The long vision of SpecSavers versus the short-sightedness of Boots

If Satisfied...

I’ve always believed that it’s the little things that really matter when it comes to excellent customer service.

I’m talking about the types of thing that don’t require a huge effort by an employee of a company, or a conscious thought that an action is required because of customer engagement training or a policy about customer service. It’s more about the willingness and ability of the employee to know instinctively that what he or she does to address a customer need, request or concern will have an effect in some way on the relationship with that customer.

In sum, it’s all about an employee with confidence – in his or her abilities, knowledge of the company and its whole ethos – to make a positive difference in how the customer feels about that employee and the company he or she represents, and vice versa. It can have a positive impact that lasts for years.

I have a perfect example to share with you, two contrasting experiences of my own.

Boots

A week ago, I visited a Boots store, one of the large out-of-town stores, looking for a case for my sunglasses. I wanted a soft case not one of those hard shell-type cases. They seem to be very hard to find but I figured surely Boots must have such things. They do glasses, after all, although this particular store didn’t have an opticians department.

But sure enough, I found precisely what I was looking for in a pretty logical place – the section in the store with a big sign above it saying ‘Sunglasses.’ The items had no price tags I could see but I thought they’d tell me at the checkout how much they cost.

So imagine my surprise when I arrived at the checkout and the cashier said he couldn’t let me have a case unless I bought a pair of sunglasses. It turned out that the cases were promo items, giveaways with the sunglasses. I asked him if I could just buy a case. That wasn’t possible, he said, as there would be no price reference to the case when he scanned the barcode.

As I was buying a handful of other products on this visit, I asked the cashier if I could have the case anyway. I said it with a big smile, even if it was a bit cheeky. But he said no, he wasn’t allowed to do that.

I noticed he hesitated before he said that – and I’ll swear he really wanted to say yes.

But it was ‘No’ that I heard so I paid for the items I had and left the store. On my drive along the motorway, I mused on that experience, one that will remain with me when I think of Boots and the service offered by its employees. The store cashier was polite and friendly enough but unempowered and without confidence, it seemed clear to me. Maybe such behaviour might be a major improvement focus after Walgreens completes its £6 billion acquisition of Boots.

Maybe they’ll import some good old-fashioned American style of customer service! Mind you, that doesn’t look like perfection at Walgreens either.

SpecSavers

Wind forward to Friday and a visit to London with my wife. Walking along Cardinal Walk, Victoria, my wife spotted a SpecSavers store and said “I bet they have a case!” It wasn’t entirely a random suggestion as SpecSavers is where we both had eye tests and bought new glasses (including sunglasses) in July, although not at this specific store.

So we went in and I asked the young man who approached us if he had a soft case. And he did. He asked me if I was a SpecSavers’ customer; my reply, of course, was yes although not this particular store, to which his response was, “Here you are, with our compliments” referring to the case. And he included a soft lens cleaning cloth for good measure.

Now that’s what I call service! Especially that final gesture, adding the lens cloth. Nothing earth-moving in terms of galvanising resources, a cost implied or otherwise, or making a huge fuss. Just one empowered employee with lots of confidence, a natural ability to engage and a winning smile.

These are two different experiences in two different stores from these two different firms. Each firm suggests excellent customer service is what each offers in all its stores, as you’d expect them to do, even if the corporate structure of each firm is different: SpecSavers is more of a franchise model than Boots. So I’m not suggesting my experiences reflect what you might expect in every store at each company, all the time. This is people we’re talking about, after all.

What I am saying is that these were my experiences with Boots and SpecSavers last week and on Friday respectively, experiences that, believe me, will influence not only my own behaviour when it comes to visiting a pharmacy or an opticians in future, but also in what I may answer to anyone who asks me what I think of each firm.

Like I said earlier, it is the little things that really matter.

(Photo at top via Frank Gruber under Creative Commons License)

Weighing up the worth of sharing AP content or not

Retweet to your followers?

A news item on Techmeme caught my eye, so I clicked to read it.

Oregon sues Oracle over failed health care website,” the headline said, linking to a report by the Associated Press about a lawsuit against Oracle filed by the US state of Oregon alleging some pretty serious malfeasance on Oracle’s part over a health care website.

It’s the kind of business story that interests me, and one I tend to share on Twitter as some of my community there might also be interested in it. It’s also the kind of thing I might share in my Flipboard magazine – which, if I choose, can also re-share that share across Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and Facebook – to bring it to a wider audience. It might even become a news item or discussion topic for the weekly business podcast I co-host.

Much depends on the topic, who it’s about, which publication it’s in, how credible and timely it is, how well presented the story is, etc.

I don’t especially seek out stories or reports by the AP. Yet I encounter AP reports a lot, either direct reports filed by an AP journalist like this one, or as a newswire story reported in another online publication.

(AP) Orgeon sues Oracle...

In whatever case, as with all sharing of content published online by others, I’m mindful of copyright.

But get a load of the AP’s copyright statement at the foot of this story (and in every story on their website).

AP copyright text

The yellow highlight in the screenshot is my emphasis of the off-putting wording:

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

I’m not a lawyer, but that looks to me like the AP won’t allow the kind of sharing I do across social networks, eg, retweeting a link to their story, never mind any content from it. Wouldn’t that be regarded as “broadcasting”?

That’s not what they intend, surely?

Well, take a look at the terms of use referenced in the full footer statement, in particular numbers 5 and 6:

AP Terms of Use

(Number 6 even mentions ‘fax’ which makes me think this wording was written in the command-and-control heyday of the mid- to late-90s and unchanged since.)

I’d say number 5 makes it clear that this is what they intend. Even retweeting a link on Twitter isn’t something they’d like you to do by the looks of it:

5. Except as provided in this agreement, you may not copy, reproduce, publish, transmit, transfer, sell, rent, modify, create derivative works from, distribute, repost, perform, display, or in any way commercially exploit the Materials carried on this site, nor may you infringe upon any of the copyrights or other intellectual property rights contained in the Materials. You may not remove or alter, nor cause to be removed or altered, any copyright, trademark, or other proprietary notices or visual marks and logos from the Materials.

I suppose the key words here are “commercially exploit” which I guess means making money from the AP’s intellectual property without permission, recognizing their rights or paying them for usage.

Yet surely there are better ways in communicating such intent that don’t leave you feeling that whatever you do to amplify their story under the fair use or fair dealing aspects of copyright laws, you should probably look over your shoulder just in case you see a lawyer bearing down on you.

I contrast this unfriendly attitude with that of an arch-competitor of the AP – Reuters.

Reuters actively encourages you to share its content!

Look at this same story, for instance, as reported by Reuters on its website – with social share buttons arrayed at the top:

(Reuters) Oregon sues Oracle...

Not only that, the footer in the story repeats those social share buttons and also tells you how many of your friends have recommended the story on Facebook and/or urges you to be the first to do so, as it does in every news story on the Reuters website.

Reuters encouraging sharing...

And not a copyright notice or terms of use link anywhere except among general site links in a specific area at the very bottom of the website, each of which is written in far less draconian language. Much more concise and contemporary, too.

Comparing these two different approaches to creating and publishing copyrighted content that others inevitably would wish to share, which one gives you confidence in sharing with your social online communities? Which one behaves like trusting you is the default rather than the other way around? At a time of continuing evolution of mainstream media and how people use online to get, consume and share their news, which one appears equally confident in making content available online that will be shared and so actively encourages it?

In essence, which one is the publisher who gets it about content-sharing, trends, behaviours and the social web?

I know which one gives me that confidence.

PS: As it happens, I shared the AP story on Google+ as I wanted to highlight some of the text that I couldn’t do in Twitter (more than 140 characters). Plus my community there is, broadly, more tech-oriented and so I thought I might get some interesting comments back. None yet though…

Just a bit less minimalist

Strokes

About a month ago, I made a big change to this website when I redesigned it and combined the blog with my business website, with both on the same single domain.

At the time, I talked up my strong feeling about a minimalist approach to a presence on the social web, doing away with all the clutter that tends to populate so many websites with widgets, ads, popups galore, and more.

If you observed that change and have visited this site since then, you’ll notice another change if you’re reading this on the site itself rather than via the RSS feed or syndication elsewhere.

I’ve reverted to a website based on the Genesis Framework – in my view, the best foundation for self-hosted WordPress sites – with the eleven40 Pro child theme presenting the content you see and enabling you to interact with it on whatever device you use to come visiting. It’s HTML5 and mobile-responsive.

