Innovation

More Like a Tsunami…

 

Dear Reader: Clear your calendar for the next hour and twenty minutes.

Truly Maximum Customer Experience is about blowing the doors off what’s come before. Making folks clamor for something they didn’t know they were dreaming of a minute earlier. For the first few minutes of this presentation, that was me.

Think email is a plain-vanilla commodity?

This presentation will show you how to reinvent a category. If Google can do it with boring ol’ email, you can do it, too.

WOW.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

 

P.S. There’s hardly a minute that’s not worth watching, from presentation techniques to planning and implementation ideas, but for my bilingual friends: please DON’T miss the very last few minutes.

Did I already say WOW?

Office Supplies Get Niched!

Stack of file folders

Image by John and Keturah via Flickr

I need manila file folders. My box of 100, purchased in the caveman era, has run out at last. I may be sixty before another box of 100 runs out, but I have to get my bulk discount. So I hop on to www. bigol’officesuperstore .com, and it’s easy as pie—”File Folders” is one of the categories on the home page.

*click on “File Folders”*

Manila, or Colored?

Oooh, I hadn’t thought of that. Colored might be neat. I peek, see that the prices are quite a bit higher, which negates my all-important bulk-discount, so I back up to plain old Manila, where my choices are:

  • Heavyweight
  • Reinforced
  • Papercut-reducing
  • Anti-microbial
  • Moisture-resistant
  • Pink-ribbon breast-cancer-research styled

I look at the category again, then at the pictures of the products. Yes, we are talking about file folders. This should be a piece of cardstock, folded in half. I’m overwhelmed, and underwhelmed, at the same time.

And notice, there is no “regular” weight. For those of us whose file folders already last forever, and don’t need them to last any longer than that.

Now I love a good differentiator, a little something so your brand will be top-of-the-mind and the obvious, the only, the Ideal Solution when I have a problem with my office supplies. Really. I adore innovation.

Papercut-reducing? Anti-microbial? Moisture-resistant?

Pink-ribbon breast-cancer-research styled?

Seriously??

Folks, don’t try this at home. Innovation for its own sake is NOT GOOD.

Have you talked to your customers lately?

“I need manila file folders. But my real concern is, will I get a papercut? It holds me back from purchasing every other brand.”

“I’m longing to reach into my filing cabinets and know that the folders are no longer so darned… microbe-y. It’s a real pain point in our office.”

When you’re Pinpointing the unique features that will make you stand out from the crowd…

… make sure someone cares. A lot.

Niches are nice, and sometimes, yes, you can have one all to yourself and really clean up. Look for the pain your customers are feeling, and solve that pain. They’ll beat a path to your door, and yours alone.

Don’t design a Solution and try to shove a customer into wanting it.

When they market a file folder that can protect me from whale attacks, I’m there. Because that pain is top-of-the-mind when I’m digging in the file drawers.

What pain are your customers feeling? Do you solve that pain, or are you waiting for them to want what you’d rather sell them?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Is it a good idea?

Where has the band never thought of going?

I might go there.

It’s harder to do, but a lot easier to stand out. If you’re outstanding.

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

National Public Radio Made Me Write This Tip

People tend to seek out information that agrees with what they already believe.”

The statement was made yesterday on NPR’s Day to Day by Professor Robert Lichter, discussing why Independents likely won’t go to see any movie with a strong political message that might have the power to sway them.

It grabbed me, stayed with me all day, and demanded that I write this Tip. Because it’s true.

I read blogs where I’ll mainly agree with, sympathize with, or be inspired by similarities with, the authors. I go to stores where I won’t be challenged to try anything too new. I eat food I like, and while I might try that new Thai place, Thai probably being similar to Chinese, I’m no more than curious about Ethiopian or Romanian cuisine. I make friends, go on dates, with people who have a hobby or an interest in common with me, or who are friends with my friends. I’m thinking about seeing one of the movies they discussed on Day to Day (though I think I’ll wait to rent it, since the reviews are rather tepid), but the one from The Other Side of politics doesn’t interest me a bit, even after hearing it’s pretty good.

