Thank You, Verizon

We’re all quick to criticize companies when we receive bad service, and with good reason. Jared Spool gives United a beating on Twitter, and nobody likes their cable company. But, we aren’t as zealous when it comes to proclaiming good experiences.

When I arrived home from work on Friday, I couldn’t connect to the internet. After a bit of troubleshooting, I called Verizon. They were being inundated by calls, as there had been a rather violent thunderstorm in the afternoon. I elected to have them call me back when an operator was available. I hadn’t heard anything an hour later, so I called back. I was on hold for awhile, but eventually spoke to a very friendly and quite helpful support rep. Together, we quickly determined that the LAN ports were no longer functioning.

It would have taken 4 days to ship a new router to me, but he found a store in Pittsburgh where I could pick one up the next morning. I had to wait in line briefly, but the young man who helped me was extremely polite and quickly had me on my way.

It’s a shame this story doesn’t represent the status quo. I shouldn’t feel that it’s noteworthy that I received good service. But I did, so good on you, Verizon.

Netflix Profiles

I was Johnny-come-lately to Netflix, skipping the whole mail rental thing and signing up less than a year ago when I decided to cut the cord. My family has been happy with the service aside from a couple times that they have dropped the licenses for shows that we were watching.

Some of the features of the service, however, were useless to me. All of the recommendations were for children’s shows, because that’s mostly what my kids were watching—lot’s of Disney XD. How are ratings supposed to work when there are four people with varying tastes and interests? Netflix was apparently aware of the problem, because they just added profiles to their service. Now, each member of my household has their own profile, which means we each have our own queue with separately tracked ratings and history. It’s a relatively simple addition that delivers huge value to their customers.

There are a number of online accounts that my family shares. We use a single Amazon account, one Audible account, and one Apple ID. I’d especially like to see Apple embrace a similar approach for iTunes and the App store. Every cheesy, free game my kids download shows up on my phone, and as my eldest daughter just became a teenager, I foresee her music purchases dirtying my user data.

Gluten Free Goodness

I’m fortunate enough to not suffer any allergies, but I know plenty of people that do. I’ve witnessed how difficult it can be for people with dietary restrictions to eat out. Lindsey Estep, one of my students last semester, has first-hand experience with gluten allergies and the situations one must deal with at restaurants. She decided to take on this problem as her semester-long project.

Lindsey developed a service design that she prototyped with the help of Terra Cafe, a local Morgantown restaurant. Her solution involved table placards that served both to inform customers that there are gluten-free selections and, by turning it around and setting it out on the table, indicate that someone at the table was in need of gluten-free fare. The wait staff carried matching cards that they could write gluten-free orders on. These cards would then accompany the order to the kitchen, returning to the patron with their food as reassurance that their needs were recognized and met by everyone involved in preparing the meal.

The system was tested out on a Wednesday after some social media advertising. Only two customers required gluten-free service during the trial, but both indicated when surveyed afterward that they felt much safer and would be much more likely to frequent the restaurant if such a system were implemented.

Airbnbodacious

One of the example designer-founded companies I had my students study this semester is Airbnb. It’s a great story. As cool and innovative as Airbnb is, it’s now doing something truly awesome. The company has a new service available through which New Yorker’s can offer their space for free to those stranded by Hurricane Sandy for free.

Over 100,000 people are still stranded by Hurricane Sandy. Airbnb has partnered with the City of New York to connect those in need with people who are able to provide free housing.

As of this writing, 513 Airbnb members have agreed to participate. Not only is this a fantastic way for the company to be socially responsible, but it’s a smart business move, resulting in a lot of publicity and likely a lot of new users of their service.

Get your words out of my mouth.

As far as reasonably priced hotels go, I’ve been pleased with Hilton Garden Inn. I’ve been staying in one this week. I just happened to look at the small print at the bottom of the little folder containing my room key card. This is what it says:

“I have requested weekday delivery of USA TODAY. If refused, a credit of $0.75 will be applied to my account.” Please call the Front Desk or check here to refuse. ☐
(Please drop off during your stay)

I requested no such thing. I left the paper lying on the floor outside of my door every morning. Housekeeping brings it in, but I don’t touch it. I have no interest in reading it. I certainly didn’t request it, regardless of the quotation marks around this 6-point text that I only happened to notice by chance. Calling the front desk is hardly worth the 75 cents, but I’m going to do it anyway, just to make a point.

You can keep your paper, and you can keep your words out of my mouth! 

The Public(ized) Studio

I was invited to participate in an “innovation session” to help my local public library create a vision for a future in which access to physical books may not be its primary purpose. I wasn’t sure what to expect unit I found out that the guy running the session, Paul Gould, is a senior designer at Maya. That means, of course, that it was a well-facilitated brainstorming session with Post-It Notes, Sharpies, and strategically selected members of the community. At the end of the two hours, each participant gave an elevator pitch for one big idea they particularly identified with, explaining how it could be tested.

