The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


It’s Called Artificial For A Reason …

So this is sort-of following on from yesterdays post.

Specifically the last line of yesterday’s post.

The bit about AI/VR.

You see a few weeks ago, I was invited to speak on a panel about the future by Frog Design.

No, I don’t know why they asked me either.

Anyway, it was a great panel and I learnt a lot of stuff but where things got a bit sticky was when the subject of AI came up.

OK, I was the reason it all got a bit sticky, but that’s because I feel companies are approaching AI with the sole goal of enabling the lazy.

Yes, it’s still early days but automating the most common/basic of tasks feels such a waste of potential.

I get they have to get people used to things before they can push them to new things, but to focus on such mundane tasks doesn’t naturally push the industry to explore the bigger possibilities of it.

My suggestion was that I’d like to see it being used to take people to new places.

New opinions … thoughts … possibilities … experiences.

More inspirational intelligence than artificial.

When you ask for news headlines, it reads you how different news sources see the same story.

When you ask for a countdown, it plays you music you haven’t heard before until the timer is up.

When you ask for the weather, it tells you some places you can go to, to take advantage of the climate.

In other words, make you benefit from the AI beyond the fact it’s performing a function that saves you approx 0.3 seconds doing. Kind-of like the premise behind user-unfriendly tech I wrote about a while back.

Of course to do this means that they have to do more than just follow the data.

It means they have to add something to it.

Context. Insight. Humanity. Creativity.

Things that companies are seemingly valuing less rather than more.

To be fair, Amazon are trying to do this with some of the more quirky aspects of Alexa … but I still would like to see more being done, because not only does this add real value to the tech, it means brands have a chance to build additional value with their audience rather than sit back and watch their engagement get less and less.

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Thank You For Pretending To Pay Attention …

So I was listening to the radio recently when an ad for Charles Schwab – the investment people – came on.

And do you know what the message was?

‘We really listen to what you’re saying’.

Now I understand the importance of listening [believe it or not] but is that really the big reason to use Charles Schwab?

Isn’t that one of the basic bloody pre-requisites of being a good financial advisor?

What next, ‘we always check our biro’s are working so you can sign all our paperwork’.

I get financial institutions don’t want to commit to actually saying they make you any money – or even selling you a policy in your interests rather than theirs – but come on, isn’t this just a bit insulting?

Not only that, it smacks of a company that is only hearing what they want you to say rather than what you’re actually saying.

What’s your point of view on the financial markets?

What’s your point of view on money?

What’s your point of view on cryptocurrency?

Tell me anything, except when you come into my home, you’re listening.



You Can Tell How Much A Restaurant Cares About Their Customers By The Questions They Ask …

Way back in 2014, I wrote a post about my favourite restaurant in Shanghai – Din Tai Fung – and how their ‘comments card’ only had a satisfaction scale that went up to good.

In the post I mused why the company might be so stingy with levels of praise customers could bestow on their excellent staff and suggested it was to ensure the company was always in a position of control.

I loved Din Tai Fung.

In fact it was one of the big reasons I was sad to leave China, so you can imagine my happiness when I discovered they had opened a branch 8 miles from where I live.

Din Tai Fung – the American Edition – is very different to the classic Taiwanese offer I enjoyed over 7 glorious years in the Middle Kingdom.

For a start it is trying to look much trendier.

No Taiwanese/Chinese celebrity cartoons on the walls, instead all earthy tones and oversized lampshades.

Then the choice of food is very different and it doesn’t seem to have as much attention to detail.

The dumplings texture is not as delicate, the soy sauce isn’t as high quality, the ginger looks half dead and the chili sauce is almost sweet.

Then, just as you think they can’t screw things up any more, they serve cocktails. COCKTAILS.

And all for a price that is at least double that of China.

But as much as I can just about cope with that [as it still makes me feel happy] I can’t cope with this …

Yes, I’m talking about their comment card.

Sure, I know that gives the impression they want to improve – but when you read it, you notice a couple of things.

1. The scale of satisfaction is much, much broader.
2. The range of questions is much more general.

In the Asia version of the comments card, there is a huge emphasis on the quality of the food.

The texture. The flavours. The noodle quality.

Each food type is open for critique whereas the US version is simply summed up as ‘food quality’.

Now I get why the US would do that … it’s more concise and doesn’t ask the customer to judge a bunch of criteria … but the Asian version highlights something else.

Food enjoyment is much more than just taste and presentation.

Consciously or not, people constantly and continually are evaluating their experience, so if you want to show you actually care about their perspective – actually care about improving things – then you have to offer them options in the way they will be considering their food.

And they’re right.

I am absolutely the opposite of a foodie snob, but 7 years in China taught me the difference between good dumpling texture and bad.

To simply ask me ‘food quality’ as a blanket question for the overall experience is simplistic to the extreme.

Which is why the US Din Tai Fung will continue to serve me dumplings that are not as delicate as they should be, offer me soy sauce that isn’t as high quality as it should be, ginger that is not as vibrant and fresh as it should be and chili sauce that is far too sweet to complement the food they are serving.

America used to be the blueprint for service.

Asia – or should I say, some elements of Asia – are miles ahead.



The Con Is Revealed ….

