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August 28, 2007

I'm sorry

I knew it was going to be an interesting day when my morning news alert said that I had been mentioned in a Denver Post article about Lindsey Lohan, Mel Gibson and Michael Vick.  I had lunch yesterday with my friend Mike Gellman, CEO of SpireMedia in Denver, and he emailed me later to say that he had given my name to Al Lewis, a columnist for the Denver Post who he said was doing a story on "the value of apologizing" in business.

I probably don't do it enough, but I try to say I'm sorry when I make a mistake.  Being a CEO means I also sometimes get the opportunity to say I'm sorry when my company makes a mistake too.  I vividly remember my mom explaining to me when I was very young that saying "I'm sorry" also means you will attempt to be better in the future.  So I try to tie saying "I'm sorry" to some action or commitment to avoid having to say it again in the future.  It isn't easy though.

I've been frustrated as a customer myself seeing how a lot of businesses, small and large, just will not say "I'm sorry."  It either doesn't occur to them or they are afraid that they may be admitting liability for their mistake.  When I say "I'm sorry" to a customer, I often will see a complete change in attitude and I think it is because they just don't expect it.  They were prepared for a fight and they didn't get it because if I screwed up, I am really sorry, and because a fight never helps to fix a problem.  Sometimes it turns out that I apologize for something that turns out not to really be my fault.  That's the nature of big, complex software systems and when it happens I just feel really good to have helped solve the problem.  When it turns out it actually is my fault, I'm glad I didn't waste a lot of energy and credibility pointing the finger at other people.

I once read about a study that a major hotel chain did regarding guests who reported problems with their rooms.  They found that if a guest had a problem,  they reported it during their stay, AND had it resolved to their satisfaction, then they were actually MORE likely to return to that hotel than a guest who didn't even have a problem.  How cool is that?  I know it's true for me.  I placed my first Amazon.com order almost eleven years ago.  I don't remember the details now, but at some point an order didn't arrive as I expected.  I contacted Amazon.com, they apologized, took responsibility and jumped through hoops to fix the problem.  As a result I'm a loyal customer who's even more tolerant of future glitches that will inevitably happen because I feel like they will stand up and fix any problem that I have in the future.

When Al called to interview me about "the value of apologizing in business," I was enthusiastic.  I thought I had maybe even written a blog post about this before so I used the built-in search tool in Vista (which I love) and discovered that the phrase "I'm sorry" appears on my computer over 500 times!  I told Al that there were a lot of duplicates in that number and that I have a large archive of emails going way back.  (If you have to say your are sorry in an email, it's often part of a long string of emails, so one "I'm sorry" might show up 10 or 20 times.)  Also, some of those emails were people saying "I'm sorry" to me.  Still, that seemed like a big number and I joked that there was probably a curve where apologizing too much is probably just as bad a sign as not apologizing enough.  (Note to self:  Don't joke with reporters.  Everything is fair game to be quoted.)

As Sharon Linhart said in the column, "People are pretty forgiving."  Thank goodness! 

August 28, 2007 in Entrepreneurship | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 20, 2007


About a year ago David Cohen, entrepreneur investor, and author of the ColoradoStartups blog, dropped by my office and asked if I would be interested in working with some new entrepreneurs as part of a new venture called TechStars.  I love talking to entrepreneurs, especially new ones because some of their energy always rubs off, and I hope to help them avoid some of the mistakes I've made over the years as an entrepreneur.


Through TechStars, I met Carmin Turco and Sebastian Replanski.  Carmin and Seb were well on their way to success with their company SearchToPhone when they were invited to join the TechStars.  Fast forward to today, and they have launched their service, received some great press and I'm happy to say that my company Gold Systems and SearchToPhone have created a strategic alliance.  Carmin talks about the TechStars experience, the SearchToPhone service and how Elvis showed up to help with the VC pitch.  Congratulations Carmin and Seb!

August 20, 2007 in Speech Recognition | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 18, 2007

Coinstar - cool company, great service!

