Friday, February 21, 2014

Hydro Flask

I received the Picaroon's branded Hydro Flask Growler for Christmas this year. 

Hydro Flask with broken capI've been extremely happy with the flask and it has performed as well as advertised. The sweet nectar-of-the-gods brew from Picaroons is kept appropriately cold (when left on the counter) or warm (when packed in a bag for a snowshoe adventure). I've actually been really surprised how well this thing insulates.

I was saddened to find, after my recent filling at the brew store, that the cap of the flask had broken. (see pic). Not a catastrophic break, and I could certainly have kept using it, but annoying none the less.

However, I remembered that the flask has a lifetime warranty.

Now, a lot of companies claim all kinds of warranties but I remembered this one specifically from when I got the flask since it had high claims. 

I submitted the warranty claim online in a simple web form. They didn't ask for any supporting evidence, I didn't need to call and talk to a support line, I don't need to send back my flask for analysis (they specifically don't want you to send it). 

Within 20 minutes I received a reply from the support line. I think it was actually a written response (given the typo), not an automated one. 

That is a quick turn around on a Friday evening!

I'll wait and see how quickly the cap is actually sent but so far I'm impressed by the responsiveness of this company. Their flasks aren't cheap but they are certainly high quality and if they back them up this well then I think they are well worth the price and deliver real value.

Cheers to the Hydro Flask folks for good service.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Nice touch Todoist

Customer engagement letter from Todoist
Customer engagement email from Todoist
In my never ending struggle to find better ways of prioritizing and scheduling my life I came upon Todoist. The product/service seems like a pretty good todo list and task organizing software. It has some nice bells and whistles and good cross platform support. Whether or not I actually keep using the product remains to be seen (I'll post my experience on at some point in the future).

What has immediately impressed me is their customer engagement strategy. While, their general marketing, social media presence and website design are nice, that's almost a given these days. Their personal touch is what impressed me.

Soon after shelling out a meager $30 for the year's service (seems too cheap to keep trying the limited trial) I received a nice personalized message from them. Yes, this is an automated message. I know that. But, it is well timed, well written and makes me feel important as a customer.

I need to find a good way to integrate this feeling into my own business.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

SiriusXM Half Price

SiriusXM price increase letter
Impending Price Increase for SiriusXM
I recently received an email from SiriusXM stating that there was a fee increase taking affect this year.

Since I do a lot of driving for work, I do enjoy the XM service. However, given that there are great podcasts available for free with similar content, and I enjoy public radio, the cost has always been a little hard to swallow.

The fee increase to $175 + tax was too much. I decided that I would cancel my service.

When I called their customer service line for the cancellation I was immediately offered a half price discount.

This type of tactic is troubling to me, as a consumer. I should not have to threaten cancellation to get a better price that is available.

The fact that they can, without skipping a beat, offer me half the cost tells me something about their fee structure. I wonder if I could have done even better if I had relented a little more?

I'd like to say that I held to my principles and continued with my cancellation but their tactic obviously worked. I'm still a customer, for another year...

Friday, July 27, 2012

Sunny days and good service

It was early in the morning on a Friday. Myself and two of my sailing mates were getting ready to depart for the trip down to Saint JohnI was planning a cruise into the Bay of Fundy the next day. Unfortunately my boat had other plans. Around 100m off of the wharf I discovered that a large amount of water was coming into the boat. My exhaust system had let go.

This problem could have spelled the end of my weekend on the water. Although it did change my plans somewhat, thanks to a couple of helpful local companies I was back on the water the following day. 

Company #1 was Oromocto Plumbing & Heating. They were my supplier of all of the brass fittings that I needed to repair my boat. However, they didn't have the facilities to build the injection pipe that I also needed. The wonderful woman that worked at the store knew that they couldn't do the job but she insisted on calling every metal working company in Oromocto that might be able to help. She must have made a dozen calls before she happened on J&P Auto. She could have just as easily sent us off on our own but instead she went above and beyond. 

Company #2 was J & P Auto Repair. At 4:00pm, on a sunny Friday afternoon, I fully expected to be told that I would have to wait until Monday. Instead, these guys not only latched onto my project as a challenge but also stayed until 1/2 hour after closing to finish the job. They charged a very low price and did excellent work.  

Companies that provide this type of service deserve huge credit. Thanks to their efforts I was able to finish my repair and get back on the water the next day. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Mapping my mind with XMind

Mind mapping software is on my mind. 

I've always really liked the idea of Mind Mapping software. I like the idea of capturing ideas in an unrestricted way. Too many software packages force you to conform to the working style and thinking style of their vision.  The reality is that nobody shares exactly the same way of thinking.

The premise of Mind Mapping software is that it is free form and adapts to the user's mind, instead of the other way around. Obviously this is a little Utopian since every software has some sort of constraints but the goal is a good one. 

