Build Walls To Keep Customers Out

At the recent DEMA 2009 Show in Orlando I spent a fair amount of time walking the floor of the tradeshow looking at the various exhibitors. Apart from looking at the products and toys on display, and meeting great people, I paid attention to the marketing and branding exercises taken by many dive industry players. Over on the New Scuba Marketing blog, Nick Bostic has provided an excellent appraisal of the excellent marketing efforts by PADI and the DEMA organisation itself. There were other good examples, but I also saw too many examples of the way our industry can be a bit cliquey, and push customers away.

As an underwater photographer, I found myself back at the Imaging Resource area of the show floor most days. I wandered by the various stands and booths, looked at products and talked to the people manning them. There was one elaborate stand that I never went into, and after walking past it a number of times, I wondered why?

The company at question is a leading supplier of entry level and midrange underwater cameras that has been around for a long time, and apparently has a good product range. I didn’t find out, because I kept walking past the stand (see picture at right).

In the last few hours of the show, I realised why — the construction of the stand had placed a series of walls around the stand that had the effect of keeping me (and others) out. In the middle were a number of tables where you could sit and meet with an attendant.

The very closed setup of the stand built a wall between the company and its customers and potential customers. I, and others I talked to remarked on the same thing, felt like you had to be invited in. So many of us kept walking past.

Now sometimes having an elitist feel can be part of your marketing strategy, but for a producer of midrange and entry level products, I hardly think thats the approach they were aiming for.

Compare this with the PADI stand (left) which was open and inviting and drew people into the stand. Notably DAN and Oceanic also had similarly open, inviting stands.

These are obvious examples of designing exhibition stands to be open and inviting. The photographic company above is an example of building walls to push your customer away from you.

Take a look at various businesses in all industries. Do they build walls to keep customers out or do they attract and welcome people to come in and be customers!

Lessons for the Customer Experience

  1. Look at your business and see what walls you’ve put up between you and your customer. Does your counter or display setup push people away, or draw them in?
  2. Look also at virtual barriers. Do your opening hours, website or advertisements attract people in, or push people away. In the dive industry, too often advertising is designed to attract divers, but pushes away snorkelers. The snorkelling market is substantially larger than the diving one.
  3. Consider carefully how you might change your setup to openly invite people in. Think of various ways you can make people feel welcome, actually and perceptually.
Customer Experience

Irasshaimase: Welcoming the Customer

Yesterday I had lunch at a sushi bar with a colleague. Having lived in Japan, many of the sights, sounds and experiences of the Japanese culture are second nature to me.

Thus I was a little surprised when my colleague asked me what all the staff were calling out every time a customer walks in the door. I explained that the expression is irasshaimase”, and is a welcome that you hear in all Japanese restaurants, and in Japan in almost all shops and shopping areas. Its almost like there’s a competition among staff members as to who can welcome a customer first and with the greatest spirit!

Go to a Japanese shopping mall, and the sounds can be amazing as you hear this constant din of welcome.

It is a fantastic experience to be made to feel welcome, instantly, as you walk into a restaurant or shop. The staff are welcoming you, showing you that you’re valued. With the welcome over, the great customer service continued right up to when we paid. As we left, shouts of arigato gozaimashita” (thank you very much) could be heard.

After our sushi lunch, we decided to continue our conversation over a cup of tea. We walked up to a nearby coffee store, part of a large Australian franchise chain. The front door was partly blocked by 2 staff members putting up Christmas decorations — at lunchtime! We stood in a queue, with one customer in front of us. That one customer was being served by the other 2 staff members. No-one even acknowledged our presence in the store.

After four minutes (yes, I timed it) finally someone looked to me and said what can I do for you”. I looked at my watch, then placed my order. The service was offhandish, and the teas were ordinary. The experience was poor.

Too often western businesses get offhandish, and take their customers business for granted. Customer service is a hit and miss affair in many western countries, and we could certainly take a lesson from the Japanese when it comes to welcoming and acknowledging a customer into our business. This should apply equally to customers in front of you, those on the phone, and those doing business with you over the web.

