Tag Archives: Consumer

In a world of constant new products, we must be educated just to choose. These posts help you to be an educated consumer.

Customer Experience Feedback

I provide this rating system as an end user. Businesses always asking my feedback, here it is systematically. This is what I look for. This applies to everything from brick and mortar stores to websites. This is largely technology driven.

1. Minimum Technology

Technology can enable efficiency, but it often does the opposite. I am an engineer. I can figure out your technology – but I do not want to. Do not give me a job when I’m trying to spend money with you. Do not explain your tech to me. If your tech is not self-evident, you have already failed.

2. Version Control

Misinformation is worse than no information. One calendar, one web page, a web page instead of an e-mail. We do not need more information. We need the right information, concisely, current, dated, clear, verified.

3. Identifying Me

I do not want another number, account, password, etc. You know this. My name is unique. Use that. My e-mail is more unique, use it. E-mail is better than using my phone number, which is better than using a tracking number, which is better than a QR code, which is better than having me sign up for an account, which is better than having me sign up for an account with ridiculous password requirements. Use the ID that exists already. Start with my name!

4. Simplicity

One that works is better than two or three or however many failures.

Businesses Rated

UPS, 1 star. You have to go out of your way to get 1 star. UPS goes out of its way

  • Minimum tech? No. I don’t need an account, a QR code, and a bar code to receive a single brown package with $200 worth of stuff in it.
  • Version control? Multiple blatant failures. One package includes two addresses 1. my home where I know I will not be at noon for the delivery attempt and 2. the UPS Access Point. One package includes three methods of identification 1. a QR code, 2. a tracking number, 3. an “InfoNotice” number. The UPS Access Point had hours posted on the store partially in one location and completely in another less-visible location. An extra address, two extra package IDs and an extra partial hours posting. That is five strikes against version control. FIVE. Abysmal.
  • Identifying me? UPS, you know my address (you know where I live!!), and my e-mail address. Ask me for my phone number and I will give you that. ID me with any of those things. Nope. You need me to create an account. Fail.
  • Simplicity? No. All you have to do is deliver a package to a human being. It is not complicated – but you manage to make it so.

How can you succeed? My package enters your system and you e-mail me the tracking number and the address / hours of the UPS Access Point where my package will arrive. No home delivery. No “InfoNotice” bar code. No message saying, “Shocker! You weren’t home today at noon!” No QR code scavenger hunt. No running down a brown truck. No “out for delivery.” Get it close at a stationary target, tell me where it is, give me a deadline, and I’ll do the rest.

 

Websites Below

Organizing Online Events and Conferences

When people attend an in-person conference, they want to know the address, possibly where to park, where the sign in desk is, and a calendar of events with locations perhaps room numbers. They want to know the following for the conference and each sub-event:

  • Who: event name / who is hosting the event / presenter’s name.
  • What: subject of the event / presentation.
  • Where: location.
  • When: date and time.
  • Why: because.

I don’t make this list because the information is usually lacking. The information is usually available somewhere. I provide this list because there is usually so much extra information that attendees can’t find these basic requirements!

The online / virtual version of this is currently Zoom meetings. Attendees need the following information and no more! For each presentation:

  • Who: single web address with the most current information / name of the conference / name of the host / name of presenters.
  • What: subject of the event / presentation.
  • Where: the Zoom access code / meeting ID.
  • When: date and time in Zulu or always with a specific time zone.
  • Why: because.

If the event can be conducted without attendees registering that is best. If the attendees must register, let them use their e-mail addresses for a username.

Do a run-through the day prior with a friend or colleague who is not in on the planning. If he / she cannot attend withing 5 minutes then your system is a failure and you probably need to delete extraneous instructions and eliminate steps.

Information, Categories, Items

Pretty much all information falls into categories. Each item within a category has the same questions associated with it. For example, if you are a university and you list degree programs along with the number of years of study for the degree program and even just one of those degree programs is part-time instead of full-time, you absolutely must list “full-time / part-time” for all the degree programs – or you have left doubt and failed to communicate.

Therefore, for all categories, you list the possible questions for each category and your site is not complete until all the answers are available for each item within the category. Example:

  • Degree Program category:
    • Full name of degree
    • Years of study to complete
    • Full-time / part-time
    • Accreditation
    • Which campus if multiple
    • Credit hours with units of measure of credit hours
    • Language of study if there could be doubt
    • Link to course list / curriculum
    • Prerequisites for study
    • Start date(s)
    • Application process including deadlines and associated decision dates listed by type of applicant or explicitly stated “for all applicants”
    • Tuition information or link to tuition information
    • Motivational video for the program as applicable
    • Testimonials as applicable
    • Contacts such as dean, admissions, student ambassadors, etc.
    • Date of last update.