The idea I championed was a public(ized) studio. Let’s move public libraries from institutions of consumption to enablers of creation. Provide public studio spaces for audio recording, video production, painting, writing, etc. Provide the professional tools that the amateur wouldn’t otherwise have access to, but do it in a public forum. If a local band comes in to record a few original songs, library patrons can choose to listen in and observe the process. In fact, since the band books the space ahead of time, they let their fans know, and it becomes an event. The library benefits from exposure to new patrons, and the band may pick up new fans.

To give the concept a trial run, temporarily repurpose a space in the library as a recording studio. Bring in a recording engineer for a day and hold a recording studio open house. Allow any person or group to come in and record one song, poem, or other performance. Have a documentary film crew on hand to capture the event.

Granted, this idea has all kinds of logistical and monetary hurdles, but it was a fun vision to play out in my head. There is so much potential for astounding works of creativity when the tools that once belonged to the elite are made available to the masses.

In Comparison: Loyalty Programs

Panera and Qdoba are my favorite fast-food franchises. I take advantage of each of their customer loyalty programs. Qdoba’s is very straight forward. I hand them my card at checkout and receive points for every purchase. Once I accumulate enough points, I get a free entrée. Panera’s is a little more nebulous. I hand them my card at checkout, so I assume they are tracking my purchases, but I don’t know exactly how they determine rewards. Seemingly at random, they add “surprises” to my card, which they tell me about when I check out. Sometimes it’s a free pastry, sometimes it’s a free beverage, and once or twice, I’ve been granted a free sandwich.

My birthday is coming up, and both restaurants acknowledged it with free food. Panera put a free pastry on my card, which seems the obvious thing to do. I got a Cobblestone, which I learned is 25% of my recommended daily caloric intake. It was delicious. Qdoba, however, did something rather odd. Instead of using the card, they sent me email with a link to a webpage containing a “buy one entrée, get one free” coupon. The page even limits the number of times you can view it to three in an attempt to avoid cheating. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t take advantage of the card system that’s already in place.

Bank Shot

When I first signed up for an account with Citizen’s Bank, it was because they provided an interface with Quicken. They allowed Quicken to download my register and submit bills for payment. I’ve been with them now about ten years, but I will soon be closing my accounts.

I received a letter the other day with the ominous heading: “Important changes to your account”. They were letting me know that they would be initiating a $15 monthly maintenance fee if I maintained a combined balance less than $5,000. My balance has been a little low since our Disney vacation over the summer followed by the trip to Dublin in February. On top of that, they’re also adding a $3.95 monthly fee for online banking with Quicken or Microsoft Money.

So, I’m now researching the online banks that I’ve been hearing about. As it turns out, most of them offer free checking with bill pay, iApps, no minimum balance, free, nationwide ATM use, and in many cases, better interest rates. One of them even allows you to deposit checks by photographing them with your phone. What’s not to like? Once again, it appears that brick and mortar just can’t compete with online services.

So, If you have a recommendation, I’d love to hear it. Please relate your experiences in the comments.

Design Ignites Change

The final project of my course last semester challenged the students to identify a social issue in their community and address it through the design of a product or service. One of the two project teams selected bullying as their issue. They interviewed middle school students and counselors as part of their research, learning about how bullying is currently handled in the schools.

Bullying is a misunderstood issue that negatively affects the behavior of most students, leading to poor performance and decreased self-esteem. We want to empower students to report, mediate or avert bullying in middle schools. Traditional anti-bullying programs are structured so that students must make a physical trip to a main office to report to an adult about bullying. Discovering that bullying often goes unreported because students are hesitant to make that trip or share their experiences with adults, we offer in our project a discreet means of reporting and a virtual peer support system for students who may be victims of bullying.

They designed and prototyped a web-based social network focused on peer-support, confidence building, and unintrusive monitoring by the counselor. The project schedule was only a few weeks, so the final deliverable was a presentation of their concept, but the team did go so far as to get feedback from the same faculty they had interviewed at the beginning. The response was favorable, and they had good suggestions for improving it.

My students decided to enter the project in the Design Ignites Change Idea Awards.

In each award cycle one award of $1,000 and up to two at $500 each will be given to innovative project ideas that have the ability to ignite positive social change. Projects will also be highlighted on the Design Ignites Change website and promoted through the program’s PR efforts.

You can read more about their project, named Be!, on the Design Ignites Change website.

Waste

I live on top of a hill—a rather large one—overlooking the Ohio River. We often have high winds, and as a result, I and my neighbors end up with a fair bit of trash in our yards. You see, our community is fortunate enough to have single stream recycling, so we can recycle just about anything. I put a lot more out to be collected for recycling than for landfill. As such, I have a full-size trash can that I’ve taped a big recycling symbol to. Unfortunately, most of my neighbors use the standard bins. They’re small, so they’re often overflowing, and they don’t have lids. You can imagine, then, all of the milk jugs, pop bottles, and sundry plastic containers and sheets of cardboard that end up being blown all over the neighborhood. My customized trash can isn’t perfect, either. It blows over fairly easily, and if the recycling symbol isn’t immediately visible, the trash collectors dump it in the truck, negating the week’s worth of effort my family put into keeping the recyclables separate. What a waste!

Our borough should really be making available larger containers with lids. It’s a simple solution to all three problems: insufficient volume, wind-blown litter, and misidentification.