Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Lesson in Offensive Driving

In the last week I've added 1,400 miles to my odometer. It's hard to drive 5 miles without encountering someone attempting a boneheaded maneuver, or has learned horrible habits from other poorly trained drivers. My recent trip was full of encounters with these people.

Of the ill considered practices that I encountered, none was more prevalent nor more annoying than when a driver accelerates as a vehicle that was traveling faster attempts to pass. I witnessed this over and over, sometimes I was in the faster vehicle, sometimes it was someone else, sometimes the faster vehicle managed to pass, others the slower vehicle accelerated enough or cut off the faster. It was a plague throughout Pennsylvania and Ohio.

The worst part about this is that it doesn't make any sense. If someone is going faster than you, and wants to continue going faster than you, why would you take actions to ensure that they cannot go past you? The safest thing to do is to allow that person to pass.

At the very least, do not slow back down. The only reason I can fathom for that action is to tell the other person that you think they're going too fast. That's not your job, unless you happen to be a member of the police with jurisdiction over that stretch of road. If someone is really going that fast then the safest action is to stay out of their way, keep your eyes open, and hope that they can speed along on their merry way. Getting in front of these people to slow them down only incites them to take dangerous actions to try to overtake you.

I understand a few scenarios for this behavior, and in some cases it's justified. If the faster person will have to make a dangerous maneuver to pass you then it's acceptable to either slow down or speed up a bit to force them to pass you later. Another scenario is when you're attempting to save gas and effort by using cruise control, then this other person is not passing you fast enough, so you have to get in front of them to maintain your speed. You should weigh the difference in speed that you would have to decrease due to them versus the amount of speed you would cause them to decrease by getting in front of them. As soon as you possibly can you should get to the right to let the other person pass. If you just decided that you want to go faster, wait until they pass or at least try not to slow them down. There are extenuating circumstances for everything, and if you're courteous then other drivers should appreciate that you tried.

The only other way that I can make sense of this behavior is libido, in the form of a belief of entitlement and boy-racer machismo. These are just wrong. If you think you are more entitled to any piece of public road than the next person, I'd love to hear why. I'd also love hear how you know that they are less entitled. Keep in mind that many states have laws stating that you should keep right except to pass and some even require that you yield to faster traffic, with no mention of speed limit.

There's really nothing worse than boy-racer machismo. It's always funny to see the hypocrisy when someone pulls a boy-racer maneuver to try to thwart a boy-racer. You can't sink to another's level and then try to act better than they are. It doesn't work that way. If you turn someone else's desire to pass you into a drag race then you're not just being stupid, you're being ridiculous. You're encouraging them to do something dangerous, and thus endangering yourself and innocent bystanders.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Idea: Netfix Discount For Postal Workers

It seems like every few weeks I read a story about a postal worker being arrested for stealing Netflix envelopes, or a customer whose account is canceled due to unusual amounts of lost discs. If we know that some postal workers, who I believe are mostly honest and law abiding, can't resist nabbing a few of those bright red envelopes then why don't we do something about it besides to further criminalize them?

My solution would be to steeply discount the membership fees for postal workers. I thought about free, but that would only work if they could strike a deal with the USPS. That deal would likely violate some sort of law, so a nominal fee really is required.

The key word is nominal, though. If you want to remove the temptation of theft then you have to make staying honest the better deal. As the music industry laments, it's hard to compete with free. If postal workers paid half price it would be a good deal, and it would bring it well within the range of affordability. Anything higher than that price probably wouldn't change anything, so it isn't worth it.

There are numerous other advantages to this, some are less quantifiable than others. The first is a small PR campaign showing that you care about the people who provide your service, from end to end. It's a great token gesture for the people who provide you extremely cheap shipping and keep your business going. Another big advantage is that you'll be creating fans out of people who already work for you. Sometimes you need to boost a vendors morale to get the results you want. Imagine the reverence your mailers will receive when the Postal carrier using them is part of the club.

Postal workers are a natural customer for Netflix. For them, returning a movie is as easy as going to work. I think that a discount like this could be a win for both organizations.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Seth Godin on Customer Retention

Last week I lamented our experience with the attempt to cancel our Vonage service. I couldn't help but think of that as I read Seth's blog today. Although his experience was different than mine, it illustrates the opposite end of the same concept.

Last week, my company switched providers of an expensive commodity. The company we had been with realized we were moving on and moved into high gear to keep the account. At one point, it was clear that they could have gone into war room-mode, denigrating our decision, criticizing the new company and scorching the earth. I watched the gears turn, though, and saw them take a different path.
Then later...
That company we switched from last week? Instead of ruining our relationship and criticizing our judgment, they kept the door open. They congratulated us on our growth and earned the right to work with us again one day.
See the difference in the tone [theirs and his] and the experience? Great customer service also means knowing how to say goodbye.

Monday, March 3, 2008

No Further Remorse for Vonage

Just as I'd started to have a little remorse over my decision to leave Vonage, my wife gave them a call. Their customer service was terrible. My wife came away upset and more ready to leave, and never return, than ever. Unfortunately, she wasn't even able to get what she wanted to done.

First, why do I have to cancel my account within business hours? If you have CSRs available 24/7 then you should be able to make account changes during that time. Checking a box to cancel an account, which I should be able to do from my computer anyway, is not something that requires a lot of training, time, or money.

Then, they ask for verification by using information that you may not have readily available, and not every CSR asks for the same things. She was disconnected twice while trying to retrieve this information. Once you get past this step, the person verifying the information can't even help you deactivate your account. You have to be transferred to "someone who can."

Enter the dreaded Retention Specialist. These are the people who are willing to do everything to get you to stay, but will argue forever if you still want to leave. These people will offer you deals, and they're great if you really want to stay. My wife wanted to leave. The other person wanted her to stay, but could only offer a small concession on price and some magic benefit where if there were a hurricane people could somehow stay in touch with her. In the end she was disconnected again.

The specialist left us a snotty voicemail saying he was sorry that she hung up on him and she'd have to call back to finish the disconnect. I'm inclined to believe that she did not hang up on him, but hearing the complete story I feel she'd be justified in doing so. The funny thing is that he left the voicemail on our Vonage service, which we don't use anymore.

In the end, I have no more remorse. Even if the cable company screws me by raising the price down the line, they've had excellent customer service for the last few years, so I'll be fine with it. If I do leave and look for another VoIP solution (I'll probably just get rid of the home phone completely in that case) then I won't look to Vonage. They hassled my wife for over an hour with what should have been a 2 minute procedure, or a 30 second one that she could complete on her own.

Vonage, please fire/reassign every retention specialist. They don't work the way you want them to. For every customer you save using a retention specialist you piss off five more to the point that they'll never consider your service again. Focus your money on excellence and value of service and you'll have less customers even considering leaving. Make leaving easy and make returning even easier, and you'll win back customers if your competitors aren't up to the challenge.