This is one list for one category for one type of site. This type of list applies to all sites that present information at all, which is almost all sites. Do not start your Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page until you have created your list and systematically answered all the questions for each item within each category. Especially do not e-mail me for feedback. This is my feedback right here. Do your job. Anticipate your users’ questions and provide the appropriate information no matter how obvious you believe the information to be.

Payment Units

Units of payment must always conform to the following rules or you have failed to communicate:

  • Payments always include the currency.
  • A one-time payment is assumed if not stated. However, if there can be doubt as to whether a payment is one-time or periodically repeated, it is always called “one-time.” There is no exception. There is no substitution for this phrase. No other wording is appropriate.
  • Repeated payments always
    1. include a period stated in an amount of time
    2. explicitly state a beginning and an end
    3. explicitly state what period the payment applies to.

Example:

The tuition is 10,000 dollars per year and is paid in monthly installments during the time you are studying. The academic year being 9 months, you make 9 equal monthly payments per year that lead the month of study and total to the annual tuition. Other taxes and fees apply, see the list at this link for taxes and fees.

  • The word “fee” is typically reserved for something that is extra or unusual. For example, “tuition” already implies payment, so you do not say “tuition fee,” or use the word “fee” under the heading of “tuition.” “Fee” makes it sound extra or unusual. You should say, “the annual / monthly tuition is…,” Writing “fee” is redundant and confusing.
  • “Fee” can be added on to a word that is not automatically a payment, such as registration. For example “registration fee.” This says it is a payment and that the payment is for registration.
  • A “registration fee” would almost never be a repeated payment because one only registers one time. Once registering, you are registered and don’t keep registering.

Time and Time Zones

I don’t care how smart you think your website is. I don’t care if your website thinks it knows where your visitor is and therefore “conveniently” tells the user in his personal time zone. No matter how smart your website is, the internet is still global. You could be using my IP address for location and I could be using a VPN. My GPS location could be erroneous. There is one simple rule for posting times:

Post the time with its associated time zone, including whether it is daylight savings time, and including the +/- relative to Zulu.

This especially applies to sporting events. I see times given properly less than 10% of the time for sporting events. If pilots suddenly became this bad at global time communication, the world would come to an instant standstill with aviation accidents, delays, missed flights, etc. Follow this rule and you have properly posted a time. Do it not, and you have failed to communicate.

Assumption

This feedback assumes you want your visitors to leave your site informed. If your goal is that your visitors click around your site looking for information you purposely hid or omitted, then this does not apply. If you are trying to force users to contact you if they really want to know something, then by all means ignore this and keep playing your games. I am not a marketer and I know some counter-intuitive strategies work when it comes to selling to people. This feedback applies to those whose goal is to honestly inform site visitors.

Impetus for this Post

Unfair as this may be I am picking one site that finally drove me to write this post. Their site was actually pretty good but as usual lacked basic information that I am fairly certain was omitted or hidden inadvertently. I clicked around London Business School’s site for probably an hour trying to confirm which courses were full-time and which were part-time. I never found it. I sent them feedback but I am tired of submitting basic feedback like this. I feel like I work for free giving feedback while companies constantly spend money to change and update complicated sites that fail at the basics – and then spend more time and money requesting my feedback. Here it is! Here’s my feedback!

When LBS, a top business school, clearly does not follow the basics outlined in this post, the post needs to be written because they, if anybody, should be good at this. Now it is written.

If Your Product Costs More Than $1000

I pick $1000 for an arbitrary cut-off. The point is, this feedback always applies to sites for products that could be considered an investment like, for example, real estate or education. Investments are life decisions and clients need solid info to make a decision.

You aren’t selling a pack of gum. Answer all questions. Is the course full-time or part-time? Maybe it’s obvious to you. Maybe I should know and be able to assume. Maybe I should have contacts within your school who can tell me and if I am not resourceful enough to find the info then you don’t want me anyway. Fine, but if you wanted me informed to make a decision and consider your school, you failed. I left confused, alienated, and ultimately decided against business school (OK I was leaning against biz school anyway not trying to be too dramatic). Now my last memory is the frustration of your website that could have been avoided if you had heeded the basic advice on my humble individual blog here.

The Washington Post Exposes a Bunch of Failure, Congratulations

A recent Washington Post article: At War With the Truth

U.S. officials constantly said they were making progress. They were not, and they knew it, an exclusive Post investigation found.

Historical Context

The current US war in Afghanistan is now the longest single military conflict in the history of the United States. It has been going on so long that it hardly requires justification to the American public anymore. We are accustomed to it. I was in high school when we first invaded.

The British fought in Afghanistan three times, for 1-3 years each time.

The Soviets fought in Afghanistan for 9 years from 1979-1989. It was a Cold War proxy war against forces backed by the United States.

The Perceived Problem

The article above claims that falsified reports by military generals are a major factor that keep us in Afghanistan. The article goes so far as to say the reports have been deliberately falsified over the years to justify remaining at war.

The Actual Problem

We as a country continue to fight a nearly 20 year conflict in Afghanistan. The Washington Post article above will be soon forgotten.

We fail see how wrong some decisions are ironically because they are so wrong on such a large scale that we simply can’t comprehend it. The magnitude is so much bigger than us we assume we must be mistaken somehow.

The main-stream media controls the majority of information people receive. They sling mud at each other for entertainment. An article like the one above catches peoples’ interest because it implies evil treachery by a select group, in this case military generals.

What the Main-Stream Media is Saying

The article appears anti-war. However, notice the article does not actually say we should leave Afghanistan now. It provides no suggestion for how we should cut our losses and depart. It also does not reference the historical failures in Afghanistan of the British and the Soviets.

The article criticizes former President Obama. Did The Washington Post criticize President Obama from 2009 – 2017, when he could actually make decisions? I will be honest, I am not going to go search Washington Post articles for an 8-year period, but let’s all be honest, Obama is a Democrat and The Post let him go while he was in office.

My Opinion

The Washington Post article describes one small portion / symptom of the military industrial complex as though it is a new thing. Really it is a very old phenomenon. It was well-known in 1935.

The article focuses on one select group of people, military generals. I believe that the scope of people responsible for our military industrial complex – which includes fighting a 2 decade war in Afghanistan – is so wide that pointing at one set of actions by one group is ridiculous. Generals operate near the political level. When the overall political climate wants to remain at war, it selects generals who will fight war.

Why is the Washington Post so excited to report the evil treachery of the military generals right now? I do now know but I will speculate. I heard recently noted that military generals are enjoying more political success now than ever before here in the US. Maybe this article is designed to curb that trend.

The Solution

We need to acknowledge all the factors that go into the United States fighting wars. This includes military generals who want to fight wars of course. However, it also includes our consumer culture that gobbles up resources made cheap by war and perpetuated by our two-party democracy that gives us only two choices, selected by the dollars of the MIC, both war-fighting.

We need to educate ourselves about ourselves and it starts by not consuming any information owned by large corporations close to Washington DC. The main-stream media is so ubiquitous that forcing oneself to learn is insufficient. We must first cut the propaganda from our busy lives and free our minds.

The gap between our nation as a whole and the wars we fight with 2% of the population needs to close. Is this possible? I really do not know.

Real Estate Summary, November 2018

Lawrence Yun is the chief economist for the National Association of Realtors®. He is very straightforward and he applies numbers to what everybody is feeling in the real estate market. This 10 minute interview covers what most people are talking about: a “slow-down” in real estate, rising interest rates, new home building, consumer preferences, etc.

Click here for all real estate posts on this site.

Real Estate Summary, July 2018

Average Sale Price

  • $238,655, Jul 2018, 4.9% increase 1-yr, 37.2% increase 10-yr
  • $227,572, Jul 2017
  • $173,940, Jul 2008

The year-over-year increase in price for July 2018 compared with the YoY increase in July 2017 is less, so the increase has slowed. The YoY increase in July 2017 was 6.4%. From the MLS chart, the last time that the price increase was this slow was late 2014, so it appears by that measure the market has cooled off a bit, or is just a bit less hot. The price still increased don’t forget. That is good. The last time there was an overall YoY price decrease was 2011.

Source: http://www.columbusrealtors.com/stats/

Months Supply of Inventory

  • 1.9 months, Jul 2018
  • 11.2 months, Jul 2010 – highest for July in last 10 years.
  • 2.0 months, Jul 2017 – last year’s hot market

We are still in a historical seller’s market.

