I’m an American

Note to Readers: This is fiction.

The security line stretched from the screener checkpoint back through the boarding pass/I.D. checkers, and around the Disney-esque, maze-like lanes almost to the street. It was a Friday afternoon. TSA agents hated Fridays. Passengers waxed surly from long workweeks. Businessmen wanted to get home; weekend travelers wanted to escape the clutches of the hum drum and start their weekend away. It was hot. Tempers had risen with the heat, and Orange County’s toney airport lost its allure that day. Some passengers over-challenged their deodorant.

People in my line chatted about the weather, the crowding, the latest Apple announcement, the falling stock market, rising interest rates . We even dipped into the taboo subjects of sex, religion, and politics to divert our attention from the heat. We tacitly shared the need for a respite from this intolerable degradation, and tried to remain civil in an uncivil situation, gritting our teeth against the noticeable diminution of our freedoms in the name of national security.

At random intervals, as we all know by now in today’s post 9/11 traveling protocol, passengers are tapped from the parade to experience closer scrutiny. Same-sex agents pass wands under arms, across the back and buttocks, and around calves and feet. LikCowe slaughter animals, we submit to these annoying intrusions in the hopes of avoiding being passengers on a 9/11 replay. I imagine casually dressed terrorists tittering behind invisible sunglasses, hiding their amusement behind their eyelids, hoping no one notices the slight movement of lips suppressing smirks at our shenanigans.

She was three people ahead of me. She was a blond of unclear age with perfectly pert Orange County breasts, tight face-lifted skin, and equally tight designer Capri jeans hovering taut over French-manicured toe-nails splayed on one-inch-heel rhinestone-studded sandals. She was picked to be scanned that day.

You can’t do this to me! I’m not a terrorist,” she shrieked. “I will not stand for this!” She had that look in her eyes – the look of fear mingled with indignation and outright anger. She couldn’t suppress it in the heat and in her rush to leave town. We knew the feeling; we had managed to swallow the bitter medicine, hating every minute.

“Calm down, Miss,” a male agent approached slowly, gently.

“Don’t touch me. Don’t come near me. I don’t have to do this. I’m an American!”

 We silently cheered her, those of the rest of us who still claimed a vestige of national patriotism remembering what made this country great, besting our poor northern and southern continental stepsisters with every turn and by every measure.

“It’s the law, Miss. Please step this way,” a female TSA agent had taken over, hoping to diffuse the male/female element. “It’s just a random sampling. We have no way of knowing who is picked. It comes from the computer is all,” she purred.

God damn it. You people think you’re going to stop terrorism by picking on innocent women? Forget it. I’m flying on this airplane whether you like it or not.”

The people in line grew quiet, watching the scene unfold like a schoolyard fight. No one wanted the bully airline to win, and silently cheered for our scrappy, salon-preserved blond emissary. But we were conflicted.   We hoped the terrorists weren’t watching. Would they see a weakness? And what if she was indeed a terrorist? What if she was a plant to test the system? On the other hand, what if she was just regular, feisty, independent American, pissed at the outrage?

Four security officers appeared out of nowhere. “Ma’am, come with us. We can’t let you fly today and we have to keep the line moving. Please, ma’am. This is for everyone’s protection. We will refund your ticket right away.”

            The guard spoke loudly so enough people in the front of the lines heard the matter of fact tone that was neither accusatory nor inflammatory. Justice was done amicably. The offender of the system, the lemming who chose not to follow the rest of us off the cliff of compliance, was removed as if by vacuum. The enforcers were trained to be benign and emotionless, as if they had just walked out of George Orwell’s novel 1984.

“What happened to that woman?” I asked as I came through on another trip the following week … “the blond who went nuts when she was asked to be scanned?”

“We gave her her money back and she bought a ticket on another airline. She was as meek as a kitten,” the agent said. “But it made for an interesting day, at least.”

An interesting day. A break in the boredom of shuffling people through the new existence the terrorists have created for us. I hear a sound – a low hum. It’s a distant rising drone that grows louder very day. It’s our diluted freedoms seeping upward through the ground of our continent, evaporating for now, but forcing upward like magma under the earth’s cap. It will either blow up into the atmosphere and fall useless like so much ash, or spew large, angry powerful rocks we can pick up and thrust at our oppressors, forming a new land, powerful and strong against those that want to take away that which we fought for when we founded this, the most wonderful, richest, and free country on earth.