Why the change?

In short, Decode, the minimalist theme I switched to, presented a number of challenges that I couldn’t resolve without either getting to know more about PHP coding and CSS than I was able to commit time to, or hiring an expert.

There was a major issue surrounding how the site worked on mobile devices. I was hearing about odd experiences some people had reported where browsers on iPhones and iPads crashed when trying to load content from the site.

To fix that in the short term, I installed the WPtouch mobile theme, which did the trick. It’s a great addition to any WordPress site but not what I wanted as it needed more work that I was willing to give time to to make it behave consistently with the primary look-and-feel of the Decode theme.

I’d also experienced some weirdness with sudden changes in formatting to content after it had been published.

I’m highly confident that none of those issues will arise with the Genesis Framework-based foundation now in place.

In preparing this site today for relaunch, I was greatly aided by using a terrific tool called Design Palette Pro, a premium WordPress plugin designed to work with Genesis that lets you customize many appearance elements of a Genesis child theme without having to edit any code.

So here is version 6 of NevilleHobson.com! Hope it works for you – let me know if it does or not.

Would you be happier without Facebook?

99 Days of Freedom

If you were not happy – outraged, even – with how Facebook behaved over the mood experiment they conducted last month, an experiment from a Dutch creative agency might be right up your street.

What Facebook did was manipulate information posted on nearly 700,000 users’ home pages that showed that the social network could make people feel more positive or negative through a process of emotional contagion.

Now Dutch creative agency Just has come up with 99 Days of Freedom, a call to action for Facebook users to demonstrate their disapproval of Facebook by switching off from the social network for 99 days.

[...It] asks users to refrain from Facebook use for a period of 99 consecutive days and report back on how the hiatus affects personal notions of happiness. The initiative’s website, 99daysoffreedom.com, provides a set of simple user instructions, which include posting a “time-off” image as a profile picture and starting a personalized, 99-day countdown clock. From there, participants are asked to complete anonymous “happiness surveys” at the 33, 66 and 99-day marks, with results posted to the initiative’s website as they’re compiled. The initiative will also host a message board through which participants can post anonymous accounts of how an extended break from Facebook is impacting their lives.

It’s a kind of mood experiment in reverse.

It’s also a cool initiative that gets Just a lot of attention for its imagination and creativity, as well as for the initiative itself. If it gets traction, it could focus considerable public attention on broad issues of online behaviours, manipulation of those behaviours by social networks, what companies do with our personal information, how we spend time online, etc – all hot topics today and great ones for ongoing public debate and discussion.

In its press release announcing 99 Days of Freedom, Just also talks about the amount of time people spend on Facebook:

[...] According to Facebook, its 1.2 billion users spend an average of 17 minutes per day on the site, reading updates, following links or browsing photos. Over a three-month period, that adds up to more than 28 hours which, the initiative’s creators contend, could be devoted to more emotionally fulfilling activities – learning a new skill, performing volunteer work or spending time (offline) with friends and family.

The subjective conclusion will appeal to many users, to be sure. My view is that many other users will be quite comfortable from an emotionally-fulfilling perspective – or any other one – with spending 28 hours on Facebook during any three-month period.

You could apply the same argument to Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn… Horses for courses.

Still, 99 Days of Freedom is an interesting experiment and it will be equally interesting to see how it goes, how many people sign up to do it – 16,748 when I looked at the website just now – and what conclusions arise at the end of each person’s 99 days. I’d love to see a brand try it!

Give it a go?

Enjoy life!

 

Test driving Samsung’s new 28-inch 4K UHD monitor

Samsung U28D590D 4K UHD 28-inch monitor

An important item on my tech shopping list is an ultra high definition (UHD) monitor to go with the new desktop PC I’m planning to buy for the home office. So when Samsung UK’s PR agency asked me if I’d like to test drive Samsung’s new 28-inch LED UHD monitor just launched in the UK, why would I say no?

And so late last month, a big box arrived containing a brand new Samsung U28D590D 4K UHD monitor manufactured in May 2014, a sticker on the back said. And it’s been the primary display screen connected to my Dell home office desktop PC for the past few weeks. It’s certified for Windows 8 (the Dell mine is connected to runs Windows 7).

