Kindling Success

Addendum: RIP Steve Jobs – You are this generation’s greatest innovator

Amazon recently introduced a new version of its trendsetting Kindle electronic reader. While the original ignited change in how books reach audiences, the latest intends to disrupt the momentum of Apple’s iPad. Kindle Fire has a bigger – color – screen, a faster browser the company believes will be as smooth as its Silk name and stores everything in the cloud. Since iPad hit the market 18 months ago – having sold more than 30 million units – competitors appeared and vanished quickly.

HP announced six weeks ago it is discontinuing TouchPad after determining it mistakenly tried to compete with Apple’s 83 percent market share. So what makes Amazon think it will succeed where others failed? Amazon is upfront that it’s not taking aim directly at iPad. Kindle Fire is WiFi only with no 3G access. There is no camera, nor can you create and edit documents. You can’t place a voice call. What you can do is access Amazon’s extensive digital library. As CEO Jeff Bezos noted in unveiling Fire: “What we’ve done is really integrate seamlessly all of our media offerings – video, movies, TV, apps, games, magazines and so on.’

Most importantly, you can buy Kindle Fire for $199. The entry-level iPad is $500. Amazon is betting the digital content it sells will make up for the low price. That’s an advantage other Apple competitors aren’t able to utilize.

Anytime there is innovation, copycats follow. The key to not ending up in the product graveyard is to provide enough differentiation that consumers have a viable choice. As someone who purchased the original Kindle several years ago and has read many books on it, I’m glad to see Amazon take the next step in improving its device. Someday – in our lifetimes, I’m guessing – hard copies of books will be collector’s items and nothing more.


Unpleasant Experience

Customer service is one of the ‘givens’ companies have to deliver well… especially when folks come to them with problems. Disney uses the word ‘recovery.’ I prefer, ‘We pay you money, so fix it.’ A problem is the reason I called the phone company this morning, needing to find out how to change the fact we couldn’t access voice mail.

The first person transferred me to a second who – unable to assist me because ‘that’s handled by another department’ – transferred me to a third. After a computer-generated voice prompted me to enter our primary phone number for the third time, a woman came on and said, “May I have your phone number, please?” (Really? You guys handle a bagillion calls every day and you have to ask my number after I entered it three times!)

Our conversation went something like this:

“Sir, I understand you’re having a problem with your phone lines.”

“No, we can’t access voicemail. I’m calling you from our phone line.”

“Did you know we have a troubleshooting guide online?”

“Yes, I do. In fact, could you let someone know I tried that five times before calling, and each time after entering our phone number it kicked me back to the home page.”

“Yes, all you have to do is enter your phone number…”

“You’re not hearing me, ma’am. I tried that and it didn’t work.”

“Let me explain the steps, so next time…”

“Ma’am… could you please stop speaking and listen. I need you to tell me…”

(Loudly) “Sir, I’m only trying to help you.”

“Monica, I have yet to raise my voice and you seem to be getting frustrated. After 15 minutes, would it make more sense that I should be the one who’s frustrated?”

(Still loud) “Do you want my help or not?”

“May I please speak to your supervisor?”


From that point, a wonderful – and quite apologetic – woman named Julie came on and her first words were: “Did anyone tell you there is a problem in the Houston area and we’re working to fix it as fast as we can?”

I laughed, she apologized further, and within five minutes taught me how to listen to voice mail online. Then she told me about an App that allows us access from our iPhones. I thanked her twice, and – knowing the call was being recorded – said, “When you work to train Monica, please let her hear how you listened and promptly solved my issue. You did great.”

In your business, no matter how big or small, make sure everyone who comes in contact with customers understands the right way to speak with them… especially anyone whose title contains the words ‘customer service.’ If they fail, it reflects on you.


Give Where You Can

And the last of the Top 10 things I learned in 2009:


We Are The World – Are you aware a billion people do not have access to clean drinking water and nearly 40,000 children die every week from lack of this basic need? Charity: Water is one of the nonprofits that provides clean and safe drinking water – with 100% of donations funding freshwater projects in developing nations. Just $20 gives a person in Africa safe drinking water for 20 years. Take a look at how Scott Harrison and his organization are saving lives.