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Monthly Archives: December 2007

Now that Christmas is over, I have stuffed myself beyond believe, unwrapped an ungodly amount of presents (well, not mine, but helping the kids with theirs and cleaning up all the wrapping paper), the inevitable holiday tradition of returns has commenced. It never fails that at least one thing I purchase has to be returned, and this Christmas is no exception.

I do not need to bore you with all the details of what the present was and why it needed to be returned, but needless to say I had to return a gift that I purchased for my wife. I purchased the gift from a really cool outdoors web site, Moosejaw. The return process was pretty straightforward, couple of easy steps and I was on my way. The thing that stuck out in my mind about the process was the fact that Moosejaw went above and beyond the call of duty with their e-mail communications with me. Not only did they e-mail me to notify me that they knew that I was returning a package, but they went on to send me a follow up letting me know that they had received it and were processing it. This is where I believe they went the extra mile by e-mailing me a cheeky, fun follow up:

Hey there –

Just wanted to let you know that our sources at the Board of Yellow Turtles (BOYT) told us that you have a return or exchange on the way to the Moosejaw warehouse. We just wanted to assure you that at Moosejaw, we process your return/exchange on the day that we receive your package.

As soon as we process your return we’ll send you an email receipt confirming that we received your package and processed your return/exchange. Keep in mind, we have found that it takes anywhere from 10-14 business days for a package to get back to us from our customers. Sorry for putting that in bold but we thought it was important.

Our returns system was voted fourth best in the world. Needless to say, we are very proud.

Love the Madness.

Moosejaw

This is what it is all about, making the customer feel like they are one with the company, that they are just one of the bunch. What would you rather get, and e-mail like this, or one like this:

Dear Will Kern,

This email confirms that you have paid eBay, Inc (support@ebay.com) $X.XX USD using PayPal.

Which would you rather receive, yeah, that is what I thought. Good customer communications is key, either you get it or you don’t, hopefully you (your company) does.

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Once upon a time, many moons ago and long before my life began (well not really that long before it began, but before it began nonetheless), Mick Jager and Keith Richards penned the song “You can’t always get what you want”. If only everyone understood this line, I think sometimes life would be a little easier. The song goes on to say “but if you try sometimes you just might find, you get what you need.”

I think many times people are confused between wants and needs, and often times they mistake their wants as needs, but they could not be any more different. Needs are a necessity, wants are luxury, but it seems more and more these days there is more expendable income and all of the sudden wants become needs. This can be a very bad habit to get into, and it comes on slowly without you realizing it is happening and before you know it, it is commonplace for you.

In developing a product, or launching a company, you want to build the next greatest thing, the thing that is going to change the world. Instead, what you need to build is the one thing that you know best, keep it simple and make it the best at what it does. That is what you need to do, once you accomplish that, figure out what you need to do next, and again make it the best that it can be. Before you know it, by just focusing on your needs, you will have quickly built what you started out wanting, and it will be exactly what you wanted, because you focused on each need, one at a time, instead of feeling the urge of instant gratification and just going gang busters and building it because you think that is what you want.

So the next time, no matter what the situation is, envision Mick and Keith playing their little ditty and remember “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you just might find you get what you need.”

I know I have heard this line a few times of the course of the last couple of weeks in a song that I cannot name to save my life, so if you know the song, please do tell. This line in the song is so appropriate for so many things in life, but the one thing it made me think of specifically is building a product.

Sometimes when we start out developing a new product, we have it in our mind what the product will look like, how it will work and how the users will use it. As it gets closer to crunch time, some of us feel the pressure to get the product out, and are willing to table some of the features for a future release. Others are more head strong and feel that the product cannot be launched without all of the features. In my style of product management and development, you have a core set of features that you want the product to possess before you are ready to show it off to the world, then you quickly follow that up with multiple releases to bring the rest of the features to life. Others feel that they cannot do that, that everything that they envisioned the product to be needs to be there before it is released.

Either way, both approaches work, it is just a matter of style. I personally am a fan of the former, but have been known to do the latter on occasion (rare indeed, but it has happened a time or two). Whatever your approach is, if what you are building is not what your end user needs, the end result will be the same. Everything you built is nothing in the eyes of the users. It happens all the time, you come up with a great idea, you know there is a market need, you do your research and you are on your way to building the next best thing since sliced bread. The blinders go on, you can no longer see the forest for the trees and before you know it, you have built everything, including the kitchen sink and in it turns out to be nothing. This is a bad thing my friend, and it has happened to us all.

In order to make sure that Everything is Everything, iterate on your idea, do focus group studies where you can (once you are in development and before you release the hounds), share your idea with as many colleagues, friends, heck anyone that will listen. Instead of saying what would you want X to do, approach it like here is what I am building, it is going to do X, Y and Z. Would you use it to do those tasks? If not, what would you use to do X, Y and Z. This kind of feedback can go a long way in ensuring that Everything turns out to be Everything to your users.

DISCLAIMER: The intro to this post is a bit verbose, but trust me, there is a very good point in here.

Long ago in my life, I was fresh out of college and really did not know what I wanted to do with my life at that moment, nor for the long term. All I could think about was that I was no longer under the stress of going to classes (yeah, like that was a lot of stress), what bar I was going to that night that had the best deal, or where my car keys were the next morning (or where my car was for that matter). That was all part of my past, but I did not know what my future would hold. So I took the path of least resistance, I stayed on with the company that had happily employed me throughout college, a little company by the name of Fedex. After graduating college, I did take a step up in the world of Fedex and became a courier (yeah, that was me driving around the van, delivering your packages…beep, beep, heres your package).

At the time, this worked for me. I was making good money (well at least I thought I was, but would later find out I was not), was living with friends and having a good time. Although I thought that the days of figuring out which bar to go to that night and loosing my car keys were a thing of the past, apparently they were not. Living with a bunch of guys kind of perpetuates that sort of behavior regardless of college status. Needless to say, I still did not have any real direction in terms of a career, I was living for the moment.

All of this changed on Christmas night, 1995. I will spare you all the details behind the meeting, but I met my wife that night and my life changed forever. We started dating immediately, and have been together ever sense. She stuck by me when I was a Fedex courier, supported me and gave me encouragement when I decided to spread my wings and get a white collar job (tried selling copiers and faxes for awhile, what a disaster that was), and when I was unemployed for a month, she stood right beside me. I quickly found a job in the career that I am currently in (thanks to her and her parents) and I have stuck with the career ever sense. Shortly after kick starting my career, we were married and living the dream, two incomes, no kids, a house, the whole nine yards.

Somewhere along the line, I asked her how in the world she was able to stick by me when I was a courier, a copier and fax salesman and an unemployed, broke guy. Her responded quickly with a very simple answer. She said she knew in her heart that I would be somebody, that I would rise up from where I currently was and go on to do something great. This, she was sure of. She had 100% confidence in me and my ability. I had never had someone say those things to me nor feel that strongly about me and my potential. That is one of the thousands of reasons I love her dearly, but the fact that she saw something in me that I did not, and was able to guide me to brining it out and become all that I can be is remarkable. Now I am not saying that I have gone on to be one of the great leaders of the free world, but in relative terms, I have come a long way baby (and I am not finished yet).

Having faith in someone’s ability even when they do not and being able to guide them to bring that out is something that a leader can do. A leader recognizes talent when it may be masked by insecurity, lack of confidence, a bad attitude, what ever it may be. Leaders see that potential and bring it out, making those around them better and give them the confidence to rise to new levels. In my mind, an effective leader elevates those around him, by making his team better, he / she in turn gets better. It is an upward spiral effect, everyone feeds off of each other, confidence levels rise, potential rises, productivity rises. It takes a wise man/woman to recognize those diamonds in the rough, and it is there job to polish them into the brilliant stone they can and should be.

For me, I owe it all to my wife, she took a chance on something she saw in me that I did not, and I am forever grateful for that. She is a smart, strong woman and I am lucky to be graced by her presence in my life.