A Message from Amazon Customer Service

Tara and I are just back from another holiday trip to the US, where we split our time between the artic tundra of Milwaukee (my parents) and the Siberian windstorm of Omaha (Tara’s parents).

It’s great seeing family and friends, but exchanging dreary London for 10 days in snow, wind, and Christmas ‘cheer’ often leaves us yearning for a post-vacation, vacation.

One of my most anticipated presents this year was an Amazon Echo, so when landing back in London I quickly set it up. With sun and swimsuits on my mind, one of my first searches was:

“Alexa, what is the temperature in Mallorca”

To which Alexa replied “I wasn’t able to understand your question”

Strange, since Alexa knew the temperature in London, Dubai, and Chicago, I assumed the word Mallorca just wasn’t being understood.

So I in the Echo companion app and flagged my Mallorca question as not being answered. Within 3 hours I received the response below. It was not only one of the fastest responses I have ever received, but also the most thorough.

I am incredibly guilty of naming and shaming companies I’m not happy with (cough…Tesco…cough) without highlighting exemplary experiences.

In this case Amazon gets a huge amount of credit for its customer service experience. I read Alexa quickly went from 1000 to 7000 search query types, and I’d bet this will increase exponentially with this kind of attention to customer feedback. Thanks for the help Amazon!

 


 

On Sat, Jan 7, 2017 at 9:54 PM, Amazon.co.uk <cs-reply@amazon.co.uk>

Hello Andrew,

I’m sorry that Alexa is not understanding the word ‘Mallorca’.

To help you, I’ve replicated the same at my end using below command:

“Alexa, what is Mallorca”, and Alexa couldn’t answer.

I’ve also tried with different commands and phrases like “Alexa, Mallorca” and also tried asking via Wikipedia such as:

I asked: “Alexa, Wikipedia”

Alexa replied: “what should i look up”

I asked: “Mallorca”

Even after trying with all different phrases and commands, Alexa couldn’t understand the word ‘Mallorca’.

However, please understand as the device was recently launched in the UK, there are few improvements that are yet to be introduced in the device. Our technical team is working hard to make Alexa more user-friendly.

Thank you so much for bringing this to our notice. We love to hear from our customers on all aspects and I’m glad that you took time to write to us with your valuable feedback.

We are trying to plan a huge update soon which improves Alexa interaction with user and fix few other bugs as well! However, I’ve specially forwarded your message to our Amazon Echo development team for consideration as we make further improvements.

Please be assured, once the feature is implemented or any improvements made in our next updates, we’ll try to notify you through the best medium of notification via software updates.

For the meantime, please extend your patience and co-operation while we work on this.

If you have additional suggestions for improvement, please write back to us.

Thanks for using Amazon Echo.

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I love August

August in Europe

Yesterday was the first weekday this year when I had nothing in my calendar.

No meetings, calls, coffees, flights… nothing. It was GLORIOUS!!!

Every year I tell myself I’ll schedule 1 full day each week with no planned activities so I can clear my mind, think strategically, and work on long-term projects. Until yesterday it had been 215 days in 2016 with no such free days. Shame on me.

The great thing about Europe is almost everyone is on vacation the entire month. Since the summer holiday in some countries starts mid July and in others it lasts until early September, so it’s actually closer to 6 weeks of relative downtime.

I know American’s look down on this ‘frivolous’ European month of time off, but for me it’s great. Not only can I reliably catch up on things, it’s as if those of us who work get a slight leg up on the competition (whoever that may be). Kind of like getting up early to shoot hoops while everyone else sleeps.

Remember, the European norm is 25 days off a year. So from a GDP standpoint it really does make sense if most people are generally away at the same time. The alternative for a 10 person team is someone being gone every day of the year, which certainly seems less productive.

How will I spend the rest of my August? With Tara heading back to the US to meet her sister’s first child and 5 more days with a free schedule, I’ll have plenty of time for whatever I choose.

The past few days I used my extra time to write. I find having the time to write concisely forces me to think deeper than usual about a topic. Incredibly enough I have 130 blog ideas in my Evernote, so lets see how writing at least 1 hour a day goes and maybe I can get a few of the better posts up.

Help us build a life-changing home

New Story

I recently came across an amazing podcast by the founders of NewStory – a non-profit that is building safe, long-lasting homes for extremely poor families in places like Haiti and El Salvador.

It’s moving to say the least how NewStory is changing the lives of full communities. This holiday season my wife and I are leading the charge to build one new home for a deserving family.

