Business and work People Useful stuff

Awesome Quirk showreel and a little family mention

Quirk published an awesome showreel video a couple days ago and we watched it for the first time today. Its an inspiring and really well produced video:

I got a medium sized thrill at about 0:30 when I saw my brother, Asher, in the video. He is the guy on the right in this scene:

My brother … the marketing rockstar (excuse me, Quirkstar) …

Business and work Creative expression Entertainment

Missing Link sent me a Broken Bum care package, thank you @presorockgods

You may have read that I injured myself last week. It turned out that the “bruise” was a little more severe than I thought. The thoughtful folks over at Missing Link sent me a little care package to help speed up my recovery and I just had to say “thanks”!

To ensure my injury wasn’t in vain, I took the liberty of preparing this little disclaimer for any future slide jockeys:

You are about to experience the thrill of a high speed slide to the ground floor. Your palms may be a little sweaty as you contemplate the acceleration, wind in your hair and sudden stop at the bottom.

Its really exciting, its a rush but we should just point out that neither Missing Link or the awesome people who work and drink coffee here, happen to be passing by and wander in to see what all the fuss is about and anyone else loosely affiliated with all of these rockstars are going to be responsible if you injure yourself, injure us or lose your keys and mobile phone (or anything else for that matter) along the way.

As you assume the position and begin your attempt to break the office speed barrier, just remember its your decision. We offered you the stairs, but no, you had to break the sound barrier. Good luck! May the Force be with you. Make it so.

Business and work Travel and places

Europcar stars

I had a bad experience with Europcar about 2 years ago when I flew to Cape Town and found I couldn’t hire a car I booked through kulula. The main issue was that the person behind the counter wouldn’t accept my cheque card and wouldn’t do much to assist me (I didn’t use my credit card much back then). I wound up hiring a car from Avis where I received far better treatment and, more importantly, was able to hire a car and carry on with my journey.

I received an email from Europcar SA’s (on Twitter) general manager for marketing, Zavi Stein, in March responding to my blog post as if it was a recent post. It seems Europcar only picked up on my post this year. After pointing that out to Zavi we exchanged emails during the course of which Zavi offered me a Europcar Platinum Card and asked me to try Europcar when I next travel within South Africa. I don’t travel all that much so the card felt a bit like overkill for me but it was a generous offer so, what the heck, I accepted.

After giving Zavi and her team all my information for the card, I received it from Zavi personally. The idea behind the Platinum card is that you just show or swipe your card when you arrive to pick up a car you booked and you walk out with the key. No need to do all the admin you normally need to do when you walk in and book a car. The card comes with a variety of benefits including a car class upgrade and car availability. The reduced admin is terrific and the one thought I had about this was how awesome it would be if Europcar had a lower tier card option where customers could get the admin out the way at sign-up and get a card that just allows them to skip doing all the admin at the counter when they arrive to pick up a car. Those customers don’t even need all the benefits the platinum card holders receive, just that expedited checkout. That part of the experience was the most useful to me but more about that below.

Update: That reduced admin service is called the Ready Service and is also available to customers traveling on corporate accounts.

I finally flew to Cape Town a couple weeks ago for a WASPA Adjudicator’s workshop (I am an independent adjudicator) and took the opportunity to book a car with Europcar. My needs are pretty simple so I requested a Polo which was booked at the cost of one class down (the one card benefit). My flight left OR Tambo airport late due to a sick passenger who got off the plane. By the time we arrived and I walked through the terminal I was running late and couldn’t afford a delay at Europcar. When I arrived at the office, this was almost literally my experience:

  • I walked into the Europcar office and up to the counter directly opposite me as I walked in;
  • I took out the card and presented it and was directed to another counter nearer the entrance;
  • I walked over there, showed the guy behind the counter my card, he quickly checked my name, located the key, handed it to me and directed me to another employee who walked me out the other side to my car.

I think I stopped moving through the office for about 10 seconds from the time I arrived to the time I placed my bag in the car and got in. I overstating the delay. It was that quick.

The car was clean, I got to the workshop more or less on time and when I returned I pulled into the drop-off queue (as with just about any car rental company), handed over the key and walked into the terminal. My experience was totally different to my last encounter and this was probably largely due to me not having to deal with the admin and the realization that I couldn’t use a cheque card to pay. Instead, I registered a credit card with Europcar when I got the platinum card and the payment happened behind the scenes. The staff who helped me this time around got me out of the office as quickly and as courteously as they could and that meant I spent very little time getting the car and more time getting to my workshop and, on my return, getting on to my plane and going home.

That efficiency was what mattered to me. The car was only for two short drives and the Polo was perfect for what I needed. When I think about it now, what stands out for me is that the Europcar experience was limited to the essentials and didn’t get in my way. Isn’t that the point? This experience was a thousand times better than my previous one.