Coinstar places coin counting machines in grocery stores so that when you fill your pickle jar up with coins, you can go there and get spendable cash without going to the bank.  I found out a long time ago that if I didn't spend any change, I could save a pretty significant amount of money for new toys.  The only problem was dragging my heavy sacks of coin to the bank, waiting in line and then waiting for the coins to be counted.


Along came Coinstar.  When I first noticed them I wasn't thrilled to pay a fee to have them count my coins so I didn't use them.  Then I noticed that they had partnered with Amazon.com and if you got your cash in the form of an Amazon gift certificate there was no fee.  (You can get also get certificates from Circuit City, Starbucks, KB Toys, Cabela's and many others.) For me, since the money was going to Amazon eventually anyway, it was a great thing.  It's even kind of fun to pour the coins into the machine and watch as it steadily counts the change, ejecting the odd video game token or Canadian coin that would get into my pocket.  The first time I used them I had two big cloth bags and I got a gift certificate for over $400!

Now I cash in when the bags are a little less full, and the last time I did it I got a gift certificate for $109.69.  Still not bad for spare change.  I put the gift certificate in my wallet, and then forgot about it for about a month.  To my horror, when I took it out a few weeks ago to cash it in, the gift certificate number was gone!  It had rubbed off in my wallet.  I tried everything to recover it - high powered lights (the paper was photosensitive and it almost worked), a magnifying glass - I even took it to a friend's lab and tried a microscope.  The numbers were just gone.  Cointstar_2  The certificate from Coinstar clearly says if you lose it, it's gone but mostly to satisfy The Person Who Prefers Not To Be Blogged About, I called the 800 number for Coinstar to see if they would replace my gift certificate.

Lara, the very nice person who answered the phone at Coinstar, made me feel better immediately even though I was well prepared to feel stupid and disappointed for losing all of that change.  This has happened before she said, "just give me the certificate number and we'll reissue it for you." "uh, that's gone too."  "Ok, what date did you use the machine."  I thought hard - "Two months ago, maybe three?"

Lara seemed only slightly less confident that she was going to be able to get my money back, but then asked for the store number where the machine was located and the breakdown of quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies.  That information was still legible.  She put me on hold for about thirty seconds and then came back and asked for my email address saying she would email me a new amazon.com gift certificate number.  Wow!

Three things happened here that Coinstar, or any other business, should be proud of.

  1. They used an IVR system that got me routed to the right person very quickly.  (It would have been better had it used speech recognition, but it was OK.) 
  2. Lara was very friendly, professional and competent.  Coinstar's brand went way up in my mind while I was talking to Lara.  (Repeat after me - good contact center agents do not cost you money, they make you money)
  3. Lara apparently had a system which she was trained to use, that allowed her to search the records of a particular machine based on the exact combination of coins that were dropped into it anytime during the last three months. (Someone at Coinstar could have decided it would be cheaper to just tell customers that they were screwed if their gift certificate got messed up, but they didn't.)

I love seeing companies get it right.  The new certificate arrived in my email after I got off of the phone with Lara and I very quickly added it to my amazon.com account before I had a chance to lose it.  And next time I'll put the certificate in my shirt pocket and go right home and add it to my account.  Coinstar has a machine locater here that works for the US and the UK if you have a big stash of coins at home that you'd like to turn into a new toy or a month's worth of lattes.

August 18, 2007 in Entrepreneurship | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 10, 2007

Ford announces pricing on Sync

Ford Motor Company announced pricing yesterday for their new Sync product that was developed in partnership with Microsoft Windows Automotive.  It's going to be a $395 option on new Fords and will be available in the Ford Focus, Ford Edge and the Lincoln MKX.  It's a "fully integrated voice-activated in-car communications and entertainment system for mobile phones and digital media players" according to Mark Fields, the Ford Motor Company President of the Americas.  You can see Mr. Fields and Mr. Gates talking about the Ford/Microsoft partnership and a promo video at the Zune-Online website.  Sync will be available in nine other Ford vehicles by the end of the year.  You can get more information at Ford's SyncMyRide.com website too.

Here are some of the cool things that can be done with Sync.

