Failed Sales Conversion – Santa Cruz Warriors

One of my first jobs was in Customer Service for Webgamezone, a company that later changed its name to RedOctane and produce the Guitar Hero videogame (yes, I was part of the team then too) franchise. I was on the front lines (I was told to “figure it out”) of dealing with hostile customers, but learned a lot in the process that people want to respected, listened to, and receive transparency.

[Edit: On March 16, I had a call with Gina Antoniello, Director of PR & Community Relations at the team. She was apologetic about the situation and explained what happened. Overall, she was friendly and understanding – I accepted the apology and hope that this won’t happen to future fans.]

That’s why I am very sensitive about customer service, and how often companies think dealing with customers as a cost center, and not a branding and loyalty growth opportunity.  I also often write about poor and disrespectful customer service that leads me to hate the company and stop using it.

Sports teams, unfortunately, are probably more prone to this problem. Teams with established fan bases often treat social media as a team-to-fan one way channel, with no need to address fan issues or reasonable direct-revenue fan questions. Where does a fan turn to when these things happen?

For example, the Golden State Warriors earned the Co-Retailer of the Year Award. Beyond this lofty recognition, which supposedly considers Customer Service as a factor, I can tell you that the Warriors Team Store has never answered one of my emails about purchasing the last few years.

But why should the Warriors care about me? They’re on top of the world – Stephen Curry and World Championships put them in good shape with or without me.

But how about the Santa Cruz Warriors, the Warriors’ minor league team that competes for 2,500 fans a night?

After attending the team’s 2nd ever home game, of which I enjoyed, I had been looking forward to going back. Then, I heard that Baron Davis (former Warrior great) had joined the NBA DLeague and would be playing in Santa Cruz. I messaged Baron on Twitter and asked if I could say hello and take a photo with him at the game. He gave me the thumbs up through a Like.

Wanting to be respectful of the teams and players, however, I wanted to ask the Santa Cruz Warriors the best way to do this – should I come early, where should I wait, etc. After all, the team was heavily promoting the Baron Davis visit to sell more tickets, and I was not asking anything unreasonable. I emailed the team (nearly a week in advance) through the email listed on its website, and sent messages on Facebook and Twitter. A few days later, I followed up on my email. Facebook showed that the Warriors read my Facebook (private) message.

The Warriors never replied. As the week closed along with forecasts of rain, I became more hesitant about going to the game. Not only would the weather be bad, (I would have a lengthy drive as well) but the Warriors did not seem to care about me as a fan and answer a simple question.

When Sunday (yesterday) came, I decided to not go. In addition, this experience has soured me on not going in the future. In past years, the Santa Cruz Warriors have also not answered my emails (about purchasing game-used jerseys) and messages (about being unable to unsubscribe from their promotional emails), and this experience has been a new reminder that the Warriors do not care. Unlike the Golden State Warriors, which could claim they get too many messages to reply to, the Santa Cruz Warriors average about 20 messages per day on Twitter. Why support private messaging and emails if you have no intention to reply?

Ultimately, it turned out that Baron didn’t play due to a minor calf injury. This somewhat validated my decision to not go, and general fear of missing out (FOMO). However, the Warriors game sold out, so I guess the team can say they didn’t need / want me to come anyway.

Thanks, Santa Cruz Warriors. Do not count on me for future sales or positive recommendations.

10 Things to Learn from Poor Economics (by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo)

imagePoor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty from Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo, has a very simple theme: every thing you thought about fighting poverty and people in poverty is wrong. They do not actually state this in that way, but over the course of the book, I realized that every blanket and lazy assumption I had ever thought (the poor are poor because they are lazy, the poor cannot be given things for free, the poor are too poor to pay for things) was wrong.

What is important, however, is that Banerjee and Duflo discuss in detail, when these certain assumptions or theories can work, and with whom, and why they do not work. From the book, you get a detailed understanding of their endless cycles of “why?” something happens, and then why the following something happens, using statistical examples all over the world. There’s no time wasted on endless armchair-at-home theory, it’s just real world testing providing proof.

My recommended takeaway from the book is never accept a blanket theory or simplified solution from a politician (or other economists) regarding poverty again. There are many things that can help, but none is a genius solution. Every single thing you can think of can probably help, but instead of choosing the cool one of the day (microfinance! government subsidies! education! first world aid!), we must realize that these are all required to slowly help people from their poverty traps. Beyond this, embrace a more empathic understanding of the poor all over the world.

Here are 10 things to learn from Poor Economics (these are quotes with my comments in []):

1) Economists (and other experts) seem to have very little useful to say about way some countries grow and others do not … But the truth is, we are largely incapable of predicting where growth will happen, and we don’t understand very well why things suddenly fire up.

2) … although we have no magic bullets to eradicate poverty, no one-shot cure-all, we do know a number of things about how to improve the lives of the poor. In particular, five key lessons emerge.

First, the poor often lack critical pieces of information and believe things are not true [examples: benefits of immunizing children; value of education, even just a few years; what politicians actually do; how HIV is contracted] … Citizens who vote in the dark are more likely to vote for someone of their ethnic group [reasoning that at least someone of the same group may provide a little help], at the cost of increasing bigotry and corruption … an information campaign must have several features: It must say something that people don’t already know … must do so in an attractive and simple way … must come from a credible source.

3) Second, the poor bear responsibility for too many aspects of their lives. The richer you are, the more the “right” decisions are made for you. The poor have no piped water, and therefore do no benefit from the chlorine that the city government puts into the water supply. [think of this as, in the United States, you are in forced to live a certain way and pay taxes for it. You have clean, running water, fluoride to protect your teeth, mandatory immunizations, taxes to cover Medicare and Social Security retirement. You have to participate in these programs, and in some ways, these protect you from being completely screwed. The poor do not have these programs and suffer in productivity because of extra disease and risk when something bad happens]

4) [Third] The poor get a negative interest rate from their savings accounts (if they are lucky enough to have an account) and pay exorbitant rates on their loans (if they can get one) because handling even a small quantity of money entails a fixed cost. [The people who need financial help the most are most unable to get it. 20% interest loans would be considered fantastic to the poor, but theft to the non-poor; credit card rates are 20%. Despite this, it is difficult for financial institutions to support these institutions because of the risk, admin work, and relatively low returns involved] The market for health insurance for the poor has not developed, despite the devastating effects of serious health problems in their lives, because the limited insurance options that can be sustained in the market (catastrophic health insurance, formulaic weather insurance) are not what the poor want.

5) The mistrust of free distribution of goods and services among various experts has probably gone too far, even from a pure cost-benefit point of view. It often ends up being cheaper, per person served, to distribute a service for free than to try to extract a nominal fee. In some cases, it may involve ensuring that the price of a product sold by the market is attractive enough to allow the market to develop. For example, governments could … distribute vouchers that parents can take to any school … It is important to keep in mind that these subsidized markets need to be carefully regulated to ensure they function well. For example, school vouchers work well when all parents have a way of figuring out the right school for their child; otherwise, they can turn into a way of giving even more of an advantage to savvy parents.

6) [Four] Many of these failures are less to do with some grand conspiracy of the elites to maintain their hold on the economy and more to do with some avoidable flaw in the detailed design of policies and the ubiquitous three I’s: ignorance, ideology, and inertia. … The fad of the moment (be it damns, barefoot doctors, microcredit, or whatever) it turned into a policy with any attention to the reality within which it is supposed to function.

7) A small revolution can be achieved by making sure that everyone is invited [explicitly] to village meetings; by monitoring government works and holding them accountable for failures in performing their duties by monitoring government politicians at all levels and share this information with voters … [the book mentions that just by having political voting, even if it is considered pre-determined, can improve things by creating an early level of accountability]

8) [Five] Finally, expectations about what people are able or unable to do all too often end up turning into self-fulfilling prophecies. Children give up on school when their teachers (and sometimes their parents) signal to them that they are not smart enough to master the curriculum; fruit sellers don’t make the effort to repay their debt because they expect that they will fall back into debt very quickly; nurses stop coming to work because nobody expects them to be there …

9) Small changes can have big effects. … Kids in Kenya who were treated for their worms at school for two years, rather than one (at the cost of $1.36 USD PPP per child and per year, all included), earned 20 percent more as adults every day, meaning $3,269 USD PPP over a lifetime.

10) Poverty has been with us for many thousands of years. If we have to wait another fifty or hundred years for the end of poverty, so be it. At least we can stop pretending there is some solution at hand…

10 Things to Learn from Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy

imageIt has been a couple of years since I read Dev Petnaik’s Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy, so I was glad to find my notes and highlights from the reading to review. Empathy, in my opinion, is the most critical attribute to have in managing people and developing products. It’s the biggest reason for the success in my professional career thus far, and I use it to constantly reassess how I can improve in both aspects.

