Technology Run Amok

Technology Run AmokAs someone who tries to be on the forefront of the tech curve, I think it’s important to recognize when perhaps, just maybe technology has run amok.  In certain use-cases with certain technology I’d say we are there.

The use-case I have in mind today is what is now the prevalent use of phone-trees for incoming calls from customers.  You know these, you almost cringe when you hear the automated voice say, “Press 1 for English.”

For some context – I rarely initiate calls to any company.  Largely because I don’t want to get lost in the phone maze, and practically because more often than not I can get what I need accomplished done quicker via website, app or even Twitter.  So this week I had to call my cable company and the local Walgreen’s about a prescription.  What I got (aside from lost time) is a stark reminder of technology run amok.

First, Cablevision.  I understand why they have the phone tree to help direct customer calls to the right product team.  Like most modern MSO’s they have ISP, cable and phone services.  My issue though is I’ve been getting several emails a week for several weeks asking me to call for an account review.  It turns out after more than five minutes of pushing buttons, selecting options and eventually setting up a call back – all they wanted was an updated cell phone.  For real.

Then there is my neighborhood Walgreen’s.  Now this should be easy.  My questions are about something I bought in the store or the pharmacy counter.  That should be two, maybe three button pushes.  So yesterday morning while waiting for 14.0 I decided to call to check on a prescription’s status.  Eight button pushes in, I could not get to one of the two pharmacists on duty.  The Walgreen’s app doesn’t give status on a pending prescription, so I had to go walk into the store to find out there was a snag at the doctor’s office.

That is a lot of listening, deciding options and button pushing for very little reward.  That can’t be the model these companies are hoping to replicate in customer service.  I get it.  The phone trees should help steer the call so the right person gets the call and the right answer can be given.  That would be good customer service.

But this is a case where technology has run amok, and more options does not help get to a better result.

There are times thought when technology can be an asset.  During a recent cross-country flight on Virgin America – the outlet at my seat was not working. After my laptop died I pulled out my iPad and opened Twitter.  I sent out a tweet saying my GoGo inflight WiFi experience was great, but my seat outlet did not work on Virgin America.  From that tweet, before I landed Virgin America gave me a $50 credit on my next flight.  A company that can use technology to make sure the customer experience is optimized – it does work.

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Off to the Races – The Cupid Undie Run

Cupid Undie Run 2014This winter New York has been a winter wonder land.  And after weeks of snow storm after snow storm and piles of snow at every corner – the next thing to do is strip down to your underwear and run through the streets of New York City.  So, off to the races – the Cupid Undie Run is on.

It seems like the snow falling on the runners heading south along the West Side Highway was kind of poetic justice – after all it always snows in NYC this winter.  The cause is just – research for the treatment of childhood cancers and the company was fun.  It’s not unlike a rolling party in the streets of New York.

For the second year, I asked readers here and elsewhere for contributions.  And a big thank you to all who read, and in this case contributed.  Overall, the NYC undie run raised more than $125,000 (we did our part at just over $300).  And a good time was had by all.

So next year look for the links, the emails and if you’re not going to strip down and run, I hope you’ll consider contributing.

If you want to see some of the fun, check out my Instagram (and don’t be afraid to follow or throw a like), or the Twitter hash tag #ImWithCupid.


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The No-Email Fail

Somewhere just before 8 on Wednesday morning last week, I unilaterally  declared it would be a  no email day for me.  I was going to go the rest of the day without looking at email.  Now mind you, I had already processed well more than 150 new emails across four accounts by that time in the morning-but in that moment I had enough and I was going to take a day off.

Some background to keep everyone up to speed.  First, just how (over) connected I am.  I carry three phones which all have the ability to send and receive text messages and generally access seven email accounts (five are mine of which one is work and two belong to the girls).  Along with this, generally people get hold of me on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or Four Square.

I don’t think that is hugely unique, but there is also no shortage of inbound data that needs to be processed and call it 65% of the time responded to.