So as any poor, regular reader on here knows, I’ve been getting emails from APAC Insider magazine saying that Cynic was in the running for a Business Excellence Award in Australia.

Now while this is flattering, you’ll also know that Cynic legally closed their doors in 2010 so APAC Insider are basically a bunch of con-merchants.

Well, now I have unequivocal proof of it because – as I suspected we would – we won.

Yep, Cynic – a company that has not been in legal existence for SEVEN YEARS – has won a Business Excellence Award.

Now they may claim our excellence is in the fact we sold the company, but frankly, this would have been more believable if they’d not left a 7 year gap before bestowing us with their award.

But that’s all by-the-by because I know what you want to know what we won.

Is it a massive trophy?

Is it a huge cheque?

Is it a staring role at a lavish ceremony?

No, it’s this …



That’s right, our ‘prize’ is the chance to get a discount to advertise in their magazine.

A magazine that gives out prizes to companies that don’t exist anymore.

A magazine no one has heard of.

Oh hang on, they also give you a ‘digital certificate’ that you can put on your website. Oh that’s alright then … I mean, who wouldn’t want to advertise a bullshit magazine’s award on their website that basically say’s We’re a bunch of gullible fools.

I hate this company … I hate what they are trying to do to small business.

Sure, the small companies might have some blame to share if they do it, but as I wrote a while ago, when you’re just starting out, you are so desperate to feel you are moving forwards, you tend to grasp onto anything that feels like a positive step.

That’s what those fucks at APAC Insider magazine are exploiting and managing to get away with it.

But there is some good news because last week I received an email from them expressing their interest in being nominated for the International Magazine Publishers ‘Promotion of the Year’, so maybe they’ll be learning their lesson more quickly than we all hoped.

And I’ll be there applauding them when they get their moment in the spotlight.



Does Delta Care More About Their Plastic Than Their Passengers …

So a little while ago, I was flying on DELTA from NYC to LA.

As I was settling in for my 5 hour flight [that turned into a 10 hour trip, which is a story for another day] I reached for the headphones so I could enjoy my new luxury of watching a movie uninterrupted.

So imagine my surprise when I found this …

Maybe it’s just me, but I find the most unhygienic thing about airline headphones is the fact they’ve been on other people’s ears so for the life of me, I don’t understand why Delta put plastic around the cord.

And before you say ‘it’s to keep the wire together’, that’s not true because when you ripped off the little blue bag, the wire was held together with one of those plastic tags.

Which begs the question, why the hell did they cover up the one thing that doesn’t need covering up.

Or said another way, why the hell do Delta think their passengers are more concerned about the hygiene of the headphone socket than their ears?

Lee … any ideas or is this one of those ‘no comment’ moments?



The Most Ridiculous Phone Management System In The World …

American companies – like every other country in the World – love automated telephone systems.

To actually get to speak to a real human, is harder than earning a PHD in astrophysics.

But what makes me laugh is how they try so so hard to make it sound like you’re talking to a real person when it’s painfully obvious you’re not.

However, in America, it has reached new heights.

I was organizing Direct TV and was having to repeat my answer to every question asked by the ‘automated human’ because it doesn’t understand British accents when – finally – it accepted my answer.

Imagine my surprise when immediately after, I heard the sound effect of a person typing.

Seriously, it was trying to suggest they were literally inputing my answer into their system.

If that wasn’t mental enough, the sound they used sounded awfully like a typewriter from the 1920’s.

Apart from the fact that a supposed high-tech company shouldn’t feel embarrassed about not using real people, if they really believe genuine human interaction is more desirable for customers than a computer, then HIRE SOME FUCKING HUMANS.

Another example where a consultancy has come in to improve efficiency and ignored reality.



America Is Modern History …

So I’ve already written how much I’m enjoying LA.

That doesn’t mean it’s better than China, just different.

I say that because there’s a huge amount of things about China I miss.

People. [Or at least some of them]
Clients. [Or at least some of them]
Culture. [Nearly all of it]

But there’s one thing I miss in its entirety and that’s how China deals with money.

More specifically, how China has embraced technology to enable people to transact their cash.

Of course, part of this is because China LOVES getting people to spend money and so the easier they make it, the easier it will be to get people to do it but then America – a land the Middle Kingdom copied in terms of capitalistic tendencies – is supposed to be a ‘spend society’ so I’m absolutely shocked how backwards they are in terms of embracing technology for finance.

Everywhere I go … everything I buy … can only be obtained with a credit card or a cheque.

A fucking cheque.

Seriously.

Oh yes, there’s the odd ‘Apple Pay’ option, but as we all know, that’s a piece of crap – especially compared to WeChat – so basically I’m in a situation where for the first time in literally 20 years, I am using cheque books.

At first, I thought they were joking, then I opened my bank account and they sent me 6 cheque books “to get me started”.

Six!!! Hahahahaha.

Thank God I was a pre-existing AMEX customer so I could get a local card otherwise – given the way America only offers you credit if you’re wildly in debt – I’d have to buy a bloody newspaper with a cheque.

The World may laugh at QR codes, but China has shown how they can be used to change the way people behave and transact with money forever. If America wants to be great again, modernizing their approach to money might be a good first step.