Friday, April 25, 2014

Can I Have Your Attention Please!

"Multi-tasking is just a fancy way of saying - screwing up two thing at the same time"

~Dick Masterton

It’s Tuesday afternoon.  I have just arrived back to my office after a quick bite to eat at a local sandwich shop.  I close my door and sit at my desk ready to tackle a project that’s been on my desk now for over a week.

As soon as I sit down, I notice the light on my phone blinking and the LCD screen showing that I have 2 new messages.

I know that if I don’t clear these messages, the phone will keep blinking and distract me from my work. 

The first message is a hang-up Multi-Tasking... good... I think to myself... the second message is from a customer I promised to send some technical data to... "within the hour"... which has now turned into 3 hours...

I awaken my computer from its screen-saver slumber and find the data sheet for the part in question.  From there, I "maximize" Outlook, click on "new" and compose a brief e-mail to our client attaching the needed data sheet.

After sending the e-mail, I look at my in-box and notice 6 new messages awaiting my glance. 

Three of the e-mails are "junk" announcements, two are from within the office copying me on some important correspondence with customers, and the last one is from our IT manager asking me to call him immediately about some back-up issues.

I spend the next 15 minutes talking with him regarding our move to the cloud and the things that needed to be completed before we can make the transition.  

While we’re on the phone, he sends me a form that needs to be completed by me in order to authorize him to make the appropriate changes.

I need to complete the form, print it, and fax it to the internet hosting company.

As I walk to the fax machine, I’m stopped in the hall by one of our inside sales reps who asks me if I can please call a certain customer back about a technical issue.  I ask him to e-mail me the pertinent information and I’ll give the customer a call.

Finally back at my desk to begin my project.

A glance up at my screen and it shows me that I have two new emails. 

At nearly the same time, my cell phone chimes.  It’s a text message from my wife.  "Do we have any plans for this Saturday?"

I text back, "I’m going on a bike ride in the morning... I should be available after 2pm".

Soon, my cell phone rings... "it’s my wife."

I answer the phone and spend the next 5 or 6 minutes discussing an invitation that was extended to us to join some close friends sailing on Saturday... we work out the details.

After hanging up, I look up at my computer screen and the 2 messages had turned into 5 - including the contact information for the customer I had promised my inside sales person that I’d call back immediately...

... and so it goes... interruption after interruption... never actually completing anything... or so it seems.

Now for some people, they would just turn off all of their electronic devices and unplug. 
Unfortunately I haven’t found a way to do that... mostly because it’s a part of my nature to do things in real-time... answer that e-mail as soon as it comes in... return that phone call right away... text back my answer...
I know that if I don’t do something right away... it will quickly move to the bottom of the inbox or to-do list...

I even go so far as to tell people that if I haven’t given them a response within 30 minutes, please ask again, because more than likely I’ve already forgotten about their original request and I need a reminder.

I used to think that my ADHD was a good thing... it allowed me to juggle a lot of balls and master the notion of "multi-tasking".

The reality is, however, that I end up dropping a lot of balls and that "multi-tasking" is just a code word for "never completing anything"... or being habitually late.

A few days ago, I was heading home while listening to an interview on the radio.

The guest, Maggie Jackson, was speaking about her new book, DistractedDistraction:  "The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age"

She spoke about how the proliferation of electronic devices have become more than just mere annoyances.  Rather, they now have come to rule our most valuable of non-renewable resource... our time... "by nurturing a culture of social diffusion, intellectual fragmentation and sensory detachment.  The way we live our lives is eroding our capacity for deep, sustained and perceptive attention... while losing our ability to create and preserve wisdom and we are fast slipping toward a time of ignorance that is paradoxically born amid an abundance of information and connectivity."

Our lack of attention is causing us to lose brainpower as we are unable to sustain focused thoughts.  When our minds wander aimlessly, we are incapable of effectively communicating or solving complex problems.

We start becoming scatter-brained, confused, and disoriented often forgetting simple tasks.
Constant interruptions prevent us from being productive.  It is estimated that businesses lose up to $650 billion each year due to workers starting and stopping tasks due to interruptions in their day.  Each time a worker experiences an interruption, they must then re-engage the task, forgetting exactly where they stopped, and needlessly repeating steps. 

The most interesting thing about interruptions is that over 25% of all interruptions are instigated by workers themselves.