NewStory isn’t your typical charity. Here’s why:

1. In addition to building hurricane-grade homes, Newstory creates the infrastructure for entire communities to thrive- including schools, sanitation, and renewable electricity.

2. 100% of donations directly fund home construction – all overheads come from other sources. You can even see a full breakdown of the expenses after building over 150 homes.

3. Each donation helps a specific family. Once we reach the goal of $6,000 to build a home the family records a video for us to hear their story.

So this season we’re making one simple request: help us change the life of a family in need. Your support is much help 🙂

Help us build a home >>> https://campaign.newstorycharity.org/andy-tara

How to ‘Prime’ Your Next Event – because intro requests are so last year…

(A not very subtle way of priming your brain)

(A not very subtle way of priming your brain)

 

I’ve been transient the past few weeks, starting in the US (beautiful La Jolla, CA), then Italy, Ireland, and Spain, and I’m writing this on my way home from Germany.

As I sip my Easyjet tea and snack on some delicious popcorn, I’m realizing each of my trips was for a specific event. The largest being Web Summit with 42,000 other tech folks and the smallest was a group of potential Startupbootcamp program investors (1).

Yesterday I gave a talk to 20 startups about making the most out of mentor-focused events. One tactic I suggested is connecting with mentors prior to an event to increase their interest during the actual meeting (2). The word I use for this pre-event reach out is to ‘Prime’ someone (like priming a pump) – borrowing the term from the homonymous cognitive bias known as ‘priming’ in the psychology realm (3).

Prime on your own?

If you missed the shitstorm prior to Web Summit, it surrounded startups being told they ‘won’ exhibit space, while later being hit with a bill (I think €1,000 or so). Although Web Summit was called out by seemingly everyone (and Web Summit messy response) I generally think they run a decent show.

I joined in the conversation of course:


As you can tell, I’m a big believer in putting in effort to Prime. However, I’m just now noticing that during each of my recent trips the amount of priming SOMEONE ELSE did for me were my most impactful priming outcomes.

It’s like dating, for business

Not only did someone else priming for me lead to better results, I’ve found the best possible outcome was not directly connecting with someone prior to a meeting. Instead it was exponentially more valuable having the person primed by someone else LOOK FORWARD to meeting me.

Of course a friend saying to a contact “can I connect you with this this great person” has a bigger impact than introducing yourself. But taking this a step forward, even better might be “you’ll really enjoy meeting this great person tomorrow” without any offer of an intro.

It’s like word-of-mouth marketing (“you should really try this”) before meeting someone. Put In practice, instead of a typical intro request you might ask someone to speak favourably about your company to an investor… in hopes that the investor can’t help but reach out to you directly.

How to increase recommendations prior to an event where you’ll likely meet someone? Probably the same tactics work as asking for an introduction, the ‘pitch just needs to ask for an endorsement instead of an intro. Something like this may work for you:

Hey <FRIEND>,

I’m heading to <EVENT> next week, and I’ll likely bump into <CONTACT> who I know you’re close with. Any chance you could ping them a note with a quick endorsement like below? It would mean a lot and I’m hoping more valuable than me asking you for an intro.

*
A friend of mine <YOU> just mentioned he hopes to connect with you at <EVENT>. I just wanted to say they’re working on something really interesting and definitely going somewhere – I hope you two have a chance to connect.
*

Much appreciated!

<YOU>

Give it a try?

There’s no doubt in my mind that reaching out directly prior to meeting someone (i.e. ‘Priming them’) leads to more personal connections. Even better is having a mutual connection introduce you.

What I’ve experienced is that having someone speak favourably about you without an introductory offer results in the best possible outcome. Although I’ve never actually tried to ‘manufacture’ this type of endorsement, I’ll likely give it a try (what can it hurt?). If you do as well, I’d love to hear the outcome.

(1) The new program is still a ‘secret’, but let’s just say it was successful and we’ll be launching soon 🙂

(2) Instead of suggesting startups prime their mentors just before the event, I really should send that suggestion well before the event, so they at least have a chance to take my advice…

(3) I know, it feels a little dirty to exploit cognitive biases (aka mind loopholes) in business – but heck, it’s not the worst thing you can do!

Look to the future

The future - This way friend!

Man have I been traveling a lot the last few months. Sure it’s tiring, but the energy from meeting awesome people around the world definitely makes up the difference.