I think failing to talk to people, to understand why people have certain experiences or opinions, that willingness to “pound the pavement”, as I once heard a friend say, takes away a tremendous tool in your potential. Empathy allows you to accept that you (no, that guy is not just dumb) are wrong, and improve yourself.

Here are 10 notable quotes to remember from Wired to Care:

1) Based on her work, companies as diverse as Boeing, Merck, and Toyota developed new offerings that grew their businesses and differentiated their products. It turns out that senior citizens aren’t just some niche market—they reflect unarticulated needs that many of us have. When you make doors that are easier for seniors to open, you make life easier for all of us, young and old. Through her work, Pattie Moore has helped to make life a little bit more livable for people in many parts of the world.

2) [Harley Davidson] the company was on the verge of bankruptcy as strong Japanese competitors eroded market share and introduced cheaper, lighter models that undercut all of Harley’s product line. In response, Harley refocused its attention away from itself and onto the people who rode its motorcycles. They energized the Harley Owners Group into an army of evangelists. Harley transformed itself into an icon of American freedom. The widespread empathy that Harley employees had for riders helped them make a thousand better decisions every day.

3) In keeping IBM together, Lou Gerstner defied the advice of Wall Street analysts, competitors, and even some of his own lieutenants. He was able to transcend a barrage of bad information because he possessed contextual knowledge that others lacked: the experience of being an IBM customer. The existence of category specialists like Oracle and Intel wasn’t an argument to break up the company. On the contrary, it was because there were so many specialty players that an integrator was needed. Corporate customers simply didn’t want to get into the business of designing their own multiplatform technology solutions.

4) The challenges facing the makers of Tubbs Snowshoes going forward reflect an important truth of the global economy: It’s much harder to succeed when you create things for people you don’t know and whose lives seem alien to your own. When companies make products for people who live far away from them, they often make silly mistakes in their design and marketing. These mistakes are caused at least in part by linguistic and cultural differences.

5) During their heyday, U.S. automakers created programs that gave their top managers use of their latest vehicles for next to nothing. Senior executives didn’t even have to pump their own gas. At the same time, auto companies created the A Plan, which offered every employee a deep discount any time they decided to buy a new car. Those discounts applied to friends and family of employees, too. Anyone connected to a car company could buy a brand-new American car at prices below wholesale. While this made it great to be a car company employee, it also served to make people at car companies different from the rest of us. Drivers in Detroit switch cars more often and for less money than people anywhere else in the country.

Many of Detroit’s problems stem from the fact that decision makers have little incentive to try out other manufacturers’ cars. They don’t view the market through the eyes of ordinary Americans.

6) The neuroscientists called their discovery “mirror neurons” because they allow us to replicate in our heads what we see other people doing. Remarkably, mirror neurons not only light up when we perform an action, but also when we watch someone else perform an action. If you turn a page in a book, a specific set of mirror neurons lights up. If you watch someone else turn a page, the same set of mirror neurons lights up. And that’s not all. Incredibly, even if someone just describes page-turning to you, a similar set of mirror neurons will light up.

This makes mirror neurons incredibly important for learning. When you watch someone else expertly dribble a basketball, your mirror neurons start to help you learn how to get better at it yourself. On a subconscious level, we learn just by watching. The most incredible power of mirror neurons, however, is their ability to pick up on tacit information about other people. They do more than help you learn; they help you experience other people’s lives.

7) [Empathy in organizational change] Real strategy is the aggregate of thousands of decisions that employees make over time. When you improve those decisions, you improve your strategy.

8) Target corporate headquarters used to be the same way. It wasn’t unusual to see executives wearing the same clothes that they helped put on the shelves. That changed in 2004 when Target created a strict dress code requiring formal business attire. Changing the dress code created two obstacles to empathy. First, Targeteers no longer looked like their customers. Second, and more important, they now had to shop at other stores to buy clothing that was more suitable for work.

9) In its New York offices is a wall covered with hundreds of lost gloves, all hanging in neat rows. The gloves range from fashionable ladies’ gloves to construction workers’ gloves to children’s mittens. Whenever OXO employees find a lost glove on the street, they bring it into the office and hang it on the wall. It serves as a reminder of all the different kinds of people and all the different kinds of hands that OXO products need to fit.

10) They have understanding without empathy. That can result in a lot of really awful solutions. People start making geriatric kitchen devices that they themselves would never think of buying. They shrug and say that this is what the customer wants. They have some understanding of the outside world, but they still view that world as a weird place, populated by people who are not like them.