And among people I hang out with, who we’ve established, probably are quite a bit like me, I’m very, very adventurous. I do explore a lot of new things, I do have a very wide variety of interests, and I am open to a lot more than most (of them). I’ve even recommended exploring unfamiliar places and experiences here.

Heck, tackling industries I know little about, and learning all about them and their customer base, is part of what I do for a living as an Experience Designer. Yet I can only hang my head on this one.

(When I’m not at work) I tend to seek out information (and experiences) that agree with what I already believe.

So today, I’m going to:

Read a blog on a subject I am not even trying to be an expert in, where someone takes a position I don’t agree with, to see what other folks have to say;

Eat at a restaurant I’ve heard is good, that I’ve resisted trying;

and probably,

Go see that movie from The Other Side of the political fence. I’ll try not to groan.

I’m going to integrate experimenting into my life more than I pretend I already have, and by golly, I’m starting today. I don’t like it when a prof from George Mason University can call me out without even knowing me.

Check back with me Monday, when I’ve read all my favorite blogs, talked to my usual colleagues, and I’m eating lunch at my favorite bagel shop. I’ll look and sound entirely different, because boy, I’m busting out.

This is one hot Tip to expand your horizons. If you’re ready to take inspiration from wild new places and points of view, you never know—it could alter the way you do business.

Are you with me? How do you feel about seeking out information that doesn’t fit with what you already believe?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

A Day at the Races

ELITE CARS. PRIVATE TRACKS. DRIVING TO THE LIMIT.

A while back, I was watching Motorweek, a magazine-style show about cars on PBS, when they did a segment about Supercar Life. This company offers clients an entire day of driving supercars such as the Lamborghini Gallardo at a racetrack.

Their simple mission statement: “Having fun with supercars.”

Click to watch the video.

Now in this case, it isn’t the car manufacturers letting you have this Experience. It’s a private company, who owns the cars and leases the racetrack for the day (like the racecar scene in The Bucket List, without all the damage). It’s expensive, it’s exclusive, and for some, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime fantasy.

Recommendation to Lamborghini, Aston Martin, et al.: I think the car companies should be looking to glean information from Supercar Life’s customers, maybe offering a rebate for a survey at the end of the day or the like, as this is, in essence, a one day test-drive for true Propheteers who prove their loyalty by ponying up nearly 5,000 USD for the day.

In fact, when I first watched the segment, I was a little surprised that a supercar manufacturer hadn’t thought of the whole thing. This could be a great way to extend a brand!

So let’s turn it on its ear:

Can you make the Experience of your company’s offerings fun?

Would your customers pay to test-drive your product or service?

How can you encourage Propheteers to show off their love of your company?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Tapas and You

There’s a trend, mounting since about 2006, toward offering less food at restaurants. At first there were specialized bistros called tapas bars or tapas restaurants, after the tiny noshes which accompany your drink at many bars in Spain (the little plate is set atop your glass, hence the name: tapas means “covers,” literally, or “tops”). Naturally, these were filled with the nostalgic-for-Spain (me!) and then early-adopter foodies (oh, that’s me too).

Other restaurants saw the small-plates trend, and began to expand their appetizer selections, and cautiously tried add smaller serving sizes to their entrees, and found that late adopters who would never go into a tapas bar, still loved the idea of smaller portion sizes. A table may get several tapas and share them around, or one small plate may be just what your slowing metabolism has in mind (me again!).

Now finally, it’s hit dessert menus. Where once the dessert menu was the refuge of those who could spare an extra 1,200 calories in their day, now at many restaurants you can get tiny taste teasers that won’t even make you feel as bad as the margarita you had with your meal. The multi-course meal grows up by slimming down.

Early adopters and late adopters are not what I want to point out today. Something to think about, though.

Chunking. Small offerings. (And, if you must know, the R-word. Recession, or that possibility.)

By observing small plates, how can your company extend what you offer to an audience that might like to taste a tease but isn’t ready to fully commit? Can you chunk out your product or service for tight wallets? Offer one smaller portion of the complete package?

Should you?

 

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Leading Change Initiatives

Motivation=Wanting to do something.

Sounds simple, right?

It’s not.

Does Your Kid Take Out the Trash?

Mine does. I haven’t got all the mysteries of parenthood figured out, but that one goes well at my house. At age nine, my daughter likes to take out the trash. In our apartment complex, this involves a walk with me, to cross a busy parking lot, go to the trash corral, and throw our trash into the dumpster. Why does she want to do it with no prompting?

Time with Mama. A little walk-and-talk with nothing pressing to distract us. (Recognition)

It’s a contribution to the house that isn’t too taxing and makes a big difference. (Achievement)

I never force the task on her; she bosses me around and tells me when it’s time to do the job. (Responsibility)

The longer we do this job together, the more she is able to contribute: directing when to cross the street, getting tall enough to use the dumpster almost all by herself, etc. (Personal growth)

There’s a bonus at the end: people often put toys and furniture in the big corral, especially near holidays and moving time (beginning/end of month), so she may get to bring something fun back with us. (External push)

Why Do You Take Out the Trash?

Because otherwise, the house gets icky

Or the spouse gets cranky

Or there’s no room for more

Or it’s just a habitual part of your day

Or you’ll get a big thank-you at the end

What’s the difference? I am lucky to have a kid who has developed mainly internal motivators for taking out the trash. Recognition, achievement, responsibility, personal growth. Yes, the potential for a bonus is an external “motivator,” and some of our finds have been pretty great, but these are infrequent enough that they are not a major influence.

Most adults are pushed by external factors to take out the trash: the prospect of a reward for completion or a punishment for avoidance of the task. The carrot and the stick. The satisfaction of a job well done got lost somewhere along the way. You don’t want the trash taken out, you want the carrot to be given or the threat of the stick to go away.

Trash Removal Is a Need, After All. Why Should We Like Doing It?

I’m going to let you in on a secret. When I was a teen in college, I used to clean houses for people. I liked doing it. I did more than necessary to earn my ten bucks an hour. Sure, the carrot of my four hours’ pay was there. That wasn’t too much, even then. Owners were rarely there while I was working, so I can’t say that their praise was significant. It was just plain nice to transform a house once a week. I got referred on and on, because the results of liking my work really showed.

That’s not the secret. The secret lies in those owners. Some people like a clean house. Some people like having their house cleaned.

When I came back, week after week, the same people’s houses needed barely anything. This meant I could do really in-depth stuff, making their house shine more and more every week. These folks had the internal motivation of loving a clean house; I just freed them to maintain it. And every week, the same people’s houses were utterly trashed as if I’d never been there at all. I’d spend so long just picking up junk, that I could barely get to the floors and the dusting, before the four hours were up. I pushed a clean house on them, but their own motivation was so completely gone that they had even outsourced the minimal stuff like picking up their socks off the living room floor.

Liking having a clean house resulted in having a clean house for some owners. Having an external factor come in and clean their house could not result in a clean house for others. Internal motivation gets things done; external pushing gets things done half-assed. Crude, but true.

The Second Secret

Yes, I’m going to let you in on another secret. I wrote earlier that I am lucky to have a kid who has developed mainly internal motivators. I’m not that lucky. I’ve been leading her there all along, and she has the internal motivators I intended to instill. I also wrote that I haven’t got all the mysteries of parenthood figured out, and to prove that—though I think I’ve followed the same path with homework, it’s pretty much on the carrot-and-stick level. The results aren’t 100%, but following the path toward internal motivation is critical.

Why Pushing Change Always Fails

Motivation=Wanting to do something.

As you manage your staff, you probably try two tactics to motivate those precious human resources. You praise, “communicate” (or my least favorite, “treat them like family”), offer pay raises, bonuses, privileges, or other incentives; or you scold, frown, write and enforce reviews, take away plum assignments, threaten termination. You prefer the first tactics, but resort to the second as necessary. Every year, you up the ante on the rewards to further motivate employees who got the extras last year. So, why aren’t your employees motivated?*

You’ve taken their internal motivations away. Simple.

In each case, who wants the change? You, the manager. You are pushing changes; the employee is just trying to catch the reward or avoid the punishment. The employee no longer wants what you want.

