Hotels.com uses Web 2.0, great service and rewards to score a Collaboration Evangelist trifecta

July 8, 2009 by chu 

Net: Hotels.com provides great consumer value, excellent web and phone customer service and has one of the most rewarding loyalty programs I have seen.  The company shows how applying the philosophy and applications of Web 2.0, good customer service and a well designed and implemented rewards program can create customer loyalty.  Why book anywhere else?

[Read more]

Amazon Kindle 2 even better than the original

June 22, 2009 by chu 

Net: I loved the original Kindle and the Kindle 2 is even better.  Thinner, more durable, faster user interface and improved battery life.  It pays for itself in 6 months if you switch from buying the paper versions of the Boston Globe, NYT and WSJ to the KIndle versions.  If you click on the link below to buy one, 10% of the price will go to the nonprofit job training program Year Up.

Click Here to buy a Kindle from amazon.com and 10% of the price will be donated to Year Up

Last summer my wife bought me an Amazon Kindle for our anniversary.  I was so impressed with the device – and felt that it was so poorly marketed – I wrote a long email praising the product and sent it to everyone on my email list.  I had never done this before for any product or service.  I turned the email into a blog post and posted it on Collaboration Evangelist under the CHU Recommends section.

The post was titled 4 Reasons why the Amazon Kindle e-reader is one of the best devices ever, will help you lose weight, save money and lower your stress level. I won’t repeat all of the praise for the Kindle here; the main points I emphasized were:

  1. Although Amazon markets the Kindle as an electronic book reader, I find its real value comes from reading newspapers and blogs.  The Kindle automatically and wirelessly downloads newspapers and blogs to the device.  So anywhere in the country I wake up with the latest versions of the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Boston Globe and the 10 blogs I follow on My Kindle. You never need to connect the device to your laptop.
  2. It is very readable, even in bright sunlight.
  3. The battery lasts for days.
  4. You get new content by searching right from the Kindle, purchasing with “one click” on the device and are billed through amazon.com as if you made an online purchase.  No need to enter passwords, credit cards, etc. on the Kindle. Books download in 60 seconds.
  5. It’s incredibly light, about as heavy as a Blackberry.
  6. It’s a great value, as long as you cancel your paper subscriptions.  Although the Kindle 2 is slightly more expensive than the original at $359 and the cover is sold separately for $30, it is still a great deal.  Breakeven is less than 6 months if you switch from paper to Kindle versions of three newspapers.  Books cost about $10; blogs are around a dollar a month.

[Read more]

Customer service disaster non-recovery; Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco doesn’t get Web 2.0, earns first CHU “Un-recommends”

May 26, 2009 by chu 

Net: Despite the fact that user generated ratings and reviews have been a mainstay of the internet since at least 1999, many large businesses fail to provide an easy way for customers to provide feedback and do not monitor and respond to customer comments on the Web.  I recently experienced this first hand from the Hotel Monaco in Washington, D.C. It is the first experience bad enough to earn a ” CHU Un-recommends.”

In our page Six Web 2.0 Imperatives for All Businesses, we emphasized the following points under Imperative Four: Build, Activate and Support your Communities:

  • If you don’t provide a place on your site for customers to ask questions, it is highly likely that at least some of them will go to a third party site where they will be prime targets for your competitors’ marketing efforts.
  • Whatever you do, make it incredibly easy for employees, business partners and customers to provide feedback. And go the next step by proactively asking for feedback. Then, make sure you authentically respond to their feedback.

A few months ago in the post A car for a car, a coffee for a coffee, $10 for free porn?” I wrote about several positive experiences where businesses seized the opportunity to turn service failures into brand building recoveries.   This post is from a different perspective.

A few weeks ago my wife and I were planning to attend Rhodes Scholar and Oxford University reunions in Washington, D.C.  I went to Hotels.com to find a hotel room for the weekend.  They had what looked like a great price on the Hotel Monaco, a Kimpton Hotel in a perfect location.  I have stayed at other Kimpton properties and always had good experiences, so I booked the hotel.  [Hotels.com is a great business and will be the subject of a future post.]

I flew to Washington early in the day so I could take my fellow alum and Microsoft uber-lawyer Steve Crown to visit Year Up, the innovative work force development program founded and led by Gerald Chertavian, for lunch.  We had a wonderful tour and Steve had a great session with several students, sharing experience and advice from his years of success and answering all of their questions.   After our visit to Year Up, I went to check in at the Hotel Monaco.  My wife Patty was arriving later in the evening.