I am an American, damn it.

Basket Envy

Have you seen it at Costco? It’s almost a sport. People peek over the top of others’ overstuffed shopping carts… on the way IN and on the way OUT! On the way IN they’re saying, “What do I need to look for once I get in?” On the way OUT, they say (I’ve actually heard it), “Oh Honey, look what we missed!” It’s a metaphor for life these days. “Hey, fella, what do you have in your basket that I might want? What am I missing?” Both feed Social Media. What if you miss out today?

What if you do? So what?

Indeed SO WHAT? Don’t succumb to basket envy. You can catch it later.

IKEA Virgin

Have you been to an IKEA store recently?

Back in 2006, we opened season on sending our last son to college. We went to IKEA. I had heard stories, the sagas of the seasons passing during an IKEA visit, but I thought these people must have been exaggerating. They were not. IKEA makes Costco look like a backyard excursion in comparison to the global circumnavigation posed by an IKEA store visit.

 We were in the store for 5 ½ hours.

It was an experience I did not soon reprise: I haven’t been back in nine years. The store was well organized, well lit, fairly well staffed, and clean. It is also cheap and, the 5½ hours notwithstanding, it saves time, which is a particularly important commodity in a working person’s life. For instance, my husband is a lot of things, but he is not a shopper. IKEA is a store for the shoppers of us, but in reality, it’s a store for non-shoppers as well. Why? Because it gets the entire shopping thing done in one, long, grueling, gut-wrenching, foot-searing, back-aching, self-helping, mind-numbing session. In short, you’re your own decorator, designer, shopper, warehouseman, and delivery boy. DON’T FORGET: Bring room dimensions, or you’ll probably end up back there again!

Also, come to your visit with an empty, large vehicle, room on your credit card, and a couple of able bodied, but skinny people that can heft the furniture pieces, but also squeeze into the leftover crevices in your “personal moving van” to get the stuff home.

It’s 2015 today and as I said, I haven’t been back there. I do remember being impressed by the organization and the high-tech environment nine years ago. Everything had a place. Touch screens dotted the pickup area to help you find your items in their vast find-it-yourself warehouse. Thank goodness for numbers! (Who invented those anyway?) Bin numbers, SKUs and part numbers managed the inventory; employees in yellow shirts managed the flow of parts and people.

The food offering (IKEA knew that they should feed customers who would be spending the better part of 24 hours in their clutches) counter-balanced the vastness of the store’s inventory by its marked sparseness: they were out of three food items. There were, however, piles of suspicious looking signature Swedish meatballs, which they promoted with massive colorful signage, take-home offers, and daily specials. I wonder if they’re always on special just to get rid of them.

The store we visited was 28,500 square meters, or about 306,711 square feet. A typical American football field is 57,600 square feet, so we’re talking about five football fields here. We slogged through the stupid thing at least twice, going back to look at different things so our son could mix and match and create his very own college room décor. I found myself biting my lip at some of his choices, but he was spreading his wings and I was grinning maniacally as the grateful almost empty nester.

So while I used to be an IKEA virgin, I am now knowledgeable in the ways of what was then a brave new retail world wonder. As with that other rite of passage, I feel somewhat sullied, but no longer afraid of the unknown. In this case I have sore feet to prove my passage…

Meanwhile, we did right by our college-bound child. He needed stuff, and stuff they had. Lots. Everywhere.

Packaging?!?!!!!

ImageReally? Seriously? Ah, come on… I don’t see how the boxes of crackers can get any smaller, the packages of cookies any littler, the ice cream containers any tinier, or the chip bags any more filled with air (and NOT product).  Do they think we don’t notice? Do they think we’ll be glad there’s less so we won’t eat as much? Do they think we appreciate that we don’t have to carry so many bags to the car from the grocery store? Do they think we are glad we have smaller boxes to clutter landfill? What?  I said REALLY????!!

I feel seriously ripped off. I just wanted to let them know that we are paying attention out here. Thanks for listening.

 

Curated Brands

Curated Brands

Image
The Getty

When is a post not a post? Hah. This post popped up on Twitter, but has yet to drop here.  It’s a mystery. Here it is today in my blog, and I hope it’s not a repeat for my followers.

Until now,  I did not tend to think of “brands” as being curated.  I think of museum pieces being curated. I think of a curator as in the Wikipedia sense:   “…from Latin, curare meaning “take care”). A curator is a manager or overseer. Traditionally, a curator or keeper of a cultural heritage institution (e.g. gallery, museum, library) is a content specialist responsible for an institution’s collections and involved with the interpretation of heritage material. The object of a traditional curator’s concern necessarily involves tangible objects of some sort, whether it be artwork, collectibles, historic items or scientific collections.”

More things are being curated these days:  I see in the business world the brand manager as curator, in that he or she is responsible for how that brand enters the marketplace and where it is placed relative to other brands. In the same way a museum only shows a selection of its collection, the brand manager strives to show the finest assets of the brand. Or they may choose to carefully and thoughtfully promote their brand to certain demographics, focused on a narrowly defined customer experience.

The curated brands in a recent USA Today article included Gilt, Target, and Apple. The piece was about AC Hotels by Marriott, and the journalist described the AC Hotel target audience as younger travelers, that the experience would essentially be more “tech-y” and hip. [my words]

Another place to look for curated material is at TED.com.  Nowadays, you can find someone you respect/love/would like to know/never heard of/ and see which TED talks they have in their curated collection.  It tells you a lot about that person by seeing how they would curate the thousands of TED talks.

My goal: to curate my own brand. Not there yet, but it is food for thought. Besides, it sounds so cool.

User Experience UX/Customer Experience CX

Some people argue that UX and CX are different. I don’t think so really. Whichever you call it, CX and UX may be the latest rage, but they are not new. It was called customer-centered business back in the 50s(!) as “invented” by Peter Drucker.  They called it TQM (Total Quality Management) or Six Sigma from the 80s and 90s. Maybe you could call it Steve Jobs from the 00s.

If CX/UX has been in the business lore for over fifty years, why is it renamed, rehashed, recycled and revisited every decade or so? By renaming it does the business community hope it will stick this time? Hah. It’s not the concept that is broken. It is the execution of the theory that is difficult.

Here’s what we know from The Customer Experience Revolution by Jeofrey Bean. Every muscle, brain cell, organ, and liquid part of every person who works for a company must have the same vision and energy. That is: to maximize their customers’ experience with their product or service, yielding one totally delighted customer.  Anything less undermines and weakens the role the company plays in the marketplace, leaving that company at the mercy of their competitors.

So while it sounds easy, the difficulty lies in the fact that everyone in the company from the CEO to the file clerk needs to be on board or CX will not work. In other words, everyone must drink the Kool-Aid.

It’s particularly hard because everyone doesn’t agree, and things change. But you must be strong.  If there are people or departments that do not follow your lead, it’s like lowering the drawbridge over your castle’s moat, allowing easy entry to your company’s unprotected bastion.

Windsor CastleAs CEO (or small business owner), you may be standing alone along the parapet, with your brave knights falling down around your heels, arrows through their hearts, piercing the armor they put on after their shower earlier in the month. Their shields were not strong enough. They did not defend the brand, the vision, the culture, because they did not believe it would work. But you must be tough because if you let the bridge down, even a little, your competition will know it. They will charge in and all is lost.  Don’t let the drawbridge down. Protect your brand with all your heart, and a re-commitment to CX.

UX/CX Part 2

Windsor CastleYour defenders ring the ramparts. You’re ready. Cannons are manned. Piles of extra arrows in the form of solid commitments to UX lay at the feet of your sales team. Customer service team leaders have plenty of ammunition. They are loaded down with careful, happy scripts and working headphones. Their computer monitors hold reactive inventory lists – selected from the best user-experience company roundtables in your industry.  We want this; we need that. Your company listened and acted.

Your competitors surround you astride headstrong horses, their breath visible in the cool morning air. These marauders are ready to tear down your hard-won market share. You have done your homework, though. Your customers are deliriously happy. The walls hold. Good job.