So, a big thank you to Zavi and her team. The platinum card certainly made a difference but they also simplified the booking process tremendously and answered some logistical questions I had quickly and decisively. I am flying to Cape Town again in September for the WTF Conference and I will use Europcar again, no need to even think about it.

Image credit: Europcar Cape Town Airport outlet by Muzi Mohale, licensed CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Business and work Design Mindsets Web/Tech

Ster Kinekor versus the Twitterati

The new Ster Kinekor website is an old story already and a lot has been written about its pros and cons. I got back into the story yesterday when someone behind the Ster Kinekor Twitter account engaged with me when I tweeted about my frustration with the site.

What followed was some engagement with Ster Kinekor in a series of direct messages. I was pointed to a terrific post and even more interest comment thread on Rian van der Merwe’s blog which a number of people contributed to, including Tim Bishop from Prezence, the company that built the site (Rian responded to a couple of his points in one of his comments). The thinking behind using Flash for the site basically comes down to the number of devices that support Flash compared to the number that don’t, coupled with the apparently amazing work the Prezence team was able to do with Flash to create a relatively speedy and resource-light site.

Although I am not a designer or a developer and have a pretty superficial grasp of the technical stuff, my thought is that with all the magic being done with HTML 5 and the fact that it seems to be supported by all modern browsers and a good number of mobile devices, sites should be developed with that rather than Flash. Its probably a little naive of me to think that given how little I really know so I should probably change my approach to the following critique as a user:

Tim’s comment on Rian’s post takes issue with more vocal people on Twitter who complain about the site while ordinary users who are still apparently using Internet Explorer 6 (old, insecure and doesn’t even know what HTML 5 is, let alone support it) in substantial numbers (I don’t believe it and Rian points to IE6 use in SA as being roughly 5.7% at the time, now roughly 4.5%). The local Twitterati have been pretty critical of the new site and while they are in the minority of South African users who use the Ster Kinekor site and who probably find all this fancy stuff quite nice, the Twitterati are influencers, pioneers and make sense for the most part. I am probably in that boat, at least in the sense that I use Twitter to complain and vent (not so sure about being influential, pioneering or even making sense) but I keep going back to my experience with the site. I am not new to the Web or to Flash sites and I struggle to do what the site is meant to help me do: find information on movies and show times and then book tickets.

I am an edge case in many respects. I use an iPhone which notoriously doesn’t support Flash at all and I am a Mac user. I use my phone a lot and have come to expect services I use to give me mobile access via an app or a decent Web interface. Bishop pointed out (somewhat facetiously) that a new mobile site is on the horizon which will work on pretty much all mobile devices including the iPhone. That’s good news because the Flash one is a pain to use and I want to be able to do stuff like that on the go anyway. What is also clear is that the Ster Kinekor site is not going to drop Flash anytime soon, despite the vocal outcry about how heavily the site uses Flash and the design decisions which were made. That means that critics should either just deal with it or not use the site at all. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few here and that isn’t a totally unreasonable approach. It is just an unsatisfactory one. As Rian pointed out in his reply to Bishop’s comment:

And I’d also like to point out that whatever the statistic is on % penetration of Flash, let’s not forget that there is a technology that has 100% penetration in all browsers: HTML. This also then settles the mobile argument, in my opinion.

Ultimately the feedback from Ster Kinekor leaves me feeling a little ill at ease about how it regards the vocal minority that is clearly passionate about usability, effective design and development. Its also a reminder that just because we make a lot of noise in our little ecosystem, when the numbers are tallied the Twitterati is not perceived to be the equivalent of pesky mosquitos. Its certainly not my happy place.

Business and work Mindsets Social Web Useful stuff Web/Tech

3 different video chat services, 3 interesting approaches

I was just watching the recent Facebook video calling announcement and the ad for video calling is at the end of the announcement video. It struck me as a little like the Apple ads so I found ads from Facebook, Apple and Google for their video calling services. Aren’t the different tones interesting?

Facebook video calling:

Apple FaceTime:

Google Hangouts:

Which ones tug at your heartstrings?

Business and work Mindsets People

Standard Bank employee: Listen to me!

I popped into Standard Bank’s Norwood Mall branch to reset a card’s PIN and was standing behind a clearly anxious woman in the queue. I overheard she needed help with a Marketlink account and was told to wait in the Enquiries queue for help. There were two people in Enquiries helping customers ahead of her and she was a little impatient, stepping in and out of the queue.