To lead, you must stop pushing changes NOW. Leaders create the opportunity for internal motivation to take hold.

From Manager to Leader

Almost every owner or manager I talk to who is dissatisfied with the company’s growth will eventually point to their staff. “I love this work,” they say. “I’d do it without pay. Every year I offer more for good performance, but they don’t love the work and don’t want the company to succeed like I do. What’s going on?”

What drives us to give our best efforts?

  • Recognition
  • Achievement
  • Responsibility
  • Personal growth

So what can I say to this owner?

Dear Owner

Dear Ms. Owner:

When you tell me how much you love this company, you do not talk about the work (unless it’s to tell me that 19-hour days do not pain you), or the pay (owners are often paid less than their top staff), or the great hours, benefits, or privileges. You tell me about devotion, about the day you first went “in the black,” the first time the local press gave you a glowing review, or how getting to know your customers has made you a better person.

Are your employees sharing in that success? They crave what you crave. The glow of an unbiased opinion; the satisfaction of doing a job better than anyone knew it could be done; the chance to influence and create company growth themselves; personal attachment to outcomes; feeling like their excellent work makes a difference, and that each day they become even more excellent!

Your staff want to go home and say to friends and family: “This job rocks. When I am there, I rock. I can hardly wait to see what happens tomorrow.” That, Ms. Owner, is when staff become brand Propheteers.

It isn’t money that is driving talented people out of the workforce and into self-employment in droves. It’s impotence. Nothing is more demoralizing than the feeling that you do not matter, that your forseeable future looks exactly like your present, and that you are spinning your wheels.

Ms. Owner, to lead you will have to give up some control. A leader is not a manager of each employee’s moments. A leader is a guide to the company’s Vision, chief cheerleader and creator of excitement. A manager dictates employee actions; a leader shapes and trusts employee desires.

A manager offers rewards for expected outcomes; a leader acknowledges extraordinary, unexpected results

A manager schedules performance reviews; a leader asks for personal accountability

A manager piles on the work with no obvious Purpose; a leader maintains focus on well defined outcomes, leaving methods to the employee

A manager treats staff “like family,” with empathy, in a hands-on way, and sometimes gets familial disrespect in return; a leader treats staff like critical stakeholders and responsible adults in their own right, knows how to relax, but never lets work becomes a codependency

A manager automates and simplifies; a leader removes layers of approvals and other barriers to success

Ms. Owner, my best wishes for your continued growth.

 

Leading Transformation

We owners love our companies. We are always looking for the magic potion that will make employees fall in love, too. Poor employee performance is a major pain point in Experience Design. Whether you are an owner or an employee yourself, you have probably seen him: the guy who does only what he’s told, collects the paycheck, and runs out the door at 5. Mr. Minimum. Always ready with a complaint at your expense; ready to bolt at the first offer that looks a bit better than yours. No loyalty, no matter how much you “treat him like family.”

If you are managing your employees, the bad news is you created Mr. Minimum. The good news is, with patience you can lead. Though human factors are never perfectly engineered, you can leave the carrot and stick behind.

Motivation=Wanting to do something.

You can say of your staff: “I’ve been leading them there all along, and they have the internal motivators I intended to instill. They know what we’re about, they are empowered to do their best for our success, and they love this company like I do. They want to be here. They want to tell our customers what’s great about us. Some of them would do it if they weren’t being paid. They are our biggest fans.”

You can’t “push change” if you want major, long-term results. You can lead growth, through this essential shift toward internal motivation.

If you really care about your staff as family, then start creating jobs that are fulfilling, exciting, and filled with challenges, just like their Mamas wish for them. Stop enabling them to howl about chores, and start driving them toward fun, enrichment, and adventure when they take out the trash.

It takes time, but look at it this way: It’s easier than getting your kid to love spelling homework.

What parts of your work would you do for free? How could a focus on internal motivators change the quality of work your company does?

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

 

*Thanks to Frederick Herzberg, author of “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?” (1968, 1987) for the Harvard Business Review [subscription required], who taught me that a Kick in the Ass is nothing like the internal desire to excel.

Wednesday Words

To Go Where Your VisionPoints, a few inspiration points for you and your business.

