Category: Startup Culture

Maturing from a StartUp to a StartedUp culture – Series Part 2

The Startup and the 3 P’s: Product, Process and People

I will not pretend to know everything about startups and startup culture, but I will list the reasons why startup culture is exciting, at least for me:

You meet great people, people who have ideas and want to try things, people who have passion and want to make an impact, people who will challenge you to do better. There is passion for working together as a team, passion for building trust within the team and passion for collectively making an impact in other people’s lives; or sometimes, passion for just making something happen – to create. There is passion for possibly creating something that could go big – disrupt everything, all built from the ground up with the teams sweat, blood and tears where everyone is high on adrenaline. Suits? Offices? As long as you are connected with your team and are working well together, those things don’t matter. There is no red-tape, or big top-down structures, everyone and anyone has access to all. Anyone can start working on anything, there are many hats to choose from; wear all. You don’t get bored as things are evolving and stay fresh, there are new ideas, old ideas, odd ideas; anything can change anytime.

At the end of the day, a startup is defined by its growth; when a startup doesn’t grow, it dies; it stops.

There can be several growth stages for a startup, and startups evolve; once they start growing they are now “startedup” and will hopefully grow exponentially. In a perfect world, the cultural values that made the startup fun would remain and in some cases they do (depending on where the growth has lead the startup) but there are times where the culture itself that helped the startup grow and evolve starts conflicting with what is needed to grow to the next level.

Product Growth
Let’s say you follow agile and you end up with iterations, planned work, release schedules and a clear pipeline of what needs to be built. This all worked great when you had 2 products and a team of 10; since you have grown, the expectations of what you can or will deliver have also grown. Some brilliant folks in your team have discovered 2 more products that should be added to your portfolio; how do you grow your current 2 products (since they have a feature and defect backlog) and also work on these 2 new products without increasing your team size, changing delivery for current products or burning out resources? Before you grew, you may have had your own expectations of when and how you would bring on these two new products; now that you’ve grown, others may have different expectations from you and your team(s). Maybe you say “we need more people”, which brings me to the next point

People Growth
With the growth of the startup, either through sales, funding or more investment and the need to create more product it is decided that you bring on more people, and you do. You end up facing the same issue, how do you grow people with the same 10 resources you had who are busy working the two existing products; some of the people you bring on may be self-starters and will figure everything out by themselves but what about the ones who don’t? So now you say “we need some process and automation to free up some of the manual work so that we can do more with the same resources”, which brings us to…

Process Growth
How do you focus on process and automation to free up time when the people you have are busy with supporting the existing two products, or are supporting the existing two products and are also trying to bring the new hires on-board?

A part of me says that the above three growth challenges are not really challenges and that they are part of what it means to be a startup culture and are expected. However; there are a few by-products that the 3 P’s create that can become toxic, stop growth and hurt the culture if they are not accounted for when trying to grow.

The Frat party & the first team
The first team consists of the people that built the startup; it was their teamwork and effort that made the startup grow; anyone who comes later is an outsider and “we need to be careful about who we let into our frat party” (once upon a time I lived on frat row). This one is not intentional, but when you work closely in teams and blur the line between friendship and co-workers, you end up creating an inner circle and make it challenging for an outsider to easily integrate and feel welcomed. This by-product is a blocker for People growth.

The golden simple process
At some point there was predictability and little chaos in what all needed to be done (smaller team, less products) so everyone starts expecting things to always be perfect. Even though you have grown, you have kept your process simple and did not optimize for KPI’s and other metrics that can help with predictability, complexity, risk and estimation. There will be times where things change, dates get reset and/or product scope creeps. If you had built a roadmap of what releases when, had committed the teams to that and put all these releases with their iterations back-to-back (because of all the product that had to get pushed out to show growth and maturity) and dates or requirements change on you (usually not for the better) the team and its happy culture will get disrupted as it will take effort to get things back on track; when/if this happens all the time, it gets hard to get away from the domino effect and people burn out, get disengaged and/or leave. This by-product is a blocker for Process growth.

Single threads
When you were small, everyone knew what everyone else was doing, everyone shared and individuals had their skillsets. Now you have grown, 2 months ago you were 10 people, today you are 75, the 65 newer ones don’t understand the code base or the original design, there is some good documentation but they need more information and there are 3 key people who know different things about the original products; original products that you want the new 65 people to work on so that the first team can work on the two new ones; how do you distribute the knowledge known by the 3 key people, make them available to the 65 and allow the 3 key people to focus on their new projects? If they are constantly being pinged by others and cannot get their work done; their sense of accomplishment doesn’t scale much; especially if you did not plan for them to set time aside and help others. This by-product is a blocker for Product growth.

Each blocker is situation (just like leadership) and can be solved; we will examine and solve for each, before we move onto other “StartedUp” culture challenges. The next post goes into process KPI’s and metrics – addressing the golden simple process blocker.

Maturing from a StartUp to a StartedUp culture

The content for this discussion is several pages long so I will release it in posts as a series.
Introduction

A couple of weeks ago I had interesting discussions with a software lab focused on mobile tech out in the Boston, MA area. Ideas were exchanged, we spoke about different issues that impact teams, growth, product, process and discussed different ways they could be solved.

After the dialogue, reflecting back on the content and looking for a root cause or pattern I realized that this wasn’t the first time I had discussed or worked on solving these type of issues; growing pains, single threads, lack of process, maturation are just some of the terms used to describe the root cause and in most cases its all of them as they mean the same thing and to me that is “growing startup culture”

A startup company or start-up from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Startup_company

A startup company or startup is a company, a partnership or temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.[1] These companies, generally newly created, are in a phase of development and research for markets. The term became popular internationally during the dot-com bubble when a great number of dot-com companies were founded.Lately, the term startup has been associated mostly with technological ventures designed for high-growth. Paul Graham, founder of one of the top startup accelerators in the world, defines a startup as: “A startup is a company designed to grow fast. Being newly founded does not in itself make a company a startup. Nor is it necessary for a startup to work on technology, or take venture funding, or have some sort of “exit.” The only essential thing is growth. Everything else we associate with startups follows from growth.”

And from the same source, a startup culture

Startups utilize a casual attitude in some respects to promote efficiency in the workplace, which is needed to get their business off of the ground. In a 1960 study, Douglas McGregor stressed that punishments and rewards for uniformity in the workplace is not necessary, as some people are born with the motivation to work without incentives.[11] This removal of stressors allows the workers and researchers to focus less on the work environment around them, and more at the task at hand, giving them the potential to achieve something great for their company.

This culture has evolved to include larger companies today aiming at acquiring the bright minds driving startups. Google, amongst other companies, has made strides to make purchased startups and their workers feel right at home in their offices, even letting them bring their dogs to work.[12]The main goal behind all changes to the culture of the startup workplace, or a company hiring workers from a startup to do similar work, is to make the people feel as comfortable as possible so they can have the best performance in the office.

This is what most of us understand startups to be; but I would argue that startup cultures do not only apply to a new or young company (a startup) or that the culture is inherited through acquiring a startup; applying the culture and model that exist in a typical startup one can “build startup culture”.

If startup culture is a “must have” then how can there be any issues with that culture? To clarify, in my opinion startup culture is great, they build great teams, focus on product, have a great culture and are fun to be in – and I respect and thrive in them; you start running into issues once the startup has started-up and you need to scale three core P’s: people, product and process. For me, the key is using teamwork and relying on your peers to figure out how to scale all three at the same time while everyone is busy with their other workload.

The next post will outline some of the end-products of startup-culture that should be addressed/changed in order for the startup to mature as it goes from being a startup to started-up culture

Building a dynamic onboarding program for Martians

Chances are that you have been through some form of schooling (high school, college, maybe some random instructional education) and have hopefully figured out that everyone learns differently.

For me, learning and passing my classes meant that I showed up to all classes, took no notes – just listened and the day or so before a test or final, skim through the text books (if i had purchased them) and then just showing up for the tests. Once I figured out how to do that very well, my last 3-4 semesters for my Bachelors, Comp Sc were filled with A’s and my Masters, Software Eng was a solid 4.0.

Was  it a piece of cake? Nope, but I surely made it seem like it was.

So whats the secret? or whats the relationship to that with onboarding? or well what is onboarding?

From Wikipedia

Onboarding, also known as organizational socialization, refers to the mechanism through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective organizational members and insiders.[1] Tactics used in this process include formal meetings, lectures, videos, printed materials, or computer-based orientations to introduce newcomers to their new jobs and organizations. Research has demonstrated that these socialization techniques lead to positive outcomes for new employees such as higher job satisfaction, better job performance, greater organizational commitment, and reduction in stress and intent to quit.[2][3][4] These outcomes are particularly important to an organization looking to retain a competitive advantage in an increasingly mobile and globalized workforce. In the United States, for example, up to 25% of workers are organizational newcomers engaged in an onboarding process

Some organizations have great onboarding programs; some don’t. There are going to be cases where you inherit a team that has single-threaded subject matter experts and as a manager you may be expected to distribute that knowledge and grow the team – with no process or onboarding program in place. Yes, you have to create it, so where do you start?

Do you invest time in meetings? create videos? printed materials? who will read all that? who will do the work if your team is off training new hires? is that really a good use of their time? or a real-world question “Do you have bandwidth?”. The answer is No.

So, why not use what you, or I learnt during schooling? when we ourselves were learning? how did you learn? How could you create an onboarding program from nothing? and how could you be sure it would work? You really do not want to invest time in something that is  not going to work so it needs to be agile enough to change on a whim.

Okay – enough of the red flags, here is what I did. Ill try to make this as generic as possible.

I inherited a team of martians, and the problem is that they only speak a special language, called martia. Turns out that its a very ancient language and that no one really speaks martia nor is it taught in college. The small group of martians have been speaking it for 15 years and they as a team are great at it, theres just a few of them. It also turns out that there are all these documents that come in that need to be checked for grammar and spelling, and corrections – in many cases the martians really have to research and see what the intent of the document was because in some cases they have to re-write the document correctly – it can definitely be time consuming and this is the only team that can do this.

This team of martians is also aging, some have retired, others were move to other planets so I have to hire more martians – but, there are none around. So I hire a martian from a different universe and tell it that it needs to learn martia and I will help it learn this language; the language it speaks, we dont care for it. Here is the process that gets put in place

1. Every day the new hire will sit with a senior martian for 2-3 sessions and learn stuff

2. The sessions will be 30 minutes long and after every session there will be a break, during which the new hire will document all that was covered

3. During the next session, the senior martial will review notes, as a refresh to where they left off, and continue the information offload

4. Steps 2 and 3, repeat for a week or so; after which the new hire will then attempt to work the documents

5. as the new hire works the documents, it will have questions, it will document them

6. the new hire will setup additional sessions with the sr martian to get clarification and answers

So – you say this is just common sense and normal stuff.. how are we reducing the dependency on the sr martian who is already busy? here is the answer:

A couple of months go by and another new hire is brought on

1. The new hire sets up sessions with the x-new hire, i.e. the junior martian.

2. the new hire reads all the documentation created by the junior martian

3. several sessions take place where the junior martian and new hire go over content

4. a session every now and then takes place where the sr martian comes in to listen in, and see how the training is going

5. if the sr martian adds anything, its documented in the growing on-boarding document

6. the new hire then also attempts to work documents and goes to the junior martian for assistance – and if needed, they both go to the Sr. martian.

So, its somewhat like train-the-trainer you say…. yes, it is., except, the trainer role gets passed down to the newest hire. if you keep hiring, you start building a 2-tier training team, where the junior martians, through teamwork, will try to come to a conclusion, and then will be empowered to go to the senior martians for confirmation. This helps build teamwork, confidence and helps them acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective organizational members and insiders.

Sooner or later, your team of martians will grow and the martia language, once so uncommon, will become common and the perception that its the monster in the closet that only the select few can understand, soon goes away.

Leadership: Mini-Motivators of Motivation

In my journey through leadership , I learn a lot through experiences and observations… here is one observation:

We all work for different things and we are all entitled to our personal (or not) reasons for what motivates us. Motivation is probably the single most powerful thing that keeps an employee (willingly) at a company.

Motivation comprises of many things; I will not pretend to be the expert on motivation (or leadership) but for me and maybe for you (and possibly the general public), I think it breaks down into three mini-motivators.

  • Market: Product/Space you work on/in, the day-to-day things you do
  • Money: How much you get paid to do what you do
  • Manager/Management: Your belief, trust and/or respect for the person or people who is/are your leader(s).

To ensure that people are motivated, all leaders should focus and be challenged to ensure that all three mini-motivators are attended to as in an ideal job, one would have a good mix of all three.

So the question is: What happens when you start taking things away? or what if you had to focus on just one to grow your team? In my opinion (and many others as well), “Manager/Management” is the silver bullet.

People work for great managers/management teams and will continue to work for them even if the pay is low or the job is boring; however, if you take away the great manager/management team and give the person a great market opportunity and/or over compensate, eventually, the individual(s) will leave for other opportunities where they feel they will also get the “manager/management” balance.

There have been quite a few times when I have heard the phrase “People don’t leave companies, they leave managers” and slowly, it has started to make sense.

Leaders must focus on motivation and be managers that are looked up to; if you have leaders who are not respected and looked up to, or “followed; you have a motivation problem and (good) people will leave.

The super hero characters we play

I feel that similar to the characters in the movie x-men, we all play different characters at work and have different attributes/powers. I however like to think that there are just 4 main characters….

Promoters: This is entrepreneurial-ism at its finest. These types of characters need no reason to introduce change that improves the lives of others around them. They simply walk in, look for something they can help improve and go at it. They promote change, new ways of thinking and mentor by example and strive to do exceed their own expectations. There is no fear of accountability or making a decision, be it right or wrong, they will act regardless of being asked or not. They are also overly positive and negativity does not demotivate them in any way.

Workers: These are your dependable characters; you want something done? They will get it done for you and not let you down. They will invest hours, sweat and blood to deliver what you ask of them; however they still need a little nudge from someone else; someone like a promoter. They are accountable to the tasks that are assigned to deliver on by someone else. In many cases they go over and beyond just to make sure they have met the expectation by a 100%. These characters have a positive energy most of the time; negativity gets them and their motivation down.

Watchers: These are characters that walk around, see what’s going on and assist when asked. They prefer to keep their necks low, blend in with the decor, and wait around for the next check. They would prefer do the minimum to meet what is expected of them. These characters have a neutral personality, neither negative nor positive, but will tend to appear more positive than neutral.

Negators: These are the toxic characters that not only are negative but will attempt to derail the promoters, be in the way of the workers and try to solicit the watchers to join the negators in their quest to make no progress. It wasn’t their idea, so it must be wrong; these characters fear change, do not want to be accountable nor do they want any new expectations set. If it was up to them, they would crawl under a rock and stay there forever. When they do come with a good idea, they cannot deliver as it requires them to actually do the work, be accountable and deliver; it is at this point they look for the workers to push their workload onto to get the task(s) done.

We should all strive to be Promoters that reward, mentor and recognize the workers, making them fellow promoters; motivating the watchers to become workers and pushing aside the negators if they cannot be changed. This may be a lot of work for an individual, but a piece of cake for a superhero………and thus; we should all let out our super hero identities.

Making Changes: Change Cycle

To stay ahead (or on top) of the game, we must recognize that change is good and that we must be continuously improving the way we work. While reading a book “90 days” I realized that I had been through these stages multiple times, fortunately walking away successful. It also made me realize how close I was to a possible failure in some of the changes I had made and because of this realization; the Change Cycle will always be on the back of my mind when I attempt to drive Change.

I took the concept that was in the book and modified the terms as it was easier for me to relate the “change cycle” to something I already knew, the “process cycle”.

Here is what I do and have to say about process:

Good process should be well tailored to the organization that intends to benefit from it. Process is much easier to implement when its implemented in stages based on a feedback loop; When improving or introducing process, a big concern is usually how fast and how much? Well, too much too early generally results in resistance to change and too little too late results in process loss.

So what should be done?

A rapid agile approach should be taken when implementing process. Process is implemented and/or improved when the lack of process has been identified. Once an idea of what process needs to be implemented has been formed, the cycle starts with

  • Introducing the process as a pilot, if the pilot is successful
  • It should then be verified that it’s repeatable. If the pilot is successful and repeatable
  • It should be formally defined and shared among the team as the formal process.
  • The process should now be managed and measured to obtain metrics to figure out how successful it is, its ROI, etc. These metrics should then be used to
  • Optimize and continuously improve the process.