Lessons for the Customer Experience

  1. Acknowledge your customer immediately when they enter your business. Make them feel welcome, and let them know that they are important to you. Make it a game among staff as to who can greet the customer first. A welcome should occur within 10 seconds, if possible.

    Establish an irasshaimase” culture in your business.* 

  2. If you’re unable to attend to your customer immediately, inform them of how long they can expect to wait.
  3. Ensure the irasshaimase experience” continues throughout the customer’s visit. Remember to thank them for their business.

Customer Experience

Book Review: The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography

The following review was originally published on my website BlueBeyond.com.au. I’ve decided to move it over here for reference. 

Galen Rowell’s Inner Game of Outdoor Photography is a book that I have been meaning to review for some time, but with the recent, tragic death of the author in a light plane crash, it’s time to put pen to paper. For my money this is one of the outstanding books on photography philosophy, and should be part of every photographer’s library.

Galen Rowell was one of the outstanding adventure photographers of our time. A major proponent of participatory photography, Rowell’s unique approach was based less on equipment and technique, and more on vision and philosophy. Participatory photography is an approach where the photographer is not a passive observer of the subject, but someone who is interacting with the environment and the subjects. Rowell was an active participant, and as such was a noted mountain climber and hiker, skills that allowed him to get a unique perspective that most photographers don’t even get close to.

Most of us have seen those photos of a climber hanging delicately from a cliff face, and marvelled at the extreme situation in which that climber has got themselves into. Yet few of us stop to think about the photographer, who is right there in the same place taking that photo. Many times that photographer was Galen Rowell.

His remarkable photographs have been featured in National Geographic, Outdoors and Outdoor Photographer. He wrote 18 books; some of them coffee table books, others more instructive about his approach to photography, and some of them about climbing.

The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography is one of Rowell’s most recent books. Inner Game is a compilation of various articles that Rowell has written over the years for Outdoor Photographer magazine.

Clearly underwater photography is a form of participatory photography—it is difficult for the photographer to be passive. Although not known for underwater images, Rowell’s philosophy and approach is one that underwater photographers should consider. Few other photographers become so much a part of their environment as underwater photographers!

As a matter of interest, Rowell did in fact do some underwater photography, and some of these pictures are published in Inner Game. When you look at these, underwater photographers may notice some backscatter—a curse that most land based photographers never learn much about. But the composition, the organisation of the elements within the photo and the technical exposure are up there with the best, as you would expect. His landscape and adventure photography are without equal.

Many underwater photographers have an extensive library of books on our subject. Many of us read up on photographic fundamentals, landscape photography, macro photography and so on, due to the parallels between topside and underwater techniques. This book is different — it focuses on the philosophy and approach. These are aspects independent of environment.

The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography is a superbly written and beautifully illustrated book. I would recommend this book highly to underwater photographers, landscape photographers, and indeed to any photographer who understands the importance of vision in image creation.

Book Review Photography

Book Review: The Underwater Photographer

The following review was originally published on my website BlueBeyond.com.au. I’ve decided to move it over here for reference.

There is one underwater photography book that has journeyed with me on every dive trip I’ve made over the past 8 years. Although I’ve read Martin Edge’s The Underwater Photographer from cover to cover several times over, it has always proved to be a valuable source of information and inspiration.

Now reprised in its third edition, author Martin Edge has embraced the digital era, giving succinct and usable information pertinent to every underwater photographer — seasoned or novice, using digital or film, compact or SLR.

Practical information is provided right from the outset, with Martin providing thoughtful and considered” information. This is the crux of why I like this book so much — Edge focuses on his think and consider” approach, and provides insights into his thinking as he makes an image. Technical information is provided to support the TC Approach, and is not in itself the central theme of the book.

Having embraced the digital revolution, Edge shares his own thoughts about the pro’s and con’s of digital imaging, equipment and settings. Practical, pertinent guidance is provided in an easy to understand way.

One of the impressive things about Edge is that shows how his own photography has changed over the years. As an example, he has openly modified recommendations about strobe positioning between the 2nd and 3rd Editions. An open mind is the hallmark of success in many endeavours, and Edge clearly displays this attitude as a leader in the world of marine imaging.

For me, The Underwater Photographer — Digital and Traditional Techniques is a book that should be on the reading and reference list for all aspiring and experienced underwater photographers.

Book Review Scuba Diving Photography

The Power of 1440 (or The Myth of Time Management)

A 2006 post on Pascal Veniers blog1 made me think a little about a topic that I’ve long considered and held some thoughts on. This topic is that of time management.

It is clear that I am an example of what you could call a productivity geek. I’ve studied various methodologies and used various tools2. I’ve been on a search for the holy grail of personal productivity. You’ll note that I rarely use the expression time management. This is simply because I don’t believe in it.

You see time cannot be managed. It is a constant. There are 60 minutes in an hour, and 24 hours in a day. That makes a grand total of 1440 minutes in a day. No matter how hard you manage” your time, you cannot possibly produce even one extra minute in a day. 1440 is a critical number — it is rock solid and rock steady.  Time frankly refuses to be managed, despite our best efforts and great intentions.

I’ve held this view for many years, so when I stumbled upon Getting Things Done a few years back, I was instantly intrigued. Why? Because David Allen never talks about time management. He talks about action management.

Actions are the only things we manage. Eating, sleeping, meditating, exercising, work, rest, play are all actions. Some actions are standalone, some are part of a greater project”. But actions are, by definition, the things we do.

So give up trying to manage time — time is an external concept, and steadfastly refuses to be managed. Instead, look within yourself and focus your efforts on your actions –  on making the most use of your 1440 minutes in a day. You will be more productive.

This post was originally posted on my personal blog back on 19 January 2006. It has been edited slightly to bring it up to date.

  1. The original page no longer exists at that address, so the link is to a Wayback Machine page on the Internet Archive.

  2. Like many I have done the Priority Manager and Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effectively People systems, supported by paper based planners and tools like the original PalmPilot devices through to today’s macOS and iOS devices supporting my own GTD based approach.


Shu-Ha-Ri and GTD

This blog post is a bit of a re-write of a comment I made to the post _Fractal Implementation, or, On the Dangers of David Allen’s Finger_ over on Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders site.

It’s a funny thing, but I think that there is a mindset that its easier to play with a system than to just do the stuff the system is prescribing.

Playing and experimentation is in itself a good thing — a very good thing. But it needs a time and place, and that time and place is when you’ve really bedded down the methodology, and are using it well.

Next Actions, Weekly Reviews, Waiting Fors and leakless collection habits are all things that need to be second nature before you’ve earned the right to tweak.

At the risk of using another martial arts metaphor, in karate there is a concept of learning called Shu-Ha-Ri.

The first stage, Shu, basically entails rote learning, without asking questions. Things should be done the way that has been shown, and absolutely following both the methods and the principles.

The second stage, Ha, involves personalising the system. In this stage, it is acceptable (within limits) to modify the methods without changing the core principles to suit your individual strengths and weaknesses.  Having explored the Shu stage in depth, you should be keenly aware of your strengths and weaknesses.

The third stage, Ri, is a natural progression where one develops their own style within a style”, deeply studying the core principles and modifying both the methods and the principles where appropriate to suit one’s own process.

In the martial arts, Shu-Ha-Ri has no set timetable. It is observed, not driven. It happens naturally — when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. But in essence, it can take 5 years to move through the Shu stage into Ha, and then another 5 years or more to move through the Ha stage. Incidentally, this means that someone of early black belt level is generally still in the Shu stage.

I wonder if David Allen’s metaphor of black belt in his Getting Things Done (GTD) approach is coincidental — maybe his message is that people should learn and internalise the basics before getting too experimental. I am not suggesting that it should take 5 years before we adapt our GTD implementation, but it should take however long is required to internalise the methods and principles, before modifying the methods.

Let’s not forget that David Allen has been doing this stuff for 20+ years.  In my books he has earned the right to modify methods and principles to develop his own system.