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I Have A Reason To Be Scared

October 10, 2022


Worthwhile read. “Dr. Maya Angelou once said, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” She was and is exactly correct.”

Adult Language Is Possible

I am scared. I am scared for my Catholic friends, my gay friends, my non-evangelical Christian friends, my women friends, my family and my Jewish community. The rise of Christian nationalism is threatening a basic tenet of our agreement as a United States, our founding principle of the separation of Church and State. But it gets worse: Christian nationalist rhetoric, excused as “free speech,” is profoundly dangerous.

Our government was founded on the principal that the government would neither prefer nor prevent any religion. Yet in the past few years with recent acceleration, the idea that this country was founded as a white, Christian nation (i.e., Christian nationalism) has begun to take root in our national debate. According to a recent University of Maryland poll, 17% of Democrats and 61% of Republicans support declaring the United States a Christian nation. The findings also indicate that “white grievance” plays a role…

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A cautionary tale for your social media team (and entire brand)

January 25, 2020


terrible customer experience with Anthropologie

Last week, Anthropologie had what can only be described as every brand’s worst nightmare- a delivery snafu that went viral on twitter, first as an amusing story- and then as a customer experience gone terribly wrong, when Anthro’s response devolved from amused and supportive, to unreasonable and threatening- the antithesis of a good customer experience.

Leah Rachel von Essen, posting as @reading_while on twitter, shared her story about the vase that never arrived, and her resulting re-order. Instead of delivering the vase, Anthropologie shipped her 9 huge boxes of unrelated products, including a 20 lb candle, a feather coat, and a strange golden hand. And then demanded she return them all- or risk being banned and billed for the merchandise she hadn’t ordered- and didn’t want.

Had they handled it well, this could have been a great customer experience and a social media win for Anthro. Instead, one mis-directed social media post later, they quickly turned it into a cautionary tale about how NOT to respond to a brand snafu online- quickly going viral on twitter, resulting in thousands of supporters, including a lawyer offering to intervene on Leah’s behalf, and getting picked up by Forbes, as This is The Best Retail Story You’ll Read all week. And indeed, it was.

The moral of the story is: every single interaction with your customers matters. And every single employee of the brand is a brand ambassador with the capacity to help, or hurt the brand’s reputation. Every interaction. Every customer. Make sure that your people know this, and are empowered to do the right thing. In the end- Anthropologie did the right thing. But the damage was done.

It’s worth reading the entire thread.

terrible customer experience with Anthropologie

Leah is a book reviewer and blogger, who made this story such epic fun on twitter. You can see more of her writing on While Reading and Walking

Amazon’s New “Exclusives” Shop Showcases Up-And-Coming Brands And “Shark Tank” Products

March 11, 2015


Interesting to see Amazon getting in on the Etsy/Quirky/kickstarter creative, individualist, inventor scene. It’s good to see the increased opportunity for entrepreneurs to get the exposure.

Deliver on it.

August 4, 2014


Sounds simple, doesn’t it? If you add functionality to your site, you have to know what the customer expectation will be- and deliver on it. Getting it ALMOST right is the same as getting it wrong.

Here’s an example: one day, I was shopping on one of my favorite flash-sale sites- amazing brands and products at unusually great deals. What’s not to love? But there are so many items, and I have limited time and patience. That’s why I was so glad to see a refine-by-size feature that allows me to sort by just the product that would work for me- good! That’s a best practice, especially for a sale in which quantities are limited.

navigation & refinements

Refine by size feature- a best practice.


The rub? When the refine-by-size feature doesn’t deliver real-time information, it’s worse than having no refinements at all- because you’ve set my expectations for a personalized result, but then let me down on the delivery. Advice? Turn the refinements off until you can get it right. It’s not a value-add if it’s only right sometimes (like a faulty clock: it’s right at LEAST twice a day…).

refine by size & navigation

Refine by size gone bad

I realize there are reasons these things happen- someone made a business decision based on a technical limitation or a tradeoff on site speed vs. accuracy…there are always drivers for things like this. But the bottom line is the customer experience you deliver. If you make a promise (showing a refinement by size)- then you have to deliver on it well or there’s no point. A bad experience actually detracts  from the perception of your brand (they don’t deliver!). Customers will bail on your site a lot faster when frustrated with the functionality.

This is just one tiny example of the many decisions brands make every day that impact customer experience. Make sure you understand the impact when you make the business decision. If it’s not worth doing right- it may not be worth doing at all.

If you need me to sign in, remember where I was.

June 14, 2014


This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s not always the case.

If you want customers to interact with your site, you have to make it really easy. Really, really easy. If you make me sign-in or register to write a review, save to my wish list, or respond to a poll- I get it- you need to make sure I have a stake in what I’m putting on your site, that I’m not anonymous, and may therefore think a little more carefully about what I say or do. So I’ll do it. But do your part: remember where I was, and take me back. 

A good experience: I click ‘submit a review’. The site asks me to sign-in or register. I do it. After I sign-in, the site takes me to the next logical page in the path I was trying to take to begin with: the ‘submit a review’ form for the item I was looking at.

A bad experience: leaving me on the My Account page after I sign-in. Why am I here?

This isn’t one of those things that will give you an instant bump in conversion- but it IS one of the things that will enable your customer to easily connect with you, potentially stay on the site a little longer, and feel better about it, too.

The quickest way to lose a customer’s interest is to make it a chore to get involved. If I’m trying to interact with you, and you leave me on your “My Account” page after I sign in, am I going to go back and navigate to that product again? Maybe. Or maybe not. I would have to be pretty motivated. I can’t see wanting to submit my review that badly.

People don’t necessarily notice when you have a seamless site experience. But they notice when you don’t.

ios7 graphics: a step forward?

September 30, 2013


apple ios7 upgrade

ios7 home screen

ios7 was a long time in the making- and a big move for Apple.  It’s the first major break from the iconic visual design driven by Steve Jobs and the warm, homey graphics that made the techie device feel familiar:  to-do lists that looked like lined paper, a bookshelf that looked like wood, and most importantly, easy to read text, links and buttons.

In this update, the new flattened design takes flat too far. The text is a pretty pale grey and the links a pretty pale blue, making both hard to read. All links are treated equally, so that “skip this step” and “next” links, for example,  look exactly the same. The new tool icons are flat and colorless, which combined with the pale blue outlines- make them hard to distinguish. They just don’t pop off the page. The one that’s highlighted is great- if they were all treated that way, they’d seem less diminutive and more actionable.

Simple line drawn icons are hard to distinguish at a quick glance.

I like the idea of modernizing the graphics, but this fails in the execution. The graphics are reminiscent of early web design that was less well attuned to customer experience mandates such as legibility, clear calls-to-action and ease of use. The newstand is still a newstand, and I can’t pull my New York Times out of it, so it continues to be two clicks away. The bookshelf design looks like something you might find in a windows app, with books floating on varying shades of blue. The safari icon looks like a compass. And I can’t find the new ‘easier’ to find spotlight search no matter what I do.

The critical issue: The text and link treatments are too pale. Too subtle. These are key elements of the design- and they need to be made legible.

The good stuff:

ios 7 control panel

Swiping up opens the control panel- for easy access to itunes, sleep, airplane, bluetooth, and other modes.

On the upside, ios7 seems stable and has some great new features. The new control panel is fantastic- it puts key functionality one swipe away, instead of multiple clicks- you can now access sleep, do not disturb, airplane mode- and even a flashlight with a quick swipe. Love that.

The camera is noticably better- with easy controls, and more accessible controls for a panoramic shot, square or video.

And the new App scrolling feature is cool- with two clicks, you get mini screens you can scroll through to see what apps are open and click directly in. Very nice.

There’s lots to like about the new OS release. Though I’m not a fan of how far they took the flattened design, I believe it’s easily fixable. The critical need is to fix the oversimplified text and link treatments.  I hope that Apple will recognize the need to do this quickly  in upcoming releases. The rest is just a matter of taste.

Moving forward

November 18, 2012


Nice to see people back to work in force, last week. The roads were slow and congested with the many shuttles going into NYC from NJ, while trains along the Jersey coastline were still undergoing major repairs- there was a tugboat that hit a railroad bridge over the Raritan river, and washouts along the tracks. An NBC news employee at the bus stop told me there were over 193,000 commuters displaced by the train shut-down. That’s a lot of busses on the roads.

They’ve brought in busses and drivers from all over to make it work. I’ve had drivers from Rhode Island, Boston- and some who said they were driving into NYC for the very first time. Admirable, really. Nice people- all of them. The commuters in the front row would help them find the way and make sure they found the bus lane.  Most of the subways are running, except downtown. Reports there were that the water actually reached the top of some of those tunnels at one point. Today, the Brooklyn Battery tunnel- which had been severely flooded, was opened. And many of the trains will be starting to run tomorrow, too. Lots of progress.

It’s still mind boggling to see some of the footage that’s coming out as people are able to share videos from some of the harder hit areas. Tonight, we saw a National Geographic special on that showed aerial and ground tours of the worst areas. In the aftermath, it showed people coming together in streets, lighting fires to stay warm, together. We saw one woman going into her home for the first time- seeing the water lines near the ceiling, seeing all her furniture moved and in disarray- so disoriented by it, she kept saying, ‘We didn’t move anything. We kept it nice in here. We really did’, and then, seeing the refrigerator sideways on the floor, “that’s my fridge. I filled it up before the storm, thinking…”.

They explained how the force of the tidal surge can actually shear houses from their foundations and move them- showing footage of houses or second floors of houses, moved out on streets, into marshes- one on a bridge. They also explained how lower manhattan was actually built out into the water with landfill over the past 100 years- and how the water actually came up to its normal level, where it used to be.

Amazingly, no one died in the fires that destroyed almost 100 homes in Breezy Point, Queens. In today’s New York Times, there were lists of the deaths associated with the storm and how they happened. People drowned. People were hit by trees. They died from carbon monoxide poisoning from generators in enclosed basements. You can see it in today’s NYT, Mapping Hurricaine Sandy’s Deadly Toll.

As people sort through the rubble, a heartbreaking task, there are moments of joy when something precious is found. The NYT has been posting daily images that are awful and heartbreaking, and sometimes hopeful, all at once. One was an image of a woman and her husband smiling amongst the complete wreckage of their home, because they’d found a safe containing their family genealogy. You can see that image and others here: NYT daily photo, Nov 15. One photo from last week showed a man shoveling sand out of his house- it looked like a foot of sand, at least- and he’s chipping away at that, one wheelbarrow at a time. From his entire first floor.

There are areas, most notably, the Rockaways- where there’s still no electricity- no heat or water. And no estimate for when they’ll get it. These are people who don’t necessarily have the resources to relocate. It’s awful. In the areas hardest hit- there are so many people who are now homeless. So many lives that will be forever changed. I can’t help thinking about all of the children who are not able to go to school, and how we’ll remedy that. There’s a school nearby in Union Beach, NJ, that is collecting via an Amazon wishlist to gather supplies for its students- it’s an easy way to help: Union Beach wishlist. The NYT published a list of ways to help– where to contribute money or supplies, and lists of what’s needed.

There’s so much to be horrified by- the devastation, the people who’s lives have been turned upside down, the damage that remains, even now, to the infrastructure of our power and transportation services. But there’s comfort in getting to work and doing what we can to help those less fortunate.

So let’s do that. Live on. And help out. Keep it moving forward.

Seeing the light

November 11, 2012


We got power on thursday- it was such a surprise, I almost didn’t register what it was. Such a relief to start getting things back to normal. Laundry! Cleaning! Hair dryers! Refrigeration! Nice to have it all back. It also made it much easier to start gathering more things to donate. A friend of a friend had her house ruined in Staten Island- she was in the worst area. She had just moved there 5 weeks ago to start fresh. She lost everything except a few books and pictures she was able to gather a few days after. Luckily, she had evacuated, and her son was away at college, so both were safe. But she’d left just with an overnight bag- and now that’s almost all she has left. 

We’d donated lots the day after the storm, but now I’m focusing on her- collecting bedding, dishes, silverware- trying to think of everything someone who’s starting over will need. She doesn’t have anywhere to put it yet, but hopefully she will soon. Thankfully, she still has her job. There are so many more like her- who lost everything. So awful. 

I’m so touched by all the helping I’m seeing. Today we drove by a vacant Foodtown, which has been taken over by the Red Cross. They had piles and piles of donations, and people were collecting bags full of whatever they could use- clothes, shoes- and more. So many friends on Facebook are taking up collections and delivering supplies. There are occasional reports of looting, but for the most part- people are giving. 

In some of the worst hit shore areas, people were beginning to get access to their homes to try to retrieve critical things- like passports, pictures, important records. There were busses and checkpoints- homeowners of one island community were allowed one hour only- they had to leave only with what they could carry in one suitcase on their lap. They had to leave their license with the police to go in, and come out only with what they could carry in one bag. Can you imagine having to make those kind of choices? That is, assuming, your house was intact enough to actually find anything- I guess there are a lot of levels of lucky here. 

The NJ shore train is completely out of service- the tracks were badly damaged by debris and water. The ballasts washed away and there are areas of track that were dislodged. NJ Transit isn’t even predicting when the trains will be back in service. They’ve responded by adding lots and lots of busses. I normally take one from PNC Arts Center, and all week they had busses lined up with drivers from all over- I had one from Rhode Island, and another from Boston- they’d never driven into NYC before. They did great. The passengers helped them navigate the way in. Coming home is a bit more challenging-on friday, the line stretched outside the terminal and down almost an entire avenue block. But it’s impressive for the most part, how they’ve managed to provide alternate transportation for us.

It will be quite some time before we get back to normal. 


work happy.

October 29, 2012


Poppin makes office supplies fun and colorful

Think old-school office supplies are on the way out? Paperless offices, Evernote, iPads, laptops, iPhones- there are so many ways to plug in and make your to-do’s a scheduled reminder list, your notes an archivable, searchable library on Evernote, or a quick email after a meeting. But the truth is, there are die-hard note-takers out here. There are paper lovers and pen collectors. There are those of us who are on a never-ending quest for the perfect pen, the perfect notebook- the proverbial blank page that invites and inspires and satisfies as you check off your to-do list, like no program, application or device can.

This is where Poppin comes in.

Poppin makes office supplies fun and colorful

Who says office supplies need to be black? Poppin’s site is all about color.

Of course, we need our technology, and we love that too. This is different. This is love at first sight.

Poppin’s tagline is “work happy”, and everything about the website reflects it. The copy is light-hearted and friendly- The people you can call for help are called “work stylists” who can set you up with a desk to love. On the Help page, the stylists are described this way:

“Each Poppin Work Stylist has been carefully chosen because they like to smile, have exquisite taste and looooove talking to people.”

The website itself is entertaining, fun and has a great design sensibility- you can shop visually by color as a secondary navigation bar at the top of the site.  The copy is believable and genuine, with a sense of humor. They “pinky-promise to take any Poppin product back that does not make you work happy.”

The branding is superb, end-to-end. The package arrives with writing on the outside, and air-bubbles on the inside printed with funny quotes. You actually want to save the air bubbles- they’re that cute. And a week or two after my package arrived, I got a hand-written thank you note on a Poppin card, mentioning my specific items.

All in all, it’s a complete delight. It’s not to say we won’t keep using Evernote and iPads and laptops. But it doesn’t hurt to have a desk that makes you smile everyday. Check it out at

In the land of Kafka

July 8, 2012


The dreaded VRU.  How did it come to be such a brick wall?  It’s a great tool for efficiency, of course- just not for us. No doubt it saves millions in staffing costs for companies, while creating a tedious, frustrating, and mind-numbing experience for those of us who spend infinitely more time navigating through the gauntlet of menus, only to find that none of them offer the right options- none offer a human. I’ll start to feel my blood pressure rising, the frustration growing, finally talking louder and louder to the VRU, as if I were talking to someone hard of hearing, saying, “I WANT A HUMAN!”, then getting the inevitably even-toned “I’m sorry, that is not a valid response. To return to the main menu, please press 1, now”.

It wouldn’t be so bad if there were always the option to speak to an agent, but many companies remove that option. Others offer it, but only after you’ve followed a path of automated responses that exhaust all possible functions the system has in its arsenal. The thing is, I don’t actually want to speak to a human. I’d much rather be able to solve everything through email or online. But sometimes, you can’t- and you really need to speak with someone, and it just shouldn’t have to be so hard.

Used the way they were intended, VRU’s have a place, providing answers to frequently asked questions, saving time and money- theoretically leaving more time for qualified agents to deal with more complicated issues. I get it.  They can be a tolerable evil, to a degree, as long as there’s always the option to speak to someone. It’s just plain irresponsible to omit an option to do so.

In the early days of web shopping, you practically had to have connections to get a phone number at Amazon. There was one- but you could not find it on the site. It simply wasn’t there. When my friend AMB got the number- it was a big score- and we all saved it in our address books for future reference. It was like having privileged information. They’ve come a long way since those days.

Even now, there are a surprising number of high-profile companies that don’t provide phone service at all. Companies that just can’t handle the volume, or plain don’t want to. Some surprisingly big companies in the mix. See “Tech Companies Leave Phone Calls Behind” in yesterday’s New York Times- Quora doesn’t provide a phone number at all. Twitter has one, but it hangs up after directing you to email. Facebook is no better. In the article, Amy O’Leary describes the  Linked In VRU cycle as a telephonic version of “Groundhog Day”. That pretty much sums it up.

And then…there are the times that speaking to an agent seems almost as existential as working your way through a VPU. Check out “The Theater of the Absurd” today in the NYT business section, for a humorous article on the subject, including a transcript of a baffling conversation between Alan Alda and a McAfee customer service agent, in which he says to her, “I am now in the land of  Kafka” after going around in ridiculous circles. Worth a read.

I wonder if Siri could help. Try asking her to get you an agent at <company name here>, and see what happens. Let me know how that works out. I’m a generation behind, on the iPhone 4, so wouldn’t know. It would be worth the upgrade if she has that kind of power.

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