don’t drive past it.”

27 phone calls or visits to websites later, you *might* have a decent answer. That’s one of the simple, easy to understand examples. There are a TON more. If you’re a client, ask me how you can take advantage of it.

The difference with the pad isn’t just the always-on internet and the GPS/location-enabled functionality. Those are huge, sure.

What changes things is that you get a touch interface that a 5 year old can operate. Don’t discount the impact that has. Most people don’t truly understand it until they use it – I had the same gap in experience with the iPhone/iTouch, despite being a geeky, computer-toolhead kinda guy. This time, I know better.

I have so many ideas about this thing, my head is spinning (some might say it did that before the iPad).

If yours isn’t, think a little harder.


iTunes LP, the rich media salesperson

Doors.
Creative Commons License photo credit: Polifemus

A couple of days ago, Apple introduced iTunes9 and demonstrated a new iTunes feature called iTunes LP.

That’s “LP” as in long-playing album.

Those of us who were of music-buying age in the 1960s (not me, old man), 1970s and early 1980s remember some of the albums we bought.

I remember a Santana album back in the late 70s that came with a really cool poster. Others came with liner notes that included lyrics, tour photos and all sorts of special items that only a real fan could appreciate.

When CDs rolled into town, most of that ground to a halt. You had to survive on just the music, which was getting companded and less rich-sounding by the minute. No, this isn’t an audiophile rant. Maybe later.

A few groups included little booklets in their CD packages, and over time, some shipped CDs with bigger packaging and extra treats, but these were rare.

Digital Shifting

Then, MP3s arrived and the last vestiges of liner notes were gone.

This week, they returned.

In the video above, you can see Apple exec Phil Robbin showing off the iTunes LP feature. Watch the 3 minute clip before moving on. You need to see it before our discussion continues.

So what?

Whether you sell software, food, $700 blenders, recreational vehicles, luxurious experiences in a bed and breakfast, or detail cars – you’d better get what “LP-ing” means to your marketing and sales process.

How can your products and services benefit from being presented in that way?

Look at what you sell through the lens of iTunes LP. You should have already been doing so – we’ve talked about using audio and video to market/deliver your services but now, you have a great new example.

iTunes LP just scratches the surface for now, just like iPhone/iTouch apps. You have so many opportunities to leverage these capabilities, but you have to take advantage of them even if they aren’t perfect.

We’ve come a long way since 1994. Internet/technology-wise, it’s just past 8am. There’s still plenty of opportunity.

Get to work.

Postscript for the argumentative

Some might say that Apple copied what the Microsoft Zune HD already does. So what. Both copy what was done 20 years ago in a vinyl record. Does that make it less useful? Less impactful? No. For that matter, the iPod and Zune are modern day versions of the Sony Walkman, which copies…. (and so on).