I recently met two of the coolest Japanese guys ever, Masa and Taka, who invest in European startups for an enormous corporate called Recruit (1). We were in Copenhagen together last week eating dinner when Masa gave me an insightful quote:

Masa’s insight was the majority of conversations focus on things that have happened. When first meeting someone it’s ‘where are you from?’, ‘what do you do?,’  ‘where do you live?’ After a rapport is built the conversation turns to ‘what’s new?’, ‘how’s the significant other?’, ‘still hate your job?’

Rarely does the question ‘where do you see yourself in 5 years?’ come up. These future looking conversations are surely the most insightful and way more fun than dwelling on the past. But for some reason they’re difficult to bring up, even with close friends.

Looking back at my conversations with entrepreneurs, even these are more about fact gathering than forward looking. ’Who’s on your team?’ ‘How big is your market?’ ‘What’s your traction?’ All valid questions, but for investments that won’t pay off for 7-9 years shouldn’t I be focusing more on an entrepreneur’s vision for the future?

So, with the remaining 5 weeks of 2015 I’ll strive to have 50% of my conversations about the future. If all goes well, hopefully this past/future ratio will become a norm. Want to join in on my little test? Let me know 🙂

(1) 28k people company, just IPOd to raise $1b – most will be for investments

I’m now a Quoraian, hear me ROAR!!!

Quora-lion-ROAR

Wow the past few months have seriously flown by… so many places to be and so little time. It sure does help my trips are to Istanbul, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin, Dublin, and many other fun cities!

Fear not, even though I haven’t posted on my blog I am still writing occasionally. Here’s something I wrote on Quora yesterday (1) as a response to the following question:

“Why do new entrepreneurs feel that they cannot make it without participating in an accelerator program? Isn’t being an entrepreneur about succeeding against all odds?”

Check out my answer here, and if you likey feel free to upvote: http://buff.ly/1tbWtuy

(1) Yes it took some badgering from Cami who leads SBC’s social media… guess I owe her a thanks 🙂

The experience of NO

Leon London

Over the span of 30 minutes this morning I was rejected twice.

My friends know this isn’t a unique experience for me. I’m not ashamed to ask for what I want, and I typically don’t mind being rejected. I get it – avocado can’t be added to every meal. But I’ll sure ask to see if it’s possible.

The key phrase is I ‘typically’ don’t mind hearing the word NO. There are a few exceptions… mainly when the NO is based on protocol I don’t agree with.

As you might guess, my morning rejections were based on protocols. However both had polar opposite different outcomes.

Rejection 1

The UK government believes everyone is a money launderer until proven innocent (1) and requires UK tax payers to provide a certified ID. Their guidance (2) first suggests a bank for ID certification, so this morning I stopped by my trusty (cough) bank HSBC (3).

In I walk on this sunny morning and within seconds the HSBC greeter relates they don’t certify IDs – ‘it’s a policy’

Undeterred, I explain I’m a 5-year customer and can answer all necessary security questions. Nope, it’s a HSBC policy she repeats, and then comments that her bank Lloyds (4) does certify IDs. I understand she doesn’t have power to override policy in this situation and ask for a manager.

After a few minutes over walks a nice woman who repeats HSBC policy of not certifying IDs. She’s the manager of course, and her extra insight for rejecting me is to prevent money laundering.

This sets me off a little – THE WHOLE REASON for this certified ID is to prevent money laundering. However, no manner of reasoning break this bank manager’s policy today – it’s a lost cause.

Rejection 2

So off I continued on my way to work, into the tube, past Prince Harry (5), and then a stop at my favourite quick breakfast spot Leon.

I often stop at Leon for my favourite egg, salmon, and avocado pot (6), and at £2.95 it’s a steal. I love my morning Leon pot, but they don’t quite fill me up. I’ve always wondered… could another egg be added to this pot, and if so would this indeed fill me up.

Without much consideration I indeed asked for that extra egg in my pot. Boy would a 2-egg pot be wonderful – twice the fun! To my surprise the friendly till clerk says he can add an egg, for the additional charge of £1.95.

I do some quick math, and although the egg is likely the least expensive item in the pot it would raise the total price substantially. I counter offer £1.05 with this cheap egg rationale to bring my total cost to €4.00 – surely a reasonable price for a two egg salmon avocado pot.

This is when my second rejection happens, although the till clerk is friendly he won’t break the till pricing protocol. So I pay and we go our separate ways.