Thinking back about my Tuesday afternoon, I had the choice to close Outlook or turn off the phones... but I chose not to... and the project I had wanted to complete that afternoon... barely got started.

The bleak future of reduced productivity doesn’t come from the lack of information, connectivity, or even processing power... it comes from our inability to actually focus on our work and finish projects in a timely manner amid all of the interruptions that face us throughout our days (and now nights and weekends).

We must learn to turn off the sources of interruptions and spend more of our time acting rather than reacting...

Managing our lives is still under our control...

We alone make our own choices... we alone live the life we design...

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where we hope to be less of an interruption and more of a solution.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

It's My Fault...I Apologize...

[Note:  Irony strikes again... the blog this week was delayed until Monday due to Constant Contact’s servers going down Friday... no apology from them... just a bunch of excuses... redirection of blame...

Whereas, I do apologize to you for the delay... and I am looking into other e-mail services as a backup just so it won’t happen again... Jim]

"If you build a great customer experience, customers tell each other about that... word of mouth is very powerful." 

~ Jeff Bezos - CEO

I recently have had two very different customer experiences...

The first situation occurred a few weeks ago as I was trying to leave Las Vegas bound for my home in San Diego.

My business had concluded sooner than expected so I went to the airport hoping to catch a flight scheduled to leave about 4 hours earlier than my original flight. 

When I arrived to the airport to check if the earlier flight was available, I was told by a very polite ticketing agent that she was unable to add me to the earlier flight but that the flight was only 40% full so it was very possible that the gate agent could accommodate my request.

I hurried through the TSA screening and made it to the gate with plenty of time.  I then asked the gate agent if it was possible to swap flights allowing them to resell my ticket on the more desirable 6pm flight.  check-inThe agent then proceeded to explain that I could indeed get on the earlier flight if I was willing to pay an additional $250 (the difference between my original discount fare and the current full-fare.)

I tried explaining to her that it would be in the company’s best interest to allow me to board the early flight so that they had the possibility of reselling my seat on the later flight because once the earlier flight left, that potential seat revenue would be lost forever.

She told me it was strict company policy.  My begging and pleading fell upon deaf ears as she just handed me a piece of paper with the company’s written policy.

I decided that 4 hours of my time was not worth the extra $250 so I waited patiently (albeit it very upset at this particular airline’s policy) for my regularly scheduled flight.

Shortly before 6 pm, this same gate agent then announced to the crowd that the 6 pm flight had been cancelled due to weather and that she would attempt to re-book passengers on a later flight that evening but that all of the other flights were already full so we should plan on trying to get a room in Las Vegas for that night.  

She also explained that due to the fact that this was a weather related event, the airline took no responsibility in housing the displaced passengers for the extra night.

Now I was looking at the gate agent with daggers in my eyes... she had the opportunity to provide some great customer service by allowing me to board the earlier flight, but she failed miserably. 

Moreover, when it was my turn to be assisted, she felt absolutely no remorse and offered no apology but with a straight face told me that "I should have paid the extra money"... insinuating the problem was due to my actions (or in this case inaction).

Needless to say, this will be the very last time I fly this airline... but in reality... they couldn’t care less...

Now contrast this experience to another one I recently had.

I recently made a reservation at a nice restaurant for myself, my wife and another couple.

When we arrived at the restaurant, I had the following exchange with the maître’d:

Me:  Hi, we have reservations at 7pm under the name Kalb.

Maître’d:  Mr. Kalb, I am so sorry, we completely underestimated the time between our earlier reservation and your reservation at 7pm.  Your table will not be available for another 30-45 minutes.  Would you please allow us to buy you and your party drinks while you wait in our lounge?

The maître’d restaurant managerthen walked us into the bar and handed a slip of paper to the bartender informing her that we were guests of the restaurant. 

When we were seated about 40 minutes later, the restaurant manager came over to our table and once again apologized for the inconvenience and told our server to bring us an appetizer of our choice as reparations for their mistake.

What was the actual cost to the restaurant to deliver incredible customer service? 

Eight drinks and one appetizer... maybe $10-$15 in true cost to the restaurant? 

Seeing that we ended up spending about $150 for dinner that night, $10-$15 wasn’t even 10% of the overall bill.  Yet, had the maître’d instead handed us a 20% off coupon for a future visit the effect on our attitude at the moment would have been negligible... I seriously doubt that there would have been a second visit to use the coupon.

These two narratives illustrate the difference in truly providing true world-class customer service and those who simply give lip-service to their customer service claims.

Every company is actually in the customer service business whether they like it or not and every employee who interacts with customers is a direct reflection of that company.

All companies, big and small, have had the misfortune at one time or another (whether it is of their own making or not) of making mistakes in the eyes of their customers.  Even if we do our very best to avoid problems and mistakes, they are inevitable sooner or later.

The most important part of customer service then is not to spend all of our energy in avoiding mistakes (sometimes mistakes are simply out of our control... such as weather conditions), but rather helping the customer get satisfaction once a mistake is made. 

This process is called "service recovery".

Providing service recovery is a critical component of the overall customer service experience and helps provide extreme loyalty from a customer base being bombarded by low-cost alternatives on a continuous basis.

Service recovery helps to take an unhappy customer and turn them into a raging fan and advocate for your business... and it really doesn’t take all that much effort!

There are four basic components of service recovery:
  1. Accept and apologize - Take full responsibility for the problem.  Don’t blame others or deny the problem exists.  Admit that there is a problem and offer a sincere apology.
  1. Act quickly to solve the problem - Once you are made aware that an error has been made, find a way to quickly remedy the situation.
  1. Empower front-line people to make decisions - When a problem exists, management must trust their front-line people to find a way to help assist the customer... no matter what it takes.
  1. Compensate the customer - The final step is to offer the customer who has been wronged, some valuable compensation (value to the customer... not necessarily something costly to the company).  The overall life-time value of a long-term customer and soon-to-be company advocate will pale in comparison to a small but valuable compensation.
Service recovery not only helps to retain customers, but also helps to attract new customers as the lore of incredible customer service spreads (and with the advent of the Internet and social media... the word spreads faster than ever).

No one has the ability to control every facet of business, but we do have the ability to control our reactions when bad things do happen. 

React in a negative way... and customers will undoubtedly leave telling others of their unpleasant experiences...

React in a positive way... and customer will be with you for life... bringing their friends with them...

How will you react the next time something goes wrong?

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where we strive to bring our customers consistent products... consistent service... and consistent success.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Being the Tortoise...

"Success is neither magical or mysterious.  Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying basic fundamentals"

~  Jim Rohn  
As it so happens, I recently found myself involved with a community mentor program associated with one of our local universities.  I was assigned to a university junior by the name of Clayton.

Clayton is bright and very intelligent, which comes as no surprise.  At a mere age of 20 years old, he also happens to be very articulate and mature beyond his age; that does come somewhat unexpectedly.

My job as a mentor is to meet with Clayton a few hours every other week or thereabouts, to discuss real world applications and his future endeavors, dreams and aspirations. 

Often when we meet, I am reminded of a personal experience that I had when I was in college.

I was sitting in an upper-level electronic engineering class.  The professor was busy scribbling formulas across the chalkboard (yes... professors still used chalk back then) and I was copying everything he wrote in my notebook.

After about 20 minutes of lecturing on the subject, I was thoroughly and utterly lost. 

I raised my hand high to ask a question.  When the professor called on me, I tried with all my rational brain power to formulate a unifying question that would somehow give me a great "aha moment"... hopefully helping me to understand all of the scribbles on the board.

After seemingly a minute of silence (in reality it was closer to 10 seconds... it just felt like a whole minute)...

I finally blurted out, "Dr. Wilson... I am so lost that I can’t create a good question to ask you!"

At that point, the professor stopped the class... and the entire class spent the remaining 30 minutes discussing why great questions, are in fact, far more important than answers.

I since have long forgotten about waveform convolutions (the subject of that particular day’s lesson)... but I will always remember the life lesson I learned that eventful  day...

Good questions will almost always trump good answers...

Clayton is a young man with very good questions...

One such question he posed to me was this:  What is the definition of success and how can I go about becoming successful?

This is an age-old question that has been asked since the beginning of time...

It’s a question with no real answer... because success means something entirely different to each and every person on this planet.

To one person... it might mean a roof over one’s head, food in one’s stomach, and clothes on one’s back...

To another person it might mean an 8-figure income and all the free time to enjoy one’s wealth...

To yet another person... it might mean overcoming a debilitating illness such as cancer or multiple scoliosis...

