Uber beautiful – is Uber creating value? I tend to believe so

Uber logo squareLast night, my Uber driver, Mohammed (from Somalia), was an absolute delight. As much as one can argue about some of the less salacious tactics of Uber, the underlying principle of Uber creates an environment for truly different experiences. I wrote about the same type of feeling when transacting on Craigslist. Wherever I bought or sold using Craigslist, the community experience was delightful.

Mohammed referred to us (Uber passengers) as beautiful people. While we’ll take the compliment, it was more interesting to hear how Mohammed, who has been an Uber driver for 8 months, described the relationship he has with Uber and his passengers. And he described the gulf between the way he felt treated by other limousine services for which he’d driven for 5 years prior and with Uber.

Since Uber takes care of us, we take care of the passengers. Uber gets that!”

It’s a case in point where employee engagement is critical in terms of customer experience.

Driver – passenger

As for the relationship with the passengers, Mohammed went on:

Perhaps, it’s because of the rating system, but I keep on meeting beautiful people.

uber beautiful two arrowsI suspect that there is also an element an early-adopter community of people who are on and using Uber. Having used Uber in five countries (out of the 58 where Uber now operates) and in over ten cities, I can say that I have had a consistently good experience. In some cities, where the taxi service is rather poor (e.g. Paris), Uber provides a radically superior service. In a city like London, where the Black Cab is exceptionally good, the premium service comes with premium conditions: in the street pickup, inside space (bigger), taxi lanes (faster) and the Knowledge (less reliance on a map).

The driver experience

As Mohammed noted above, he feels Uber treats him well. This is surely not true all around the world for Uber drivers. However, in most cities, Uber drivers talk about short waiting times and a generally good revenue. Another driver I had recently was a convert from being a bus driver. He spoke about his journey from bus driver to Uber driver and, to his great satisfaction, he is earning 3x more and working 1/2 less. Plus he knows London rather well. Another element I hear regularly cited is the benefit for drivers in not having to chase down payment… The automatic payment system avoids those times when a passenger will jump without paying or finagle on price. From a passenger standpoint, we are winners too (unless you’re among those who prefer not to pay!).

Overall, it is my belief that Uber is extending and expanding the market for personal transportation. As such it is, in all likelihood, helping de-emphasize the need for car ownership. In the big scheme of things, this is a bonus for the environment. Thanks to the suave Uber app, the user experience is superb (although the initial pin accuracy could still be improved). The communication fluidity between driver and passenger is easy and effective, doing much to create a favorably charged relationship. On top of the payment facilities, the option of identifying and rewarding great driver experiences (6th Star) reinforces the desire to go beyond the call of duty. If there remain legal questions, some questionable business tactics (against Lyft, etc) and issues with driver selection and insurance, overall, I believe Uber is creating value.

What’s been your experience with Uber (and Lyft etc)? Are you a fan or do you believe Uber is not for you?

How to Keep Hard Cow Cheese Fresh ?

Have you ever struggled to keep your hard cheese fresh? Then, here is the answer, and it comes with proof.
We did an experiment whereby we cut a wheel of Cornish Yarg (a delightful cow cheese that is wrapped in nettles) into two slices. We wrapped one slice in a cloth and put it in the fridge which was our usual way, up until now. A week later, the cheese looked as such (photo 1 below). You can see that is cracked from being too dry, although it remained as yet edible.
Old Cornish Yarg cheese
Photo 1. Cornish Yarg after a week in the fridge wrapped in blue cloth
The second slice, we put the cheese in a tupperware with a couple of cubes of sugar. This advice was given to us by the cheesemonger, Maitre de Comte, Gabriel at La Fromagerie on Moxon Street, London. And it absolutely works. You can see in Photo 2 the second slice, cut and stored at the same time as the slice in photo 1. Fresh as a daisy after a week! Not only that, but as of the writing of this post, the cheese is still as fresh three weeks on (although you have to add more cubes and occasionally rinse out the tupperware).
Cornish Yarg Cheese
Photo 2. Cornish Yarg a week later after being in a tupperware with sugar

The question is how does it work? Unfortunately, I am not exactly sure, but I thought I would provide a photo of the sugar cubes to find the clue. The cubes (white sugar in this case) dissolved and turned brown. One can assume that the sugar absorbs something (humidity?) which might otherwise render the cheese dry (how does humidity dry a cheese is a trick question, no?). Yendi’s hypothesis: the tupperware retains too much humidity (from the cheese) which is carefully extracted by the sugar!
Sugar Cubes dissolved
Photo 3: Dissolved sugar cubes that saved the Cornish Yarg

Whatever the process, the trick works. So, go ahead and put your sugar cubes to good use (rather than in your coffee or tea!) and, henceforth, place a couple in with your hard cheeses in a tupperware.
Drop in your comments if you try this and/or have any other food tips!