The difference of NO’s

I’ve now had two policy-based rejections in quick succession, both which annoyed me for being inflexible. But while the first at HSBC really ticked me off, the second at Leon didn’t bother me much – it was worth a shot after all.

As I finished my pot the till clerk gave me a smile and asked if enjoyed it. I indeed did – “Yep, I have one often and will come back again.”

He then stuck out what I initially perceived as a shake attempt hand, but quickly noticed a red loyalty card being offered. This was not a normal loyalty card – this one was FULLY STAMPED and provided a free meal!

“Next time please have that two egg pot on us” the till clerk said and waved goodbye.

Seize the moment

Wow, what a nice guy, leveraging his loyalty card stamp power to compensate for what I perceived as an unfair policy.

In business school what this clerk just pulled was the ‘make my day’ approach to customer service. Something Zappos (7) is often commended for using.

Continuing my short walk to work I thought about how easily HSBC could have changed my negative rejection experience to positive. A few simple steps could have been:

1) Sharing my frustration by mentioning their policy was very strict
2) Offering to complete a customer feedback form stating my dissatisfaction with the policy
3) Directing me to the closest alternative for obtaining a certified ID
4) Walking with me to the ID certification while asking how to improve my experience with HSBC (8)

A little bit extra

On one hand it’s so easy to make a customer feel like they’re special. It typically costs very little and takes no more than a few minutes.

But personally engaging with customers requires quick thinking in an often monotonous, transaction based role that’s compensated based on productivity.

My takeaway from this rejection-filled morning: going the extra step is always the right choice. Whether it’s customer service, helping a colleague, or following up with mentors – a little bit extra goes a long way. (9)

Have you gone the extra step recently with success? I’d love to hear about it in the comments 🙂

(1) Makes sense when the worlds billionaires use London as their playground

(2) https://www.gov.uk/certifying-a-document

(3) I’ve passionately hated HSBC since the second I opened my account. The switching costs of banks in the UK is unbelievable… but that’s for another post

(4) Funny how someone working for a bank doesn’t bank there…

(5) What, you don’t see Harry on your way to work? http://buff.ly/1oLCJ2r

(6) http://leonrestaurants.co.uk/menu/breakfast/menu-item/smoked-salmon-avocado-pot

(7) http://www.businessinsider.com/zappos-customer-service-crm-2012-1

(8) I know, unlikely – but sure wouldn’t have been that difficult and would have gained a lifelong proponent

(9) Maybe there’s a business opportunity here? A 1-click ‘little bit extra’ that sends a random by considerate out-of-the blue followups like a box of chocolate, balloons, a gift card, etc to anyone in your contact list?

Time to update your old school expectations

I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations lately and how much they impact our lives. Expectations are a funny thing. They’re rarely front and center in our daily thoughts, but lingering in the subconscious – like an invisible hand guiding our paths (1).

What hit me this morning is expectations can last a really long time… a lifetime if you may.

If parents ensure their child’s chores are completed, the expectation to complete tasks is instilled at a young age. Alternatively if parents set few rules and their children run amok (2), following expectations set outside the home such as appropriate classroom behavior (or later, laws) may be a struggle.

Both positive and negative expectations are likely to follow a child for many years and surely impact a person’s future.

What are expectations

What I’ve now come to realize is someone’s personality and their perceived expectations have a close relationship. Both guide what makes us tick. And both of course impact the way we behave.

It’s interesting to consider that expectations are typically:

A) Set by someone else
B) Undefined
…and because of these
C) Rarely challenged

I didn’t realize until making this list how much influence the expectations of others have on us from an early age. I’m also slightly concerned that I haven’t taken time to define these early expectations, or considered they may need challenging.

Defining expectations

I’ll refrain from sharing an enormous master list of the expectations placed on me since birth, although I do think this would be an interesting exercise. Simply creating an expectations list would surely lend a better understanding of my actions and personality.

I would however like to think more deeply about a few categories of expectations surrounding the work environment:

Employment – most roles start with a bulleted list of activities or results an employee is expected to achieve. V2.0 is setting quarterly KPIs, and V3.0 is OKRs (3). These role activity bullets and associated metrics are typically the extent of employer expectation setting. But aren’t they missing something? What if both an employee and employer specifically listed all expectations they had for each other? I’d guess half of each list would be previously unknown to the other party (4).

Partnerships – In my experience most partnerships fail to deliver the expected outcomes, even though partnership outcomes and KPIs are typically discussed early in the relationship. Maybe what’s missing is an honest discussion about each party’s expectations? I’d guess the outcome of both partners listing their expectations would have the same result of employees doing so – many revealed that were previously unknown.

Rethinking expectations

The core concept that’s still rolling around in my head is that a person’s perceived expectations rarely change. They’re the 500 lb gorilla we’re burdened with carrying, even if the expectation is no longer valid.

Take my wife for example. She was raised in a loving household that expected her to look out for the happiness of others. This upbringing won her the ‘nicest person award’ of our senior class, and to this day she’s a ‘peace-maker’ with an extremely high EQ (5). Probably the best upbringing someone could ask for, resulting in a person who I (and almost everyone she meets) love to be around.

But in some situations it’s not possible to make everyone happy – for example during negotiations or when making tough decisions I’ve seen her and many others struggle to balance the early expectation of delivering happiness when aligning multiple parties around a single outcome. This can weigh on someone and even diminish their own happiness.

There are many similar examples where I hypothesise an expectation is A) set by someone else, B) undefined in a person’s subconscious, and as a result C) the expectation remains unchallenged

Challenge expectations

I could imagine the below 4 steps as a method to consider the difficulties we face and expectations placed upon us:

1) List the past expectations correlated with a difficulty
2) List the reasoning you or someone else used to create the expectation
3) Consider when the expectation was set and how applicable it is to your current life
4) If the initial expectation circumstances have changed, challenge and realign

I’m guessing initially most expectations have some validity, yet over time our situation changes while our behavior remains static. This leaves a need to realign the expectations placed on us (both internally and externally) on a frequent basis.

So what have I discovered? Nothing I didn’t already know 🙂 Circumstances change, and setting aside time to step back and ‘take stock’ is an important aspect of learning and growing as a person.

Remember to stay lean and always challenge the status quo.

(1) Similar to the invisible hand in economics, which describes the self regulating behavior of a marketplace

(2) Yep, I’m pulling out British slang on your ass – don’t run amok!

(3) Ah yes, the new best practice of OKRs – originally created by John Doerr for Google that has taken the tech world by storm. Not familiar? This video is worth watching

(4) It’s worth testing this assumption – I’ll likely make this list with one of my employees next week and report back on how it goes

(5) Emotional intelligence

 

 

72 hours to Poland

ropuq6twnj

Don’t judge a book…

As I get older (1) I find myself judging others more harshly… especially during a first conversation. Which is funny, because throughout my life I’ve prided myself on being open-minded and leaving a positive first impression.

Recently with just a few negative signals I have a greater tendency to A) consider the person a moron, and B) try to promptly exit the conversation.

Surely this combination of being quick to both judge and exit hasn’t ingratiated me to some, but subconsciously the time/effort savings outweighs a long and boring discussion.

If I break down my first interactions over the past year they would broadly result in the distribution below (2):

Dislike to like spectrum

The Switcheroo

Something strange has been happening recently. If I interact a second time with someone I initially strongly dislike, I tend to be completely wrong and end up strongly liking them…

Strong dislike to like

Late last year I met a US VC at a European tech conference. Long story short I considered him to be a typical arrogant American and I ended up actively hating his guts.

A few months later I met the same US VC again, spent some 1-1 time getting to know him and his perspective, and ended up strongly liking the guy.

The same thing happened twice recently with people I’ve met in London – a strongly negative first impression, months later a chance second interaction, and now I not only respect the person – but both have becoming good friends!

I hope I hate them?

My complete love/hate flip-flops have occurred often enough that I (strangely) now look forward to a strong initial dislike. Yes some people are jerks I’ll never enjoy. Yet if a high percentage of strong dislikes are likely to convert into good friends, to me that’s a good investment of time.

These thoughts leave me wondering:

1) Is there a correlation between my flip flops and the relationship advice “the more you love someone the greater they can hurt you?”

2) What are ways I can improve my ability to defer judgement and quickly understand someone’s perspective?

3) How does the time between first and second meetings affect my flip flopping?

4) Of my initial strong dislikes, how many also dislike me? And is their feeling toward me correlated with me flip flopping?

Overall the lessons I need to remind myself often are to keep an open mind, continue meeting LOTS of interesting people, and make every attempt to understand the perspective of others.

If you have any advice or tactics on the above, I’m all ears!

(1) I’m 31, so not that old

(2) Despite my increase in harshly judging, I’m lucky to have a positive outlook that still results in a positive impression of 95% of the people I meet.