She cornered an employee, I believe his name is Zubeir Ahmed (or something like that, I caught a quick look at his name badge), and asked him to help her. He was a little gruff when he answered her question and explained to her that she either had to fill out a form and wait in the Enquiries queue or fax the form to the bank to do what she needed to do. She didn’t seem to understand what he was saying or asked a related question and his response was to become more impatient with her, interrupt her and repeatedly tell her to –

Listen to me!

She dropped out of the queue after that and disappeared around the corner, possibly to get the form he offered to print out for her.

Doesn’t sound like much of an issue but this sort of patronising approach bugs me and, Monday morning notwithstanding, all he probably did is add to her anxiety instead of easing it with some patience and consideration.

Image credit: RUDE! by sheriffmitchell, licensed CC NC SA 2.0

Business and work Social Web

Social networks: Twitter versus Facebook

I’ve been thinking about Twitter as a social network a little the last few days. I don’t really see it as a coherent social network and certainly not something which could go toe to toe with Facebook, or could it?

I put these two primitive infographics together this evening representing my incomplete thoughts about how Twitter and Facebook could be modelled as social networks. Twitter seems to me to be a pretty distributed social network with status and the social graph as core components and the other stuff almost outsourced.

Facebook is a lot easier. It’s components are pretty much all within its ecosystem, including 3rd party apps.

I’m not sure how to represent how both Facebook and Twitter interface with 3rd party sites and platforms and create a sort of identity layer but the main distinction between the two seems to be consolidated versus distributed even though both have linkages into other sites and platforms which result in a sort of extended ecosystem.

I could have this wrong or could have over-simplified the models so feel free to pitch in. I’m trying to get my head around the models. Facebook makes sense to me as a social network. Twitter, on the other hand, doesn’t – at least not to the extent Facebook does. I have started seeing younger users who seem to have bypassed Facebook for the most part and went straight to Twitter but just don’t see how this makes sense if the plan is to use Twitter as a sort of end to end social network.

(And yes, I do need to get out more …)

Business and work Mindsets

About that whole "@picknpay sucks" thing

My wife, Gina, told me about a post Laura-Kim Allmayer posted recently in which she had a good experience with Pick ‘n Pay after a pretty nasty one. I am not exactly a Pick ‘n Pay fan and, to paraphrase Worf in Star Trek Insurrection, I definitely feel “aggressive tendencies” when I shop at our local Pick ‘n Pay. At the same time I am starting to sound a bit like a couple local blowhards who bitch about companies constantly (although many of them are trolling for work) so I thought I should mention some of the good things Pick ‘n Pay does for its customers.

Anyway, Laura-Kim’s two posts are here and here. In her first post she talks about non-existent stock and the stupid admin in a store to redeem her Smart Shopper Card points. I encountered a similar idiotic admin requirement when I returned something recently and was told to go from person to person for the privilege of returning an item and spending the credit on something else. Oh, and I wasn’t 36 weeks pregnant like Laura-Kim was when she was told by the cashier to walk across the store for a piece of paper after pushing a heavy trolley for an hour.

Her second post paints a very different picture of Pick ‘n Pay:

I complained, they heard me and today they arrived with a bunch of flowers and a box of chocolates. They could have gotten a delivery guy to drop the items off but they got two of their Client Services Managers to drop them off. Elizabeth and Simon both deal with customer issues IN the store. So know I have the names of two people who will help me in the store should I experience a similar problem.

This was more important to me than the gifts (although I do really appreciate them a lot) because both managers have assured me they take these issues seriously but more importantly they are now accountable for the actions of the staff of the PnP Hypermarket. They are now listening to me – THAT I appreciate so much more.

One thing I have noticed when I have a Pick ‘n Pay rant is that the more senior staff and the people manning the Twitter account are a lot more helpful and friendlier than their floor staff. I have encountered nothing but a desire to help me out when I have been stuck in a queue and had to deal with sullen and passive aggressive floor staff.

Its easy to paint a brand as one thing based on experiences with a sub-set of the the company’s staff. I have certainly done that and probably will do it again but Pick ‘n Pay’s more senior staff really do seem to have a genuine desire to facilitate a more enjoyable retail experience. I’m not talking about staff pandering to customers, just being able to go buy stuff and not have a strong urge to beat a cashier or callous packer with cans of tinned peaches. On the other hand, those same floor staff are a retail version of karma. Shopping at Pick ‘n Pay is neutral at best and, more frequently, an opportunity to exercise self-control and some form of moving meditation to keep blood pressure down. Or, as Laura-Kim put it:

I can honestly tell you now if I was not so scared of jail time I would have physically assaulted her.

So, credit should go where it is due. As much as I bitch about Pick ‘n Pay, especially my local store, there are some good people working there (and virtually anywhere) who sincerely do their best. We shouldn’t let the jerks on the shop floor eclipse them.