The other factor that added to this monumental decision (and ultimate failure) was the middle of the school vacation week that my girls enjoyed.  I was home with them on the Friday before Passover and Easter and the Monday following.  The plan was for me to go into the office Tuesday through Thursday and then take a work from home (child care issue) on Friday. That part was pretty manageable.

The factor I did not add in was the split in the schedule for the girls.  Without school-they were up to 11 (we even had a sleepover one of the nights I had to work) which generally meant I was up anywhere from an hour to two hours later than usual.  That did not impact me on the time I woke up though-I was still at the gym at 4:15 so sleep was at a premium for the week.  The usual routine is that when I get home from the gym I make some coffee, take a shower and begin the daily caffination.

On Wednesday I forgot to make the coffee before hitting the shower.  Since the sitter was coming at 6:30 and I was racing for the 7:19 train (usually I am on the 7:57) I figured I would catch up with coffee in the city and skipped making the coffee.

With email across all the accounts tumbling in-some of it of the spam nature, some of it actionable, some it with me on the “CC” line so others can CYA and no coffee in the system I had enough.  Right there on the train with two of my friends I declared it would be a non-email day.

A bold prediction for someone carrying the three phones, two laptops and iPad in their work bag that day.

As the morning train hit the platform in Penn Station I put some Grateful Dead on for the subway and headed off to be email free.  I stopped to pick up a cup of coffee from the coffee cart lady and hit the office.  As I did, I ran into one of the senior managers in my division at Verizon.  He wanted to review a spreadsheet he had sent me earlier in the morning.

“Sounds great.  Can you pull it up though? It’s a non-email day for me,” I told him.

“A what?” he asked.

“Never mind,” I said.  “Just let me get into this coffee.”

And so no-email day ended before 9AM and less than 10 minutes after hitting the office.

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The End of an Era-The Obit of the Printed Encyclopedia

The first mentions of it came (at least my way) via Twitter.  Then I saw it on Facebook.  Finally, I was able to get to my iPad and see it in electronic-print for real.  It’s the end of an era as Encyclopedia Britannica surrenders to the inevitable and gives up the print editions.

Just think about how you found out about this. Chances are it was not this morning when you got your copy of the New York Times (or your morning paper of choice) from the end of your driveway.  Chances are it was not even on the late news of choice last night.  In fact, it’s very likely you found out about this “stunning” change via the same medium that helped kill the printed volumes.

I truly do have found memories of the encyclopedia (Britannica and World Book).  The new volumes coming out of the boxes.  The never-ending cross referencing you could from one volume to the next.

There were episodes of TV shows growing up-Happy Days leaps to mind quickly where being a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman played a central role.

And now, all of that content.  All of that information is available on line-and I am not even talking about Wikipedia.

Perhaps the first tell-tale that this day would come was when library Sciences moved away from Dewey decimal.  I don’t know.

But I do know, there is no way my kids would know how to pull an encyclopedia off the shelf and do some research.  I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing since I always strived as a student and strive as a parent to understand how to find information-wherever it is and not be slave to a specific method of finding information.

So, I’ll fire up my iPad (I have the 3 on order BTW) and read more about the demise of this piece of Americana via other institutes that have already made the shift-newspapers, magazines and video.  And you know what?

Even though I’ll remember the fun of looking through the images of the human body and the solar system in the printed books-the information is not lost-it’s actually more readily available.  And that’s a good thing, right?

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Balancing Business, FaceTime and Single Parenthood

One of the lessons of business that I’ve had to learn and re-learn along the way, is that not matter how connected you are via email, instant messenger, text message, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter-or whatever else-there is no replacement for FaceTime  with client, partner or someone you are either in business with or want to be in business with.

As a single parent, there is a lot to juggle to be omnipresent when necessary both at home where the demands are compelling and at work where the demands are compelling for different reasons.  My good friend Judy Martin is far more eloquent on the science of the balance of work and life, so I won’t try to recreate her work.

My experience here is far more practical and filled with trial and error-and less about the scientific approach.  There are points that you know will need planning and patience ( June leaps to mind quickly) and the sudden moments (the sick call leaps to mind here) where you have to be light on  your feet.

There is a balance to be struck.  There is nothing to me more important that my kids and being the best parent I can.  Long ago I surrendered trying to be two parents wrapped in one.  But it requires sacrifice to make it work.  Some of the sacrifices are waking up at four in the morning to go to the gym-I look at it as uninterrupted “me” time.  Some if it is being ahead of the issue and setting up ground rules early so when I have to spend the morning working with 9.0 on her science project, 11.5 knows she can’t be in the middle of the effort-and sometimes

In business, my approach to work-life balance is to be as available as I can be.  Yesterday (a Saturday) I did spent a few hours working on some business models to apply over the next few weeks.  This gives me some currency to handle surprises as they come up-and also allow me to be more flexible in my scheduling.

But FaceTime requires two or more people to be able to align their schedules-and with the press of calls, webex, email and chat conferences-the window to sit across from someone gets smaller and smaller.  Some of my best meetings are over breakfast.  While I have not really analyzed this, I believe it’s because the meeting takes place outside the crush of the rest of the day.

But it’s a balancing act-along a high wire without  a net below.  Be there for my kids.  Be there for work to provide for my kids.  Nothing beats FaceTime…it’s a balancing act though to keep it real.

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Combined: Social Media and the Single Dad

So many who know me for a while know I have kept for several years a social media blog. It was here I was able to share thoughts and commentary on what it was like to integrate social media and social media practice into traditional media.

As life changes and things change, I found I was doing a lot more social media commenting and product reviews on this blog-since my perspective has changed from media insider to a dad trying to navigate social media.

So, as of today, all of that social media content is now on this blog in the “Social Media Stuff” section.  While I still work in the media-my focus has changed and the voice for my other blog is no longer as relevant.  What is relevant though is that I have two pre-teens who leverage social media on a daily basis.

I am constantly reviewing products and sharing thoughts with other parents, so I think this is a pretty natural progression.  I hope you all think so too….

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From Fresh Air Fund to Vapid Leadership: Random Thougths

A few items just bouncing around, none really about being a single dad but all kind of worth an airing out.

I got an email from a contact at the Fresh Air Fund, and they are still about 100 families short of what they need to make summer really work for inner city kids.  It’s amazing really how 850 kids will get out of the city and enjoy life around here (wherever you are).  Click the link for more info.

As I mentioned on my Twitter yesterday, and want to reiterate, not a very impressive show in Nassau County for the vapid leadership for the county and Town of Hempstead.  As someone who spent a lot of time covering Tom Gulotta and the mostly dysfunctional Nassau Board of Supervisors, this group makes them seem like government mavericks.

Right now, I want to say I am on board with an Islanders to Suffolk plan.  Of course the major problem with that is the vapid leadership void in Suffolk county.

Thanks all for the feedback on my visiting day post from this week. It’s amazing to try to predict what evokes comments and what doesn’t, go figure.

And thus concludes a Wednesday morning rant.

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The Search Generation

The Connected Generation Doesn't Need Today's ToolsOne of the ways I hope to keep myself on the professional cutting edge is to offer a fresh perspective on the way content is consumed.  One of the best ways I know to gather this information is to watch my kids (11. 0 and 8.5) and their friends as they gather around an iPod or computer.

Today though, I had the chance to go into 8.5’s third grade class and talk her peers.  While under the guise of talking to them about journalism and news (which we did a little), I used it as an opportunity to find out how my daughter and her generation seek out and share information.

While it’s not a huge surprise (at least I hope its not), TV, radio, newspapers were not even in the discussion.  I was a little surprised-Facebook and Twitter was not either.  There are a lot of reasons for the latter-responsible parents is my hope, but the reality is 8-10 is well under the age requirements for those sights.