Source: http://www.columbusrealtors.com/stats/archives.aspx

Interest Rate, 30 Year Fixed-Rate Mortgage

  • 4.54%, 6 Sep 2018, most recent
  • 4.46%, 8 Mar 2018
  • 3.95%, 4 Jan 2018
  • 3.41%, 7 Jul 2016, 5-year low
  • 6.04%, 20 Nov 2008, the last time rate was over 6%

How much has the 30-year fixed rate gone up? It increased above 4% in January this year, reached 4.46% by March, and has held steady since then. The five year low was 3.41% in July 2016. Check out this interactive chart from Freddie Mac:

http://www.freddiemac.com/pmms/

What To Do, Sellers

Hold tight. The demand is still there.

What To Do, Investors

  1. Do: Improve / develop what you already own, and get it performing.
  2. Do: take opportunity to start as a wholesaler / real estate agent / manager.
  3. Don’t: buy on a variable rate loan.

Source: Nate’s decision making model for real estate.

Click here for all real estate posts on this site.

Picking your Friends in Computer Software

1. Why the club:

Click here for the CATC About page.

 

2. Why this subject first:

  • Your computer software largely determines your experience with the computer.
  • I have helped people with their software to keep their computer working fast.
  • The people who make your software know what your experience looks like. It is those people and their motivations that determine your experience in the long run.

3. Vocabulary for Software

4. Discussion Structure

  • We are going to discuss software by its function first.
    • I want to offer a solution only if there is a problem.
    • Define the problem! (software often offers bells and whistles that do things we don’t really want to do).
    • This is a comprehensive list. A key to this idea is that all other software should be uninstalled and add-on software should be carefully selected.
  • We will categorize software by “open source vs. closed source” and “free vs. costs money.”
  • A dollar sign ($) by the software mean the software company is for profit. An ‘ad’ symbol (ad) means that mining and selling user data is a major revenue source for the company.
  • Last, we’ll meet the people and companies and discuss their motives.

5. Software Functions List

  • Operating System
  • Word processor (includes many office functions)
  • Web browser
  • E-mail / contacts / calendar
  • Internet search
  • Media player
  • Video chat [or use your phone]
  • PDF Reader
  • Printer and scanner
  • Video editing
  • Gaming

Operating System

Word Processor

Web Browser

E-Mail / Calendar / Contacts

Web Search

  • DuckDuckGo is a good search engine that maintains user privacy.

Media Player

Video Chat

 

PDF Reader

Printer and Scanner

  • How much does an ink cartridge cost?
    • Can a printer physically continue to print in black and white if the color runs out?
  • How much does a printer actually cost?

Video Editing

6. My Start Menu

7. Settings

  • When you set up a computer, your question should be, “what is this computer doing that I need it to stop doing?”

8. Bloatware

  • When I buy a computer, I don’t install software, I spend most of my time un-installing software.
  • Your computer manufacturer may include software pre-installed. You probably want to un-install it.
  • I include “anti-virus” software under bloatware.
  • Desktop weather display is another example.

Click here to see which software I use and recommend in each category.

I made this presentation for the Columbus Area Technology Club. Click the logo for the CATC website:

Columbus Area Technology Club

About this Club

In technology, less is more, and knowledge is power.

Hi. I am Nathan Ruffing, the founder of this club. I graduated from Ohio State, Electrical and Computer Engineering in 2006. I served in the US Marines from 2007-2015. I do not work as an engineer. My friends from college are shaping the tech world in which we live. I started this club to bridge the gap between the rapidly advancing tech world and the average person. We are all tech consumers, like it or not. We can like it a lot more if we understand it.

Please understand that the goal of this club is actually “how to choose tech,” “which tech to choose,” and “how to use tech and be finished with it and move on with life.” It is not “how can I do more with tech.” Less is more!

This club is modeled off of the Tampa Bay Technology Center (in Florida). Click here for the TBTC website. My uncle is a member of the TBTC. He is in his 70s. He also happens to be the president of the homeowner’s association of his building. The club enabled him to create an informational website for his building. Click here to see the simple, effective website he learned to make from a template. You do not have to make a site. He is the most tech-savvy 70-year-old I know, but the site actually makes his management responsibilities easier and gives him more time to hang out by the beach and golf.

For now the club is free while I gage interest. One day, there may be a small fee for membership.

Future Topics

  • Your smart phone: How to keep it clean and under control.
  • Your digital camera: How to get the most from your DSLR camera. Click here for an example video.
  • Technology terminology: Internet, domain, Wi-Fi, Internet Service Provider (ISP), software, hardware, operating system, etc.
  • Your space on the internet: your own domain and basic website for ~$10 per month.