I love brands … at a major discount?

I Love Brands, Oxford Street, LondonI love brands… Yes, I do; but, it would seem that, especially over the span of the latest economic crisis, the “consumer” has become decidedly less enchanted with brands, per se. On the one hand, the crisis has accentuated the need for consumers (and companies) to cut back on expenses and be more budget conscious — helped by the transparency offered via price comparison sites. On the other hand, in a world of hyper-consumerism and a return to good sense and more reasonable values, consumers are also looking for greater authenticity and meaning in their purchases and their relationship with the goods and services they consume.

A study by the BBDO ad agency in May 2009, showed that 48% of people in France seek to consume more intelligently, to avoid unnecessary waste and sophistication. Staying with France, a TNS Sofres study released this summer said that 7 of every 10 French people believe that consumer product brands attempt to “deceive” them. Eight out of ten consumers in France do not trust consumer brands. But this is not unique to France–far from it. To cite just Australia, a similar study showed that the Australian consumer doesn’t feel respected by the brands. According to the TNS survey in Australia, 58% of the Australian public feels indifferent to brands. The major brands have seen the pleasure associated with the purchase act drop (from 2007 to 2008) by 7 points to 60% and the confidence barometer fall 6 points to 59%. (Source Chef d’Entreprises). Presumably, if I dug around the stats in the US, UK and other western countries, the same type of trend would be observable.

The net, net, (not to mention the ‘net) is that the consumer is no longer prepared to buy a brand blindly. The brand capital [aka equity] for brands which fail to ‘give back’ enough value and meaning are undoubtedly taking it on the chin and it will be difficult to catch back lost ground on the other side of the recession [RIP]. However, it may yet be too early to see the effects on the ‘losing’ brands in terms of sales since some portion of the failure may be masked by [overly] aggressive marketing; which would mean that looking at the net price per unit and brand profitability.

Maintaining the perceived value in the realised price is strategic to the long term survival of brands, in order to help them invest in R&D (and innovation in general), but also in the appropriate distribution channels, education and, even, in society and/or the community. A shop on Oxford Street (London), called I Love Brands, captured for me the essence of many brands today as far as the post-recession consumer is or will be concerned: I Love Brands [that have no meaning or values] Only at a Major Discount… The list of brands blaring out on this shop front window included Dior, Valentino, Bottega, Versace, Fendi…. Proof also that it is important to manage carefully one’s distribution outlet(s) to have partners in BUILDING your brands with you.

I Love Brands 70% off, Shop front, Oxford Street, London

And the bottom of the barrell, although I enjoyed the (certainly unintended) play on words, the shop had a nice little rack on the right side of the doorway on the pavement, from £20, 70% OFF:
Closing Down Sale Mens Shoes Upstairs

Men's Shoes Marked Down Upstairs, 70% off

So, what are brands to do? To start with, they need to make sure that the higher prices are justified, not just by innovation and great product performance, but superior customer service, a sense of meaning, greater values, and a healthy dose of customer listening and interactivity. But, above all, they need to regain their customer’s trust and confidence, something which seems to be cruelly missing for so many brands.

In terms of the interactive/emotional connection, I have a few good examples (credit: Branchannel) of brands investing in getting people together, to foster the community/good feeling:

Some nettle-related cheeses and great service in London

During my visits to London, I tend systematically to buy cheese, English cheese that is, to bring back home to Paris… to my French wife and family. Coals to Newcastle you might think! But, no. We happen to believe that the Brits have some of the finest cheeses going, enough to hold their own any day against the Tommes, Crottins and Bries of the world. It came as a major surprise to me that Britain’s cheese exports amount to a dismal $374 million versus $2.7 billion for France, $2.4B for Germany and $2.1B for Holland (FAO via wikipedia) … It turns out, of course, that the UK isn’t even in the top 10 cheese producers in the world either.

To name a few of the celebrated cheese halls I tend to visit in London, there is Selfridge’s, Harrods and Whole Foods on Kensington High Street, testament enough that there is definitely a good cheese culture in England. However, I have two special addresses to share with you:

La Fromagerie on Moxon Street (London W1U 4EW; tel: +44 20 7935 0341), which remains my absolute favourite cheese shop in London. Here I picked up my usual suspects (CORNISH YARG and STICHELTON, a sumptuous Stiltonesque cheese from unpasteurised milk). And, along the way, I picked up some great advice on how to store your hard cheeses from the resident Maître de Comte, Gabriel: put the cheese, unwrapped, in a tupperware with a couple of cubes of sugar. You can store the cheese as such in the fridge for a couple of months. Merci Monsieur Gabriel.

And, at the South Kensington tube station, there is La Cave à Fromage (24-25 Cromwell Place, London SW7 2LD; tel: +44 845 10 88 222). Aside from the fact that the owner went beyond the call of duty to get me a reservation and a glass of champagne at a restaurant, late on a packed Thursday evening (thanks!), I also picked up a glorious MAY HILL GREEN cheese with its nettle coated rind, and sister cheese of the famed Stinking Bishop (BTW, the link sends you to cookipedia which has 21K+ pages of recipes, ingredients, etc.).

So a couple of nettle-related cheeses to recommend when you next go shopping in London, from fromage shops that provide service a slice above!

UK parking wardens equiped with camera to take offensive photos…

Parking Ticket on Car in EnglandWhen I was in London recently, I observed a lady parking warden walk up to a street sign and snap some close up photographs.  It was a curious sight, as I initially imagined that it might be a cross between curiosity and tourism.  Then, she went some five or so metres back and started taking photographs of workers climbing off the back of a lorry, parked off of Oxford Street. I went up to her to ask what she was doing and she replied that the new policy was to document with time-stamped photographs the infractions, at the same time as handing out a parking ticket.  The parking warden looks like a techy geek these days carrying a handheld machine for registering and printing out the offense, as well as a digital camera hanging around the neck.
Lego Digital Camera
I would have to believe that the responsible lorry driver would be less “flippant” about tearing up any parking tickets as a result of the patent proof.

In any event, I would have to believe this is a best practice for parking wardens around the world… Not sure how city governments and their parking wardens share any such “best practices,” but this blog post could mark a beginning!

QYPE – A worldly social media site to search for things to do and see

Qype Find It Share It Restaurant Review
If you are searching for a good site to figure out where to go or what to do in any number of cities around the world, you might want to try QYPE.CO.UK. Based out of Hamburg, Germany, this social site offers a vast range of services well beyond just where to eat (restaurants) and drink. The other services (read: tabs) include Health & Beauty (find a spa or hairdresser), Arts & Entertainment, Sports, Shopping, Events, and a whole bunch of “other” such as cemeteries to visit and how to take care of your pets.

To suit your fancy, you can customize your favourite tabs. Areas that I found of particular use: Tennis in Paris (although I’d rather if I could just find “good tennis partners”) and Babysitters (in Paris). In terms of search functionality, the search bar is effective; but, I also liked the point & click on a map search function. Also, if you have an iPhone you can also download their free Qype Radar application.

Areas of improvement for Qype 2.0: (1) make it easier to find out how to post a review….; (2) getting over the language hump — in a perfect world, some google translator would be working transparently behind the scenes; (3) the tagging — for example, if you go to the area marked “Children” there is very little. But if you go to “Events,” you will find an area called “Kids Activities” which should also be under the rubric Children. Presumably, this is incumbent on the reviewers and social posters.

The QYPE’s top countries (per its own selection) are:

Also check out: restaurants london & pubs london.

For myself, I signed up and have put in a few reviews to see how it goes. Not too shabby. The functionality is all rather simple. To date, my friends are basically Qype employees, but I have launched myself into it and we’ll see how many show up for the gig. As with all these social sites, gaining critical mass is the heart of the matter. And then comes the famous tipping point. Qype does not seem to be there yet…

If you are asking why is it called QYPE? Here is what their site says: “Simply put, Qype is the quick, cool way to find and discover places based on the reviews and recommendations of thousands of people.” Qype is less about hype and more about another social media site with a useful function. It now has a sufficiently good (and growing) database and is worth the visit.

Velib in Paris – Wheels are coming off…

The wheels are coming off the track for the Vélib bicycle programme in Paris, a subject I have been following since its inception. According to this BBC write-up (taken in turn from Le Parisien), the Parisians seem to have taken a little too much liberty with the vélo liberté…
Velib Bicycle in Paris
It seems that, after 18 months, the verdict is that the Vélib system in Paris simply does not function. The city of Paris has had to indemnify JCDecaux for the damage and disappearance of so many bicycles. In fact, 19,600 out of 20,000 bicycles have had to be replaced or repaired, with nearly 8,000 of them having disappeared (into Eastern Europe and Africa). The replacement value of each bike is 400 euros, not cheap, eh? And, then there is the Vélib Extrême / Freeride trend which has popped up on YouTube.

What a poor statement. The youtube site dislaims: “none of the vélibs in this film were mistreated…” Appropriately, the accompanying music is Highway to Hell. Why has the criminal underworld descended on Paris? How many Parisians are responsible themselves? How is it that the similar programmes work so much better in other cities? And, importantly, for cities wanting to replicate the Parisian system (London, San Francisco…), how can such base vandalism be avoided?

Finding a CRM Voice – The Right Values, Meaning & Frequency

Customizing your Real Message & Finding a CRM Voice?

As I mentioned in the prior post, I believe that the consumer world is in the midst of a true paradigm shift. In these dire economic times, there is a huge likelihood that the ongoing increase in the share of time and mind of the Internet is going to accelerate. The consumer will turn to the Internet even more because it offers useful new tools and services that cater specifically to the needs of people living in harder times. (Read here for more about why the crisis will push up Internet use).

The question now becomes how brands and companies want to take advantage of this. What posture will companies take to reach out to the consumer who is decidedly cautious, if not nervous about his or her future? The company that speaks to me in a way that makes sense is a good starting point. For example, if a company (ex Harrods) checks out my dopplr and see that I am going to travel to London on such and such a date, then drops me a pertinent offer for that date, would that not be a great idea? The chances are that I would be more than willing to view their mail (if they only they could make their creative a little more classy, too).

CRM Graphic Description

There has been much written about CRM (for basics, see marketingteacher.com), as in Customer Relationship Management. But, except for a couple of rare exceptions, I as a consumer have not been “feeling the love” from any particular brand or companies. It is not like I am not present on the Internet, or do not own any loyalty cards, or do not shop frequently at certain stores. There is certainly plenty of data on me out there to mine. At this point, for most companies, the mining has been, at best, superficial. There are some companies who have cottoned on to the idea of email campaigns as a cheap way to bolster traffic — to the web site if not the store. But that’s about it. But, I am looking for more. Companies need to tap into the data (which I volunteer) and capture my attention by knowing more about who I am.

Once companies have mastered dynamic customer knowledge (i.e. created a way to keep an up to date database), the question will then become to what extent (quantity and quality) the brand is communicating with its customers? There is a real risk that a deluge of irrelevant email campaigns will completely shut down the effectiveness of the email channel — broadening the definition of spam, increasing people’s intolerance to emails and making them opt out systematically or just delete with increasing revulsion on reception. If the average rate of opening an email drops down below the 2% level — a barometer for so many formerly traditional media campaigns — you may end up pissing more customers off in the process. While companies are still saving on the postal cost and on the CO2 with emails, they will be shooting themselves in the foot if they overdo it.

There is a golden opportunity to use the ‘net as a marketing tool. There are two important points. First, don’t abuse the opportunity out of laziness. Pouring out unpersonalized, non-customized emails is not the right answer; like cutting down rainforests, it is a very short-sighted approach. Second, mind the data (think “Mind the Gap” as they say in London’s tube stations). What is needed is to craft meaningful messages (in line with the brand’s values), with a customization that reflects some of the unique elements of the receiver.

Customize with Ease CRM

This all leads me to the main point: Brands endeavouring on CRM programs need to reflect carefully to find their CRM VOICE. There are three core ingredients to creating a CRM Voice. (1) A CRM Voice first means being getting in touch with the brand’s DNA, its core values. How is each communication refurbishing the identity of the brand and reinforcing the customer’s affinity with the brand. (2) It means knowing how to create messages that are relevant to the brand and to the receiving client. Does the brand have an interest in me? Does it know me (without the overtones of Big Brother). Does it know how to surprise me? To wow me? (3) Finally, it means getting the frequency right, knowing how often that person needs or wants to be contacted — including all the different channels of communication (TV included). A well-adapted, customized message becomes part of a well-oiled service.

LoveMarks Graph

In summary, brands need to find their CRM Voice: a Customized Real Message that is aligned with the brand’s core values. Brands that are high in love (lovemarks *****) and respect have a potentially greater starting point. But, every customer is looking for meaning and, in today’s difficult economic times, they will be more than likely spending more time online. I will be keen to see which brands or companies come through this vortex smelling like roses — for the times they are a changing, and I believe a paradigm shift is well underway. Which companies are going to capitalize intelligently on the accelerated shift in time on online that is bound to accompany this worldwide crisis? If you do what you always did, you may no longer get what you always got.

Tottenham HotSpurs draw with Arsenal in fabulous 4-4 draw

A set of midweek games last night cannot be overshadowed by the Phillies victory in the World Series 2008. My Liverpool Reds continued their great progress this season with a 1-0 win over Portsmouth courtesy of a Gerrard spot kick. But the match of the night was the London derby between #3 Arsenal and ragtag bottom of the barrel Tottenham Hotspursat Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium.

With an unlikely 1-1 score at the half, Arsenal went ahead 2-1 to open the second half. Then there were three goals in the space of four minutes, with the Gunners still coming out trumps at 4-2. The game was wrapping up when Spurs pulled one back in the 89th minute. Arsenal had an injury-time booking and then in the 94th, last gasp, Spurs scored the equalizer via substitute Aaron Lennon. A resounding 4-4 thriller, even if a draw. And quite a startling start for new Spurs manager, Harry Redknapp.