It is possible that the telephone has been responsible for more business inefficiency than any other agency except laudanum…. In the old days when you wanted to get in touch with a man you wrote a note, sprinkled it with sand, and gave it to a man on horseback. It probably was delivered within half an hour, depending on how big a lunch the horse had had. But in these busy days of rush-rush-rush, it is sometimes a week before you can catch your man on the telephone.”
—Robert Benchley, U.S. writer, humorist

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Face It, I’ll Never Be Martha (Won’t Somebody Do This for Me?)

So I’m sitting here shining my shoes this morning…

What? Don’t you shine your shoes in the morning? Okay, I don’t do it every day either. Just when it’s becoming really obvious. About the same time I wash my car.

…and I’m thinking, whatever happened to shoeshine services? I mean, this is a messy business. I don’t do it very well (lack of frequency?), and I’m going to go around with black spots on my hands all day because my wimpy soap says uh-uh to getting this off of me. I’d definitely pay to have somebody do it for me.

Well, there’s a shoeshine at the Reading Terminal Market (Philadelphia, folks), but I can’t wait to go into Philly to get my shoes shined. And I dunno, I’ve never seen a woman sitting there so maybe I’d even feel intimidated to do it. The shoes would have to be pretty grungy. If they were that grungy I’d have done it before I left home. See where this is going?

I think it’s an opportunity. Not for the traditional model, a guy waiting for dirty feet to pass by, but for someone who already takes care of my stuff. How about my drycleaner, or the local laundromat? My hairdresser? A tailor? Maybe a kiosk at the mall that does a few other things like shoelaces, watchbands…. Or am I just the last soul shining her shoes?

What do you think? Value-added for personal services firms or keep polishing, Kelly? ;)

Leave a comment below!

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Customer Experience in the Land of the Blue LilyPad

Part One: CommentLuv

Several weeks ago, a great new feature started popping up on blogs all over the Internet. The feature (aka plug-in, aka widget) is called CommentLuv, and I instantly wanted it, badly, for this very blog. I expected to see massive growth in comments on blogs that use it, and I wanted to be one of those. Creating a community here, sharing Experience Design stories, tips, and tricks is a big part of the big picture.

CommentLuv, to explain it briefly, encourages bloggers to comment by finding their own latest post and writing its title as a linked (clickable) footnote to their comment. You can see it in action (where I first did) here; it’s also in use here, and here.

Why is this bound to cause explosive growth? One, a bit of vanity (like everyone else, blog writers like to see themselves in the mirror). Far more importantly, publicity. If you are a blog frequenter this may shock you but many people do not know that clicking on a commenter’s’ name will take you to their website if they have one. Linking back to yourself within a comment, too often or too blatantly, is considered rather bad form. (I do it, but discretely, if I think it helps a conversation.) This plug-in promotes you without making it look gaudy, so that experienced and inexperienced readers will know not just that you have something to say elsewhere, but also that your latest post may have interest for them. Classic advertising: Attention, Interest; if the Desire is created by your post title, the clickable Action is right in front of the reader. Simple and glorious.

At the first place I saw it in action, I stopped and asked the author, David Airey, what that snazzy new feature was and where I could get it. He told me, and I sent an email off to the plug-in’s creator, drooling. This is when I found out it can’t be had for TypePad right now. The programming to work with TypePad was not of the kind he normally does, and he couldn’t get any useful help, so he’d decided against it.

I was not deterred. I asked a couple of programmers I know if they could help him out, but none of them had the specialized knowledge necessary.

I was not deterred. I opened a ticket and asked TypePad, since I couldn’t find anything on their Knowledge Base (FAQs) about how to contact them re: Rockin’ New Widgets They’ve Got to Make Available to Attract Customers With Cutting-Edge Features.

This is what I wrote:

Dear TypePad,

I am writing because there is a relatively new plug-in out there that I really believe you would like to know about. I found out about it a few days ago, wrote to the blogger whose site I saw it on, and then wrote to the plug-in’s creator….

The plug-in searches for a commenter’s most recent post (on their own blog), and creates an automatic link to it at the bottom of their comment, like a signature. You can see it in use on http://www.logodesignlove.com/ just click on any individual entry that has comments.

