For anyone that studies leadership, you have to listen to this interview with the leader of the bullpen for the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants baseball team.
For anyone that studies leadership, you have to listen to this interview with the leader of the bullpen for the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants baseball team.
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Sometimes a simple facebook exchange leads to the unexpected. A few weeks ago I was exchanging comments with an editor at MediaShift, the PBS blog. I was asked to pen a quick post on who I thought was doing great marketing via content. BetaBrand came to mind immediately.
Give it a read.
When I joined Grockit, my personal goals were to learn about leadership and culture from a diverse set of leaders with varied backgrounds in military, politics, education, academics and sports. I've learned a lot.
As part of that learning, I've found a few obscure blogs with really fascinating perspectives on my industry. This is by far one of the best, most compelling reads I've found this year. Read it. You won't regret it.
Over a month ago, I made a curious discovery about my AT&T Uverse system at home, and I blogged about that poor customer experience here. For reasons AT&T still can't explain, I cannot fastforward through commercials during the Sunday morning "first run" of Penguins of Madagascar on Nickelodeon.
At first discovery, I thought something was wrong with my DVR. So, having quite a bit of experience in enhanced/digital TV technologies, I started troubleshooting. And, I started replicating the issue. And, I documented the issue in video here, posted it to YouTube. And I made attempts to engage both support and social media reps for AT&T.
Eventually, pointing AT&T social media super rep "ChrisZ" at my blog post attracted the attention. More on that later.
In my testing, I found out that with ~20 regularly scheduled programs a week, ONLY the Penguins of Madagascar doesn't allow me to fastforward. Most interestingly, this condition only exists for first-run (new episodes), and seems to expire after a set period of time.
In a month of testing, I can't figure out if it is in fact time-based or play-based, but at some point, the no-fastforward condition expires and I can fastforward through the commercials in the episodes.
This morning, I'm getting a fresh reminder of this experience. And, here is the problem. My children (6 and 8 yrs old) are forced to watch television ads for sugary cereals, aged-up programming featuring snarky kids exhibiting smart-assed behavior, and various jenky toys that I have no desire to purchase for my kids. This repeating situation begs the question, with as much money as a person spends on television, do you REALY have control over your television services?
Am I really in control of my DVR, or is that conditional based on programming agreements between large media companies and multiple system providers (cable, telecom companies)?
I'm not a journalist. This blog is about consumer advocacy. I tend to advocate (grins) for startups doing things that are good in my own estimates. And, I tend to document and share (gripe) about experiences where I think big brands are trying to mess with consumers. I've been hard on Comcast in the past. Their service was unreliable, their hardware and firmware is paleo and jenky. I've discovered entirely unfair hardware charges from Comcast and a lot of poor customer service practices. But, I don't have an axe to grind. I know that because my day job is developing and managing consumer marketing and customer experiences, I have a good instinct for which questions to ask, what is "right" and what is "wrong". And, if I'm experiencing an issue, at least 10 people are as well, but they just don't have the time or know-how to find people online and get answers.
That said, back to the AT&T Uverse issue at hand. Here is the last exchange with the person(s) managing the AT&T social media presence of "ChrisZ":
On Wed, Aug 1, 2012 at 1:55 PM, Email Response AT&T <firstname.lastname@example.org- mail.com> wrote:
I did get with a peer here. We do not prevent DVR functionality with Penguins of Madagascar.
My peer did say "if you max out the streams then it is possible to lose pause buffer; thus, this will not allow him to fast forward." So, depending on how many streams are active at once live TV and recordings, will effect the show.
To truly address the issue, we would need to know more information (questions below) and possibly mirror your DVR to verify the recordings.
How many streams were going at once? H
ow many recordings was taking place?
What was the show he was recording, was it SD or HD?
At this time frame and per my IT peer, we do not disable the DVR functionality.
Get back to me with the answering if you can.
ChrisZ – ATT Social Media Manager
myAT&T Social Media Team
Check out our support center: http://support.att.com/
And here is my response:
Chris,This email isn't holding up. I'm replicating this issue right now. You can see a past example here. I'm recording in HD, one stream, one recording at this hour. And, I don't lose my buffer Sunday night while I'm watching TV on three streams of HD.You've shared the explanation from IT. I want comments from product marketing people and programming people. In fact, I want someone from AT&T advertising partnerships to tell me that they explicitly do NOT sell the disabling of the DVR ffwd feature to programming partners and advertiser.Thanks.
Why do I care about this?
Because consumer choice and control was something beaten into me from the beginning of my professional career. If you supply hardware and connectivity, you can restrict what people download, but providing conditional access to DVR controls is altering the consumers controls over "how" they consume content. And, if DVR functionality is conditional based on protecting a business model, that needs to be out in the open for consumer considerations.
And, I don't want my kids to be forced to sit through television advertisements to watch Penguins of Madagascar. I watch ads for adults, because I'm in that business and I study and appreciate the work of my peers. But, my kids can't delineate between ads and programming, and they don't "get it" when an ad tells them what to do, eat, buy, watch... they're too young for TV ads, and I have a DVR for this explicit reason.
Right now, it feels like AT&T is messing with parental decisions right now. That's not good. Parents need to be aware of this situation.
Last year I made the switch from Comcast to ATT Uverse. I've been pretty pleased, I even gave the experience a hard-to-earn "Grin:" per this blog's theme. There were hiccups -- hardware burned out, twice. And every major national event -- like the SuperBowl -- suffered momentary outages creating temporary panic in my house. But, I know a thing or two about IPTV and Digital TV.
I know that it's not perfect yet, it's subject to different constraints than cable and coax, and I've been very surprised with the support and ATT installation teams -- pleasantly surprised.
But, this is all changing.
Over the last few weeks, I've noted that my regularly scheduled recordings of new episodes of Penguins of Madagascar have suddenly lost the ability to skip over commercials for sugary cereals, junky toys and programming for older kids featuring smart-ass catch phrases and snippets of behavior that no one wants mimicked by children 6 or 8 years old.
So, I've taken to the ATT forums (see comments by "aaronburcell")
And, I tried contacting support via the site. I'm not getting any answers. If you know the answers, please comment, contact me via facebook or twitter.
So, is lack of response enough to earn a "Gripe". No. But this is. Pasted below is the 40+ minute session wherein I learned that technical support basically can't do anything without your account information. Like the rest of this blog, it's really only interesting if your a professional concerned with customer user experience issues.
If so, check out the exchanges below. I was able to work while going through these exchanges. My frustration is not at the handling per se. I actually think they did a great job. Rather, it's the time lapse between answers and just owning up to the real truths took way too long. My intended tone was jocular, just so you know that as you read. Also, kudos to the support staff at ATT Uverse... the support manager should maybe figure out where the other support interfaces are online.
Two nights ago, I received a great update to an older post from a reader, Janet Jacobs. I wanted to share the explanation for the mixup in cabinet skus in Janet's own words below. Thanks for the note Janet. And, thanks to everyone that have commented and shared similar experiences on 5Gum and Comcast services - if you send me emails, I'll repost.
"...Same thing happened to me, but I was fortunate in that I had known one of the managers for many years and she actually found out what the real problem was...the factory changed the color formula for that finish. I only ordered and returned twice, though, before that revelation. Same cabinet you had, i'm sure. I took the door of one of the cabinets in the right color and had them scan in under the color match machine in the paint dept., then had them mix it in a stain color. Worked perfectly, though there were a few more steps. One solution anyway. Janet."
About a year ago, I moved from Outspark to Grockit. I remember joining the team knowing that the product had a ways to go, but the people are outstanding.
A year later, we've done some amazing things in terms of furthing social learning: Grockit for Good tranformed Grockit into a 1-for-1 company; Grockit Answers uses video to make asynchronous social learning a reality; Grockit in Facebook lets you create private study rooms with friends; Grockit SchoolMatch helps students find the right schools for them; and Grockit is working very closely with Georgetown University to provide students and alum with online test prep.
And, the team at Grockit has grown and proven to be more oustanding than I first understood. Together, we've attracted another round of financing, launched an open-source project to improve our adaptive learning algorithm, and partnered with Startup Weekend and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to create StartupWeekend.edu.
Grockit has a lot in store for this year, including working with some high-profile private K-12 schools to provide more data points supporting Grockit's efficacy in social learning. And, I'm totally loving my work.
Recently, I was approached by a Peter Thiel Foundation Fellow researching incentives-based learning. Peter was an investor in Gazillion's Smartycard, a founder's fund investment. Working with the Peter Thiel Foundation Fellow has been very stimulating.
Over the last month, I've spent several hours discussing and rethinking the lessons learned in nearly two years of working on SmartyCard as a game division, and then as a potential "spinout" of Gazillion. The mental exercises have really reinvigorated my thoughts about incentives and payments in educational games, sites and services.
There's a real opportunity to create an incentive structure for learning in high school. But increasingly, I'm convinced the application context in which incentives are provisioned needs to be viral -- somewhere like Facebook. And, incentives need to appeal to ego -- the developing super-id that feeds off of social reward and "knowing" and "helping".
Finally, I've come to realize that friends are an acceptable currency for millenials. Offers are too. There's one other currency that people are starting to understand -- user-generated-content. There's going to be a beautiful little collision at that intersection, I'm looking forward to seeing it happen.
It's been several months since we moved our home from Comcast to AT&T Uverse. Aside from the phantom charges, pricing and lengthy outages, I really didn't have any issues with Comcast. I wanted to try Uverse because I'd never really tried another bband digital TV solution. My initial experience with Uverse is definitely a grin.
Even tonight, after AT&T Uverse needed to reboot before each NFL game, I was still pleased with the recovery and support experience. The support experience in particular is nice.
Two days after the unit was installed, the hard-drive was borked when the box failed in the middle of an upgrade. I suspect the unit lost power in the middle of a major upgrade and literally forgot where it was, what it was doing. A quick swap fixed everything. I'm sure that box was wiped and reinstalled somewhere else -- I don't really care. The point is that my wife explained to support that the box needed to be replaced before a sporting event the next day, and so a Uverse truck showed up at 6:30pm, a nice guy swapped the box, tested the remote box and disappeared quickly. That's the kind of TLC I like.
At a feature level, the AT&T Uverse IPTV STB is light years ahead of the crappy comcast Motorola DCT-series. The content is IPTV, not digital cable, which is better. But, the user experience is much better. The Uverse GUI, multiple tuners and local hardware mean that the overall user experience is modern, relatively feature-rich, and hardware is responsive to the remote IR commands. It makes Comcast feel appropriately last-century.
So far, I'm a fan. But, I'm worried about the outages I saw tonight -- they remind me of a common issue in all broadband services. What happens when everyone in your area are using the Internet AND watching TV at the same time? If you're using IPTV, where the TV signal and the Internet are connected to the same pipe, something is going to give. I'm worried about the Olympics, Election night, World Cup, Final Four, Oscar night... I'll be watching, tweeting, and sharing my experiences.
This past weekend was my anniversary. In the middle of the celebration, we recieved a call from Home Depot's East Palo Alto store location indicating that a replacement cabinet facing had been delivered and we needed to pick it up. The cabinet is from Thomasville. We went into the store on our anniversary, and came back without our cabinet facing, for the 4th time.
Here's the backstory. In June, my wife moved our baby chicks out of the children's bathroom and put them in her office space, attaching one of those heating lamps to the counter above the cabinets in her built-in desk. The heating lamp clamp failed, the lamp fell down against the cabinets and started a small house-fire. Not so much a fire as a cherry-wood BBQ that was easy to extinguish.
Since early June, we've been trying to replace the cabinets. The cabinets were purchased at a HomeDepot Expo store, and since those are no longer around, we've been working through the folks at HomeDepot in Palo Alto, the only place Thomasville is sold. The people working the cabinetry section of the HomeDepot in East Palo Alto are a special kind of unhelpful. The especially rude kind.
My wife has ordered and returned the cabinets 4 times. The problem has been that the floor samples were mislabeled, which we were assured they were not. Every time we ordererd using the floor sample as the guide, the pieces that came in were natural finish cherry not the reddish-stained cherry "light finish" that matched our cabinets. Each time, my wife insisted that the floor samples didn't match the cabinets, and each time, we were told there was no return policy and that we were wrong. We simply refused to sign for the merchandise and take it home.
These things happen -- sales and merchandising reps mislable things, but the sales folks at Home Depot should get a clue and cross-check every once in awhile.
Here's the kicker, and the center of my gripe: EACH time that we talked with the sales folks, they told us that if we simply took home the merchandise, they cabinets would grow darker over time. Even funnier, they gave us a "tip", that if we left hte cabinet facing out in the lawn, THE SUN would make our cabinet darker. That has got to be the most idiotic thing I've ever been told in a sales process. WTF!
FACT: The sun bleaches everything, including wood. The sun makes our skin darker because melatonin reacts to the sun and scarres, creating a "tan", to help guard against further sun damage. Other than skin, anything left in the sun gets "whitened". Everything.
Just today, a Thomasville employee called my wife to get more info and convince her that she was wrong, and the agent repeated this ridiculous line about the sun. No doubt, this is a line of BS that gets handed down from manufacturer to the channel marketing/sales managers to the in-store personnel at Home Depot. Be aware of this nonsense if you're DIY or die.
BTW, my wife finally performed the cross-check on the cabinet finish, and the folks at Thomasville now know that they have incorrect labels on the floor samples at the East Palo Alto Home Depot. You can use this as post as a time stamp if you are caught in related cabinet monkey business.