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Print, Slowly March 30, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings.
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I recently wrote about the demise of print media, lamenting the loss of PC Magazine as they shifted to an online-only distribution model. I received a lot of sympathetic email from people who also liked printed magazines. We all agreed that the world really needs printed media.

With such a fan base, why do print magazines make it so hard to subscribe to them? Subscribing to a magazine is, by far, the longest and most tedious process on the web.

With PC Magazine gone, I had a slot available in my reading hierarchy. In my world, you must always read the more transient items ahead of the less transient. Thus, you should read any available newspapers first, followed by any available magazines, and then any books you have on hand. I find that bringing rigid rules and structure to a relaxing pastime like reading makes it that much more compatible with a compulsive lifestyle.

I decided to replace PC Magazine with Wired. I had abandoned Wired years ago, when its propensity for ransom-note typography and “we’re too avant-garde for you” layout made the magazine illegible. Nonetheless, I had recently picked up an issue while traveling and found it much improved. At $1 an issue, a subscription was hard to resist.

I went to the Wired website and ordered the magazine. That was six weeks ago. I still haven’t received my first issue! In a time when second-day delivery is considered to be the slow, economical choice, taking six weeks to get anything is incomprehensible. I can go online and order a custom-made dress shirt and get it sooner! Why can’t I get a magazine in a few days?

I know why: my subscription was processed by some aggregating service center in Iowa and dropped into the Wired subscriber database. I’ll get a magazine when the next issue is mailed. This is the model the magazine industry has used for about 100 years. They’ll continue to use it until the last issue is sent to the last subscriber, about ten years from now.

Here’s a bold, out of the box idea: print a few extra copies of the magazine and keep them in Iowa. When my subscription arrives, send me a copy of the current issue right away. Even if I’ve already read it, the quicker response will earn you brownie points. You could even start my subscription with the next issue and spot me the current issue in the interest of (gasp) good customer service.

Will this happen? I doubt it. I fear that the print industry has all but given up. Their only focus is on making some sort of transition to online delivery that can still pay the bills. Rather than finding a way to make print work with a receptive audience using modern technologies, they are chasing the trailing edge of digital technologies with clumsy efforts at blogs and such.

It’s sad to realize that we live at the end of an era: 550 years of printing, drawing to a close.  We’re witnesses to history, but will be left with no way to permanently write it down.

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Coping With Change December 22, 2008

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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In days gone by, cashiers gave change by counting up.  Starting from the purchase amount, you received pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters until a whole dollar amount was reached.  You then got ones, fives, tens, and twenties to complete your change.  Cashiers invariably counted as they disbursed the money, so you could check to make sure it was correct.  In the end, you had change in your hand, topped by bills, in order.  You could hold on to the change while you put the bills away, and then put the change in your pocket or purse.  Simple, straightforward, easy.

Not anymore.  Having eliminated basic math from the skill set of modern cashiers, the register point-of-sale terminal now computes the change, leaving the cashier to withdraw that much money from the drawer and dump it in your hand.  You get handed bills first, followed by a pile of change, followed by the receipt, followed by the bag.  This clumsy arrangement is impossible to deal with easily.  You wind up letting go of the bag, dumping the change in your free hand, shuffling the bills, and then putting away the change.  To make things worse, the cashier instantly begins handling the next customer’s purchases, giving you the bum’s rush while you fumble with a wad of paper and coins.

One solution is to dump the whole mess on the counter and sort it out, annoying everyone in line.  A better solution would involve the cashier being trained to give you the change in a way that makes it easy for you, not easy for the cashier.

So much of everything we do involves working with our customers in ways that make sense to them and help them be productive.  From complicated user interfaces to the simple act of making change, every customer interaction counts.  Worst of all, the annoyance of getting your change dumped in your hand is your last experience as you exit the store, leaving you with a bad experience to savor as you walk to your car.  What a great way to encourage customers to return!

How do your systems stack up?  Do you give customers change in ways that make it easy to work with you?  Or do you leave them annoyed and irritated as they walk out your door?

Triumph Over The Man September 30, 2008

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings.
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They are back! The great corporate giant has yielded to my demands, and S.O.S Pads are once again available at my local grocery store!

Regular readers know that S.O.S Pads were discontinued recently in my area. I was astounded by this decision, and even more perturbed by the cavalier  nonchalance with which the store manager informed me of this decision. Other shoppers clearly felt the same way and, after my posting, shared similar concerns. My Mom even sent me a box of S.O.S Pads, which was a welcome but unexpected side effect of the post.

After a flurry of activity that included glaring at the store manager and filling out the online customer comment form, the pads suddenly reappeared in their rightful spot on the kitchen cleaner aisle. Other shoppers played it cool, showing little emotion as they became aware of the pads’ triumphant return. But I knew they were appreciative, and that my hard work had paid off to the benefit of the entire community. The will of the Man has been bent, and we are all the better for it.

Fight The Power! August 10, 2008

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings.
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They’re gone.  The S.O.S Pads are gone.

I was food shopping Sunday afternoon, dutifully traversing the aisles, expecting everything to be in its place.  I know that this expectation is not always met, as devious marketers move things in an effort to break my concentration and tempt me with new and exciting products.  On rare occasions, the entire store gets reconfigured, just to shake things up and keep customers off-balance.

This was different.  All the other kitchen cleaning products were in their places, but the S.O.S Pads were gone.  Not sold out, not moved slightly, but completely removed.  I looked for the shelf tag that should mark their familiar home, but none could be found.  Had then been shifted to a whole new store neighborhood?  Perhaps they were no longer considered a kitchen cleaning tool, but had been shifted to the skimpy kitchen/hardware/automotive section as a garage accessory.  Hard to imagine, but the mind of the store layout person is difficult to plumb at times.

Instead of wandering the store in a Sisyphean search, I went right to the manager and asked where they were.

“Oh, we don’t carry them anymore.”

“At any store?”

“Nope.  When they reset that display, the pads were not included.”

I walked away, rendered mute by another example of corporate grocery incompetence.  In one fell swoop, some drone within the depths of Harris Teeter had eliminated 91 years of product history, removing a product as American as Corn Flakes or Wonder Bread from the shelves.  How could this be?  Have people suddenly stopped scouring things?  Is there insufficient margin on steel wool and soap to justify their sale?  Or have S.O.S Pads been found to be environmentally unacceptable?

Surely it cannot be the latter.  After all, on the same shelf that used to contain the Pads are environmentally safe quick-dissolving dishwasher detergent pouches.  Honestly, if you are concerned about the environment enough to fret about the safety of the dissolving pouch that contains the detergent, wouldn’t you have long ago sworn off automatic dishwashers and reverted back to eating off hardened disks of week-old bread to ensure a completely carbon-neutral eating and washing experience?

In this case, I suspect a bad decision by a powerful committee. A committee that holds our fate in its hands, deciding with the stroke of a pen how we will clean our pots and pans.  Are we going to put up with this?  Are we going to allow The Man to decide how we scrub and wash?  Or are we going to stand up and fight this injustice?

I will fight.  I will go to the Harris Teeter web site and lodge a formal complaint.  As hundreds and thousands of others do the same, our voices will be heard and S.O.S Pads will be returned to the shelves.  A great tradition of shiny American cookware will not be interrupted by petty bureaucracy.

Are you with me?  Let’s hear it: Scour To The People!