  • You can use speech recognition to access any track in your Zune, iPod or even a flash drive (yes, it has a USB interface).  I saw a prototype in a Lincoln Navigator earlier this year and it worked perfectly.  The person demoing it had a Zune full of pop music and he was taking requests from other people in the car, saying the track name and then a moment later the music started playing.  I suggested "Blue Moon of Kentucky" and the guy said he didn't have any Bluegrass on his Zune, but he offered to plug mine in and show that it really would work on any device.
  • When you get in the car, Bluetooth pairs automatically (as you would expect) but if you are talking on the phone it moves the conversation from the handset to the sound system automatically so that you can keep both hands on the wheel.  If you are talking on the phone when you get to work, you just pick up your cell phone and walk in and the conversation automatically moves back to the handset.  (If you must talk and drive, use hands-free and be careful out there!)
  • If you get a text message to your phone, the Sync will read the text message to you over the sound system, even translating emoticons like smiley faces.  This has great prank-potential and I can't wait for one of my friends to get one!  Of course, they can always block me from sending them text messages, so maybe I'd better rethink that.
  • Hands free-dialing, as you would expect, and caller-id read aloud for incoming calls.
  • The video mentions conference calling, but I didn't see that demo'd and I'm not sure how it's implemented.

I think it's great that Ford decided to release this across the line, starting with the lower-end cars.  If they had made it a high-end, expensive option I think it would have died on the vine, but with this strategy I expect that a lot of people will be ordering it.  Congratulations to Ford for getting ahead of a technical wave that is surely going to just get bigger over the next few years.  At a price that isn't a lot higher than what some manufactures have charged for putting a 29 cent headphone jack in the dash, Ford is delivering a lot of capabilities and I'm sure there will be more to come.

Speaking of Fords, does anyone know where my 65 Mustang is?  I sold it for $2,400 in 1977 after restoring it to what you see here.  Last I heard, 25 years ago, was that a collector had put a set of red-stripe tires on it and was keeping it in a warehouse.  My name is on a blank IBM punch-card underneath the carpet on the passenger side.  The bill of sale says it was a 64 1/2, but I'm certain it was a 65. I'd love to get it back someday and I realize it has appreciated a bit since I sold it.


August 10, 2007 in Car Computer, Speech Recognition | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 08, 2007

Land Cruiser/Tank on Amazon.com

I wonder if I could trade the FJ Cruiser in for one of these?  NAO Design has created the ultimate off road vehicle, and it might even have a car computer in it.  And you get a free T-Shirt with every order.


What is really interesting though is you can buy it through amazon.com.  (Not eligible for Amazon Prime.) When you look at it on the amazon page, scroll down to the "Customers who bought items like this also bought" section.  Listed are grapes, bananas, Wonder white bread, Fart Bomb Bags and Stink Bombs.  I want to meet the person who's driving this thing eating grapes and bananas on white bread and throwing stink bombs from the armored shell!

There are 154 customer reviews of the tank, giving it 3 1/2 stars overall.  Most people like it, but many complain about the gas mileage and the bullet-proofness being less than expected.  According to the Museum of Hoaxes website, where I first saw this, it is for real and there is even an option to have flame-throwers installed.

NAO Design also offers the "TV Table" for anyone who just can't wait for the Microsoft Surface Computer or who is on a limited budget.

Tvtableprofeat1 There's even more good stuff on their website.

August 8, 2007 in Car Computer | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 01, 2007

FJ Car Computer give-away

The TMC Internet and Telephony Conference and Expo is giving away a 'Tricked Out' FJ Cruiser.  No, it's not mine but I'd like to compare notes with whoever wins it or to hear from anyone who sees it.  The caption says it is the "ultimate connected car of the future" with Bluetooth, GPS, satellite, WiFi, DVD and more.

Toyota My sister sent me another photo of a Blue FJ that had a dog ramp.  I'd like to credit the photo, but I couldn't find an online reference to the company.

My FJ remains off-line I'm afraid, but progress is being made and I hope to have it back on-line yet this month with a much faster processor and some new capabilites.


August 1, 2007 in Car Computer | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack