Jennifer B. Davis
Love this story from the blog by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff (can't wait to finish their book which I have been carrying around for several weeks).

"Dell told us (the story’s in Chapter 8 of Groundswell) that when they started their most recent support forum, 1999, they knew they’d need moderators. They pulled 30 support reps off the phones and converted them into forum moderators. Those support reps answered questions online, just as they had been on the phone. Already, Dell was getting more efficiencies, since each answer could be read by dozens or hundreds of other people searching for it on their support forum. Now, five years later, the support forum is many times larger than it was then. And the number of moderators is no longer 30. It’s five. And that’s because the members of the community are moderating it themselves."

What in your business could be made more efficient by turning over the reins to a larger group of people? Other employees? Customers?
Jennifer B. Davis
Love this memo from scrapbook artist, Ali Edwards. Click on the image to see her blog.

Jennifer B. Davis
I recently read about a Swedish company called Coming Through, which retrofits Honda Goldwing motorcycles to be "tow trucks." After all, they can get through traffic and are beefly enough to haul most passenger cars. Rather than starting with a tow truck (of the more traditional style) and engineering it down, I am sure they started from the need and build a solution from there. The design is cool and I could see cities having whole fleets of these to deal real-time with stalled cars on freeways that gunk up morning commutes.
Jennifer B. Davis
As close to mind-reading as I have seen, I used presdo the other day to arrange for a meeting and it worked pretty slick. I like the streamlined interface where you just type in what you want to do in words and it helps you fill in the blanks.

Furthermore, I like how the developer (a co-founder of LinkedIn) bootstrapped the development on his own money. I am feeling an affinity with enterpreneurs of this type currently and hope it is wildly successful.
Jennifer B. Davis
I was reminded recently of the important connection between storytelling and branding. There was a good presentation about from Mickey Connolly, who is a founder of the training and development company Conversant and co-author of the Communication Catalyst (another one I'd recommend).

Danny Meyer in his book Setting the Table related how he tries to turn diners in his New York City restaurants into evangelists. He talked about taking a page from the auto maker and watch manufacturer's playbooks, who have "long understood that people buy their products not just ecause of how the product itself performance, but to tell a story about themselves." His job as a business owner is to "give people a story worth telling."

So, what does your product brand tell your customers about themselves? Do you sell leading-edge technology so that your customers can feel like they are early adopter and insiders? Do you sell fashionable items, so that customers can feel chic? Do you sell at value pricing so that customers can feel frugal and responsible? Do you sell green products, so that customers can feel a part of a larger environmental movement? All products tell a story, some better than others, and the brands that understand that have a huge advantage.

It is a challenge for business leaders, no matter the size of the company, to think about what they want their customers to feel about themselves having bought, used or experienced the company's product. I have spent some time thinking about it for Creative Outlet Labs.
Jennifer B. Davis
I have mentioned before the great book entitled "Setting the Table" by Danny Meyer. He writes about building and nurturing relationships with customers, something he calls connecting the dots.

As Danny writes, "Dots are information. The more information you collect, the more so you can make meaningful connections that can make other people feel good and give you an edge in business. Using wahterver information I've collected to gather guests together in a spirit of shared experience is what I call connecting the dots. If I don't turn over the rocks, I won't see the dots. If I don't collect the dots, I can't connect the dots. If I don't know that someone works, say, for a magazine whose managing editor I happen to know, I've lost a chance to make a meaningful connection that could enhance our relationship with the guest and the guest's relationshi with us. The information is there. You just have to choose to look."

This concept really resonated with me. On a personal level, I have found that when I am learning something, the best test of understanding is when I can connect the learning to another discipline or something else that I have experienced. Sometimes I imagine that I can feel the connections in the brain developing when this occurs.

On a professional level, I have seen the power of connections. When one relationship or bit of information can be leveraged to help someone else. The circles of influence and connection growing. You can see it happen in qualitative and measurable ways. One of my favorites is LinkedIn. From my profile at you can see links to people I have worked with and questions I have answered to try to assist others, as well as information about me and my experience that might be useful in us working together. Lots of dots there to be collected and connected.

If you are on LinkedIn and know me, please send me an invitation to connect! If you are not, you should definitely check it out!
The beautiful photo (showing the connection between dots in a store window and the reflection of square windows in an adjacent building) came from AnnPar on Flickr.
Jennifer B. Davis
I was talking to an old friend today and Twitter came up in conversation. He said he had never heard of it, apart from my mentions of it on my blog. He commented, "I thought it sounded a bit personal. Like someone would call you up and say 'I'd like to Twitter with you.' To which you'd reply, 'Thanks very much.' Ahem."

Well, although it may be a bit more personal than some of the posts on this blog, I still would recommend you check it out. You can follow my feed at or you can see it in the margin on this blog (if you go to the site directly to read the posts).

By the way, it was great to see you again, Mike (and your lovely wife as well).
Jennifer B. Davis

"I like an escalator because an escalator can never break, it can only become stairs. There would never be an escalator temporarily out of order sign, only an escalator temporarily stairs. Sorry for the convenience." - Mitch Hedberg

We once built an incredibly useful web application at work to handle a business problem that was labor intensive, a critical differentiator for our business, and was something that we needed to scale. The application was slick and worked really well, at least I thought. Then we started getting new users to try it and as they learned the nuances, we found they needed some "Do you really want to send this?" or "Do you really want to delete this?" confirmations added in to prevent some errors. In addition, logic needed to be added to the site that would prevent incorrect data from being entered in the first place. One colleague described the early version of the application as a gun without a safety. Powerful, but a big dangerous in the wrong or inexperienced hands. We quickly identified the risk areas and put fixed in place, but not without causing some consternation first. I have found that there are at least 3 ways to error-proof your product.

1. Make the Error Impossible

Usability experts like to focus on making the "right" thing to do obvious. I believe, however that equal attention needs to be played to making the "wrong" thing impossible (or at least horribly difficult). The shaped solid ink cartridges in a Xerox color printer is a great example of this. You can't put them in the wrong slots. They don't fit. All products and applications should be error-proofed in this way. Some people check for email formats on entry fields or check sum credit card numbers to ensure they were typed correctly. What about making sure in other ways that people can not proc

2. Take the Pain out of Error States

For a higher standard still, you can look to the quote above about escalators. How can you make a disabled, broken, or improperly used product still functional, but just not as functional. Instead of a 404 error on a website, what about sending users to an alternative page with a training video or with the offending part of the code pre-selected with defaults to make it easier for the user? Maybe in addition to sewing extra buttons into shirts, they should include safety pins. If the people mover at the San Francisco airport is not in operation, people can still walk on it and get a bounce in their step and view the artwork and displays on the wall. Remember, too that delays are error states and entertaining customers while they wait is also a way to take the pain away.

3. Reframe Unavoidable "Errors" as Opportunities for Differentiation

Taken one step further still, what about taking the unavoidable (or frequent) errors and turning them into differentiation points. For instance, all products eventually reach the end of their useful life (the ultimate error state). What about providing real solutions for empty packaging, used products, or those products which are at the end of their useful life? I firmly believe more people should bundle in recycling/removal or upgrade programs into the costs of their product. What other errors are unavoidable or frequent enough to justify looking at them differently? If most people mistakenly hit some key, select an inconvenient option, or have problems with particular types of installations, why not develop programs around those things and turn them into features that are marketed as differentiators, rather than error states to be avoided?

Jennifer B. Davis
"I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it."
- Thomas Jefferson

Freedom is messy. You have freedom of assembly and you get people protesting and disrupting a perfectly good Olympic Torch relay through London or Paris. You give your users control of their content and they’ll design ugly products, use your software in unexpected ways (breaking it, by the way), and may even enable some third-party tools or hacks that disrupt or undermine your business model. Build a community on your website and you may have people criticize the company or its management. Post a blog and people will comment and disagree with you.

Freedom in itself isn't disruptive though. The thing that creates the real chaos around freedom is popularity and passion. Only if people read your blog will they comment. Only if people are aware of your human rights practices will they protest you winning the bid to host the Olympic games. Only if they use your site and love portions of it, will they take the time to object to the parts they hate. They may criticize, but at least they care.

Freedom is messy indeed. It identifies those things that are relevant. In a world without freedom, you can’t easily tell what is really important to people.

And of course, feel free to post your violent disagreement in a comment.
Jennifer B. Davis
Following the recommendation of a colleage and an unability to get an appointment with our normal primary care physician, we went to ZoomCare this weekend. If you are in Portland I highly recommend you check out their services. In any case, their approach illustrated 10 ways that innovators can change industries. I really hope my dentist, my hairdresser, and other service businesses I frequent are reading this.

1. Let your customers buy/schedule online
Go to and pick your appointment time. So simple. Again, why can't I schedule a hair appointment like this? We scheduled my husband's appointment after hours and it was confirmed via email (our choice) by the next morning. The doctor had read the comments that we had put on our appointment request prior to the appointment.

2. Let customers be spontaneous
Their website includes a real-time graphic indicator of the wait time in their two offices. This is handy for estimating how an impromptu appointment will affect your day. There is no wait if you have an appointment, but if you don't, you can see how busy the place is without leaving your house.

3. Seize a niche
ZoomCare is in the gap between urgent care centers and traditional doctor's offices. You don't get to pick your doctor. They don't treat heart attacks, strokes, offer kidney dialysis, or deliver babies. They are a healthcare solution for folks that are generally healthy, but need periodic treatment.

4. Publish a price list
It is crazy to think that ZoomCare's website might be the first fee schedule I have ever seen in healthcare. Normally, insured patients don't even know what their healthcare is costing them (besides their co-pay and then the statement that they receive showing what the insurance has paid). This doesn't lead to good consumer behavior. It is fee schedules like ZoomCare that make me think that I could accept one of those catastrophy-only healthcare plans, where I'd pay out of pocket (but before tax) for office visits, etc. The fees didn't seem too bad and even if all of us came into the office each month, the fees would be less than I am paying in insurance today (and my employer pays most of it, so I am only seeing a portion of the actual cost).

5. Don't underhire your front-line staff
ZoomCare hires front-desk staff that have college degrees and diverse backgrounds. Where other doctors offices have clerks, these guys are more like cruise directors. I suspect the hiring managers would love their office associates had experience in a circus, speaking multiple languages, and had degrees in diverse fields. After all, they are the face of the company and should be a reason people come back. The doctor was great, too!

6. Treat your customers like intelligent, rational human beings
My husband was shown in his diagnosis by the doctor (with the use of a video screen). Then the front desk person walked him through the treatment handout at the desk and had a bag of information ready for him when he left.

7. Partner seamlessly
Zoomcare accepted our insurance (it was listed on their website as one of the plans they accepted). They emailed (or appeared to email) the prescription to the pharmacy of our choice. My doctor's office by contrast, made me call into their separate prescription line and I had to provide the phone number and address of the Costco pharmacy that I wanted them to use, something they could have Googled as well as I could.

8. Don't partner when you can provide
The office itself had a whole little store front set up where they sold over the counter treatments and other items that their customers might need. It reminded me of the little stores set up in hotel lobbies for those who forgot their toothpaste. If the patient needed aspirin and some cough drops, they could get them right there and avoid yet another stop along the way.

9. Don't underestimate the power of a happy customer
We were told at Zoomcare by someone (who was impressed by the follow-up phone call he received to ensure he was feeling better). We have gone on to tell no fewer than 12 people (and that was before this blog post) about the service.

10. Make your customers beg for more
We already wish they had an office closer to us (it was worth the drive, but could be more convenient). The ZoomCare brand could certainly expand to a whole range of health services. I wish they had dentists/hygenists on staff (although my dentist's office practices would make them a great candidate for running a ZoomCare Dental office). They could expand to vision care. They could expand to an online over-the-counter medication store with home delivery. They could expand to home health care of other types. The positive brand they have built can expand out to new endeavors. Perhaps ZoomCare will expand to a neighborhood near you!
Jennifer B. Davis
I just added a Twitter feed of my posts to this site. If you haven't yet used Twitter, it is fun service that allows you to post 140 character messages from your phone or the web. If you are skeptical, sign up for free and try it out and follow me (which is another way to say "sign up to see my posts automatically). Or, you can read what internet strategist Kendra Wright says which is right on the money.
Jennifer B. Davis
Here are a few things that I have found myself saying more than once. Perhaps I should get some shirts made?

"Every order has a story."

"'Under your desk' is not an official inventory location."

"Routine things should be routine."

"Every order is the most important thing in the world to someone."

"The antidote to scope creep is to acknowledge everyone's enthusiasm and engaged energy and decide what you will do LATER."