A Beautiful Building

The Hotel is in a beautiful historical building that used to be a famous Post Office and appeared to have all of the usual Kimpton features – cool lobby, interesting bar, water bowl for dogs, etc.  I checked in and went to the room.  Although we had reserved a “deluxe queen,” room, it was very, very small.  It felt like there was less than 12 inches of space from the side of the bed to the window or the wall and a small desk was crammed into an alcove.  The room was a fraction of the size of the rooms we have had in other Kimpton properties.  Not exactly the venue nor the ambiance I had envisioned for a romantic weekend in DC without our kids.

 

 

The King Room

No problem, I thought, I’ll call the front desk and get a better room.  All seemed good when the desk staff offered to move me to a “deluxe King” on the “first” floor.  It turns out that the first floor is subterranean, i.e. it’s the basement.  My initial concern was that the room would be noisy, being so close to the street.  The front desk clerk assured me that they were quite quiet, and it turns out that is true.  But as I descended the stairs to the “first floor” I started to notice a bad odor.   Despite my attempts to simultaneously act like a two year old and ignore the smell and try to convince myself that Patty wouldn’t notice, it was clear the first floor smelled like a damp basement with a mildew problem.  Nonetheless, I powered on to the room.  The room was actually nice, with a huge bed, high ceilings, decent bathroom, and more room for the desk.   The architect had done a great job making the half-windows to the sidewalk seemed larger than they were and let in a lot of light.  Best of all, the room was not noisy at all.  I thought I could still smell something but rationalized that the odor was just coming from the hall.  I cranked the AC on high, ran around the corner to get some candles to complete the romantic ambiance I was determined to create, and took off for the Rhodes event.

The event to honor Sir Collin Marshall, who was retiring as the Warden of Rhodes House, was held at the British Embassy and it was wonderful.  By the end of the event, Patty had arrived, checked into the hotel and met me and several of my classmates at a Georgetown restaurant.  The food was great, the company even better and we stayed at the restaurant until almost midnight.  On the way back to the hotel Patty said, “Did you notice our room is in the basement of the hotel, the hallway smells like dog pee and our room like mold? ” I briefly considered returning to my two year old mindset, but chose to say something like “maybe a little, but I bought a lot of candles” and quickly change the subject.

 

The candles and the AC helped cover up the smell, and we decided to not try and change rooms again given that the front desk told me the hotel was sold out with two wedding parties.  The next day, Patty discovered there was mold on the bottom of the shower curtain.  A definite first for me in a “four star” hotel or for that matter, any star hotel.  In addition to the smelly hall and room mold problems, the on-demand movies in our room were very fuzzy and the engineer on duty could not fix the problem.  And whoever cleaned our room on Friday night forgot to remove the mold, but did remove our wine glasses and did not replace them.  All in all, a pretty bad experience. [Read more]

Amazon Kindle

October 1, 2008 by chu 

Click Here to buy a Kindle from amazon.com and 10% of the price will be donated to Year Up

4 Reasons why the Amazon Kindle e-reader is one of the best devices ever, will help you lose weight, save money and lower your stress level.

My wonderful wife gave me an Amazon Kindle for our anniversary recently and I believe it is one of the best devices I have ever used; so good that I want to recommend it to everyone I know.

So what’s so great about the Kindle and why should you try one? Four simple words:  Content, Functionality, Portability and Value.

Content:

Every morning when I wake up, my Kindle has the latest copies of The New York Times, Boston Globe, WSJ, and Washington Post.  It also has the latest posts from the 5 tech/web 2.0 blogs I follow and several political blogs. I have also downloaded several books and the Kindle will open to the last page I read, but I primarily use it for newspapers and blogs.

I recently showed the Kindle to Ken Dec, one of my partners in Underwood Partners. Ken is a marketing/branding genius and instantly recognized that Amazon has been marketing the Kindle as an e-book reader, where as I (and probably most of you will) use it primarily as an e-paper/blog reader.

Functionality:

Readability:

The Kindle is about the side of a medium paper back, although much thinner: 7.5 inches tall x 5 inches wide x 0.5 inches think.  The reading screen is about 5 x 3.5.  One of the reasons the Kindle is superior to other readers I have tried is that they have come as close to possible to replicating black ink on white paper (the most readable combination). Although the screen is not back-lit and therefore requires some light on planes, in bed, etc., you can read it in bright sunlight without any difficulty – say while your 9 year old son is warming up for a soccer game.

The Kindle has multiple font sizes, which can be changed by clicking two buttons once.  I found this to be extremely helpful the second day I had the Kindle when I took it to a hotel exercise room and found I needed to increase the font size to be legible on the recumbent bike (re: the “lose weight” comment above).  It’s also a god send if you forget your reading glasses.

Turning Pages:

To turn pages you push a bar on either side of the Kindle to go the next or previous page.  A “back” button takes you back to the pervious section you were on.

When reading newspapers the menu button will bring up a drop down window with several choices: front page, sections list, articles list.  This enables you to go to the section you want (e.g., Sports) or scroll through all of the articles in the paper or within a section.

Downloading Content:

One of the best features of the Kindle is you can download content anywhere in the country as long as you have any signal on the Sprint network.  Amazon calls their network the “Whispernet” and it truly works almost anywhere.  Newspapers, blogs, magazines all update automatically whenever there is new content and you have the “connect” switch on.  Although you pay for content (see below), you do not pay for the air time and don’t have to log onto T-Mobile or any other pay site. It literally works everywhere – even in my Dad’s nursing room home in rural West Virginia.

To add content you select “Shop in Kindle Store” from the menu and have your choice of 190,000 books, 26 newspapers, 18 Magazines and 940 blogs. All newspapers, blogs and magazines have a two week free trial, and books allow you to read a section before purchasing.  Books usually sell for $9.99, newspapers $9.99 per month and blogs a dollar or two.  All cost less than their paper versions. The download time is amazing – 200 page books in a minute or two.  All payments are made through your Amazon one click settings, so you don’t waste time entering credit card numbers and billing addresses.

Underlining and writing notes on pages:

When I was CEO of Loyalty (and before kids) I read several books a month and would underline important passages, making notes in the margin of business related books.  Our receptionist would type up the notes and sections and I would share them with our senior management team and clients.  The Kindle lets you do this without the receptionist.  With a couple of clicks you can highlight sections and also type notes using the keyboard at the bottom of the Kindle.  You  can then email or print the sections from your PC.

Portability and stress relief:

The Kindle weighs just 0.6 lb; slightly more than my Blackberry which weighs 0.5 lb.  With its small width and size it is easy to fit in a briefcase or just carry with you anywhere.  So here’s how it reduces stress. Carry it with you always and you can blast through a few articles or blog posts if you are:  waiting for the person in front of you at the grocery checkout lane trying to find her coupons, checkbook, etc.; so far, flight attendants have not yet figured them out so you can read during take-off and landings; the 15 minutes the traffic police keep you waiting to give you a ticket – no problem; your best friend who is always late for breakfast, let him take his time; etc., etc., etc.  And guys, the Kindle makes it easy to take 5 newspapers to the bathroom with you.

I also found it to be highly functional in my favorite NYC restaurant (Wild Edibles,3rd & 35th) where I was able to read despite having covered the 18″‘ square table with three appetizers,  drinking a beer  with one hand a eating sushi with the other, needing only a 5X7 inch space for the Kindle and one finger to navigate. It also came in handy after shoulder surgery when it would have been impossible to handle a broadsheet traditional paper.

Value

The Kindle costs about $350 from amazon.com and I assume you can try it and return for a complete refund if you don’t like it.  They can also be found on craigslist for around $200, but not often.   Even at the full price, the payback on the difference between the paper price and the Kindle price of the NYT, WSJ and Boston Globe is less than 6 months.

Improvements

The only things I would like to see on the Kindle are an easy way to forward articles to friends and colleagues and some kind of backlight, although traditional clip on book lights can take care of this need for now.  Without a “tell a friend” button, the Kindle lacks one of the basic Web 2.0 imperatives of making it easy for consumers to share/evangelize with their friends.  Look for that in a future version.

Click Here to buy a Kindle from amazon.com and 10% of the price will be donated to Year Up

Ultima Replenisher

January 3, 2008 by chu 

To go to Amazon.com, purchase this product and have 10% of the purchase price donated to Year Up , the innovative work force development nonprofit started by Gerald Chertavian, click here:

Ultima Replenisher, Kiwi Strawberry, 90-Serving Canister

This is a very quick recommendation for a powdered “balanced electrolight drink”  I found at Baptiste Yoga.  Think of it as a better, cheaper gatoraide.  Better because it is sugar free and sweetened with the natural sweetner Stevia and is “Gluten Free, 100% non-GMO, no MSG, no caffeine, Vegan and no dairy.”  It also tastes a lot better, IMHO. Cheaper, because it costs less than $25 for a 90 serving container. You mix the drink yourself, it dissolves instantly and stays mixed for days.

Most importantly, it is by far the best thirst quencher I have ever used.  Baptiste Yoga is “hot yoga” and I found drinking this mix was the only way I could really feel hydrated after a work out.

I am sure there are interesting things you can do with this mix. The only one I have found is you can make a better, cheaper version of Red Bull by mixing it with iced green tea.  So, should we call it CHUBULL,  RED CHU, or RED UP?

ONE WARNING – I CAN ONLY ENDORSE THE KIWI-STRAWBERRY FLAVOR.  You are on you own for all others!

Year Up

January 1, 2008 by admin 

Thanks to Vanessa Kirsch and Kelly Fitzsimmons of New Profit, I met Gerald Chertavian and got involved in creating Year up in early 2001.

Year Up is the innovative workforce develop program founded by Gerald Chertavian that recruits and trains low income urban young adults for entry level technology jobs and places successful program participants in internships with America’s leading companies.

Started in July of 2001 with an inaugural class of 22 in Boston, Year Up now serves over 700 students a year in  programs in Boston, Providence, DC/The Nations Capital Region, New York City, San Fransisco and Atlanta.  Over 85% of Year up graduates are working at leading US companies including State Street, Bank of America, Fidelity, Putnam, American Express, Bain & Company, Providence Equity Partners, Digitas, and several State and Federal Government Departments.

Please visit the Year Up web site to learn more and get involved.  All Year Up students work with a mentor and mentoring is a great way to get started.

LeaseTrader.com

January 1, 2008 by admin 

For years, I always had the car combo favored by David Fialkow, among other locals – an older Porsche 994 C4 Cabriolet (911 to the layman) and a relatively new jeep for the winter.  But Michael Bronner’s passion for lowering all of our carbon footprint lead me to ditch the jeep a year ago (I kept trying to get the higway MPG above 16, but just couldn’t do it).  I tried a Lexus 400 H, but the plastic covering of the roof racks broke off under the weight of a couple of kayaks, so I it became Patty’s car.

I was interested in the BMW X3 (27 MPG highway, as fast as my Porsche and great in the snow), but felt certain that new hybrid’s and diesels would hit the dealers with 12 months and didn’t want to lock into a 2 or 3 year lease, but no-one would offer me a one year deal.  In frustration, I called BMW finance and ask if they had people trying to get out of their leases.  The very nice lady on the phone told me something like “I can’t tell you where to go, but if you Google “lease assumptions” you might find something that will help you.  Her kind advice led me to LeaseTrader.com, now one of my favorite sites.

Lease trader is a market maker that brings people trying to get out of their leases and people looking for a short term lease together.  You can search for any vehicle, any price, monthly mileage, payments, months remaining, and distance from you zip code. For free, you can find cars you are interested in, with options and pictures.   But in order to communicate with the seller, you have to be pre-approved for a lease which costs something like $45 (a great business model and very good way to qualify leads).  I found a fully loaded 2005 X3 in Sudbury for only $450 a month.  The seller had put down a big down payment on a three year lease and his wife was about to deliver twins when I found him. To give you an idea of how good a deal this is, my lease is coming to an end and I called BMW finance to ask what it would cost to extend the lease for another year or two – $800/month!  Here’s a screen shot:

Gizmodo

January 1, 2008 by admin 

One of my favorite blogs is a site called Gizmodo.  As the name implies, it covers new “gizmo’s or gadgets ranging from all new cell phones from around the world, to new PC’s to wind turbines, home PT ultra-sound machines and even the fancy toilets like the one they have at Accretive, LLC (which still scares me).

Best of all, the posts are very short and written for those of us without a degree or two from MIT.

Always worth a quick, fun read and usually where i turn first before getting into my heavier Web 2.0, politics, world events, etc. news.  I read it on my Kindle, but the pictures are much better on a computer.