I’m finally reading Ready Player One, Ernest Cline’s dystopian future sci-fi novel that’s chock full of awesome ’80s culture. It’s a fun read, accurately called a “nerdgasm” by John Scalzi.
Brief synopsis: In 2044, an energy crisis has resulted in widespread economic despair. The OASIS is a virtual reality simulator in which many people escape the depressing world. It functions as an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) and a virtual society. High school student Wade Watts spends his days seated in an old cargo van in a junkyard wearing his VR visor and haptic gloves, attending school inside the OASIS and hunting for OASIS creator James Halliday’s Easter egg. (Full synopsis here.)
“In the OASIS, you could create your own private planet, build a virtual mansion on it, furnish and decorate it however you liked, and invite a few thousand friends over for a party.” p.57
15% through the book, these were my first two thoughts, one somewhat unique to me and the other not at all:
OASIS users sit for hours or days on end. They probably take about 200 steps per day (bathroom breaks).
The OASIS replaces real life interaction like Facebook on steroids, and it’s a scary but fathomable progression.
Plenty of people have written about whether Facebook could become a sort of OASIS. It’s clearly on Zuckerberg’s radar with the acquisition of Oculus Rift in 2014, and the fact that the company hands every new employee a copy of Ready Player One. All covered.
What interests me is whether technology will make our future lifestyles even more sedentary and less interpersonally connected than they are today. In a world that enjoys VR more than IRL, we could really lose our ability to interact in a vulnerable, face-to-face manner. That’s already happening with smartphone addiction (social media and checking behaviors). People are more likely to complain on Facebook about daily offenses by neighbors, fellow drivers, or rude cashiers than to confront one another. But furthermore, in an increasingly virtual future, our bodies could either atrophy (if food becomes scarce) or expand even more (if foodstuff replaces real food and we subsist on cheap sugary cereal and microwave dinners). It’s not a pretty thought.
I like technology. I like the idea of free, globally accessible information. It just worries me that we’ll all be sitting on our asses not talking to each other even more. Instead of being thumbs deep, we’ll be retinas deep.
On the bright side, quite the opposite of Wade attending virtual school from his van, here’s an elementary school in California where students have standing desks. Bloodflow improves cognitive function and learning. Add in some VR use with open source global libraries and submersive educational experiences. Maintain real outdoor recess and give them standing desks – that’s promising.
I can’t remember the last time a Kroger cashier thanked me first. They’ve reduced the number of staffed checkout lines and replaced them with mostly self check-out, which is a topic for another post about stealing. So there is at least 60% less human interaction than there was fifteen years ago, and today’s interactions tend to be robotic and thankless.
Many Kroger stores have a great organic section and the prices are very competitive, so I tolerate it. Publix has an abysmal organic section with a few overpriced, bruised Fujis and some wilted lettuce for $6, but better customer service. I’d rather go to Kroger and pay less for better produce with a subpar checkout experience than get gouged at Publix for a mealy apple with a smile.
This may seem contradictory to the point of this post, but stay with me. In the end, I want value, and I’ve become accustomed to poor service because I live in this world. But I do one thing, which may make me seem rude, because I’m holding out for something better.
One woman who works the mailroom at my building doesn’t even say hello when a resident walks in. She just waits for you to ask for your package, then silently skulks off to fetch it. She hates her job. (She is the only bad egg there – the rest of the staff is pretty pleasant, and the manager is a real gem.) But interacting with her leaves a film of bad juju on you for at least an hour.
This is the opposite of customer delight. Remember my post about the clunky way that customers have to sign up for a Target RedCard? Similarly, in order to cancel your LA Fitness membership, you need to log in to LAFitness.com then print and either mail or bring in a cancellation form Monday-Friday, 9AM-5PM, when most people are at work. Here’s Step 1 after clicking on the form. It contains nothing more than your name and ID. You don’t even sign it. I enjoyed the irony of the third “choice”: you have to mail a hard copy but they cannot confirm receipt of said form unless you have an email address. Then why can’t it all be done via email? Of course it could. Nice retention model: inconvenience. The customer-last nature of that policy alone would compel me to cancel if I didn’t already have a bunch of reasons. (I haven’t been a member for years, I just return to this example because it’s so often salient when I talk about customer service.)
Make Eye Contact and Say Hello
It’s all too common that during a store checkout or badge swiping at a gym, the cashier or greeter senses your presence without looking up. Items are scanned or a key fob is swiped. There’s no eye contact or greeting. And there’s no “thank-you” afterward, unless it comes from the customer. Of course some businesses have excellent customer service, and Stan Phelps has collected some fantastic purple goldfish examples, but it seems to be increasingly rare.
Over time, the effect of being shuffled through impersonal assembly line transactions has a negative impact on all of us. And when a cashier at Whole Foods actually says hello, smiles, and thanks you, you don’t mind paying for the experience. Note: Whole Foods is only Whole Paycheck if you shop the aisles and buy pre-prepared foods.