You can tell from the email [which was] below that I’m not in any way affiliated with the man who created the plug-in. I have no interest other than thinking that if TypePad could help this guy out with whatever knowledge he lacks to make it happen for TypePad, it could be a real boon to Typepad bloggers. Basically, I wish I could have the thing, because it’s a fantastic way to encourage comments! The two sites I’ve seen using it are getting comments like wildfire, which increases your blog’s standing, and who doesn’t want that!

… I hope you’ll consider helping this guy to get his cool plug-in to work on TypePad….

Regards,

Kelly

They wrote back, saying that Help couldn’t do anything, I should check their parent company’s FAQs.

I was not deterred. I checked said FAQs, discovered they were written in Klingon, and decided since at last I was in the correct place, I would write Six Apart (TypePad’s parent company). Here’s naïve: not only had I expected someone from TypePad Help to take the initiative and run down the hallway to the appropriate person and make this happen, whether it was technically their job or not, I still expected this from Six Apart.

This was their response:

Recently you requested personal assistance from Six Apart Support. Below is a summary of your request and our response.

Thank you for allowing us to be of service to you….

Hi Kelly,

Thanks for your message, … if you are looking for help for a developer on how he can get his plug-in working with TypePad, you would need to have him join the Six Apart Professional Network. [This is the place where Klingon is spoken.]

Thanks,

TypePad Technical Services
Six Apart, Ltd.

Very personal. Not going to make it happen, and don’t care if he makes it happen, either. Sorry, not seeking money-making, customer-delighting innovations at this time (or any other).

Finally, I was deterred.

You can not see CommentLuv in action on the Maximum Customer Experience Blog.   :(

Part Two: Subscribe to Comments

So it’s Friday. I’m working on two projects at once, and I have four “little” personal (blog) projects planned for my loosely-termed “weekend,” it’s late afternoon, and I’m hungry. Taking five minutes off, I’ll just peek at Men With Pens, I say to myself. I get accidentally (?) involved in a long comment discussion, which I will not repeat here, during which one thing I meant to deal with long ago but never got back to is brought up: allowing commenters here at the MCE Blog to subscribe to comments. No problem, I say, everybody’s got that; before I even respond on MWP I’ll go get that taken care of…

Not.

All I could find in the Knowledge Base was info about getting an RSS feed for comments for your sidebar. Better than nothing, but not what I really want. Even that’s a process. It involves asking permission for TypePad to turn the thing on, so I wrote to them:

Help says, “open a Help Ticket to request that your account be enabled for comment feeds.”

So, please enable my account to have comment feeds. Thank you.

Because the one thing I can say is that the folks at TypePad do respond, they wrote back several hours later.

TypePad Customer Support said:

Hi Kelly,

Thanks for your interest in beta testing new features in TypePad. [Huh? The Knowledge Base did not say this was a “beta feature”?]

At this time, we are able to make the changes to your account that will allow you to see the new features. Please be aware that Advanced Templates and Mixed Media Layouts are not fully supported with these new features, so if you use or switch to either of these, you may experience problems.

If you notice any problems after we switch your account, please update this ticket and let us know as soon as possible.

Please respond to this ticket if you would like these changes to be applied to your account.

Thanks

I can’t make this stuff up. I wrote back:

Yes, I do want to be enabled for comment feeds. That’s what I wrote in the ticket I opened.

I already use Advanced Templates. Does this mean I can’t use comment feeds? What kind of “problems” might I experience?

No offense if you’re a person, but this feels pretty auto-generated since you’re asking me to ask for something I just asked for, and telling me that if I “switch to” Advanced Templates I may experience problems.

Thanks,

Kelly

Their response: *Crickets chirping.* [Granted, it is now the weekend. I expect this annoyance to continue in a day or two.]

It appears that I will be deterred again.

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, I wrote to a person who might know a workaround:

I find it odd that comment-related improvements, which make blog readership jump through the roof, are not #1 priority. Getting email updates about comments is OLD everywhere else. It’s almost a sign that you’re on TypePad if you can’t subscribe. With CommentLuv, I thought they’d be climbing past me to help the author once they saw what it could do for their users/customers.