I've experimented briefly with various vendor's mind mapping software but they never really clicked with me. I think part of my problem has been my reluctance to purchase a piece of software (most aren't cheap) without trying it first. Most of the demos that are offered, by the major brands, are not full functioned and so you don't get a good feeling for what the software is capable of in a real life scenario. You end up not using the demo and then losing interest.

Recently I re-stumbled on XMind. It is an open source mind mapping software that has come a long way recently. It is essentially free software. You only pay if you want to use the collaboration or custom theme functionality.  I haven't found a need for either.

I have been working on a medium length project for the last 2 months that I thought would be a good test bed for the software. I have been immensely happy with the results.

I have been using XMind as the central repository for all information about the project. This includes all technical data, project management information, email references and my own conceptual thinking.

The product is very intuitive to use and has a very easy learning curve. Not only that, most functions are available through keyboard shortcuts so navigation and map creation is fast and easy. 

I have found that by using a combination of internal notes and linked documents I can keep everything organized in a way that makes it easy to keep track of the information and relate disparate data. 

I didn't think that I would use the "marker" functionality (icons) because they look a little clunky but I have actually found that they are invaluable. They give me a quick reference for the statuses of different parts of the project and let me mark risk items so they don't get forgotten.

One functionality that I have found clunky with XMind is attaching or linking to files. Intuitively I want to be able to drag and drop files into my mind map. Unfortunately this can only be done in XMind by navigating a file menu. I hope that functionality is on the short track for inclusion because it would make life much easier. 

The notes functionality is also a little clunky and would be well served to have an improved editor or integration with Word as an editor. 

I am sold on XMind and I am going to continue to use it for all of my information management needs. It is my replacement for Evernote, which I have recently uninstalled.

Have you tried a mind mapping software? What did you like or dislike about it? Do you still use it? Comment below.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Give an accurate ETA

Accurate ETAs help your customers manage their busy schedules. They will appreciate you for it.

Image: photostock /

Whether you are delivering a critical component in a just-in-time manufacturing process, you are providing a business process analysis report, or you are cutting a lawn for a customer, your customers need to have an ETA that is accurate.

The interesting thing about an ETA is that it isn't nearly as important to the person giving it. The ETA is primarily important to the person receiving it. It is easy to think that your particular task isn't important enough for a solid time commitment. That is a mistake.

Take the example of a lawn keeper. Is it really important that the customer know specifically when their lawn is going to be trimmed. Most times, probably not. But what if the customer is planning an outdoor wedding and needs to have your task completed in time for the setup to happen? It is your customer's priorities that determine the importance of the task.

When you are giving an ETA, be realistic or even pessimistic. There are few things that annoy customers more than being late for a deadline. Even if the deadline isn't important to them, it will still be irritating. Setting a deadline with the expectation of pushing it back is setting yourself up for failure.

Ask your customer how important the task is to them. It will help you prioritize the task in your schedule and might change your delivery date.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Is it Evernote or Nevernote?

Evernote, like the elephants that their logo is based on, is great at remembering things. Unfortunately, I use elephants as a reference just as often...
Image: YaiSirichai /
I really like the idea of Evernote. A single place to put all of the notes, pictures, websites, and everything else in your life. What could be better?

I've "used" Evernote for approximately 3 years now. I faithfully clip items and store them in the software, I save webpages, I take pictures of things I might want to reference. I also downloaded the iPhone App and snap pictures on the go into it.

I do all of the things that Evernote is supposed to be good for, except one. I don't actually reference any of that material, ever. 

Why not? Well, I've discovered a few things about the product.

  • It is great at searching, but poor at displaying results.
I find trying to find specific items in the Evernote annoying. Results are cluttered and hard to quickly scan for the right result.
  • It isn't good at showing relationships
A lot of information that I store is only useful if the relationships can be quickly seen between the individual bits. Evernote pukes out all of the bits without any of the context that makes them useful.
  • It isn't great at taking or manipulating screenshots.
The Evernote screenshot utility borderlines on useless compared to other tools. I have completely switched to Screenpresso for taking and manipulating screenshots. (That is a great utility by the way.) It integrates into Evernote as well.
  • It doesn't organize thoughts well.
I am a recent convert to XMind (mindmapping software) as a way to gather thoughts. I find that my mind works in a [loosely] structured way. Searching for my thoughts proves difficult in Evernote. Perusing for my thoughts in XMind is much more intuitive.
  • Information gets stale.
At first I liked the idea of saving websites for future reference. But, I quickly realized that most of the information on websites is organic and continues to be updated and improved. In most cases the information that I want will either still be available online or a better version will be available next time I want it. 

So what are the alternatives?
I use XMind for gathering thoughts, project information and design ideas, I use Screenpresso for taking screenshots, and I use the original sites for web content. Anything else can live in email, browser links, or documents. 

I'd say that I'm switching to these alternatives but the truth is that I never really switched to Evernote in the first place. It is the equivalent to the pile of paper on my desk that will never get organized or used in any meaningful way. Maybe I should recycle that stuff too...

Question: Are you an Evernote fan? Give me your positive or negatives feelings about Evernote below?