And to yet another... it might be building a schoolhouse or water well in a rural village to help some people less fortunate...

In the end, it doesn’t really matter what an individual calls success... be it life or liberty or the pursuit of happiness (and maybe it’s all three)...

There are as many definitions of success as there are people... so it is a question that is unanswerable (at least by me)...

For me... my own definition of success is to leave the world a better place than when I entered it... because leaving a lasting legacy is my own form of the "Heaven" concept.

It is a never ending goal... because in my opinion, the world can always be a bit better.

So now that I have the what and why... the only issue is the how...

If I devoted my every waking hour to solving the problems of the world, I’d soon grow tired of my goal and would end up burning out...
Instead of being the hare... I try to live my life as the tortoise.  This gives me the staying power to keep going... day after day... month after month... year after year...

The Tortoise and the Hare (Disney 1934)
The Tortoise and the Hare
(Disney 1934)

This means doing little things... consistently and relentlessly... each and every day... forever!

Working towards a goal shouldn’t be like a crash diet where we starve ourselves for 10 days... lose 5 pounds (of mostly water weight)... and then realize that starving is not sustainable over the long-haul.

The real key to losing weight is making small adjustments... like cutting out just 100 calories out of our diet while increasing our exercise by say 100 calories... each and every day... just drink water at lunch instead of a Coke or skip that glass of wine at dinner... and walk around the block for 15 minutes on your morning coffee break...

After one week’s time we will have consumed only 700 calories less than we would have (100 x 7) and burned only 700 additional calories (100 x 7) for a total of only 1,400 calories... not even half of a single pound worth (3500 calories = 1 pound)...

But now we multiply this week by an entire year and we have now saved 72,800 calories (1,400 x 52 = 72,800)... by the end of the year we have lost just over 20 lbs.

Repeat this for 3 years... and we have lost 60 lbs!!

Reducing 100 calories or burning 100 calories isn’t hard to do... what is hard is doing it consistently... each and every day.

Instead of weight loss, the goal could be saving money...

Just save $5 day each and every day (the price of a designer cup of Starbuck’s coffee)... and after one year... you’ll have saved $1,825... and after 10 years with a little compound interest you will have saved just over $25,000!

A little bit equals a lot over time...

Now in my case of living a successful life... I suppose that I could organize and energize people, raise great sums of money, and/or run for political office... but that’s not my calling...

I’m not trying to change the world... wholesale... I’m trying to affect just a small piece of it... retail...

And if I’m able to help just one person... make one person smile... repair one small thing... pick up one piece of trash... only do my small part... then I count it as a huge success because the world is incrementally better than it would have been had I never lived...

It’s about doing something consistently... doing it over and over until it becoming an innate habit that can be sustained over the course of a lifetime... over and over and over...

Consistency is not sexy... it is slow and plodding... one foot after another slowly getting to the place we desire... while enjoying the journey along the way...

True success doesn’t come from being fast... it comes from being consistent.
Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where we strive to bring our customers consistent products... consistent service... and consistent success.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Human Connections...

Today is the first Friday of the time for another guest blogger to join us...

Over the past 7 months we’ve had an incredible assortment of topics and musings from our guest bloggers...

Sarah, our blogger today gives us a glimpse of another interesting perspective from the point of view of a soon-to-be college graduate...

Do you have something interesting to say?...of course you do...

Drop me an e-mail if you’d like to join the ranks of "guest blogger"...
"Something there is that doesn’t love a wall...

I let my neighbor know and on a day we meet to walk the line and set the wall between us once again... 

Good fences make good neighbors."  
                            ~  Robert Frost, Mending Wall

I am currently in the middle of university finals and graduation preparation.

Three schools and two majors packing a suitcase of friendships, experience, a shoddy bit of wisdom, and a supernatural hope for the journey ahead. 

Naturally, this time brings an overwhelming sense of nostalgia of friendships begun freshman year... that have grown stuffy with neglect... now suddenly resurface as if sensing that our time grows short.

One such friendship, two really, which I have been indulging these past weeks, finds the three of us, late at night, conversing over now an empty bottle of wine, about some artistic, cultural and/or philosophically provoking movie or article. 

We ponder and probe at each other’s arguments and opinions while listening, discussing, agreeing, arguing and sipping our wine, until the wee hours of the morning, when the birds remind us that our fantastical utopia of divine musings must draw to a close. 