All this, to give readers incentive to comment, to make your Experience more engaging, and frankly to make me happier with TypePad (because successful blogging makes bloggers happier with their service). Their immediate customer is happier, and the customers (readers) of their customer are happier, too. I wish.

I have taken mild flak for staying with TypePad. I can code passingly well, I’m a designer, I’ve tweaked their Advanced Templates mercilessly since day one, so why am I here?

The plug-and-play aspect is a good part of it. I don’t have time to deal with the inner workings of the blog so I’m happy to pay someone else to. Fewer errors, no nitty-gritty. I can be a do-it-yourselfer and not find I’ve made one little boo-boo that takes down the whole function. That leaves me a few minutes for merciless tweaking.

They have been prompt and great about Help Tickets; even though their answer is not always right, they try again with good cheer, and I’ve mostly been able to get issues resolved. (However, the same person does not help you from start to finish of a ticket. Irksome.) Even at my level of coding knowledge I’ve got to be trying trickier stuff than most of their customers, so at the Help Desk their willingness to work on a problem until I’m satisfied is super.

I originally liked that a lot of high profile writers were using the service: if Seth Godin and Keith Ferrazzi and Church of the Customer are all happy, what’s not to like? Yes, cyber-WoM played a role. The little flaws seemed surmountable.

Why Doesn’t TypePad Want Your Comments?

Because I’m not their target customer. I think that’s what it boils down to. It appears that TypePad wants me to move on. I want rich features they don’t want to offer. I’m always trying to find ways into the code to make improvements.

I’m still happy I don’t have to build the mousetrap.

I’m loyal and I want to grow with TypePad, but they don’t want me to grow with them. They don’t want to reward readers for commenting. They don’t want smaller blogs to see explosive growth of community. Smaller, newbie-blogs are their bread-and-butter, and that’s who they’re looking at: undemanding, technologically challenged first-timers, who want up-and-running in a night (I liked that, too!).

The funny thing is, while I may be chafing because I know these improvements are readily available to other bloggers, even newbies’ blogs could benefit from email and RSS Subscribe to Comments, and CommentLuv. Like in any business, seeing measurable growth makes it easier to keep investing (time, energy, money) in the venture. Engaged readers and lively comments are the intangible “profits” of blogging.

Entropy rules, I do have real work to deal with, and sometimes it’s fun to try to create change from the inside, so I don’t know if I’ll be going anywhere just yet. Hey, maybe they’ll hear this. C’mon, TypePad, delight your customers!

Dos and Don’ts for Your Business:

Do provide robust FAQs on your website. For as often as I’ve had to open a ticket, I can’t tell you how many times I haven’t had to. It’s not always as beautifully organized as I’d like and can be hard to understand, but it’s very comprehensive. I’ll bet you don’t have near as many Frequently Asked Questions, so what’s stopping you?

Do make Customer Service prompt. TypePad always gets back to me fast.

Do make Customer Service as satisfaction-guaranteed as Sales. Your current customers find a lot of your new customers for you, if they’re happy, and believe it or not, I’m generally happy with TypePad.

Don’t disregard trends in your industry. You don’t have to jump on every bandwagon, but if the parade passes you by, all but the most loyal customers will follow it.

Don’t ignore growth opportunities your loyal customers attempt to throw in your lap. (This will not happen to you very often, so go for it!) At the very least, if there’s a reason you can’t pursue it, tell the vocal customer why not, with no corporate-speak.

Don’t let your hierarchy become so rigid that staff with great ideas can’t find their way to your Innovation Department. Empower everyone.

Do remember: Your problem is selling your Solution (to increase your revenues). My problem is [growing my business, finding great employees, making my kids/spouse/dog happy, looking sharp in the morning, getting to work on time, finding a new restaurant to impress a client, wanting a good night’s rest away from home, growing my blog readership...] whatever. Solve my problem and you’ll solve your own.

What do you think? Can you miss an opportunity for growth by focusing too closely on what’s worked in the past? Is TypePad losing ground, or just Pinpointing their target market?

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson