Day One: Try it for 30 days


 “if you really want something badly enough, you can do anything for 30 days.”

I recently stumbled upon this Ted talk by, Matt Cutts, which talks about expanding your horizons by trying something new for 30 days. The speaker discusses his own 30 day challenges and, talks about strategies for being successful, as well as some of the advantages of putting yourself out there trying something new for 30 days.

For me, I've always wanted to be a writer. I want to write a book but always feel so overwhelmed…do you realize how many pages a real live book has? I have written articles and case studies, but a whole book? That seems crazy.

Having lost over 70 pounds in the last year, I know a thing or two about behavior change. I have learned through trial and error that the only way to truly enact behavior change is by taking small steps. I learned that if I set goals too big I set myself up for failure, I get frustrated if things don’t progress fast enough or if stumbling block gets in my way and I give up.

So for me while my end goal is to hopefully write a book, I want to start small. I plan on writing and posting something every day for the next 30 days. I’m not exactly sure what I am to write about. But I'm sure it will have something to do with service design, consumer experience, research methodology, inspiration, and design thinking. I hope to talk about products, services, and brands that inspire me both because there great or because they need help.

Has anyone else done 30 day challenge? I'd love to hear about your experience here.



Day Two: Training my Dragon

So while I am completely excited about my 30 day challenge, I am overwhelmed by the shear amount of work and travel I will be doing in the next month.

For me, one of the best ways to make sure a new behavior sticks is to have a plan. During my weight loss journey it has been imperative for me to pre-plan food for an entire week. I set up outlook reminders and a keep full inventory of gym clothes at work to make sure that I stay active among long days of research and analysis. For me having a plan is a major factor to my success, and any disruption to my plan (like multi-city travel) can throw a major monkey-wrench in reaching my goals.

So how am I going to write for 30 days when I know that I will be traveling for at least half of them? I have a secret weapon…I have a pet Dragon!

I recently got myself Nuance’s- Dragon Naturally Speaking. This is a program for my computer that comes with a microphone/headset which allows me to speak my thoughts while Dragon types what I say. I originally bought my Dragon to help transcribe field research videos, but find myself using him every day for lots of different tasks. Don’t get me wrong…Dragon and I are still getting to know each other. He hates it when I swear, and while he always spells every word correctly he gets caught up on homophones. Most of our issues are totally my fault though.  If you know me you know I talk waaaay to fast. Also being a consultant means that he is never going to get used to my jargon, last week I was talking to him about blood analysis, this week we are talking about robots…and touchy feely goal setting. But all in all we are hitting our stride.

While he is not perfect, my Dragon is opening new doors for me. You see, I am dyslexic which has always made writing incredibly challenging for me. I feel like I am a pretty good story teller, but could never hit a flow with writing because the little red squiggles under half of my document would drive me crazy. With Dragon, I can just say what I am thinking, he types, and I edit later.

So Dragon is going to help me take on this 30 day challenge…and eventually probably help me take over the world. I have created a ridiculous set up for myself so I can dictate to my Dragon on my morning commute. I have a computer plugged into my cigarette lighter, and my Dragon headset plugged into my computer. I talk in sort of a stream of consciousness flow to rough out my post on my drive to work, edit during lunch, and rough out an outline for tomorrow’s post on my drive home.


Has anyone else found tools for making writing (or any goal setting) easier or more efficient?

If you are interested you can check out Dragon here: They are doing a pretty good sale right now.


Day Three: What makes a grocery store “sticky”? Convenience vs. Experience

In the last year I have become maniacally obsessed with food. I always try to put the best things into my body while balancing my insanely busy life. For me I'm really looking for the easiest, cheapest, highest quality option possible.


I have two local options for grocery shopping: there is Stop & Shop which I pass every night on my way home from work, and a Whole Foods that is about a mile and a half out of my way. I love shopping at Whole Foods. I love the displays, I love the quality of the product, I love the people who work in the store. One time I was looking for precut mangoes to use in my Ron Propeil food dehydrator (I will probably write about my buddy Ron later this month). I'm kind of an idiot when it comes to taking the pit out of the mango – and love that Whole Foods always has precut fruit.

One day Whole Foods was out of precut mangos and one of the guys in the produce section took it upon himself to go to the back, cut a mango,  put in a container, and gave me my mangos for free. He explained that it was unacceptable that they didn't have the product I expected when I expect it. I was shocked…I am pretty sure that the people who work at Stop and Shop don’t even know what a mango is. So when it comes to grocery shopping Whole Foods has my heart.  The quality of food is so much better, the selection is amazing, and I really like the in-store experience.

On the other hand I hate Stop & Shop with a passion.  Their store dirty, unorganized, and frequently out of stock. Yesterday they didn’t have broccoli….what kind of grocery store completely runs out of broccoli?

The customer service people at Stop and Shop are incredibly rude. I've gone through entire transaction without the customer service person saying a single word or even making eye contact. I've tried to use self checkout, had a problem scanning a barcode, and sat there for 10 min. while the service person was texting. I HATE Stop and Shop, but the thing is I shop there almost every day.

So what's the deal? For me as much as I love an amazing in-store experience, and really care about what Whole Foods stands for, I can’t get over my need for convenience and low cost. I'm willing to put up with a terrible experience and subpar quality to get in, get out, and get home faster. For me the Whole Foods trips have become kind of a weekend reward whereas the Stop & Shop trips are almost nightly necessity.

So why does this matter? You need to meet people’s basic needs before you can capitalize on providing them the best experience possible. My brand loyalty can't overcome my basic need for convenience.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs outlines human needs starting with the most basic of the bottom and moving to high-level needs like self enlightenment at the top. For me when it comes to grocery shopping I can put the needs in the middle of the pyramid like my own enjoyment of the experience, above my baseline level needs of convenience cost.

This also means that while I go to Stop and Shop frequently, I'm by no means loyal to them. Right now they're winning solely on location. If a Whole Foods were to open closer to me Stop and Shop would lose me as a customer forever. So while convenience or location may drive frequency of visit, it does not build true customer loyalty.

Are there stores that you hate going to but go anyway because it is more convenient?



Day Four: Providing OUTSTANDING customer service

When I just started business travel, my dad gave me some really good advice. He told me when you're in a new city: find a restaurant, find a bar, and find a coffee shop. Only go to that restaurant/bar/coffee shop, smile, and tip well. My dad was teaching me how to make it easy to receive outstanding customer service. I have a theory that there are really only two ways to offer OUTSTANDING customer service, and both are challenging to accomplish. There are some baseline requirements for acceptable customer service: proficiency at your job, warmth/friendliness, eye contact, etc. Being proficient does not mean being outstanding. I think that to be outstanding customer service employees must be able to:

1. Go above and beyond- Now for those of you living in Boston, this doesn’t mean make eye contact with me when I check out at the grocery store. This means understand who I am and anticipating my needs. When I walk into my local Chipotle my burrito-istas starts my veggie bowl, when I stayed at the Fairfield Inn in Dunwoody GA the front desk guy greeted me by name every night, and my financial advisor at Meryll Lynch always asks me how my wife, Allison, is doing. You can read a number of case studies about amazing customer service providers going above and beyond, google customer service stories: Nordstrom’s or Zappos, or pick up Dan Heath’s book: Made to Stick. However, it is challenging for employees to surprise and delight you if they don’t know what you need.

This means that customer service representatives need to be trained in understanding user needs, and rewarded for going above and beyond.  The Nordstrom’s employee-or Nordie- who ironed a customer’s new shirt for him before a meeting would not have thought to offer that service if she was not making conversation with her guest. She was able to identify a user need and had the freedom to act on it.  

2. Grace under pressure- I think the second way that customer service can really be OUTSTANDING, is incredibly difficult to pull off. Grace under pressure means that customer service representatives are given the freedom to fix customer problems. Think about the last time you had a customer service or product issue…they happen all of the time. How stores and their employees react to those issues tells you a lot about the store and what they are willing to do to satisfy you as a customer.

I used to be a loyal Best Buy customer, mainly because I loved supporting Minnesota businesses, and partially because I had no idea where else to get my geek needs serviced. Unfortunately, Best Buy employees do not have the freedom or support to show grace under pressure. I bought a video camera from Best Buy for work, after using it once the charging cord no longer worked. I tried to return the camera, but had already submitted the expense report so I no longer had a receipt. By the time I got the receipt back from my company, I had owned the camera for 15 days…one day longer than the official Best Buy return policy guidelines. This meant I got to go through Geek Squad hell. After weeks of dealing with my broken camera, one of the employees told me that my camera had been lost…but there was nothing he could do about it. I spoke to a manager who told me he would investigate and call me the next day, I never heard back from him. I found the CEO’s email address and spoke to his administrative assistant who is probably still “looking into it.” This whole experience was completely terrible and could have been alleviated if that first customer service person has the authority to make a judgment call on the return policy.

On the other hand, I was recently at an AMAZING focus group facility in Atlanta (Schlesinger for those of you that need a facility reco). The employees at Schlesinger went out of their way to help manage our demanding bunch. They were proactive and super accommodating. They even let one of my clients hang out in the video editing room with them so he could get the perfect shots. Did things go wrong through-out the week? Of course they did, I can’t think of a week of testing where something didn’t go wrong, but the employees at Schlesinger had the autonomy to fix any problems that came up. In the end I (and my clients) don’t even remember the slight mishaps, but we do remember the awesome food recommendations and the help they provided to getting everything fedex-ed home.

Help your employees have grace under pressure by giving them the autonomy and authority to make things right with their customers.

Drawing by Cal Chan

My dad travels to China 10 times a year, and he always stays at the Sheridan in Ningbo. The reason: upon arriving at the Sheridan, he's greeted by name. The employees always ask him how he's been and how life is in Illinois, and ask if there is anything they can do to exceed his expectations. If there is a problem (who hasn’t had to draw a picture of a plunger in a foreign country?) it is fixed immediately.  

The best customer service experiences cannot be scripted, but require smart, sensitive employees to make good decisions.

What are some other examples of employees going above and beyond or showing grace under pressure?


Day Five: Value Proposition 101

I'm working on a project right now, where the client’s value proposition is not resonating with their new user group in the way they had expected or hoped for. So today my job is to define, dismantle, and help redefine a new value proposition for this client. This is a really interesting process that doesn't really get talked about much, so I would like to give you some tools that I've stolen, adopted, and transformed over the years.

So first let's talk about the problem: my client is trying to launch an upgraded version of their current products to a new market. Their current product is geared toward consumers, and in the new product will be geared toward small business owners. There is currently a bit of competition in the space, but no one really does it quite like my client.

Here is an example of a situation similar to what my clients are working (in a completely different industry).

Think about small businesses and how they get groceries. Things like soda, coffee, tea, produce, etc. There are currently two main ways to do this:

  1. Administrators go to the grocery store or Costco with a shopping list
  2. The business uses a service like Peapod where groceries are delivered to your door

Essentially what my client is trying to do is offer a third option.

Again this is  only an example, but if this was my client’s project, it would be similar to them offering technology enabled way to deliver the best local produce to your office. They would use digital tools to measure your employee’s nutritional intake, and deliver the fruits and vegetables that would best meet their dietary needs. They would offer a white glove service where your shopping list is automatically generated for you, your food is delivered, put away, and expired food is disposed of for you.

The problem is that instead of charging you weekly or monthly, the service requires an upfront capital expense that has the perception of being more expensive than Peapod.  Also the service doesn't deliver soda or bottled water but it does fruit, vegetables, coffee and tea very very well. This means that you would still probably need another option to get soda and bottled water to your company.  

You can see that there are some obvious pros and cons with this current value proposition. The company is using technology to make your life easier but they are also asking you to make a trade-off. They have upfront costs and are not providing a complete solution. It makes sense that a service like this might not resonate with a small business owner.

In option one the customer is not paying anything extra to have their groceries acquired, but they are losing a little bit of efficiency.

In option to the customer pays weekly or monthly and they're getting a complete solution.

In option three the customer is making a trade-off.  They have to  justify an upfront expenditure, while  part of what you need is being over-delivered, and part of what you need isn't being addressed at all.

So what do we do about this? We need to redefine the value proposition.

The value proposition is the gift you gave your customers. It's what makes your offering compelling, and hopefully more compelling than your competitors. Some of the common ways that companies describe their value proposition include: newness, performance, customization, design, brand/status, price, cost reduction, risk reduction, accessibility, reducing inconvenience and improving usability.

In his book Business Model Generation, Osterwalder explains: “The value proposition describes the bundle of products and services that create value for specific customer segment. The value proposition is the reason why customers turn to one company over another. It solves the customer’s problem or satisfies the customer’s need. Each value proposition consists of a selected bundle of products and/or services that caters to the requirements of a specific customer segment. In this sense the value proposition is an aggregation, or bundle, of benefits the company offers consumers. Some value propositions may be innovative and represent a new or disruptive offer. Others may be similar to existing market offers, but with added features and attributes.”

I have run workshops for clients where we turned  value proposition creation  into the game of Mad Libs. After doing field research with the client team we came back together for a debrief workshop where we analyzed each participant and articulated the value proposition for them.

This is 1 of 20 posters we made with a fortune 100 company who was trying to revamp their business model. We started with what we knew about the user and their values, created journey maps to discover areas of unmet needs, and connected needs and values to draft a value proposition.


For me today is all about dismantling that current value proposition, outlining exactly what this product and service stands for, and comparing it to what the new consumer actually needs and wants.

My team will spend the day asking ourselves-

What value do we deliver to the customer?

Which one of our customer’s problems are we helping to solve?

Which customer needs are we satisfying?

What models of products and services are we offering to each customer segment?

Does a right proposition have strong network effects?

Are there strong synergies between our products and services?

Are our customers very satisfied? Is there anything we can do to improve their satisfaction?

Are substitute products and services available?

Are competitors threatening to offer better price or value?

Do we generate recurring revenues by converting products and services?

Can we better integrate our products or services?

What complements to or extensions of our value proposition are possible?

What other jobs we do on behalf of our customers?

If you were in my shoes, what would you change about the current offering to make it more desirable? How would you start to articulate a value proposition for this new service?


Day Six: Telecommuting Ninja

I worked from home today and it was GLORIOUS! I was able to accomplish more before 11am than I had gotten done all week. Mainly because a large chunk of my week has consisted of this:

I love working in super collaborative environments with diverse teams, but once in a while a lady just needs to get stuff done. And I have to say, when analysis calls for pouring over hours and hours of video, this lady would much rather be in jammies.

One of my heros, Tim Ferris, talks about automating your life in his amazing book Four Hour Work Week. Tim says that we should not spend time doing things that make us feel busy, and we should use subtle mind tricks to get out of pointless meetings. He also points out the 80/20 rule, that 80% of the work we do takes 20% of our time, and we should find ways to alleviate the tasks that are wasting our time to focus on what really matters to us. My favorite principle that Tim talks about is Parkinson’s Law.

“Parkinson’s Law dictates that a task will swell in (perceived) importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion.”

Tim explains, if you are given 2 weeks to do a task or 12 hours to do the task…you will get it done either way. If you do the task in 12 hours, the pressure will force you to get down to business and focus on what really matters. If you are given 2 weeks, you have 13 days to freak out, put the task off, or over deliver to a level that is not appropriate/good for business.

I feel like working from home is a great way to bear down and get stuff done. If you are good at working from home you can tune out distractions and produce creative/insightful work that does not have the time to incubate when you are working in 45 minute chunks between meetings.

I personally would love to work from home all of the time. For me I would save about $300 a week between the cost of my dog walker and the cost of my commute. I would cut close to 2 hours of travel out of my day which I could spend being an awesome wifey. Unfortunately my company does see the value of working from home. They think that work from home=free vacation just isn’t very culturally acceptable.

The problem is, a lot of people are really bad at working from home. I really think that only take advantage of the telecommuting opportunity. To me, it is critical that when I work from home I produce more, higher quality work than when I am in the office. I set goals for myself for the day, and make sure that I meet them. I answer every call, and respond to every email/text within minutes (Tim Ferris would kick my ass for that). I need to make it clear that I am in it to win it, and that I am not taking advantage of the opportunity. Did I get a load of laundry done while I worked today? Yes…but it took less time than walking from my office to the bathroom would have if I were at work.

So now that we have decided that we are going to get stuff done when we work from home the question is: How do we get really good at working from home so we can sneak in more loads of laundry (or other small daytime errands)?

Learn how to manage your time

This one will help you in every area of your life. For me it is all about Parkinson’s law and a heavy dose of positive reinforcement. This is blog post #6 for me (20% for anyone who is keeping track!!) On average each post has taken between 2 and 4 hours to conceive, draft, edit, visually support, and broadcast. Which doesn’t include the following time spent refreshing my browser to see how many hits I have gotten. I am just having so much fun doing it, that I haven’t wanted to limit myself.  Tonight I decided write and publish the post in under an hour (and reward myself with some Soy Ice cream). I thought about what I wanted to say all day, so when it came time to hit the keyboard I was ready to run. If you are trying to really get a hold of your time management follow these simple steps:

Create a list of prioritized goals for the day- your goals should be measurable and achievable, and ranked by urgency and importance. I like to write my daily goals on my gigantic whiteboard when I work from home. Today’s goals were: Tag video from Concord Optics, Tag video from  Roger’s Funeral Home, Tag video from Adamien, Enter data into spreadsheet, QC spreadsheet, confirm travel arrangements, review proposal to prep for pitch tomorrow, review protocol for next week’s research, do a load of laundry, write blog, finish (start) expense report. You will notice that this list is pretty specific. I could have just had: Tag all videos…but that was a 4 hour task which too big of a task to be easily managed.

Assign tight but achievable times to each task- I like to keep things in 15 minute segments.

Create a reward structure- The scale of the reward should be directly correlated to the amount of time the task took (or how crappy the task was). I like to use rewards to mix up my day and make sure I stay fresh. Today I took Libby for a walk after pouring through an especially terrible video, and started laundry as a brain break after quality checking my spreadsheet. Sometimes my reward is as simple as getting up and doing some situps or pushups. The key for me is to define rewards at the beginning of the day.

Evaluate success- In some cases you may not stay on schedule, or you may get thrown for a loop. I like to keep track of the goals I met and the factors that kept me from completing my goals so I can learn from them. If you just can’t figure out where your time is going, try rescue time robot. This is an application you download to your computer to track the time you spend using each program or visiting each website.

You control your environment, it doesn’t control you

Read any article about “how to work from home” and you will hear- make sure your workspace is comfortable, buy a great chair and a desk you love to sit at… I am all for being comfortable, but I also think getting setup for success at home doesn’t need to cost a ton of money. I am currently sitting a chair from IKEA, working at a desk hacked together with crap from IKEA, and staring at my gigantic whiteboard that we bought at a rummage sale for a dollar. For me controlling my environment goes way beyond picking out my office furniture.  Controlling my environment means not giving myself the opportunity to get distracted.

Comfort first- A lot of articles talk about how important it is to get dressed like you are going to work (or wear buttons as I like to call it). For some people this act of officially getting ready signals to their brain that they should work…for me I am perfectly happy and productive when I am Jammie-suited-up.


I am more concerned with temperature control that dress code. I like to make sure that my mini-office is warm, and that I stay bundled.  

Arms reach- At the start of the day I make sure I have everything that will help me do my job in my immediate area. This means every piece of technology and paperwork I could possibly need along with a couple snacks and drinks. I have even moved my office downstairs so that I am less than 3 feet from the bathroom. I don’t leave my little area while I am in task completion mode.

Control your senses- This one requires a bit of self knowledge. For me, visual stimuli is no big thing. I like having a window, and am not distracted by clutter or stuff hanging on the wall. For a certain lady I live with, no task can be started until the area is pristine. I am personally nuts about sound. To do my best work I need silence, or my guilty pleasure, The Biebs playing on repeat. When I can hear other people’s conversations (or the flute tuning) at work I just can’t get in the zone. Know your triggers and do everything you can to remove them.

You have to collaborate to innovate

I have spent months traveling and years working on teams that cover more than 5 time zones, both have taught me how to master working on teams that are not co-located. If you are truly going to master working remotely it is critical to figure out which pieces of technology will help drive your success. For me Skype, Webex/GoTomeeeting, and Google Docs are all critical. I will also set up secure blogs for projects so that the whole team can collaborate asynchronously…in sort of an online war room.  I think the leaders of tomorrow are going to be the people who rock at remote collaboration.

This post took 1 hour and 8 minutes to complete…finding the suitjama image was my downfall. Now time for some Soydelicious!

Do you work from home? What have been the secrets to your success? What have been your biggest challenges?


Day Six- Telecommuting Ninja

Day Seven: How I got kicked out of China

International user research is about 60%- the coolest thing you have experienced in your whole life and about 40%- how in the hell am I going to survive this?

I recently traveled to China to do field concept validation. This trip was incredibly intense. We were testing a lot of different concepts with 3 different user groups, so there was a whole lot of stimuli to juggle. On top of that we were trying to keep the stimuli as iconic as possible to overcome any literacy and dialect issues.

Here are some examples of the tools we created to do concept validation:

And here is the “gear” we packed:


The plan was to interview shop keepers in their shops and home owners in their homes. We had done generative research and shop-alongs in a different city a few months earlier and didn’t have any problems, so we were expecting smooth sailing with this trip. We had decided to add on a number of cultural exploration activities to this trip to improve our understanding of the Chinese consumer and shop owner. This trip seemed like it was going to be the best trip ever, until we got to China.

We spent so much time before the trip making sure that every detail of every scenario was culturally appropriate and super straight forward. However, we managed to overlook a major factor in our new geography: the importance of building trust. We arrived to Jai Xing, and got prepped to do our 15 days of field work.



On our first day in the field we traveled an hour to the city we would be working and split into two teams. Each team set up in a different shop with video equipment and stimuli and proceeded to interview the shop owners.  When we were in Shantou earlier in the year all of the shops we shadowed were at least 45 minutes away from each other, because for being a “small town” in China, Shantou was still huge. Now we were in a small village, and didn’t even realize that the two shops we were working with were only a few blocks from each other.

So as we conducted the interviews each shop drew a crowd. People in the town gathered around to watch the interviews, and probably make fun of the Americans with a crazy amount of video equipment. Everything was going great until a man came up and started talking to our participant in a local dialect that our moderator didn’t understand. (You haven’t lived as a researcher until you have dealt with three way translation). Our shop owner flipped out and demanded that we stop the interview.

We could not figure out what was going on, so we paid the participant, packed up and headed back to the van. Before we had gotten back to our hotel we had received word that every shop owner in town had decided not to participate in our study.

So what happened?

When you do user research it is typical to screen participants for eloquence. You include a number of open ended questions in the screener that make sure that the participant is creative, open minded, and able to openly talk about how they feel. This screening helps to insure that you have participant who are capable of offering candid feedback. On that first day in the field the second shop owner, who passed the screening, completely freaked out about all of the attention he was getting. The second team decided to cut the interview short and paid the shop owner the full incentive (this is a typical practice in the industry). Most of the time participants are happy to get paid and it isn’t an issue.

What we didn’t even realize when we entered the field in China was that all of our participants who were technically business competitors were also all friends of family. So when the one shop owner was paid the full amount for less than half a session, he walked to the second shop owner’s store and told her that we were taking advantage of her. Word spread like wildfire, and within an hour our whole recruit had fallen apart.

Luckily I had the most amazing regional team in the world and David and his amazing team at Strategic Focus Research were able to re-recruit almost overnight. We were flexible on the ground and decided to move the actual interviews into a makeshift research facility that we created out of 2 hotel conference rooms and a whole lot of a/v equipment, and we visited shops casually to understand the context.

That trip was an amazing learning experience and by the time we left our group was actually featured on the front page of the local paper. If I remember correctly the headline was something to the effect of: Crazy Americans Visit JaXing and Dance with Locals…or something like that.

So while I didn’t actually get kicked out of China, we sort of got kicked out of a village but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. If I wouldn’t have gone to China I would have missed out on this:


I wouldn’t have met her:

Or seen any of the stuff here

I have been so lucky to get the chance to travel…it has been truly life changing…even if I did almost get kicked out of China.

Do you have a crazy international research story? What did you learn?


Day Eight: Behavior Change and Weight Watchers

This week Weight Watchers rolled out their new plan: Points Plus 2012. Last year at about this time they started the Points Plus program, which was the first major change to the plan in close to a decade. Now with a year of research under their belts, WW has decided to modify the plan to help members become more successful. I find sort of a sick pleasure in seeing middle aged women FLIP OUT because their routine is being changed. This morning at my meeting I feel like an anthropologist studying some remote tribe…not a chunky girl who was hanging out with a bunch of suburban soccer moms.

I joined Weight Watchers 15 months ago, and honestly it has changed my life. We were doing a project with one of the biggest food producers in the country (and probably the world) and they were trying to find ways to prevent obesity. We followed a typical innovation research process by doing contextual research, shop-alongs, and in-depth interviews. We also decided to have a couple of employees audit popular services that were known for behavior change. I was asked to audit Weight Watchers and report back to the team.

Weight Watcher has helped me create a framework for behavior change by introducing a number of tools to help manage my physical and emotional needs. This is how the plan works:

You get a personalized daily point target- this is the number of points you can eat in a day and lose weight. The number is based on your age, height, weight, and gender.

Every food has a point value- this number is a mysterious formula that is based on the fat, carbs, fiber, and protein in each food you eat.

Everyone gets an extra 49 points to use through the week- this is supposed to make the plan feel more livable and help members avoid feeling deprived.

You can earn activity points- workout, get points. The points are calculated based on the time and intensity of the workout. You can then choose to eat those points if you want to.

You are strongly encouraged to track- that means everything you eat or drink and all of your activity. There are lots of digital and analog tools provided to assist with tracking.

You attend weekly meetings (and can participate on message boards online)- this helps you stay motivated and realize that you are not alone. Also, when you attend in person meetings you are weighed in and your weight is tracked each week. This act of weighing in keeps you accountable.

Last year when points plus launched, Weight Watchers introduced a lot of changes all at the same time. The scale for the daily points target changed drastically, as did the formula used for calculating the points value of foods. WW also introduced free fruits and vegetables which meant that most fruits and veggies didn’t have points. Points Plus also raised the weekly points from 35 to 49 points per week. This was a whole lot of change to lay on people (especially 2 weeks before Christmas).

This year Weight Watchers has decided to slow their role and introduce small changes one week at a time. This week we learned that the daily points target is now variable. Each member can choose to increase or decrease their points target by 3 points each day. Everyone in my meeting was fairly calm about this change, especially compared to the crazy bitching that happened last year. Honestly, I was throwing more of a fit than anyone else in the room. I understand that this change is supposed to make the plan more flexible giving lifelong behavior change a shot, but I am worried that this level of variability will muddy the water. My personal weight loss journey has been super inconsistent. I will frequently lose 6 pounds one week and gain 3 the next. For me I know that as long as the overall trend is going down then I am fine, but almost every Saturday morning I talk to a member who is ready to jump off a cliff because they gained .2 pounds. Here is my weight loss tracker for the year (not a seismograph of the great New England earthquake of 2011).


I honestly think most of the people in my meeting will lose weight this week. I think any change makes you a lot more diligent. Last year everyone had gotten lazy by this point in the year and the introduction of new points values meant that everyone had to start from scratch and re-learn a new system. This meant no more relying on memory and half-ass measuring. It meant getting down to business and really tracking everything. Obviously a heightened sensitivity leads to better results.

So how did I end up in weight watchers…other than being a hired spy of course?

My whole family is on the chubby side. I managed to stay in a pretty normal weight range until high school because I was a three season athlete, until I separated my shoulder playing volleyball and then shattered my collarbone playing fast-pitch softball. I had never really learned how to cope with stress without hitting balls, and had always been able to eat whatever I wanted because I was always in training for something. I gained 20 pounds during the last two years of high school, and another 20 pounds in college. I maintained as slightly plump until I started working at Continuum. I was under so much stress and traveling so much that I ended up gaining 50 pounds in less than a year. The crazy thing was, I was too busy to even notice that I was slowly killing myself. It wasn’t until I went to Weight Watchers for work that I realized how out of control my weight had gotten. Three months later I quit my job at Continuum because it became clear that I was never going to be able to put myself and my health first while working 80-100 hour weeks.

After that first week of Weight Watchers I was in it to win it. I have made amazing behavior changes in the last 15 months. I have learned how to identify my triggers (stress) and have developed techniques for getting through stressful situations.

Zimmerman, Olsen, & Bosworth created what they call The Change Model. I have added some sas to their model.  


Have you ever tried any major behavior change like quitting smoking, increasing exercise, abstaining from alcohol or losing weight? How did it go? Did your journey follow The Change Model? Did you ever experience any relapse? How did you bounce back?


Day Nine: Prototyping Experiences

So I love research, but figuring out how to translate insights into actionable design and service direction is by far my favorite part of the process.

There are a ton of techniques that can be used to help envision future customer experiences, today I would like to talk about prototyping.

Building a prototype is something that anyone with an ID, ME, or interaction degree should be pretty familiar with. It is a low-fidelity model designed to frame a problem, and gather feedback. It is a way to fail fast, learn faster, and course correct as needed. Prototyping an experience works the same way.

In order to successfully prototype an experience you must first understand the context. This usually means going into the field to gain a deep understanding of your users and their potential challenges. Prototyping too early in the process may mean that you are not building a proper foundation of consumer understanding first.

After hitting the field, your team should determine what the goal is of the prototype they are creating and how much time and money should be invested into prototyping.

Prototyping for Empathy

This means creating a flexible prototype which is designed to grow with the innovation process. The first pass is at recreating the current state of the product or service so the design team can try to understand how the user really feels when they are interacting with the product or service. We did this when we created Herman Miller Compass. After weeks in the field, we came back to the office and built a full scale hospital room. Every member of the team spent a full day living in the hospital room as if they were a patient. Eventually this prototype was adapted to try out new design ideas.

Prototyping for Inspiration

This means creating a prototype that will inspire the team to try new things. After my infamous China trips, we created a prototype of a Traditional Trade shop. Each team member played a role like Shop Owner, Shopper, Wholesaler, Child, Gossipy Neighbor. The team was then presented with various scenarios to role play. After each scenario we brainstormed new product and service ideas. In this photo we were exploring what it would mean if we gave every shop owner an I-pad.

Prototyping for Evaluation

This means creating a prototype or series of prototypes with the goal of having users evaluate and offer feedback on the design. Staples actually has a full scale retail lab where they evaluate new concepts for merchandising and point of sale displays…I have been inside the lab but was told absolutely no photos! I have mocked up various retail spaces to understand how people shop for everything from toothpaste to bottled water. I find that putting a new product in the context of a store really helps users evaluate what resonates and what doesn’t.

Prototyping for Buy-In

This means creating a polished prototype. These are still made of foam core but will often incorporate real products, and actors who play out service scripts. This photo shows the new Holiday Inn Hub prototype created by Continuum.

Prototypes like this help internal stakeholders image how a space and scripted interaction will actually play out in the field.

Prototyping spaces and experiences is great way to understand product and service challenges, and helps us quickly re-frame ideas to move into product development faster. It also does its part to keep the foam core industry in business!

Have you ever worked on a full scale experience prototype? What did you learn from the experience?


Day Ten: Tales from the road

I am on the first leg of a 3 city research validation that involves sessions until 10pm and 6am flights…yay! So today I am going to write about my biggest research  travel adventure.

Ever since I could remember I wanted to be a doctor. I asked for Gray’s Anatomy (the hardcore book…not the fluffy TV show) for Christmas and took Latin in high school…like that would EVER be useful. However, when I realized that going to med school would put me out of the running for any top 30 under 30 nominations, I bailed on the whole doctor thing. I decided the next best thing would be art school…right? 

Well it was a jump, but art school ended up being an amazing experience. I learned how to understand what people want and how to deliver on those desires…but my whole wanting to change the world by curing AIDS went on the back burner for about a decade. That is, until I started working at Insight. I was drawn to Insight because I wanted to learn the more technical side of research, and I loved that I would be on projects that would really make a difference. I have been really lucky and have worked on a number of consumer medical products which I love, but medical projects have also presented quite a challenge. That’s because I am what I like to call a “master fainter.”

Over the course of my life I have fainted more than 30 different times. I have undergone every test possible to find out why. The best that any doctor has been able to determine: my body doesn’t properly process adrenaline. Stress=face-to-the floor. Most of the time my fainting has been associated with something physically happening to me: having blood drawn, cutting myself, physical therapy (weird I know). Once in a while I faint pretty randomly: once while sitting on a plane reading Malcom Gladwell. Over the years I have tried to cut back on caffeine, which I guess leads to stress responses in the body, and have become more attuned to my triggers. I am a total baby and need to lay down to get any kind of shot, but it keeps me from falling down later.

When I started Insight I was so excited to get to hang out in hardcore medical situations, but was also sort of worried that I might lose it…and that is exactly what happened my first week on the job. I flew to Japan with one of my new co-workers and our client to do research on laparoscopic tools. This means tools that are used for minimally invasive surgeries. The doctor can essentially poke a couple of holes in you and use a camera and some fancy tools to avoid having to cut you completely open.

My job was to understand potential challenges and opportunities for new laparoscopic tools. This meant interviewing nurse, doctors, scrub techs, central processing (sterilization), and observing a surgery. After flying all day and all night, we got to our hotel in Tokyo at about 11pm and had interviews starting the next morning at 7am. We ran, ran, ran all day and by the time we got to our 3pm surgery I was exhausted. Spending solid days listening to relay translation is a lot harder than most people realize.

So time for surgery: we are escorted to two different dressing rooms and told to put on specific scrubs, crocs, hair nets, and masks. This girl was rocking 3x scrubs in Japan, and was stuffed like a snausage.


After scrub suiting up we were escorted to the surgical suite where we waited for about an hour for the patient to be prepped. As soon as the patient was ready the medical team invited us in. My job was to stand in a corner and note everywhere that each person in the room moved during the surgery so we could create a workflow later. I was so into it. I loved seeing all of the action. That was until the room started to get smokey.

When doing laparoscopic surgeries, doctors use cauterizers to cut and seal skin or organs. Essentially all of the cutting that was happening was being done by burning, which made the patients stomach fill with smoke and then eventually fill the room with burning skin scented smoke. I was a goner.

I felt myself getting dizzy, then before I knew it I woke up on the floor of the Operating room with my snausage scrubs ripped open, little electrodes all over me, and 5 Japanese nurses, my client, and my new co-worker all standing over me. Great first impression huh?


As a veteran fainter- I can tell you that there is a whole new level of embarrassment when you faint in the middle of an OR. Luckily the doctors didn’t even notice and carried on with the procedure like nothing had happened. I however, left Japan with a concussion and a black eye.  

Always the researcher, I decided to video my experience being rolled from the OR to an observation room:


We ended up surviving the rest of the trip and did a great job analyzing the data to create a strong roadmap for future products…but it was touch and go there for a minute!

Have you ever had a major mishap in the field? How did you recover?


Day Eleven- Fake it til you make it. How to know enough about sports to barely get by. 

So here is the thing…I hate professional sports. I just don’t get the appeal. I played every sport I could as a kid, but for me watching from the sidelines is at best boring and at worst frustrating. However, as a consultant I am always trying to find ways to connect with my clients and master the art of small talk. I want to make sure that my clients like me as a person because that helps me build trust me to help them make business decisions.

I have found two of the fastest ways to connect with almost anyone is through talking about their kids or talking about sports games. Talking about kids is easy, even if you don’t have them. Get a working knowledge of basic growth and development (which should be pretty helpful anyways) and run with it. “Oh little Suzie is 24 months old? How is potty training going?”  “Man Jimmy is in the 4th grade already…fractions are tough huh?” “Grace is 13?! You are just going to want to avoid eye contact with her for the next few years!” I’ve found that potty training, ineptitude at grade school math, and the sheer terror of raising teens/pre-teens are all good topics that can lead to interesting conversation that is all about the client and not you. If you are at a loss follow up with- “What kind of activities are they into?” There is a good chance that our current generation of over-achieving grade schoolers are  probably doing some extra-circular that their parents can brag about.

Enough about kids, for me kids are easy because the topic is interesting. Talking about people is so much more fun that talking about sports games. However, talking about kids can only get you so far. I used to be blissfully ignorant about sports, but I learned that my ignorance left me missing meaningful opportunities to connect with my clients. I quickly learned that I needed to have at least a basic working knowledge of how to talk about sports…I didn’t need to know things like the rules or the principles of scoring…I just had to know enough to sound like I knew what I was talking about.

Luckily, my wife is insane. She will watch any game with a ball, a puck, or a points system. Sundays, and well most evenings at our house are filled with yelling at the TV- either because a key team (not even her favorite team) is losing…or worse, not winning enough. If she isn’t watching sports, she is watching ESPN Sports Center (sports for people with ADD). If its play-offs or if multiple sports are running at the same time our house becomes mission control, with games on the TV, the laptops, and Sport Center running on the phone. If the lady could install a ticker that ran a constant feed of sport scores all around our house she would be the happiest person in the world.

So for me learning enough to be dangerous started with having a good Sensei. While I pride myself on the basic knowledge I have picked up over the years, I know I can be in any city at any time of year and can call Allison and she will give me the most appropriate updates complete with analysis. Having an Ace in your pocket is a really good trick. Find a dad, a brother, or a lesbian to help you out.

So here are the basics of sports for clients:

Know thy season

Sports run year round (except for a magical week in July when basketball finishes, there is an all-star break in baseball and football hasn’t started.) Know which sports are in which part of their season. As the season approaches play-offs, or the part of the year where the best teams compete, the sport gets incredibly more interesting because you need to not only focus on how your team is doing, but also focus on all of the teams around you and how their wins and losses affect your team’s chance of success.

I have found that Football is the most important to keep track of because the season is short and each team only plays 16 games before the play-offs. Most of those games are played on Sundays so football is a big Monday morning topic of conversation from September to Feburary.  

Most of the other sports play a lot more games over a longer time frame so focusing on overall standing and games against key rivals are more important.

Once you know where you are on the calendar, figure out where you are geographically

For the most part people have an affinity for their local team. This may not hold true with transplants, but even if they are not fans of their local team, your client will probably follow their local team so they can talk shit to their friends at work. Also, your client may momentarily follow your local team, just to be able to make conversation with you. Your job is two-fold:

Figure out who your client likes and follow them at a super high level and have your own “favorite” team for each sport. Going with your local team is a good bet if you don’t have ties to somewhere else. For me I hate most of the Boston teams and rally around my Chicago teams because they never win so they are not threatening. If you pick a super polarizing team you might have to do more work to keep up to date and authentically contribute to spirited conversation.

Keep in mind, some cities have 2 teams. These teams will not play in the same league so they are not really rivals, but your client will definitely have an affinity to one over the other.

Be selective

Your goal is to know enough to make conversation, not enough to win sports trivia or even play the game. If your clients are in the US you can probably focus on the 4 major sports- football, basketball, baseball, and hockey (in that order). I also had to learn a bit about Nascar as well because I had a client who owns a team. I found that my Nascar knowledge is occasionally handy in certain parts of the country or when talking to some research participants.  

If your clients are currently residing in or have ever resided outside of the US…try to gain a working knowledge of soccer.

Don’t worry about college sports (unless it is March). There are just too many teams and sports to keep track of, and I have found that college sports are just not as universal as Pro sports. That being said March Madness is a pretty big deal. March Madness is a giant college basketball tournament, learn a little bit about it and fill out a bracket even if it is based on picking teams by uniform color or mascot. However, if you want to learn anything about college sports, start with the mascots…I can not tell you how many times shouting “Go Bearcats” has gained me some client love.

Know what to know

for your teams and your clients teams learn the following things:

Basics- team name, mascot, colors, current record, which league/division they are in (more applicable for playoffs)

Key players- for football this is usually the quarterback, for other sports its usually high scorers. Knowing one or two names is usually enough…but make sure you can pronounce them.

Rivalries- knowing who your client hates can help you either make sassy jeering comments or rally about beating a team the hate. It’s a win/win for conversation. Rivalry games are a big deal, they get lots of press coverage so it helps to have basic knowledge about who won any big rivalry games.

Headlines- the day of a meeting check and see if any of the big 4 sports are on the front page of the paper or the front page of the sport section. I might also check google trends.  No need to go any deeper than that. I also have the Sports Center app on my phone so I can follow “my teams” scores as well as my clients. It pretty much only tells scores, but that is usually enough.

Be authentic

Don’t say you watched a game if you didn’t….it will be obvious. Keep the convo focused on scores and key players if you want. I have found for me that quickly perusing Allison’s ESPN and Sports Illustrated magazines helps me understand the back  story about teams and players and creates much more interesting conversation than “omg did you see what Tim Tebow did AGAIN last night?”  Also use your lack of sports knowledge to your advantage. While doing a global trip with a client who was obsessed with soccer (during the world cup), I asked him to teach me everything that I needed to know about the sport. We started with the rules.

I worried about posting this because I thought that maybe if a client read this they would think that I am inauthentic. But in all honesty, I feel like learning about something that I am not necessarily passionate about in order to connect with people is a really good thing. As researchers we go through this “ramping up” process all of the time, where we cram enough industry knowledge into our skulls to be able to ask meaningful and useful questions of our participants. Also remember, if you are in a social situation with a client you should be talking work first, personal life second. It should be your goal to learn everything about your client’s organization, how your project is currently being viewed, how it fits with the company’s strategic goals, and how you can make your client look good. But there are times like when you traveling together or in really long sessions where you just need a break from the business talk. Just say something about how awesome Tim Tebow is…even if he is a little awkward.

Are you a sports nut? Am I missing anything when it comes to the basics of talking about sports?



Day Twelve: How to feed a Vegan

The holidays are upon us, and we all know what that means: frantic hours at work to close out the year, and tons of holiday parties. This means that there is a big chance that someone else will be ordering or preparing at least part of the food you eat in the next three weeks. As a vegan who travels a lot for work I would love to give y’all some advice on how to feed a vegan.

First what is a vegan?

Vegetarian means that a person doesn’t eat meat, vegan means that they don’t eat any animal by-products (eggs, milk, cheese, etc.) There are weird hybrids of vegetarians who eat milk products and not eggs or eggs and not milk…but that is just confusing. So if you have a client, friend, or family member who is vegan or vegetarian, here are some tips for entertaining.

Find out how crazy they are

Veganisim is a spectrum and I fall on the half-assed end. I have met “real” hard-core vegans who will not wear leather, silk, or eat honey (because the bees are subjected to forceful burst of air during the harvesting process). Hardcore vegans are probably vegan because of animal rights. They are upset about the mistreatment of animals…and might get a little preachy. More power to them, they stick up for what they believe, but some of the hardest-core vegans kind of give veganism a bad name. It you are entertaining a hard-core vegan you might want to ask if they would be offended if you serve anyone else meat (a huge pain in the ass I know, but they will appreciate the gesture and probably say no.)

On the other end of the spectrum we have the half assed vegans- that’s me! So for me I am completely vegan (minus the leather and honey thing) at home where I have control over my environment, but when I travel I have found that it is just a little bit impractical for me. I find myself not getting enough protein when I can’t find tofu or copious amounts of beans. So I add eggs and cheese back into my diet. I don’t eat meat because I don’t like the taste, but I don’t eat dairy/eggs for health reasons. So having this flexibility works well for me.

In the middle of the spectrum you have vegans like Allison, kind of a hard core/half assed combo. For Allison being vegan is about food allergies not about animal rights at all. So while she doesn’t really care how her food got to her, she just can’t eat the eggs and milk. This forces her to be hard-core about what she eats, but not preachy.

Find out how they feel about substitutions

If your vegan is not eating meat for political/emotional reasons, they may still like the taste of meat and be psyched about meat alternatives like boca crumbles, tempeh, or tofurkey to name a few.

If your vegan is not eating meat for taste reasons these substitutions are kind of a no-go because the sort of taste like bad alternatives to the real thing.

React accordingly

If your vegan is smart they are probably prepared. I honestly never leave home without a case of luna bars, this way I know I can get through pretty much any situation. However, going the extra mile to offer your vegan more than a dry salad or plain pasta will always be super appreciated.

But what do vegans eat? The best way to find out is to ask. If you have a client or co-worker with any kind of dietary restrictions they probably already know the restaurants that are most accommodating.

For the most part the menu you see for a restaurant or catering company isn’t real. I have worked with a lot of different places and have found that if you pick something from the menu that is close to being vegan or vegetarian they are usually more than happy to make minor adjustments for you.

Some examples:

  •  Pizza with out cheese (it is a lot better than it sounds)
  • Pasta dishes with lots of veggies that usually have a piece of chicken or fish on top with out the fish or chicken
  •  Most sandwiches or wraps can be easily tweaked
  •  Almost anything Indian can be made vegan- you just need to watch out for ghee which is clarified butter.
  • Also vegans are completely used to forming lots of side dishes into a meal

If you plan on taking a client out to dinner it doesn’t hurt to ask if there are any vegan options, or if the chef would be willing to prepare a vegan plate. I do this a lot at nicer restaurants and chef surprise has ranged from the best meals of my life to a pile of mush steamed veggies…either way the restaurant gave it a shot.

Also if you are ever booking international travel for a client, be sure to ask if they need vegan or vegetarian meals…not that vegan airline food is anything to write home about, it’s the thought that counts.


I have found a big shift towards healthier eating with clients, friends, and family, so while it is awesome that your whole crew wants to eat veggies and can be super frustrating if you only order one special vegan thing and someone else takes it. I have had cases where we marked people’s names on their dish, or hidden special order food from the rest of the group. Most of the time I will just ask that all of the  veggies get prepared without butter or cream and order enough for everyone. For the most part veganism is one of the most restricted diets. Aside from gluten, peanut, and similar food specific allergies, if you are offering one vegan option it can probably satisfy anyone who is avoiding meat or milk for religious reasons.

Hopefully this is a quick start guide for dealing with the pickier eaters in your life, and helps make the holiday season a little saner for everyone involved.

Have you ever had a food ordering debacle? How did you deal with it? Any tips or tricks for keeping clients well fed and happy?

Day Twelve

Day Twelve

Day Twelve: How to feed a Vegan

The holidays are upon us, and we all know what that means: frantic hours at work to close out the year, and tons of holiday parties. This means that there is a big chance that someone else will be ordering or preparing at least part of the food you eat in the next three weeks. As a vegan who travels a lot for work I would love to give y’all some advice on how to feed a vegan.

First what is a vegan?

Vegetarian means that a person doesn’t eat meat, vegan means that they don’t eat any animal by-products (eggs, milk, cheese, etc.) There are weird hybrids of vegetarians who eat milk products and not eggs or eggs and not milk…but that is just confusing. So if you have a client, friend, or family member who is vegan or vegetarian, here are some tips for entertaining.

Find out how crazy they are

Veganisim is a spectrum and I fall on the half-assed end. I have met “real” hard-core vegans who will not wear leather, silk, or eat honey (because the bees are subjected to forceful burst of air during the harvesting process). Hardcore vegans are probably vegan because of animal rights. They are upset about the mistreatment of animals…and might get a little preachy. More power to them, they stick up for what they believe, but some of the hardest-core vegans kind of give veganism a bad name. It you are entertaining a hard-core vegan you might want to ask if they would be offended if you serve anyone else meat (a huge pain in the ass I know, but they will appreciate the gesture and probably say no.)

On the other end of the spectrum we have the half assed vegans- that’s me! So for me I am completely vegan (minus the leather and honey thing) at home where I have control over my environment, but when I travel I have found that it is just a little bit impractical for me. I find myself not getting enough protein when I can’t find tofu or copious amounts of beans. So I add eggs and cheese back into my diet. I don’t eat meat because I don’t like the taste, but I don’t eat dairy/eggs for health reasons. So having this flexibility works well for me.

In the middle of the spectrum you have vegans like Allison, kind of a hard core/half assed combo. For Allison being vegan is about food allergies not about animal rights at all. So while she doesn’t really care how her food got to her, she just can’t eat the eggs and milk. This forces her to be hard-core about what she eats, but not preachy.

Find out how they feel about substitutions

If your vegan is not eating meat for political/emotional reasons, they may still like the taste of meat and be psyched about meat alternatives like boca crumbles, tempeh, or tofurkey to name a few.

If your vegan is not eating meat for taste reasons these substitutions are kind of a no-go because the sort of taste like bad alternatives to the real thing.


React accordingly

If your vegan is smart they are probably prepared. I honestly never leave home without a case of luna bars, this way I know I can get through pretty much any situation. However, going the extra mile to offer your vegan more than a dry salad or plain pasta will always be super appreciated.

But what do vegans eat? The best way to find out is to ask. If you have a client or co-worker with any kind of dietary restrictions they probably already know the restaurants that are most accommodating.

For the most part the menu you see for a restaurant or catering company isn’t real. I have worked with a lot of different places and have found that if you pick something from the menu that is close to being vegan or vegetarian they are usually more than happy to make minor adjustments for you.

Some examples:

·         Pizza with out cheese (it is a lot better than it sounds)

·         Pasta dishes with lots of veggies that usually have a piece of chicken or fish on top with out the fish or chicken

·         Most sandwiches or wraps can be easily tweaked

·         Almost anything Indian can be made vegan- you just need to watch out for ghee which is clarified butter.

·         Also vegans are completely used to forming lots of side dishes into a meal

If you plan on taking a client out to dinner it doesn’t hurt to ask if there are any vegan options, or if the chef would be willing to prepare a vegan plate. I do this a lot at nicer restaurants and chef surprise has ranged from the best meals of my life to a pile of mush steamed veggies…either way the restaurant gave it a shot.

Also if you are ever booking international travel for a client, be sure to ask if they need vegan or vegetarian meals…not that vegan airline food is anything to write home about, it’s the thought that counts.


I have found a big shift towards healthier eating with clients, friends, and family, so while it is awesome that your whole crew wants to eat veggies and can be super frustrating if you only order one special vegan thing and someone else takes it. I have had cases where we marked people’s names on their dish, or hidden special order food from the rest of the group. Most of the time I will just ask that all of the  veggies get prepared without butter or cream and order enough for everyone. For the most part veganism is one of the most restricted diets. Aside from gluten, peanut, and similar food specific allergies, if you are offering one vegan option it can probably satisfy anyone who is avoiding meat or milk for religious reasons.

Hopefully this is a quick start guide for dealing with the pickier eaters in your life, and helps make the holiday season a little saner for everyone involved.

Have you ever had a food ordering debacle? How did you deal with it? Any tips or tricks for keeping clients well fed and happy?


Day Thirteen- Why customer satisfaction surveys are a waste of time and money

So I love a good survey as much as the next girl, but one thing that drives me crazy as this:


Or: “You can go online and fill out a customer satisfaction survey and you might win a chance to win a gift card…but please give me all 5’s”

Why are customer satisfaction scores a waste of time and money?

Customer satisfaction is meaningless

It does you absolutely no good to have satisfied customers if they are not loyal customers. Satisfied means meeting basic requirements, it has nothing to do with having a great experience. If you walk into a store, find what you need, pay the price you expected, and leave the store you will probably be satisfied with your experience, but nothing about that experience was special. Your goal should not be to satisfy your customers, but to create loyal brand evangelist who will talk, tweet, and facebook about you. Tracking what people are saying about you via social media, and understanding why you are getting calls to customer service are far better ways to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your brand than a satisfaction survey.

Satisfaction is subjective

I have conducted hundreds of online surveys and can guarantee that abstract terms like satisfaction are very difficult for participants to respond to. I have also found that there are a lot of philosophies about scoring among survey takers. I have observed three trends:

All or nothing- A participant will only give ratings of 1’s or 5’s (on a 5 point scale). They essentially treat a rating scale like a pass/fail option.

Middle of the road- A participant will give every question the ranking of a 3 (on a 5 point scale). Sometimes this happens because the participant is indifferent; sometimes it happens because they are racing to finish the survey. [Technical Note: If you are having problems with the later your survey is probably too long, but you could also try to include randomly placed questions that ask the participant to select a specific score. If they fail to do so you screen them out.]

Less than perfect- A participant will give almost every question a 4 (on a 5 point scale). This is the biggest reason that most companies mess up survey data. Imagine you have the experience I described earlier- typical normal experience. A lot of participants will not give that typical normal experience a score of 5 because nothing surprised or amazed them. The experience was “fine.” The problem happens with analysis of these scores and what they mean for making business decisions.

Gaming the system

Occasionally managers or employees will do things that affect who will talk your survey and how they will respond.

 “Deselecting”- In a lot of systems the employee can manually override who gets a survey. When I was a waitress at the famed T.G.I. Friday’s (I know there has to be a whole book there), survey prompts were randomly generated. However if you had to reprint a receipt the second receipt would not have the survey prompt. I knew servers who would reprint receipts so that more difficult customers wouldn’t give bad reviews, but I also saw servers reprint receipts multiple times to get a survey offer for an awesome guest.

Coaching- Once in a while you will run in to situations where employees have been coached to ask you for the score they want. In If Disney Ran your Hospital, Fred Lee gives the example of a hospital that gives patients cards when they check in explaining that they will be given a survey when they leave and they should seriously consider rating the staff and experience a “5” on all questions. The card goes on to explain that if you have any issues during your stay you should let someone know so they can fix it…but don’t give us a lower score because of it.  So coaching in general is going to give you flawed data, but the hospital example introduces another point…let us know so we can fix it so you don’t give us a lower score. While this may have been written innocently, it just isn’t how people operate. Most people tend to be non-confrontational to start with, and will probably not go out of their way to complain about something minor. This is especially true if they feel their future service will be compromised by offering up ways to improve. Finally asking customers to complain is only really useful if the customer service staff has the tools to do right by the customer. So while asking customers to tell you how you could improve their experience is okay, asking for specific scores on surveys is completely unacceptable.

Dealing with Data

One of the biggest reasons that customer satisfaction surveys are meaningless is because most people are not collecting the correct data, or they don’t know what to do with the data once they collect is.  To do proper analysis you need to understand what your goals are, and in most cases I’ve seen analysis goes a little something like this:

Top Scorers: Companies will identify the individual stores with the highest scores and give managers bonuses based on their score. This is garbage…especially if employees are asking for good scores. You are motivating your top stores to stay on top while doing little to improve your lower stores scores. Also because you are only collecting quantitative data, you will not have a clear idea of what is actually going wrong in your less successful stores.

Pass Fail: Companies will create passing and failing grades- if you score a one or two you fail, if you score a 3-5 (on a five point scale) you pass. So first of all…if you are going to analyze data in this manner you might as well be asking pass fail questions. Also if you think about the different ways people take surveys the different between a 3 and a 5 really is a big deal. In most cases a 5 is extraordinary where a 3 is “meh.” If you are analyzing data this way you are essentially saying that there is no difference between and A+ and a C-.

[as I was getting ready to publish this post, I received a customer satisfaction survey from the AMAZING Felix Hotel in Chicago. They did an amazing job of creating and easy to use and fun to take survey. They utilized a 3 point scale so they can quickly see what is working and what isn’t.]


So what can you do?

Evaluate your current customer satisfaction tools and analysis process- what are your strategic goals? Are these surveys helping you make informed business decisions? You can start to transform your surveys by adding space for comments, but know that asking for comments will mean more work during the analysis process. You can also consider breaking from a rating scale and asking things like: Was your service better that you could expect from a similar store? Could you see yourself telling a friend about the experience you had today? However, transforming your survey may not be enough.

Find evangelist and nay-sayers- these are the people who are tweeting, blogging, facebooking, and linking-in about your company and offering glowing reviews or complaining about how awful you are. Consider treating web based customer service as a real department or position. Instead of waiting for your customer to call you…probably to complain, activate some interns and smart marketers to seek out mentions of your brand and react accordingly. Also look for mentions of your competitors or your industry in general. Find authentic and meaningful ways to respond to micro feedback. For the most part I am not talking about direct marketing; I am talking about building customer loyalty. One retweet from a key influencer can be just as valuable as an ad view.

Do qualitative research- while this option is more expensive, it is also more meaningful. Create a screener to find customers that have had good and bad experiences and do phone interviews with them. Ask them what they loved and hated about your store, and what you could do to be better. Talking to the right 20 people for 30 minutes can provide you with so much more value that looking at meaningless 3’s, 4’s, and 5’s from 1,000’s of customers.

 I have a feeling that customer satisfaction surveys will not be going anywhere anytime soon. They are fairly easy, fast, and not terribly expensive. However, I urge you to consider alternative methods to understanding and reacting to customer’s experiences. Creating a hybrid approach by mixing quantitative and qualitative methodologies can truly help you understand loyalty and not just satisfaction.

Have you tried a hybrid approach to understanding customer loyalty? Have any best practices to share?



Day Fourteen-Guide to shop-alongs 

Shop-alongs are one of the most googled research methods on my website, so I would love to give y’all a little bit of a how-to look at planning for, conducting, and analyzing data from a shop along.

What is a shop-along?

A shop-along simply means going shopping with your potential customer. The goal is to understand the customer’s motivations and pain points while shopping for your product or using your service. The goal is to observe your customer while they are making real product or service decisions. This will give you insight into the distractions and frustrations that your customer deals with while shopping, as well as help you understand what resonates with a customer at point of sale.

Shop-alongs fall in two main categories

Understanding how your shopper decides which product to buy

This means shopping with your customer to understand how they shop your category. For the most part this is done by product and packaging companies. This could mean understanding how a consumer decides on a general solution from your category, or it could mean understanding specifically how the customer chooses your brand over a direct competitor. For example, you could be trying to understand why shoppers choose disposable razors instead of reusable ones, or you could be trying to understand why shoppers choose Gillette razors over Bic razors.

Understanding how your shopper navigates through the whole shopping experience

This means understanding the entire customer journey from pre-planning to un-packing. For the most part this is done by retailers and service providers. The goal here is to understand how your customer interacts with every touch point of your service from the parking lot through check out. This could mean understanding how a customer shops a grocery store or goes through the whole process of air travel.

Understanding both

In a few cases you will need to understand the entire process as well as category specific decision making. I recently did a project with an office supply retailer who has a line of store brand products. We were trying to understand how to drive the traffic of one line of products (that happens to be confusing to purchase and fairly heavy to move through the store). For this project we observed the whole customer journey as well as the category specific decision making.

Planning for your shop-along

The recruiting process for shop-alongs is the same as recruiting for one-on-one interviews (learn more about research planning here). However, with shop-alongs you will want to make sure that the sessions are as authentic as possible. You should be running sessions on your participant’s terms.  This means shopping at their normal store at the time of day and day of the week that they normally shop. Most of your shop-alongs will take place at nights or on weekends. You will also want to make sure that you are recruiting some participants who use your brand and some who do not.

Pre-shop interview

You will want to try to schedule an interview in your participant’s home or at their business directly before the shop-along. This is your chance to understand their context, help them understand the goals of the session, and observe how they prepare for a shopping trip. If possible you will want to mic your participant at home and ride in their car with them to the store so the transition from parking to shopping is as natural as possible.

Your Posse

While I usually encourage as many people as possible to participate in observational research, this is one case where you may want to limit the team. Your goal should be to blend in to the shopping environment as much as possible. This means that having 20 people following your participant will not only make them uncomfortable, but may draw unwanted attention from store employees.


One of the biggest challenges with conducting shop-alongs is capturing data. As I mentioned you will want to make sure you are capturing audio of the entire session. Ideally you will use a lav mic on the participant, but you can get away with a simple voice recorder (or voice recording app) if you have to. Unfortunately, most retail establishments frown on the use of cameras and video cameras. I have found that with the prevalence of cell phone cameras this is becoming a little bit less sensitive, but you still need to be a little bit sneaky. I have used lapel cameras and flip cameras with gorilla tripods to get a “cart’s eye view” but try to avoid holding a typical video camera…it’s a sure fire way to get kicked out of the store.

If you are doing research at your own stores this obviously isn’t an issue, you will just need to make sure that the manager on duty knows what is going on. I have had managers go as far as pulling footage from security cameras for us so we could track our movement through the store.

Have a plan, but stay flexible

You will want to follow your participant’s lead during the shopping trip. If you are interested in a specific category let your customer do the rest of their shopping without much interruption. Just observe what they are doing. When you get to your category continue to observe the process, but remind the participant to “speak aloud” as they are making decisions. After they have made a decision you will want to follow up with specific and pre-planned questions.

Retail usability

In some cases I will ask participants to play out a number of use cases in the department. For example, if you were trying to understand cosmetics you could ask the participant to choose the products they would buy to wear at work then ask them to buy the products they would wear on a night out. This will help you understand how the participant compares products and makes more complicated decisions.

Show me around

Depending on the project I will also ask the participant to give me a guided tour of the store. This helps you understand how they think about and describe each section of the store.


After the trip you will want to return home with the participant and observe how they unpack their goods. If you were lucky enough to capture video you can also watch some of the video with the participant and ask them to narrate it. This will help them assess and articulate details that they may not have even thought about during the initial trip. If you decide to watch video the feedback is usually incredibly useful, but you need to be very careful about session fatigue. Try to be very selective in the video you watch and watch for signs of grumpiness from your participant.


Shop-along data is challenging to collect making it difficult to analyze. Immediately after each shop-along you should plan on debriefing with your team to discuss highlights of the session. During these sessions you should start to rough out workflows or journey maps. This will usually include drawing a physical map of the store and showing the flow that your participant took as well as mapping the individual steps the participant went through while shopping. After mapping the project team can start to identify problems with the physical space and the process of shopping.

You may also uncover opportunities for additional branded touch points. On a project for a large jeweler we used a journey map to understand the shopping process and uncovered really interesting opportunity for us to create a brand connection. We conducted shop-alongs with men who were getting ready to propose to their girlfriends. We learned that while the whole jewelry shopping process is challenging, shopping for an engagement ring requires a level of secrecy that jewelers were not currently addressing or capitalizing on. This insight helped us design slim line ring boxes (so they don’t create a bulge in the future groom’s pocket). We also create a secret process for the company to alert the customer that their ring was ready to be picked up. Customers were given a fake restaurant receipt that had their online confirmation number printed as the order number. Neither of these design details would have been implemented if we had not done shop-alongs and journey maps.

You can also start to create user-typologies or personas of your customers. This is done by combining quantitative demographic and psychographic data with your observations. This will help you understand what things your users find important and the challenges they are currently having with the process.

You can create decision trees to understand the hierarchies of decisions being made. You can outline how participants made gross decisions like what type of solution to purchase to very specific decisions like brand, color, finish, and features.  

You can also do a longitudinal receipt analysis. This will help you understand how your shopper’s habits change over time. We did a project a few years ago about how the economy affected food purchasing habits. We had luckily asked our participants to keep a week’s worth of receipts from the year before, so we asked them to do the same activity again. We were able to compare shopping choices between years and not cases where families had switched to generics or removed whole categories (like soda) from their shopping trips. Asking participants to save receipts for you can also help you understand ways to potentially bundle your products, or uncover possible partners. Finally, the receipt will tell you if what your participant says aligns with what they do. We have done interviews where the participant said they only buy organic non-processed foods, but their receipts showed a host of processed snack food.


Just like any other research method, in order to be useful Shop-alongs require a goal, a plan, and a whole lot of analysis. However, understanding how your customer makes “game-time decisions” can be critical to activating your brand.

Have you ever conducted shop-alongs and have any tips? Do you have any questions about best practices?


Day Fifteen-The half-way point

I am half-way through my post every day challenge and I have to say the experience has been amazing and exhausting so far! In the last fifteen days my blog-y thing has had 1,439 hits (not including hits from my home, work, or either mine or Allison’s cell phones). For the month of November my website had 216 hits.

I have had 529 visitors from 44 different countries…including a professor who has asked his whole class to read my blog.

If you are new here (which 73.37%  of you on a given day are) I decided to challenge myself to writing everyday to build my writing skills and eventually write a book. I am a user researcher and design strategist so most of my posts are about research methodology, behavior change, and service design.

In the last 15 days I have written 15 posts consisting of 16,372 words which is probably more words than I wrote during my entire art school education. I have spent between 1 hour and 6 minutes and 4 hours on each post including outlining, writing, editing, creating graphics, formatting, and posting. This has been a pretty huge time commitment, but I absolutely love it. I have found that I am getting much faster at writing things like emails, and much more confident developing my own personal writing style.

The topics I post about may seem kind of random but they are all things I am passionate about. My most read posts have been:

Day One- Try it for 30 days

Day Two-Training my dragon

Day Seven- How I got kicked out of China

Day Eight- Behavior change and Weight Watchers

Day Eleven- How to know enough about sports to barely get by

My least viewed post has been:

Day Five- Value Proposition 101

For the most part I come up with the idea for my post the same day I publish it, so whatever I am rambling about is probably top of mind for me for one reason or another. Writing and posting has kept me entertained, stimulated, and really excitied about waking up in the morning. Half way through I am loving this challenge, and I am really hoping to keep this going after the thirty days. It hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows…some of my posts have been written at 4am from airport gates, but so far this challenge has been incredibly inspiring.  

If you are one of my 29.63% of returning viewers, I would love to hear which posts you loved and hated so I can create more similar posts.


Day Sixteen: Post Office Adventures

So I went to the Post Office yesterday…the Saturday before Christmas and Hanukah… to send a package to my little brother. While I am amazed that the Post Office exists at all, I mean I spend less than 50 cents and  my letter is usually delivered to the exact person it needs to go to in a whole other part of the country. The back-of-the-house of the Post Office has to be an amazing operation that I would love to see. The challenge is that the Post Office forgets that it is also a retail outlet.  So while my post office usually looks something like this:

Yesterday it was more like this:

The problem was, no one had thought about how increased volume would affect the ability to offer a decent experience. We are talking about the Post Office during the Holidays, I am not deranged enough to think that the experience is going to be good. The experience could be less of a hassle though.

For instance, the increased volume meant that there was no clear delineation between the people who were in line to use the automated machines and the people who were waiting for counter service. The two lines combined into a confusing jumble.

One of the automated machines was broken, and it was unclear what services you could use the machine for. I knew that my package was a no-go for the machines because it was too big, but the guy behind me in line asked if he could buy stamps for Europe and Canada at the machine. I honestly didn’t know and there was no way to tell. In interacting with any government agency, there is a fear that you will wait in this crazy long line only to find out that you are in the wrong line, or missing some asinine piece of paper work (Massachusetts RMV I am talking to you!) This means that when in doubt, you wait for human service.

On top of that, the interface on the automated machines was confusing. Customers using the automated machines were taking much longer than those standing in line. There was an employee standing around in the lobby area, but she wasn’t helping with the machines or answering questions about which line you should be in.

As I waited in line, I realized that almost everyone around me required different services. Sure there were a bunch of people who were just sending holiday packages, but there were also people getting money orders, setting up PO boxes, and trying to get passports. One customer was shipping a gigantic prototype to China…it had to be repackaged 3 times to meet weight requirements.


Unfortunately there was no triage happening. It took just as long to get a roll of stamps as it did to ship 20 packages to different countries. Taking cues from other industries could help the Post Office improve their retail offering. The check-in process at the airport is similar to using the Post Office: lots of people with varying needs, the availability of kiosks to reduce the number human to human interactions, and even crowd control challenges…however the airlines do a much better job of serving their customers. They setup separate counters for different needs like: first class, international flights, and even checked bag drop off. They have staff dedicated to help customers use the kiosks and they control lines almost as well as Disney. Side note: You know your service SUCKS when you would rather be checking in to a flight.

Part of the problem is sheer inefficiency. After standing in line for over an hour I approached my teller- “Hi I would like to ship this package priority, there is nothing liquid, fragile, perishable, or hazardous. I do not need signature confirmation or insurance…and I don’t need stamps.”

She seriously responded:

“Is there anything liquid…”

“ Nope”

“Perishable? “




“Hazardous? “


“Do you need signature confirmation or insurance?”

Good lord lady…”NO!”

“How about stamps…do you need any stamps to day? “

“No Ma’am!”

As I was leaving the guy behind me in line gave me a high five for being so fast (despite the inefficiencies) because nothing brings New Englanders together more than hating the Yankees and finding ways to reduce human to human contact.

As I was walking away, and thanking the baby Jesus that the experience was over, a Post Master yelled out to the line:

“We will be shutting down for a half hour for lunch…you are welcome to stay in line, but we won’t be serving anyone for at least 30 minutes”

I got out of there as quickly as I could in hopes of avoiding some sort of stampede-riot.

So what could have made this experience better?

Way-finding and Crowd Control- Making self-service options clear and delineating two separate lines would have gone a long way to managing the number of people in line.

Triage- This term is most commonly used in Emergency Rooms. It is the administrator’s job to understand the severity of each case and create a plan to serve each patient in an appropriate order. Triage doesn’t happen in the Post Office, customers have needs that vary from incredibly simple to fulfill (I need to buy a roll of stamps) to very complicated (I need to apply for a Passport). Putting both of those customers in the same line is frustrating and inefficient. The post office could have utilized the same number of employees in a more efficient way. Instead of wandering around, the employee in the lobby could have been helping people through self serve or making sure that customers were in the appropriate line. Also, there was a counter that wasn’t being used, that counter could have been used for simple transactions like stamps and domestic packages freeing up the other three tellers to handle more complicated tasks.

Efficiency- Adding information while customers are in line could be an effective way to speed up the process at the counter. This could mean offering FAQ’s or explaining why you will be asked specific questions when you are sending a package. Offering in line signage could speed the whole process along. Also, making the interface more usable will increase the number of users who can complete their Post Office tasks alone. Oh and don’t take an all employee lunch break at the same time…obvi.

So this is a quick pass at 3 big changes you could make to improve the customer experience at the Post Office. Imagine the improvements that could be made with a full-scale research and service design project! The problem is I don’t think that the Post Office really cares if they offer a good customer experience. In their eyes the customer doesn’t really have other options, so they will put up with just about anything. Government agencies offer by far the worst customer experience…well except for maybe Best Buy, but I am not really hopeful that this will ever improve.

Do you think there is hope for improving customer experience in government agencies?



Day Seventeen: Get a Job! 

I love this time of year. All of my little undergrads at SCAD realize they have 20 weeks left before they get to (hopefully) join the work force and start completely freaking out. I get tons of calls from students who are trying to figure out what they should be when they grow up or how to best position themselves for the increasingly challenging job market. Here is how I usually respond.

You should have called me your Freshman year

Everything you do in undergrad from the classes you take to the part time job you work should be building a case for how you will fit into a collaborative team in the future. This means internships, internships, internships!! For me I was lucky enough to go to a school that did sponsored projects, so I was able to work with clients like Coca-cola while I was in school. I also thought that I was not particularly strong at making small talk, so I got a job as a waitress where I would be forced to be engaging and persuasive every day. The skills I learned at TGI Friday’s have seriously been invaluable in my career. You think getting a CEO to fall in love with your business case is hard? Try upselling an Ultimate Mudslide and some Loaded Baked Potato Skins to some old-school southern ladiesIt is hard to read entry level resumes because there isn’t much there. It is your job to help me understand what sets you apart and what skills you bring to the table. You need to figure out how to display your super powers as part of your personal brand. It could mean a perfectly written cover letter, a video resume, or even something crazy like this:

This is a photo (lifted from one of my Facebook friends) of a resume that someone sent to Continuum. Having learned about the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project that Continuum worked on, this girl constructed a cake in the form of the OLPC with her resume as the screen. Brilliant and ridiculous at the same time…but hey I’d call her.

Have you done anything crazy to gain experience or get a job? I would love to hear about it.


Day 18: The power of persuasion...runs in the family

I have to say it, my little brother is by far one of the coolest kids I know! Brandon sent me his final for whatever CGD218 stands for…contextually I gather that it is some sort of intro to Typography and Design for business majors. I will let you read it in its entirety before I offer my astute commentary.

Vintage Future

A look at the past can provide a glimpse into the future. Vintage American themes are reminders of yesteryear. These classic images take one back to the days of invention, and the true American dreams. The white picket fence dreams of keeping up with Mr. and Mrs. Jones. These icons are expressed through typography, color, and image grouping. These aspects of an image are subtle, but quite significant when seeing an image.

The art of typography is the implications of text in an image. The text must be contextually significant to the image. The other aspect of typography that must be acknowledged is the delicate placement of the text so that it is not too distracting. “Type delivers the message and meaning, the tone of voice and feeling, and an explanation of the ad’s importance” (White 2006, pg.140, para.2). The use of typography in this image frames the idea in a classic idea. The font name is called Riesling font. When searching through ads of the 1950s I came across the eye appealing font that drew me back to a much simpler time. The font set a theme around the iconic vintage American image. This font leads the viewer from the top left corner over the image to the bottom right hand corner; this engages the viewer to see the image as a whole compared to font and an image.

The coloring was important to this image. “Color not only enhance the appearance of an item—they also influence our behavior…you will do well to consider the impact that the colors you use will have on a target audience” (Campbell 2008, para.2).  The color blue was chosen because through research the color blue was the second most popular house color. While the color white is the overwhelming front runner in house color having a white home would take away from the pop of the white picket fence. The calming blues and aqua used in the pool were chosen to signify the purity and calm of an ocean blue. The use of blues according to Campbell (2008) “the color blue expresses trust, reliability, and belonging” (para.9). The inviting color used twice is relevant when appealing to the viewer. The freshly cut, well kept, and green grass is a common status symbol of an American home. The colors were chosen to create an attractive property as if it were a picture in a reality advertisement.

The image groupings go hand-in-hand with the typography and color selection. As mentioned previously the framing provided by the font ensure an untied image as a whole. The color selection from the white of the fence, the blue of the home, and the green of the grass tie the American dream of property ownership together. These images could not express a theme by themselves, but together set on a plot of land cut in the shape of a slice of pie all express the American dream of yesteryear. The iconic apple pie is as true to American history as the white picket fence dreams of every person. The subtle shape of the land plot and the power of suggestion through font incorporate as much of the vintage American icons as one can. The idea of a simpler time draws the viewer into a blissful idea of change.

This significant thought between incorporating type font, coloring, and image grouping are significant to consider when putting an image together. The subtle approach to the use of font can be the lynchpin for an image. Considering color choice can have a direct impact on the viewer, and could be more than just attractiveness. The grouping of images together has significant meaning as a whole.

So… I went to art school, so I am professionally trained in bull shitting about Chiaroscuro, but this kid nails it! I love that he just goes for it. I mean he researched the most popular house color, and then justified not using it. I have always wished that he would pick up on some of my ridiculous/awesome character traits…like being able to tell almost anyone to “suck it” and get away with it…and I think he has!

I am so lucky to have such an awesome little brother. He was the best man at my wedding, and gave a fantastic speech (which was written on the back of a page from the hospitality book in his hotel room). Watching him, Danna, and Mark stand up for us and speak so eloquently was such an amazing experience because for the first time I saw all three as real live grown-ups. I am so proud of all three of my siblings, and am lucky to have so much love!

I am four years older than Brandon, which actually made us really close as kids. We had the perfect age gap, gender, and birth order alignment to just naturally get along. On top of that I left for college so early that we didn’t really have a chance to be obnoxious teenagers together.

When I got my first job doing design and research the kid would call me at midnight and be like “DUUUUUUUDE, I know what we should make…how about soda that comes in mix packs?  Or, or, or, what about sheets of paper that you put over the toilet seat so that you don’t have to touch the toilet seat” Buddy…both of those things exist and I am working at a power tool company…what I am supposed to do with that?

Brandon is one of the strongest people I have ever met, and if you met him you would never guess it. He is so happy, sassy, and fun to be around, but he has overcome so much. When he was in high-school he was a great student and taking college level classes, until he was in a life changing car accident. He was in a comma, had to be medivac-ed, and ended up incurring minor brain-damage which led to a loss of taste, smell, and short term memory.  For a while no one was sure if he would bounce back. Relearning how to learn when you are 16 is a pretty tall order, but Brandon has rocked it. He is in school pursuing a business degree, working full time as a hotel manager, and is so smart and funny.  He took an event that could have negatively affected the rest of his life; grabbed a dry erase marker to keep track of all of the things he had to remember and told the world to suck it!

Do you have a family member who inspires and encourages you? Tell them you love them!


Day Nineteen: When free is worth more than you think

Allison and I finally made it to Long Island for the holidays tonight and as soon as we got settled my father-in-law started to tell me about a recent hinge fiasco. One of the hinges on a corner unit cabinet in the kitchen broke, and Mark has been on a hunt to find a replacement. He called around and it seemed like no one had the hinge in stock so the project was going to have to wait until after the holidays. He decided to swing by Lowes to see if he could figure out something that would work.

He went to the kitchen department where an employee offered to help him. After realizing that the hinge was just more complex than anything they had in stock the quick-on-her-feet employee pulled out a box of hinges from a recent department remodel. She told him to feel free to dig through and see if he could find something that would work. When he found a hinge that he thought he might be able to make work, she helped him dig through and find its mate. She told him not to worry about it, they were going to get thrown away anyways. While Lowes might be experiencing a social media disaster this week, the service they offered went above and beyond to solidify a customer relationship that is probably more valuable than they even realize. My father-in-law probably spends a small fortune on tools and landscaping supplies between home and work…he does have his reputation of “king of the leaf blower to uphold.” I can guarantee that the next time he needs some random building supply, Lowes will be on his radar in a way it never had before.

Similarly, I recently had an amazing stay at Felix Hotel in Chicago. For those of you who don’t read along last week I did BOSà RDUà ORDà BOS with late nights and 6 am flights in each city. By the time I got to Felix I had essentially been awake for 2 full days. I landed at 8 am but didn’t have my first session until 4pm and had a ton of work to do. I knew that Felix had an early check in policy that charged you something like an extra $50 for checking in between 12 and 3pm. I rolled up to the front desk at 8:30 am and asked if there was anyway that I could pay more to check in earlier. The front desk clerk told me that my room was available and not to worry about paying extra. I ordered amazing room service for lunch and after a long night of testing one of my co-workers and I hit the hotel bar. I mentioned that I was going to pick up a nice bottle of whiskey for my dad for Christmas. The bartender overheard me and started pouring mini shots of all of their types of whiskey so I could decide what to buy my dad (We decided on something by Buffalo Trace). I was so impressed by both employee’s abilities to read my needs and provide me with exactly what I needed before I even knew I needed it.  I am in Chicago every few weeks and this was my second stay at Felix, I can now confidently say that it is my hotel of choice in the Chicago area.

When free backfires

So free doesn’t always work out quite the way you would expect. I had to pick up one last Christmas present…a real live book with pages. For my personal use I love the kindle + library combo…old books with pages, the newest digital books when I don’t. However for a gift that I didn’t realize I wanted until that day, in person shopping at a brick and mortar was necessary.  I looked to see if Barnes and Noble had my book in-stock, and every page I clicked on offered their new “Pick Me Up” service. They told me that they had great news for me, they thought my book might be in stock. They would hold the book for me so I could go straight to check out. I decided to try it out and see how the service worked. I gave the service my name and phone number and was informed not to come to the store until I received a text that they had fulfilled my request. They said this should take about an hour.

Four hours, and no text, later I decided to just head to the store. As I pulled into the parking lot I got a text that informed me that unfortunately the book I requested isn’t in-stock.  I was already in the parking lot so I decided to run in and see if I could find something similar. Wouldn’t you know it, I found the book I was looking for, in the section it should have been in. The service failed, and if I wouldn’t have already been in the parking lot I would have just paid for express shipping for the book on Amazon and Barnes and Noble would have lost a sale…but in the scheme of things no big deal right?

That was until I checked out. The guy who checked me out was super tender, he asked me if I was able to find everything I was looking for. I told him my story about the “Pick Me Up” fail, and he apologized…perfect…all was right with the world, until his manager who had only overheard half of our conversation butted in by informing me that online and in-store prices were different.  What?! We were not even talking about the price. So I told her my story, about how I almost didn’t come in.

Manager: “Oh that happens all of the time.”

Me:  “Oh it just seems silly to offer a service that is going to convince your customer not to come to your store.”

Manager (as she was walking away):  “We have humans looking for the books, what do you expect?”

I now officially hate Barnes and Noble, this free service and the customer service disaster that ensued makes me never want to go to Barnes and Noble again.

Free really can be used for good or evil…so tread lightly!

Have you ever had a free product or service that tipped your perception of a brand in either direction?


Day 20: Family Traditions

Today is Gingerbread-poloza, so I thought I would write about some family traditions that Allison and I have.

I grew up in a really small family, so holidays were never really that big of a deal. I was always jealous of Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone for having a family that was so big and rambunctious that they could manage to forget him, not once, but three times.

Sure my family had traditions, we had tons of holiday chachkis that had significant meaning, we went to midnight church service, and my Dad read us T’was the Night Before Christmas when we got home. Then we left a high-ball of scotch for Santa and a carrot for the Reindeer. Yep, we left booze for Santa, he would get trashed and make a mess in the house which we had to clean up before we could open presents…It wasn’t until my first Christmas with Allison’s family that I realized that this wasn’t normal.

My Mom turned Christmas shopping into a sport. She would do ALL of her Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve, and every year she spent the exact same amount on Brandon and I, making sure that we also had the same number of gifts under the tree. This got awkward when I started wanting stuff like an iPod and he still wanted 400 GI Joes…guess who got 399 individually wrapped socks? This girl! One year I was a huge pain in the ass and wouldn’t tell my Mom what I wanted, so she bought me the tackiest crap she could find at Walmart so we could return everything together the next day and go shopping for my real present. You know that whole bad present thing that Jimmy Kimmel has been doing? Yeah, my Mom invented that.

For our first Christmas Allison and I were poooooooor…like I was getting paid in wine poor. It is the only Christmas we have spent apart so before we left for each of our parent’s houses I decorated our whole apartment Elf style.

That year we decided to a cross country scavenger hunt between the two families, which culminated in her whole family in the front yard reenacting a live nativity, and my dad dressed like baby New Year.  It is still on the books as the most ridiculous Christmas yet.

This is our sixth Christmas together. We have spent the last 5 with Allison’s family, mainly because between 19  aunts and uncles and 26 first cousins I finally feel like I am in Home Alone. We are starting to create our own traditions as a couple – we don’t buy each other Christmas presents instead we plan a trip or get tickets to Broadway and give each other small fun gifts every other day for Advent. We go nuts creating a themed out our Christmas tree every year. This year our tree has hundreds of star ornaments made out of energy drink cans, last year we had a very dino Christmas.

Once we get to New York you can pretty much guarantee that there is going to be some ridiculous piece of beast that we compare in size to the dog.

We will also remember Christmas morning that wrapping Libby’s presents with snausages in them will mean that she will want to help everyone unwrap their own presents. This year she dove into the present stash under the tree as soon as we walked in the door. We can count on secret Santa on Christmas Eve where we do the family gift and ornament exchange.  All of Allison’s aunt, uncles, and adult cousins make each other ornaments each year. So if you think about it that has been about 30 ornaments/year for the last 30 years…last year I put every single one on the Christmas tree!

My favorite part of Christmas has got to gingerbread-poloza. I guess as kids Allison and her siblings always did the Wilson Gingerbread house together. For some reason the first Christmas I spent with the Werner’s we decided to combine all of the kits into a massive castle. The tradition just stuck. Last year we made a candy cane replica, and this year we are working on a scale replica of the house. I love spending time with the siblings planning, sorting candies, and shaving down chunks of gingerbread.

Growing up is weird. As a kid, I could never imagine what it would be like to not have Christmas morning with my parents. Now as an adult the way we do things just seems to make sense. We try to do something fun with my parents for Thanksgiving or I fly out and see them mid-December then we spend Christmas day with Allison’s family. It just seems to make sense.

This time of year always makes me miss my family though. I know that if my parents, brother, and grandma were here they would be having a blast too. I feel bad for loving Christmas in New York. I feel bad for preferring secret Santa Christmas eve with 20 kids running around and opening presents at midnight so everyone can sleep in on Christmas morning to a nice calm lunch with my Uncle and Grandma on Christmas day. I love my family so much, but the chaos makes the holiday fun for me. Even when it looks like this:

Yep Mark had the whole family take apart Christmas lights so they were red/green/red/green. For some reason this required a bunch of wire splicing.

Now as we start to look toward the future I am not sure which holiday traditions we will keep for our own family once we have kids. I want them to be exposed to the shear craziness that both sides of the family harness.  I feel like everything will get a little bit more complicated, but I also can’t really wait for the magic of experiencing Santa through the eyes of a child…I’m just pretty sure that our kid will probably not leave out Scotch for the big guy.

Do you have any sassy holiday tradition stories?