Thoughts on love, hate and Twitter, blogging

If you’ve been following me on Twitter or reading this blog, you’ll undoubtedly have noticed that I frequently use words like “sucks,” “shitty,” “terrible” and “horrid.” I also frequently use words like “brilliant,” “genius,” “amazing” and “great.”

So, you may be wondering: Is Rocky manic-depressive?

The answer is no. I’m fairly even-keeled most of the time. But if I take the time to tweet or blog about something, it’s because it moved me enough (positively or negatively) to take the time to comment. If something was so-so, OK or fine (most things are), it just doesn’t rise to the level of tweeting, writing, etc.

I’m also a writer by training, so I try to make my writing interesting and punchy. I won’t make up stuff just to have it interesting or punchy, but I will be sharp about it. I try to include quotable sentences and sometimes will even check to make sure those sentences will fit in a tweet.

You may also notice that I’m often a contrarian. This is in part because I’m a generalist. I find usability, psychology, marketing and brand, graphic design, investing, incentive systems, operations, market research and fraud all equally fascinating. I try to take a holistic approach to products and experiences and evaluate them based on all of these disciplines.

When I evaluate products, I try to step out of myself and evaluate it from the perspective of others. Just the other day, I was testing out an RFID room entry system at the Sheraton Delfina. I was studying how long it took for entry, whether it beeped (for blind guests) or had visual indicators (for deaf guests).

Technology should serve humans; not the other way around. Too many technologists start with the technology and not the person. I hate technologies that are looking for a problem.

Some of my favorite examples of this, both in the love and hate department:

  • Bloomberg’s guest-badging system. It’s such a simple thing that we do pretty regularly, but most people don’t think to improve it. By taking into account everyday scenarios, they dramatically improved what may seem like a trivial experience not worth focusing on.
  • American Express’s phone system. You probably know that I’m a big fan of American Express. But their phone system drives me nuts. I do everything I possibly can online using their Web site. This includes paying my bill, checking balances, reviewing transactions and initiating disputes. Except for their bill payment system, the Web site is generally great. So what happens when I call? I have to go through the same damn phone menus as everyone else. If my task was automatable, I would have done that on the Web site! If I’m calling, I need to talk to a representative. Don’t waste my time in phone menus. (Disclosure: I worked for Tellme, the company that runs AMEX’s ASR systems.)
  • Starwood’s Twitter support. Starwood has long been an industry leader in adoption new customer care technologies. They seem to have a 24×7 support team. I had a request on a recent trip to Los Angeles and I was able to take care of it almost entirely over Twitter. Being able to resolve problems asynchrously is a big deal — I don’t have to wait while agents perform tasks or hang on while their slow computer system pulls up reservations.
  • Google NFC. This is the ultimate example of technology looking for a problem to solve. Swiping a credit card to make a payment just isn’t that hard. When you add up all of the steps — unlocking your phone for corporate restrictions, launching the app, unlocking the payment wallet and then tapping — it actually takes more time than swiping a card. It’s technology for the sake of technology.
  • Dell’s customer service policy. Incentives work really well and people adapt to them. Often, systems create unintended incentives that are bad for business. Dell wanted to reduce costs of processing returns. If you called up Dell with a complaint about a system you purchased, they would try to get you to keep it by offering a discount (often $50-$100). It was a perfectly rational thing to do; it would’ve cost them more to process the return and they’d have to sell the item as a refurb at a discount. But word got out that this was happening and people started using it as a mechanism to get discounts on items they never intended to return. Great for consumers, bad for Dell.
  • Mobile carrier’s order page. One of the large national carriers was doing some analysis on their online ordering. They found that the “promotion code” field caused a lot of people to abandon the shopping cart. They felt screwed if they didn’t have a promotion code — someone else was getting a better deal! Most companies would have just hidden the promo code field. This company did one better; they seeded the Internet with easily Googlable promotion codes. The discount was a low-value discount, but now the customers went from feeling like they were getting screwed to feeling like they were outsmarting the system. Consumer psychology in action!

About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
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1 Response to Thoughts on love, hate and Twitter, blogging

  1. Pingback: Why Twitter is a waste of time and why you shouldn’t care « How to Survive Social Media

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