Zyn·ga fa·tigue noun \zin-ga fə-ˈtēg\
1. When users spend an insane amount of hours playing Zynga’s addictive games but gain little or no meaningful lasting value; as a result, they are repulsed at the idea of playing another Zynga game or anything that resembles the dozens of lame games they’ve wasted thousands of hours on. Some people describe it as waking up from a bad dream.
In order to give great customer service you need to be willing to take a net loss on certain transactions. For many this is difficult to accept.
Yesterday I dropped off my car at the dealer for a repair and they called today saying that the repair will cost an additional $300 because they broke a part. I thought, shouldn’t they pay for a part that they broke? After 90 minutes of back and forth calling and talking to their manager, I managed to haggle a slight discount. But they had me by the balls… my car was in disrepair and I needed it fixed.
What struck me was the service advisor and the service manager’s absolute refusal to lose any money on this transaction. They should have just covered the cost of the part they broke but that would mean a net loss on the transaction. I would have been a happy, loyal customer, but instead I’m an angry, dissatisfied customer unlikely to go there again.
Companies that do great customer service understand that it’s okay to take a net loss on a transaction if it’s going to change a bad customer experience into a good one.
Amazon loses money when I return items. They change a bad experience into a good one, even if they lose money on the transaction.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I waited 40 minutes for our pizza at California Pizza Kitchen. The manager covered the entire bill without us asking (she also asked us if we wanted wine, appetizers, extra entree… all free of charge). It changed a bad experience into a good one.
Starbucks will take back (and throw away) any drink you don’t like and will remake one to your exact desire. And they do this without making you feel bad.
If I don’t like the food in a restaurant, I shouldn’t have to pay. Or I should be given a choice of another entree for free. Sure, some people might take advantage of it, but if you let the customer leave your restaurant having a bad experience the chances are they are never coming back. But if you take a net loss on one meal because the customer isn’t happy, you might have won them over for life. In other words, take the net loss of $20 in exchange for the possibility of winning that customer over as a lifetime happy customer ($1000+ value).
But it’s not just about the money.
Being willing to take a net loss in a transaction shows our customers that their satisfaction is more important to us than making a quick profit. It shows that we care about people first. And people appreciate that.
(Read some of my other Thoughts on Startups)
This past week I was faced with a difficult problem. A really difficult problem.
In fact, it was painfully difficult. And I was struck with a flood of emotions: fear, anxiety, despair, etc.
I just wanted to sleep and not deal with it.
But instead, I did the “Just look at it” hack.
The “Just look at it” hack is something I’ve been thinking about the past few weeks. The essence is that if you just face a challenging problem by looking at it, then your brain will naturally respond with creativity and ideas to overcome and solve the problem. In other words, you don’t need to try to solve the problem with your raw effort. Rather, just stare at the problem and let you brain do the work for you.
I printed out all my notes regarding my difficult problem onto two 8.5 x11 pieces of paper. And then I went to the couch in my living room, and just stared at it. I told myself, “you don’t need to solve it or fix it right away. You don’t need to do anything but just look at it and let your brain think about it.” So that’s what I did.
I sat for about an hour, just staring at the two pieces of paper and letting my brain do it’s work. Then, it started to happen. One by one ideas started to form and I began jotting them down. No magic moment of epiphany, yet.
I kept going and in another hour or two, I was getting epiphany. I had the solution to my really difficult problem. And my fear and despair turned to ecstatic relief and confidence.
So the next time you’re faced with a really difficult problem and you want to run away and not face it, try the “Just look at it” hack.
1. Jot down all the notes regarding your problem/challenge and print it out.
2. Just look at the printed notes and let your brain mull it over.
3. Keep at it. It’s ok if you start dozing. Just wake up and keep looking at the printed notes.
4. When inspiration comes, start taking notes. But keep going until you get the creative solution you need.
Great discussion on Hacker News regarding this post.
Slate.com ran an article last week titled I Want It Today: How Amazon’s ambitious new push for same-day delivery will destroy local retail. If you haven’t read it, it’s a good read. The gist of it is as follows:
But now Amazon has a new game. Now that it has agreed to collect sales taxes, the company can legally set up warehouses right inside some of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation. Why would it want to do that? Because Amazon’s new goal is to get stuff to you immediately—as soon as a few hours after you hit Buy.
Whether or not Amazon can pull it off is up for debate. But I’ve got a lot of respect for Amazon. Sure, they have great prices and selection. And I love Amazon Prime. But what stands out is their user empathy. They make the process of shopping as painless as possible. They try to provide objective customer reviews. They make returns easy.
But most of all, they respect their customers’ privacy. Amazon doesn’t sell my address or info to other 3rd party retailers. They don’t fill my mailbox with catalogs and junk mail. They understand I don’t want that.
Contrast that to Crate & Barrel. Sure, they’ve got great products. But when my wife buys something online, they put her on two mailing lists: one for the Crate & Barrel catalog and another called the “Rent List”. The “Rent List” is where they basically sell (or rent) your mailing address to other retailers. So, after buying something online at Crate & Barrel, we start getting catalogs from a bunch of retailers. That sucks.
The same thing happens for a lot of online retailers. I can’t buy stuff online at GAP or Banana Republic because they sell my mailing info. Lucky Brand as well. Probably most of the top online brands do that. Again, that sucks.
Sure, I can understand. They’ve been “monetizing” their customers info for many decades. Imagine, if you can make an extra $5 per person who buys something from your site by just selling their info to other retailers. That’s a significant profit margin. Why wouldn’t you do it? Well, the reason you wouldn’t do it is if you respected the customer’s privacy and had empathy. That’s what a lot of retailers are missing.
But for some reason Amazon’s got it. They’ve managed to build a successful business without selling their customers mailing info, and they make sure even if you buy in their Amazon Marketplace that third party retailers don’t mail you unsolicited catalogs or junk mail, or spam email.
If Amazon is successful at disrupting local retail, it will be because they’ve got user empathy in a retail world where it’s sorely lacking.
Google is slowly but surely becoming an “operating systems” company.
You can understand Google as a search company. But I think that’s where Google was at and maybe is where they’re at currently. But it’s not where they’re headed. Sure, Google will be in search for many years (and maybe decades) to come. But what is more important than search to Google is the operating systems that will run the platforms for tomorrow.
If Google can control the OS for mobile phones, then they can add all their services (search, maps, local, media, apps, mail, Youtube, google+, etc) into the OS on a deep level and ensure that they won’t become irrelevant. They know if they can control the OS, they can find a way to make money. That’s why they’re so fiercely dedicated to Android.
The same goes for Chrome OS. Google knows the web is advancing and that in the future the web will be 100s if not 1000s of times more powerful and capable than today, and will rival if not overtake existing desktop operating systems. Why go head on with Microsoft Windows when you can go in early on the next big operating system of the future, the web.
Google wants people on desktops and laptops to eventually do everything in the browser (run apps and services, access files and docs, etc). The Chromebook (which I didn’t find userful last year when I got one for free from Google I/O) is an early version of what Google sees for the future. Sure, it’s not that impressive. But so was the first Android phone (I had that one too and wasn’t impressed). But look at what Google did with Android. And now we can all watch what Google does with Chrome and Chrome OS.
Google knows that if it can achieve dominance in the browser market and eventual dominance is the browser-based OS market (ie., Chrome OS), then it will ensure that it’s relevancy to the user. In other words, if people are relying on Google for the OS/browser and all the services too, surely Google has a bright future ahead.
It’s obvious that Apple’s is Google’s biggest competitor in the mobile space. However, in the web space I’d say their biggest competitor is Facebook. Facebook is the closest thing to an operating system for the web. Sure, they’re not there yet but tons of the internet flows through the Facebook ecosystem. Facebook could go into Search (or search-related) fields and threaten Google’s cash cow. Facebook also could release a browser and integrate search more directly in the experience, making Google more irrelevant. Already Facebook has shown its intent by not letting Google index Facebook users and posts.
Google has other significant projects going on as well like Google+, Youtube, Local, Google Apps, Maps, Knowledge Graph, Google Now, etc. But it seems like they’re the most interested in the operating systems of the future and the key services that will support those operating systems. TV, @home, driveless cars, goggles, etc. will add need operating systems. Google wants to own the operating system and the key services, and they know if they can do that they will ensure their relevance and they’ll find a way to monetize.
Google’s transformation is a gradual, yet dramatic one. Welcome to Google, the operating systems company.
(This is Part 5 in a series about My Productivity System.)
The Pomodoro Technique has become an essential part to my focus management system. If you haven’t used the Pomodoro Technique, I encourage you to do so. And if you’ve tried it in the past but have given up on it, I encourage you to give it another try as part of a more comprehensive focus management system like the one I’m writing a series about currently.
WHAT’S THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE?
The Pomodoro Technique is described by Francesco Cirillo:
1. Choose a task to be accomplished.
2. Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes (the Pomodro is the timer*)
3. Work on the task until the Pomodor rings, then put a check on your sheet of paper.
4. Take a short break (5 minutes is OK)
5. Every 4 Pomodoros* take a longer break
*Francesco seems to call the timer a Pomodoro and also a 25 minute session a Pomodoro. For my purposes, I’ll call the timer a timer, and a 25 minute session a Pomodoro.
Here’s how I sum up the Pomodoro Technique: Use a timer to work in 25 minute sessions followed by 5 minute breaks.
1. GET SET UP WITH A TIMER
You can use a physical timer, or your phone, or whatever. I personally use My Little Pomodoro (mac app) which allows me to see the timer on my Mac desktop at all times.
To get the Pomodoro Technique really working, in my experience you really need to commit that you’ll use Pomodoros for all the work that you do (or at least for as much of the work day as possible).
Now that you’re set up, you’re ready to go.
2. START THE DAY WITH A POMODORO
It’s tempting to start the day by jumping into email and all the urgent tasks at the moment. Resist the temptation. Start your work day with your first Pomodoro (25 minute work session). During your first daily Pomodoro, the key is to organize your 3 Desired Outcomes of the day. This will allow you to get focused and will keep you accountable. I like to review my current notes regarding my daily focus area. For example, if I’m working on Product Features for Monday, I’ll review all my notes regarding Product Features. And then I’ll start listing out various tasks and things I want accomplished that day. I use a pen and pad for this. After I have about 10-15 tasks, I’ll then start to draft my 3 Desired Outcomes for the day. I’ll write them in past tense form; for example, “Login/Registration workflow drafted”. Usually a Desired Outcome ends up taking about 1-3 hours. Three Desired Outcomes usually takes me about 6 or so hours to do.
3. KNOW THAT GETTING STARTED IS ALWAYS THE HARDEST
I find this interesting phenomenon at work: the first 2-3 Pomodoros of each daily are usually the hardest to get through. This is when I have the most distractions. I want to reply to email, visit Hacker News & MacRumors, do other things, or just give up. The first 2-3 Pomodoros of the day I find myself fighting to keep focused. Without writing down my 3 Desired Outcomes of the day, I don’t know how I could break through this wall on a daily basis. The 3 Desired Outcomes gives me a goal that if I don’t reach by the end of the day, I’ll have to face my failure and the reasons why.
But here’s the other phenomenon: sometime after the 2nd or 3rd Pomodoro (roughly), I break into an extended time of extreme focus and productivity that surprises even myself. It’s like runner’s second wind. I feel like I can go on and on and on. And it feels great.
4. FOCUS ON YOUR 3 DESIRED OUTCOMES FIRST
I make sure to that my first 10-14 Pomodoros for the day are focused on my day’s 3 Desired Outcomes. And then toward the end of the day I’ll do another 3-4 Pomodoros on less important items like replying to email, organizing my desk, admin tasks, and other things unrelated to my daily focus area. Sometimes it’s a battle to keep focused on your 3 Desired Outcomes, but remember this: once you’ve finished your 3 Desired Outcomes of the day, you’ll know that you’ve finished the most important tasks for that day and you’ll feel great.
It’s a great challenge to know really what the most important tasks you need to be doing at the moment. I find that once I get started in my day, I start to inevitably face the challenges of the important tasks. Often, it’s discouraging and I’ll be tempted to do something less intense or less challenging. However, this is where the combination of the Pomodoro Technique and the 3 Desired Outcomes works miracles. I just keep plugging away. The 3 Desired Outcomes gives me my goal and the Pomodoros give me the means. If I just do one Pomodoro after another and keep focusing on the desired outcomes, I do some serious damage (in a good way). And before you know it, this behavior becomes a habit.
(Note: If something urgent comes up or I need to do something unrelated to my daily focus area, I might do less than 10 Pomodoros on my 3 Desired Outcomes, but this is rare. Also, if there’s an urgent deadline for a project, I might put in more than 14 Pomodoros on my 3 Desired Outcomes, but this is rare too.)
5. DON’T STOP THE CAR
Last month I was teaching my wife to drive manual (stick), and it’s amazing how easy stick shifting is if the car is already moving (ie., in 2nd gear). However, when the car is stopped and you need to get into 1st gear, it’s extremely difficult - too little gas, too much clutch, etc. Case in point: it takes a lot of energy to get something moving from a standstill.
The same is true with the work day. Once you get going, you want to avoid coming to a standstill and having to get yourself moving again. Even if you don’t know what you need to be doing, just start the timer and do your 25 minute work session. Sometimes (especially during the first few Pomodoros) I find myself just thinking about the task at hand for the entire 25 minute Pomodoro. And that’s ok. Actually that’s great. After I spend enough time thinking, I’m bound to find some kind of breakthrough.
Here’s the key to making the Pomodoro system work: Keep the timer going.
Don’t stop the timer, if possible. The timer is either counting down from 25 minutes (for a work session) or from 5 minutes (from a break)… or from 15-20 minutes for a longer break. Here’s a sample of from a typical day of mine:
9:00am - 1st Pomodoro (set daily 3 Desired Outcomes). 5 minute break.
9:30am - 2nd Pomodoro, 5 minute break.
10:30am - 3rd Pomodoro, 5 minute break
11:00am - 4th Pomodoro, 5 minute break (prep lunch)
11:30am - 5th Pomodoro, 20 minute break (lunch)
12:15pm − 6th Pomodoro, 5 minute break
The key though isn’t to schedule your Pomdoros. Rather, you let your Pomodoros schedule your day for you. Just follow the timer - 25 minutes work, 5 minutes break, 25 minutes work, 5 minutes break, etc.
If you do it right, your engine won’t reach standstill and you’re be in constant forward motion.
Hemingway had an interesting quote regarding how to avoid writer’s block:
The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.
I think a similar principle applies here with Pomodoros. By taking forced 5 minute breaks after every 25 minute work session, you’re usually ending your work session in the middle of something. You might be in the middle of a design or a deep thought. And then you take a break. Part of you doesn’t want to take a break because you want to finish what you’re working on. But this is where you need to obey the timer, and just take the break. By taking a break in the middle of something, it will naturally help you get started easier in your next work session.