Though I freely admit that my sleeping habits have suffered this evening, there is a kind of life being freely exchanged among us; I feel as though we’ve resurrected literature’s Inklings or Schubert’s Salon Recitals as we sit in rational persistence of the human condition.

Most recently, the connections between people have overwhelming been the topic of our musings. 

How powerful is a gaze held slightly longer than socially acceptable, or a brush of the shoulders that violates the personal "space bubble" we might inflate each day.

There are legendary tales that surround greatly charismatic people as Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, and Mother Theresa. These stories tell us of an immediate intense personal connection with people; people we know only by reputation but whose attentions narrow profoundly at the intercommunication of another. 

In their presence, you feel as though you are the only person alive, and they live solely for the purpose of hearing your story. Then, at a certain moment, when eyes meet, perhaps hands hold, the connection is made and you become more fully human. 

In a profound moment such beautiful harmony is created between the instruments of the two souls, as if to say "It is good that you are." 

It echoes the words of Genesis, as God proclaims over His decree of creation: "It is very good." 

Christians believe that God Himself became incarnate and spent His ministry for the very purpose of creating human connections.

But... we are afraid. 

We are afraid to "go there" with another person..we are afraid of the exertion required to receive another... we are afraid of the possibility of not being received ourselves when we open our souls to say "hello." 

When we say "Hey! How are you?" over our shoulder as we pass by the familiar face we do not mean to question the emotional status but instead automatically disguise our acknowledgement of another person’s presence in our vision of realism. 

We traipse through the grocery store aisles, across college campuses, around the maze of cubicles with our eyes down and fixed on our children, our own troubles, our infinite task list that grows exponentially with each errand we cross off. 

How many connections are lost in these precious moments? How many people do you pass in your daily trajectory? How many people do we purposefully, or worse ignorantly, ignore as we persist in our own realities, content with comfort.

Making connections is terrifying as it causes us to be vulnerable. 

In a beautifully graphic scene of this human connection, Buddy Wakefield captures the essence of a buried angst we feel at opening ourselves to another in his slam poetry, "Convenience Stores." 

     Buddy Wakefield - Convenience Stores
      Buddy Wakefield - Convenience Stores

How appropriately named - how we love convenience.

What should happen if we stretched our arm and shook a tree just to feel its life; it doesn’t expect you, yet there is created, an instant bond of sensation, purpose, affirmation, and being. Just to be with another in this simply attractive expression is truly beautiful.

We are asked to drop our pose, this second nature we create for ourselves to survive, cope, experience, feel, heal, love. 

In the early 80’s movie, "My Dinner with Andre," Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory enter into an impressive dialogue on the nature of life, the nature of theater, and the modest simplicity of Shawn’s character contrasted with the spiritual ecstasies of Gregory’s extravagant experiences. 

        My Dinner with Andre 13/14
      My Dinner with Andre

When speaking on the raw encounters of another, particularly within the western social spheres Wally asks, "Suppose you’re going through hell in your own life... well you would love to know if your friends have experienced similar things. But you don’t dare to ask each other." Andre responds, "No, it would be like asking your friend to drop his role." Such an ugly and unnatural thing is fear.

My friends and I also spoke about the vast gender differences of living in community. 

In a houseful of women, emotions and tensions are sometimes palpable as subtext infiltrates conversation. "I’ll take the dishes in" soon becomes a vicious plea, "Please clean up after yourself so I don’t have to!" 

In a male household, particularly with those embracing their Italian and Spanish heritage, such subtitles are non-existent. An emotion of anger at being the only one to take out the trash translates to "Hey! Will you take out the trash, I do it all the time!" 

I sometimes envy men for their candor.  Is candor though perhaps it is just another word for courageous?

Today, my proposal is to rediscover our humanity. 

There is no embarrassment in making and maintaining those connections.

What great things we could do, large or small, without saluting our pride and fear before each day’s battles. "Something there is that doesn’t love a wall." 

There is something natural that cries from our depths wanting to communicate life. 

Fences are meant to separate people... by setting boundaries forcing us to keep our distance from our neighbors...

...but our neighbors are people... and people don’t need more fences... they need to be embraced and our friendships celebrated...

...making a human connection...

Sarah Kalb

My daughter Sarah currently resides in Los Angeles, her dream by writing, acting, and spending her time surrounded by friends, family, and well-wishers...