However, based on the discussion-text, text chat, video chat and especially search are far more important anyway.

On the discovery side-when I asked a class of 20 or so third graders how they find things out-and things I defined as news, information, websites, songs, videos, movies and entertainment-search was the number one way to find things.  And when I pressed the kids, they didn’t care what the search engine was (Google was as good as Yahoo was as good as iTunes search).  All they need is a search box and an execution point.

The quick take away on this is to over tag if necessary, but make sure tags capture all the keys to the content and all the imaginable entry points.  While I am among the people who believe SEO, as we know it today is a dying art, the reality is SEO will continue to be a discoverability driver in some form.  (An interesting note, one of the kids wanted to know about a way to search content shared via text chat, hmmmm).

On the consumption side, once again search was a huge driver to finding content.  One of the girls in the class even talked about setting up an RSS homepage-similar to Pageflakes or MyGoogle to capture key elements.  But a huge consumption driver for text and video is images.  It’s a concept I am late to embrace but important.  In the digital clutter, you still need to capture eyeballs.  See any of the e-book stores (Amazon, B&N, iBooks).  Which books are you likely to purchase if you are just scanning a topic?  Eye-catching cover art is the driver.

Finally, when it comes to sharing information text, text chat chat (including video chat) was the focus.  One boy in the class said (and his classmates agreed), “I can send an email, but no one reads email,” from the mouths of 8+s comes great truth.  Email has been a dying medium for more than five years now.

The take away here is to make sure your packaging includes interoperability to share via text-because that is a key driver to reach the generation that is not tethered by Blackberry Enterprise Server, Outlook Exchange or Gmail on the go.

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It Takes a Village (Really it Does)

It takes a villageThis is kind of a follow-up to my post from yesterday, when I was feeling the pressure of a pending decision-which by the way is still pending, but at least I have a good idea as to what I want to do and I feel like I have really covered the angles.

And I really have to thank the people who read this blog-many of you I know, some of you I do not know and we communicated yesterday here on the blog, on my Facebook or on Twitter.  Between all of that, and talking to some consigliere type people I have real plan-now to see if it will be implemented (this part is partially out of my control).

My kids had some interesting insights which helped me frame the issue.  Others helped me zero in on the open issues-or what I perceived to be the open issues, and there were a bunch who were able to look beyond the short term stuff, and lay out the long term for me-something I was missing.

The reality is, it was an interesting team building and team work exercise, all done on the fly.

At least for me, my two take aways are:

  1. Its true, just saying it out loud helps-but its important to have someone there.  My therapist likened it to the Tom Hanks movie when he is stranded on an island and personified a basketball to have someone to talk to.
  2. Take that moment and find a way to say it out loud

I guess I’ll find out the third act of this drama sometime next week-we’ll see what’s next.


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Not In New York City Anymore

I capped a crazy day today-that started with an aborted Long Island Rail Road commute to New York City with a stop at a local bar and restaurant for a drink with a neighbor that hammered home-I’m not in New York City when I am home.  A friend of mine @kathygc on Twitter referred to where I live as the country today-and after tonight I think I agree.

We stopped in at J&R’s Steak House up the road from where we live.  Its been a long while since I was in there-and I had never just hit up the bar.  The place is on a golf course, but its raining today.  There were probably 40 people in the bar, not sure how many were in the restaurant.

We took seats at a small table, since there were not two seats together at the bar-but there was no waitress service.  OK, it’s a Tuesday.

I went to the bar-where there were three bartenders on, and it took more than 7 minutes to get a JW on the rocks and a glass of wine.  That’s not NYC at all.  I dropped a credit card and asked to keep the tab open.

After a second round, we went to close out.  In NYC, reflexively I would get a bill charged to my credit card.  Out here, this required a conversation-and another 5 minutes, and a bar that was now emptier than when we walked in.

Either I need to go out on LI more often (probably not) or learn some non-NYC patience (also probably not) or stop listening to @kathygc (probably good advice, but I won’t do that either).

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