One key thing to mention straightaway – this is not a touch-screen monitor.

Here’s a quick summary of what I noted and was particularly impressed with from the moment I hooked it up to the PC:

It’s simplicity itself to set up. Unpack from the box, peel off all the protecting plastic film, affix the stand, connect to the graphics card port on your PC, plug in the mains lead, turn it on. Your PC or Mac will recognise it and set up a monitor driver. You should then install the specific Samsung monitor driver for this model that comes on a CD or let your operating system find it online. That’s basically it to get started.

One preparatory step I did take beforehand was to update the graphics card driver on the PC. It has an Nvidia card installed and, if you run a Windows PC, it’s always a good idea to have the latest WHQL-approved driver whatever brand of card you have.

The screen resolution is fabulous even if you can’t get the full 4K UHD experience and have to settle for what your PC and graphics card is able to support, which will likely be full high definition (FHD, also known as 1080p), the native resolution of many modern LCD or LED monitors, typically 1980 pixels wide by 1200 pixels high for a 24-inch monitor (which is the size of the AOC LED FHD  monitor I have that the Samsung replaces).

Absolutely gorgeous colours – a billion, says Samsung, if it runs at 4K UHD resolution if you connect with the DisplayPort 1.2 interface – along with crisp and clear graduation of colours and shades of grey. This is the best I’ve ever seen on any monitor.

4K UHD is stunning compared to FHD – rich, vibrant colours and four times the resolution. The peacock picture below tries to illustrate this to show the difference in colours and resolution between FHD and UHD.

FHD vs 4K UHD

Screen refresh is literally instantaneous with no visible pauses or juddery imaging, which is what you might expect to experience if running a program, watching a movie or playing a game that is extreme in its demands of the graphics processing system and memory of your computer. This is where a powerful graphics card with a fast GPU and lots of video memory is important, along with a DisplayPort interface ideally, or an HDMI port to connect the monitor to the PC. (The Samsung monitor has one DisplayPort interface and two HDMI ports, both to the version 1.4 HDMI standard. I’m currently connected via HDMI.)

That works on a similar principle you may already be familiar with on televisions – you need the biggest bandwidth connection between the TV and, say, an Xbox or even your cable TV box to pump the significant amount of audio-visual data at the highest speed you can get. Hence DisplayPort or HDMI, both far superior for this than the typical DVI ports you find on most computer monitors (and many TVs).

I haven’t yet played any contemporary games with this monitor, but I have watched quite a few movies, both on high-definition Blu-ray disc and streaming via Netflix, as well as live TV from the BBC and catch-up TV via iPlayer. In every case, the viewing experience has been an awesome one with smooth, crisp and clear images that make the most of the monitor’s capabilities (plus the PC’s processor and memory,  graphics card and HDMI connection, as well as a pretty good 154Mbps wired broadband internet connection).

And I’ve created, edited and watched a fair number of PowerPoint presentations. The ones I create tend to have lots of graphics, mainly screenshots, so saving content and displaying it can be quite resource-heavy on the computer’s graphics system. With this monitor, it’s a breeze with hardly a lag in screen refresh when I open up a typical 80-meg PowerPoint deck.

In case you’re wondering what’s the big deal about UHD and 4K, let’s address that.

UHD means that the monitor can display content at 3840 pixels wide by 2160 pixels tall resolution, which is four times as many pixels as full high definition (FHD), the resolution typically at 1920×1080. The American Consumer Electronics Association has a great definition of both terms of direct relevance when it comes to computer monitors like this Samsung one.

Okay, I suspect some of you reading this may be at the start of eyes glazing about now. To me, what’s important is that this monitor delivers on the essential elements of resolution, colours and screen refresh times that combine to make a terrific experience whether you’re playing TitanFall, watching House of Cards on Netflix or making a fabulous PowerPoint deck.

So here are some key features:

  • UHD resolution 3840×2160 pixels - 4 times the resolution of Full HD
  • 1 millisecond response time – that’s almost instantaneous
  • Minimalist design
  • Display port interface plus 2 HDMI 1.4 ports
  • UHD upscaling – great when watching HD video
  • Game Mode for a terrific gaming experience

I’ve not yet explored everything this monitor is capable of – things like picture-in-picture, picture-by-picture (two PCs connected to the single monitor to see the desktops of both simultaneously on one screen that’s divided into two), or game mode (detects the changes in scenes, enhances the colour and alters the screen’s contrast to make dark spots darker and light spots lighter so you can see all the action at all times).