The difference made by a cashier or server who makes eye contact, offers a greeting, and thanks me first upon payment is a contrast to most transactions. We’ve come to expect the exchange of money for goods to be mechanical. Where the customer is seen as polite by offering thanks first. (If the salesperson did something to help you, like finding your blouse size, of course thanking them first makes sense, because it’s for a specific action. But for the transaction itself, no.) The person taking the money should thank the customer first. And the customer should say, “you’re welcome, and thank you.” The order matters. Maybe this is why we love to shop online: although the thank-you page is automated, at least it happens in the right sequence.
Thank you for shopping with us today, [smile], we appreciate your business.
You’re welcome, and I look forward to returning.
I would like to close this with a strong statement like, “This is how you stay in business.” But that would be a lie, because tons of retailers and stores don’t train their employees to interact with gratitude and politeness, and these businesses are well in the black. Maybe our widespread addiction to phone checking, which really equals checking out of the present moment, has created a status quo in which rudeness is acceptable. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Either way, I’m holding out – I don’t thank first when I hand over money.
Here are five helpful resources about UX (user experience) design and copywriting. These are a great place for a beginner to start. If you’re already in marketing, you’re probably less of a beginner than you may think, if you’ve been paying attention. Pay attention all the time, especially when you’re the user. You know what feels good. Start to ask why that site is easy to use, and look for patterns. Screenshot landing pages and exit overlays that work or shopping carts that usher you along the purchase path. Research the design process of products that make everyday life easier.
The classic paperback rhetoric for writers, some copywriting tips, and these podcasts about design should prove informative for designers and marketers of various levels:
Simple and Direct by Jacques Barzun. In high school, my dad gave me this book to help me write more concisely, and I’ve kept the same copy at my desk ever since. It’s very University of Chicago, and it’s worth reviewing every couple years, especially if you write copy that users or customers are forced to read. Simplify.
“Principle 1. Have a point and make it by means of the best word.”
Design for the Human Brain
UX and UI design tips based on how our brains process information. Cognitive psychology is paramount to user centered design. Reduce cognitive load.
3 Fundamental User Onboarding Lessons from Classic Nintendo Games How to create good onboarding flow and inspire users to progress. Place emphasis on the naive user and value of external testing. Tetris “presents a world of perpetual uncompleted tasks” which stick in your memory, bugging your brain to finish. It’s the best example of the Zeigarnik Effect, or the “need to complete.”
After a MapMyRun jog last week, a Houlihan’s ad pop up promoting their Inspiralized Menu. I follow the trend toward healthier menus and food labeling transparency, so I tweeted about the ad from a marketing angle, not intending to promote the restaurant. The Houlihan’s social team picked up my post, took it as a compliment (which it really was), and mailed me a $25 gift card.
By 2016, 89% of brands expect to compete solely on customer experience (Gartner, 2014). This gift card is a great example of G.L.U.E. (Giving Little Unexpected Extras, as Stan Phelps calls it). I’ve been a fan of Stan’s marketing lagniappe concept for years. It refers to a little something extra thrown in for good measure.
It appears that Houlihan’s personally @ messages anyone who tweets about their brand with positive sentiment. Perhaps they utilize a more in-depth analysis resulting in only offering this reward to users with a certain amount of influence or likelihood to dine. Because any egghead can tweet about a brand; only certain tweets are really worth anything as far as advertising.
This begs the question: as marketers, should we invest time in harnessing social data and finding a formula for which users to reward, or just produce thousands of gift cards and offer them to anyone who tweets about our brand?
Even at the cost of the latter, what may seem like spaghetti on the wall is fine with me; marketing dollars are often squandered on mediums like TV, billboards, and display advertising that can’t be reliably measured. Some digital ad platforms have numerous deliverability issues and often abysmal conversion rates. Even on the more targeted and trackable side of cookies, drip campaigns, and big data-based social targeting, digital has become so personalized that nothing feels personal.
The Houlihan’s tactic of using social and snail mail is one-to-one marketing. What has become a throwback can stand out. Haven’t you noticed how popular TBT is? Digital is saturated, but is a great way to initially target. Identify customers there, then try reaching out via the postal service, or another method that will catch them a little off guard. Another promoted post might not cut it.
Better geo-targeting would be beneficial, however; only serve this ad to users who live near a Houlihan’s (the nearest location is 107 miles from me). Whether this acquisition pans out or not, I couldn’t help but feel more affinity toward the brand. And here I am writing about them. That is certainly worth their ~10 minutes of labor and $25 plus production and postage.
Houlihan’s Marketing – HQ, HouliFans, and PR
Houlihan’s has a successful history of using social media and WOM techniques to identify brand ambassadors and derive valuable information from them. SVP Marketing and Creative Director Jen Gulvik worked on the 2008 idea for HQ, an invite-only social network of engaged customers with insider news and one-on-one dialogue, resulting in a ready made focus group. It encouraged customer loyalty and resulted in revenue growth based on menu feedback.
Their marketing team continues to handle the brand with poise, recently diffusing a potential PR crisis on Facebook involving a veteran with a service dog being refused service in Algonquin, IL in May 2015. A mix of intuition and good data in digital plus differentiating lagniappes in the physical world will help keep their tables full.