The concepts of the “process cycle” for introducing a process are very close to the concepts of a “change cycle” for introducing a change.

In a change cycle, you:

  • Introduce a change and if the introduction of the change seems successful you then
  • Maintain the success to obtain stability. Once stability has been insured you
  • Optimize and introduce other changes as needed; this is your optimal success cycle.
  • Should the change not be maintainable, you will need to
  • Adapt the change to make it maintainable; this is the adapting cycle.
  • If you cannot adapt your change to be maintainable, you might have to
  • Change direction and counter the change; this is the Counter cycle.
  • If the change cannot be countered and be made maintainable, you will end up with a failed change. You can also end up with failure if your introduced change is not successful. A change can easily be unsuccessful if it’s too large; rubs people the wrong way, inappropriate, incorrect, etc.

Sometimes we start in this cycle at a completely different stage, for example we may realize that we have inherited a change put in place by someone else (different team, a VP, etc.) and we now need to act and adapt their request, or counter the change, making it successful. The 90 days book does a good job of giving a more general view of the change cycle; for me, the stage comparison of the two cycles makes sense.

The change cycle for making changes is just a small piece of the puzzle. How you go about obtaining buy in from your team, peers, and higher ups is another big part of the puzzle that will either result in success or failure. That will be a topic for another day.

eCommerce Tech- When sucess is the reason for failure

Success is always welcomed; we always work towards success, and preferably in most cases we can track towards it and see it coming…

But what do you do when success comes and you are the least bit prepared?

In the eCommerce world, your ability to evolve will make or break you. If you don’t rush to ensure you are prepared, you will end up with failure. I learnt an important lesson in eCommerce and startup almost a year back, may 2010.

Most tech based startups, start lean, and thats the appropriate approach. You do not want to go out and get dedicated hosted, or even get on a cloud host that costs a few hundred $’s a month when your revenue is $0 or already in the negative.. on that train of thought…

We were hosting our Blanklabel website on a shared host. Our provider was discountasp.com and I had (and still do) used them for years for many other projects/websites. I have always known the benefits and drawbacks of using a shared host…. and at 60k visitors per month and no set bandwidth limits, it was a great home for a “start up”….

That was until the New Your Times published an article on us.

To be fair, I did know that we were getting an article published in NTY; but it was a day or two before and there wasn’t much we would have done in preparation for it mainly because we did not know to expect. Our website was functioning, the order and payment system was fine, everything looked good…

Within a few minutes of the article showing up… we went from “functioning perfectly fine” to the brink of failure! How? Why?…. I live in CA so below is a time-log in PST of the sequence of events..

3:00 AM – I was coding Away… decided I needed to get some sleep so I closed shop…
3:30 AM – My phone rang, went to voice mail, woke me up,
3:35 AM – Checked my email, saw some questions about performance, looked at the website, seemed fine, sent an email in response, sent an email to discountasp went back to sleep
4:30 AM – Phone ran, answered, heard something like “It seems to be fine on my end, but customers are saying that the images are not loading”., I said “How many? just a couple? Call me back if its more than couple, could just be their connection, its working fine for me as well”… checked email, discountasp responded with the same “looks good here”, emailed them again “We are getting more complaints”.. back to sleep
6:00 AM – Phone rang again, Panicking person (you know who you are) on the other end “I have 22 chat sessions open with customers who are trying to buy, there is something definitely going on”.. This time, I got out of bed, I cleared cache, refreshed the pages a few times, tried to place and order, and there it was, random images were missing, email went out to discountasp again..
6:15 AM – I decided it was time to start looking at the logs… and there it was… As people started their morning on the East coat and were looking at their NYT print and web… our hits were rising… we had gone from a few hundred per day… to 35,000 per second… yes PER SECOND.
6:15 AM – Emailed discountasp again! asking if we could increase shared resource or get some sort of load balancing and pay for multiple servers… and also decided it was time to look for a Plan B
6:16 AM – Started looking for my Rackspace contact….
6:17 AM – Started to chat with Rackspace
7:00 AM – Signed up for Rackspace Cloud
7:19 AM – Started to download the current discountasp FTP snapshot
7:20 AM – 6 month old daughter woke up, so I was entertaining her while i did the rest below…
7:30 AM – Response from discountasp “Yea, we cant help you”…..
7:35 AM – Started to prepare a mental migration plan.. aka Plan B…
7:40 AM – Plan B was ready! Created SSL request at RackSpace, MS Sql server provisioned
7:45 AM – Download database backup file
8:00 AM – Restored Database file at RackSpace… Decided I should account for the orders that will continue to go over to the discount house so that no orders are lost and that I can migrate them over later… So I put in a 1500 order jump in the identity seed
8:XX AM – The rest of this hour went towards uploading the website to Rackspace,updating code to ensure that things worked fine on Rackspace, doing a few test runs…..updating DNS, generating and applying SSL,
9:XX AM – Started seeing orders come in on the new Database…. not just 1 or 2 here and there., but 15-20 every few minutes minutes. Was still chatting with Rackspace support to see if we could get some sort of stats, but since we had just signed up, it was not yet setup.
10:00 AM – Started to see discountasp log show traffic had reduced, server was now able to process requests that it got while the DNS updated globally.
10:XX AM – Declared Victory, while all the above was going on, My daughter was entertaining me.. or was it I who was entertaining her?…
11:00 AM – Continued to see things progress… orders still coming in… in hundreds… Called it a day for now… needed a break from this..
11:30 AM – Some more emails came in from discountasp ….. I wasn’t too happy with their lack of customer service and commitment… I guess the name does fit it well… its a discount store.. nothing compared to Rackspace’s fanatical customer support… I would not say they are really that “Fanatic”.. but… its better than discountasp and they are usually helpful.
6:XX PM – Due to the large # of orders, outgoing emails got blocked because the Rackspace servers saw it as SPAM/Flood. after an hour or so of going back and forth, Rackspace unblocked the email and thousands of emails went out to customers.
———–

2:00 AM – Discountasp hosted site was at 0 hits; Did a global DNS check, found all routes leading to Rackspace host.
2:XX AM – Started coding scripts to bring in the orders that ended up going to discountasp servers while DNS was still updating
3:XX AM – Executed the scripts after verification.. was impressed to see that my buffer of 1500 served me well., we had 1393 orders that ended up saving on the old database… once these were broight over with the same Order Id we had a gap of just 107 orders!
4:XX AM – Realized that I forgot to put in a buffer for the User Id, had to resolve this as we now had two users with the same User ID’s because of the split servers
5:00 AM – Emailed out the #’s of shirts we sold to the team!…
———-
7:00 AM – “Shut down the website, we cannot process any more, we are over capacity”…. I will leave this one for another day..
———-

In the time-log above, I have highlighted take-aways in bold that will help you prepare and execute a “Live Migration” from one host to another host AND ensure that all your data comes with you, with no additional negative impact to your customers. Today, we are still with Rackspace and are content with their service… We have however grown and believe we are ready to take the next big step in cloud hosting.

This blog post is just one of the many examples where potential success can take you down if you do not know how to prepare, execute and evolve in real time.

You are a worthless customer

Artscow.com, Thank you for telling me how worthless I am and giving me something to write about.

While this post is a dedication to artscow.com, the major focus of this post is “What is a customer worth to you”.

I am aware that there are more than a handful metrics and formulas you can use to figure out a $ amount; but this post is directed more towards the ethical and monetary value of a customer.

So let me start with a series of events…. Which were actually related to my wife’s interaction with an ecommerce purchase:

We have been long time customers of shutterfly, we love their customer service, product quality and the variety of products and services they offer…

Shutterfly does entice us with special offers and discounts and many times we pay full price for their products, which compared to professional studio and/or printer are a steal with as good or greater quality. Whenever there is a need, we have obtained products from them…

However; every now and then, you come across an offer that doesn’t cost you anything, and you say why not… One of these offers was artscow; they were offering 30 8×10 prints for free; all you had to pay was standard us postage, roughly $3.

My wife ordered the prints; a decent looking website.. The eCommerce/cart was slightly underpowered compared to shurterfly (boy is that an understatement) but it was a Fairly painless process.

A week or so went by and the prints showed up in the mail. We noticed that these shipped out of china (nothing wrong with that) and upon opening then, the print quality was decent; I.e nice color and gloss… However upon inspecting the images, the pictures were cropped left and right. From the 15 prints, 2 were usable.

My wife got on gmail and contacted customer service; a day went by and the response we got was instructions on placing items in cart and ordering them. None of the content in the response addressed the issue with the print.

Now I had to get involved; I took pictures of the pictures and emailed them over along with what it should have looked like. Also took a screenshot of their webpage that showers thumbnails of what was being ordered.

What I was expecting was a “Thank you for the details, please use this coupon to reorder your prints. While reviewing your images, we notices that the image is slight larger than what 8×10; even though it would have fit as the proportions were correct, out tool does not resize/shrink. Hence the cropping”…..

What I got was, “you didn’t adjust the image, so your got that”..,., and that was it…

I guess, we have been spoilt by shutterflys tool that notified you of any potential issues you may run into if your image is larger than the print or the image resizes, or crops.. but is that really our fault?

Here is where my “You are a worthless customer” statement ties in.
1. We were given FREE prints
2. We paid about $3 in shipping

How hard would it have been for artscow to say “Let us fix your experience, here is a coupon for another set of free prints” and maybe they could have even thrown in a “and you don’t even have to pay for shipping this time”… keep in mind, we still had coupons in our account for free prints which artscow.com would have been aware of… so I guess, we were not even worth $3 to them 🙂 what does it tell you about such a vendor?… so what is their official policy? “ArtsCow.com offers 30-day money back guarantee on all products. If you would like to return or exchange an item, please contact us to fill out a request form, and we will instruct you on how to send the item(s) back. Please keep in mind, shipping charges are not refundable”…. go figure…

Let me compare this to similar situations with shutterfly, at one time we ordered prints using low res images instead of the high res ones. When they got printed, the pictures were pixelated, obviously customer fault; however, shutterfly reprinted and shipped for free! I believe our order was worth $65; doing a comparison on “how much a customer is worth” I would have to say that we were at least worth the $65…. Now should the order have been $600 and it had been customer error; I do not know if shutterfly would have given us the same “let’s fix it for you”… eventually it tapers off and vendors will only pay so much to hold onto customer loyalty… however, their policy “If, for any reason, you’re not happy with a purchase, we’ll replace your order, at no charge, or give you a full refund.”….

Enough about shutterfly; let’s talk about Zazzle.com. We purchased a Groupon for $50 for $25; went online, customized some invites, ordered the invites; got them in the mail; somehow the “customized text” was replaced with the “generic text” that was shown as an example.
1. Customer error? No, and even it was….
2. Cart/Website should have caught the issue as no one would be buying customized invitations and keep the generic/sample text

The total order was worth $87; I chased Zazzle customer service down on twitter and had them help me with an emailed request to customer support. We got our Groupon certificate replenished and balance refunded and we placed our order again. Customer worth? $87 in this case…. and actually, if you look at Zazzles policy “If you don’t love it we’ll take it back”..

Now let me mentioned another eCommerce vendor that i actually know more about, and that is blank-label.com.

I know that at blank-label.com we care about customer satisfaction and loyalty, on the front page currently we have “Our Custom Fit Guarantee You will be completely satisfied with your custom fit dress shirt. If not, we’ll take it back and try again–free of charge.”. We toyed with 100% refunds in the beginning and then moved onto free remakes and we have been thinking of going back to 100% refunds or remakes. We moved away from 100% refunds was because we really wanted to do a good job of making sure that we met customer expectations and simply giving the money back wasn’t cutting it for us; if we still messed up after the 2nd try, we do refund the $’s and if someone really doesn’t want a remake, we refund in those cases as well… it’s just not a published policy 🙂

What is blank-labels customer worth? I have seen transactions in the $300 range been credited back to customer service; if you have not yet tried a custom shirt from blank-label.com I suggest you give them a try.

In summary, Customer satisfaction brings customer loyalty; if you do not care about your customers, they will not care about you…. especially if you make them feel worthless.