Picture-by-picture: two PCs connected to the single monitor

Such experiences are still awaiting me in the coming months.

In summary, the Samsung U28D590D 4K UHD monitor is an excellent display device. Its sleek minimalistic design fits my expectation of a piece of advanced technology that I like to have on my desk. It’s beautifully made and looks pretty good.

The U28D590D is on sale in the UK now (Amazon UK has it at around £460) and you can see it soon in retailers like PC World. Its feature set pits it extremely well amongst competing products from the likes of Dell, Asus and AOC whose similar-spec UHD monitors cost more, significantly so in some cases.

On the Samsung UK website:

The only way is ethics #PRethics

The debate in Committee Room No 10 / pic by Kate Matlock

Committee Room number 10 in the House of Commons in London was the setting in the evening of July 7 for a vibrant debate on a big topic, formally titled “Wearable technology is an ethical nightmare for the communications, marketing and PR professions.”

Organized by The Debating Group and sponsored by the CIPR, the motion was proposed by Stephen Davies and seconded by me; and opposed by Stephen Waddington and seconded by Claire Walker.

About 100 people formed the audience, many of whom contributed opinion and running commentary on Twitter as each of the four speakers made their cases for the motion and against it. Once the formal addresses had been made, debate chair Alastair McCapra opened the debate to the floor where 18 people offered their perspectives to the debate.

It was a most interesting few hours. Opinion during the motions seemed pretty evenly divided, which seems to me to be fairly reflected in the commentary on Twitter. But when it came to the moment of voting, we were firmly defeated – 55 votes against the motion with only 28 for it.

Yet those stark numbers hide one reality, which is that it’s clear to me that this topic is not as black and white as it seems, offering only agreement or disagreement as your options. It is phenomenally nuanced, with so many shades of grey, and where almost everything you might say needing to start with “It depends.”

It’s also clear that the two opposing sides to the motion were far closer in thinking and belief than it may seem. Closer in the view that the topic is largely about people’s behaviours rather than about the wearable tech – meaning, what the tech enables people to do and so what they do or don’t do with it – and largely about providing codes of conduct that would be the roadmap for PR practitioners’ behaviour in how they use wearable tech.

I wholly support that idea although I’m far less optimistic that PR practitioners will simply abide by a code of conduct and not do bad things. If some PRs can’t get even the basics right, why should I have confidence that they can be trusted to do the right thing on their own with something far more important? Having a code is great, but it needs by-example leadership and professional behaviour to make it work at all.

Hence the “it depends” idea where I firmly believe that there won’t be an ethical nightmare as long as we – the profession, consultancies and clients, and individuals – take firm and clear steps to make the landscape anything but an ethical nightmare. We must do this, actively and proactively, collectively and individually.

Unlike my fellow speakers in the debate, I didn’t make a prepared speech. Instead, I prepared talking points from which I highlighted my perspectives to support Stephen. For the purpose of this narrative, let me highlight the bottom line of my argument:

Is there (or will there be) an ethical nightmare for PR, marketing and communication professionals?

I have 3 answers…

Yes, if…

1. Yes, if we do nothing to raise awareness and educate our publics on the SWOT of wearable tech.

2. Yes, if we fail to recognize the critical importance of the trust consumers place in our clients, in our employers and in governments that their behaviours are ethical.

3. Yes, if we fail to take advantage of the opportunities to advance our profession at the vanguard of understanding the ethics, scope and scale surrounding the enabling technologies that are before us, and what they will do – and do not – for our clients, our employers, consumers and businesses, and society at large.

Will we do this?

You tell me.

And here’s the argument in detail by the lead debaters:

My complete notes on Scribd:

I’ve seen some great reports and commentary about the debate, notably:

And of course, the curation of all the tweets, etc, in Storify by Gabrielle Laine-Peters:

And finally, credit where credit’s due – hard to resist a pun on the word ‘ethics’ as I use in my headline above. “The only way is ethics” is a play on “The only way is Essex,” a popular (?) reality TV show in the UK. So, full credit to Wadds for first use in the debate!