The Power of a Smile…

Have you ever noticed that a smile from someone can just make your day?

When I was a phone operator at Nordstrom (I’ve had almost every job at Nordstrom), we used to talk about having a smile in your voice when you answered the phone. Have you ever noticed how much more approachable a friendly voice is rather than a grumpy tone? I personally want to talk to a happy person, don’t you? 

When I was a young manager at Nordstrom, I would walk the floor every morning and consider how to reorganize the floor to increase sales, merchandizing based on the day, the weather or hot products, etc. One day my store manager walked up to me and said, “what’s wrong?” I was surprised… and she said, “you look angry.” I was not angry, just focused. I realized when I concentrate, when I’m focused, I don’t always smile because I’m thinking about things. It was a lesson learned for me and a reminder of the importance of smiling. 

In our business, as a consultant, our clients are looking to us to give them the ideas and the energy to change. To preserve through difficult transitions, to be open minded about new approaches and new opportunities. No matter how compelling your argument, no matter how sound your reasons, absolutely nothing starts a conversation off better than a smile. So even when you’re busy, even when you’re concentrating and especially when you’re with a client, remember to smile. 

Have a smile on your face, a smile in your voice and use your smile to brighten someone’s day. 

Let’s go be great!

Email Etiquette

While I was at Microsoft, I participated on a committee chaired by Kevin Johnson (who at the time was leading Worldwide Sales, Marketing and Services). As most of you know, Kevin Johnson is now the CEO of Starbucks. Our committee worked for several months to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Microsoft’s account teams. The principal goal was to return time back to the field sales force so that we could spend more time with our customers and partners.

At the time, on average, only 1/3 of the field’s time was being spent with customers and partner – the remainder was internally focused. Over the course of the project, we examined communication habits, meeting structure, the resource request process and the systems and tools that supported the account teams. We came out with a broad list of recommendations to produce an end-to-end approach to increasing the time available to spend with customers and partners.

We need to continually improve our communication habits – This week I wanted to share the recommendations we made for improving email efficiency. Next week I’ll share the recommendations for meeting structure and etiquette.

Guidelines for E-mail at Tahzoo:
• Keep the message simple, clear, and concise.
• When sending e-mail, only include those involved in the discussion or decision and include them on the “To” line (not the “Cc” line).
• Use to “To” line if you are assigning action to the recipient.
• Use the “Cc” line if no action is required from the recipient (equivalent to the “Subject” line designation “FYI-Reference”).
• Use the appropriate e-mail subject line designation when sending e-mail to increase recipient efficiency in processing e-mail, set expectations and establish consistency across e-mail messages.
• Ensure that action items are clearly identified by using bold or colored type.
• When replying to e-mail, only reply to those involved in the discussion or decision.
• Limit the use of “Reply to All” to those individuals who need to act upon, implement or be informed about the discussion or decision.
• When forwarding e-mail, revise the “Subject” line by using appropriate subject line designations.
• When forwarding a long thread, use the appropriate subject line designation and include an executive summary.

Per my DOB from last week, just a quick update… No follow up from Uber. Not that I expected one, but thought I’d just mention it.

Let’s go be great,

Showing That You Care

Saturday evening, I was traveling home in an Uber after a long day. I was tired and ready for a good night’s rest. My best friend had given a podcast on meditation, mostly related to the mind-body connection. The two hosts had those dreamy, serene voices that you’d expect when talking about meditation. Although tired, I was in a peaceful state, and I might add, the weather was fantastic. The windows were rolled down and the warm air added to the sensation of Spring… it was great.

For some reason I looked up – maybe the mind-body connection was at work, maybe I was in such a peaceful state that I could sense something was wrong, or it could have just been serendipity. A car in the far-right lane swept in front of us as she tried to make a U-turn across four lanes of traffic. We had no chance.

We broadsided her car (a Volkswagen Jetta) at full speed. My driver had just a moment to angle our car, a full sized Suburban, so that we didn’t strike the driver side door head on. Most of the impact was just behind the front wheel. Out of my peaceful state, everything went flying – my cell phone bag and headphones. Because I looked up, I was able to put my hands up and brace for impact. Needless to say, it was a serious accident, fortunately no one was grievously hurt, just a lot of cuts, bruises, and soreness.

The Jetta was totaled, and as you would expect the Suburban was damaged but will likely see the road again. My Uber driver was amazingly professional, he checked on me to ensure that wasn’t seriously injured and then attended to the driver and passengers in the other car. I wasn’t long before a fleet of police cars and fire engines arrived; there was a bunch of fluid leaking out of one of the cars. After providing my information and report to the police, I was allowed to leave the scene. As I left, the police were giving a sobriety exam to the driver of the Jetta. I don’t know for certain, but I think she was either drunk or a least very affected.

I was a couple of blocks away from home, so I decided to walk the rest of the way. I figured after being shaken up, a walk would do me some good. I was reflecting on the fact that sometimes life has a way of interrupting – in spite of my mindful state, the world had grabbed my attention. In some stroke of irony, because I was so relaxed and connected, I was able to absorb the impact without significant injury. I’ll say that I had a moment of gratitude that my friend had recommended the podcast. By the time I got home, I began to think about how odd it was that the Uber driver had just “stopped” my trip and that if I hadn’t been so close to home I would have had to call for another Uber. I went to bed with a large glass of wine and some Advil.

When I arose the next morning, I expect to see an email from Uber, but nothing. I went to the app on my phone and the first thing was a prompt asking me to rate my driver. I thought, ‘Well, he did a great job, but what about the fact that we were in an accident?’ It took me awhile, but I figured out how to report that I was in an accident. Again, how weird they were expecting me to provide details including a picture of the cars (this was a mandatory field in the application, what if I hadn’t taken a picture?) I was sent an email from support notifying me that they “corrected” my fare with a refund. I appreciate the refund, I suppose – but I wasn’t looking for a refund. Seemed to me that someone should know that I was in an accident. That was it, the fare “corrected” email – was the last correspondence I had from Uber.

At Nordstrom, we used to talk a lot about service recovery and how to take care of customers when something went awry. This was our moment our moment to shine, to make it right, and to give our customers a story to tell about how Nordstrom cared and solved a big problem. You’ve heard the stories and they are true, someone did return a pair of tires to the Alaska store. Where was Uber in all of this, I thought. I am a good customer and yet they couldn’t figure out a way to check in and show they cared? You’d think the Uber driver’s application would have some notification that would call for another car to get you home and set up a series of emails or messages to see if you’re ok and let you know they cared.

There is no doubt this would have to be done carefully as there are legal considerations, but any legitimate legal team and PR firm could figure this out. What a missed opportunity for Uber to give me a story to tell about what a great company they are, and how they took care of me in an unfortunate circumstance. But sadly, I think the lack of any interaction belies the corporate ethos.

The driver, however, was my hero. My earbud case and one of my earbuds flew out the window during the accident. He and I both looked before I left but I assumed they were gone, run over or just lost. My driver kept looking and eventually found them and returned them to me. On top of that, he sent several text messages to make sure I was ok. If there is a rating higher than five stars, he deserves it.

Things go wrong, life happens, mistakes get made – you can’t always prevent them but you can always show your customers that you care.

Let’s go be great!

What Bothers You?

What bothers you…? When I first started at Microsoft, I took over for a guy named Chris. He was very effective and efficient in his work. In an environment where everyone had too much to do and was always running from one thing to the next, Chris had a calm about him. At the end of the year right before the review cycle, there was an endless string of kudos that he would share highlighting the accomplishments of his team and himself. I was often amazed at how much he got done even though he didn’t seem to work as hard as everyone else.

I asked Chris what his secret was. He said plainly, that every time he had a fire drill he took the time to write down what happened and then he created a system to make sure he never had to deal with that fire drill again. For example, back in those days, there were a lot of data requests from Redmond about PC shipments in our territories, or licenses sales by software resellers. Chris created a list from IDC, Gartner and several other analysts about PC shipments in his territory, when the request came through he already had the data – responding was a snap.

In the classic book The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker, (if you’d like a copy, let me know), Drucker points out that the role of the executive is to identify issues and create solutions that eliminate or mitigate those issues permanently. He goes on to say that there are very few new problems, most are a repeat of an unaddressed issue. An “effective executive” designs solutions to these problems so that the organization can manage them efficiently. It’s a simple concept – what is an example of a problem that you deal with on a consistent basis? Design a solution so that it’s never a fire drill for you again.

At Nordstrom, for example, the return policy was an organizational solution to resolve most any customer satisfaction issue – we’d just give the customer their money back. It’s a pretty simple solution to a huge number of problems… think about how much good will that earned the company, but also consider how much time and energy it saved the employees so they could take care of more customers. Have you ever been waiting in line while someone was making a return and been frustrated because it was taking too long? The cashier had to call the manager over, get an approval, fill out a form, all the while you just want to pay for your things and leave.

I’ll be sending out a survey to the company next week. I want each of you to identify one personal fire drill you could eliminate by being prepared, and one repeating corporate problem for which you’d like to see a solution. During your monthly one on one with your manager, discuss a consistent problem or fire drill and work out a solution. From the list of corporate issues, I am going to pick out a handful of issues and then we’ll convene working groups to resolve those concerns permanently. We don’t have to build Rome in a day or fix issues overnight, but we can make a difference every day with some good habits.

Let’s go be great!

Guiding Principles

I had a nice visit to the Richmond office this week. As Dara said, it’s going to be “Richmond hipster”, replete with a huge mural along the main wall.

As we were moving various items into the new office, I came across a whiteboard that had advice written for new employees. It got me to thinking about the difference between our values and operating principles.

Think of our values as guiding strategic vision and operating principles as guidance for day to day activities. As we are re-engineering the company for this next wave of growth, I plan to spend more time defining the operating principles to help the decision making within the company.

This list is a good start and came from a series of conversations I had with Travis about the onboarding process.

• There are challenges and opportunities for Tahzoo – do you have the right people involved to help you?

• We are a geographically dispersed company and collaboration can be difficult; have you explored Tahzoo Connect and Learning Exchange to stay up to speed?

• Stay focused on our market; always remember we are a premium shop.

• This is central to our success as a company and core commitment to clients.

• Change is inevitable as we grow, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

• When things aren’t going right, don’t suffer in silence, get everyone involved to create a win.

The sub-bullets provide a little more color to the principles. Take this guidance to work with you on Monday and keep this in mind as you make decisions about our business.

On a closing note, thank you to Kevin Parker and his two sons, as well as Sam M, Dara, Eddie, Olme and Gabi for moving the offices.



We are only gated by our ambition. I was chatting the other day about my heroes and what I found so remarkable about them. I was recounting the first time I met Richard Branson, and what amazed me most was the way he thinks in terms of “Why not?”.

The guy realizes that airplane travel is terrible and that people want a fun and premium experience – next thing you know, he buys two used Boeing 747s and starts Virgin Atlantic. Which by the way, in my humble opinion, is the best transatlantic airline. Why can’t we have an airplane that flies from London to Sydney in a couple of hours, while as a passenger you get a chance to orbit in space? Boom… next thing you know, he starts Virgin Galactic.

Look at Elon Musk, Bill Gates or Steve Jobs – they all had a vision – they saw it and most importantly, they went for it. You might say, ‘Well easy for them, they all started multi-billion dollar companies and have been wildly successful.’ There is no doubt they had the vision, picked great markets and were in the right place at the right time – most critically, they did something about it. Success isn’t born of good luck, it’s born of hard work and ambition.

I saw this quote by Ijeoma Umebinyuo, a Nigerian author:

“Start now. Start where you are. Start with fear. Start with pain. Start with doubt. Start with hands shaking. Start with voice trembling but start. Start and don’t stop. Start where you are, with what you have. Just… start.”

We have so many good things happening at Tahzoo right now. We got started, and there’s more to start… let’s go!

Let’s go be great,

What I Learned From My Best Customer

I want to tell you a story about one of my best customers, Gene. As a young account rep at Microsoft, I was tasked with managing the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). For some context: At that time USDA had 29 sub-agencies, over 100,000 employees and an IT budget of well over $1.5B. The organization, the mission, and the politics of the agency were so complex that I didn’t even know where to start. It turns out that even in a place as complex as USDA, there are a surprisingly limited number of people who actually have most of the influence and make a majority of the decisions.

Like most people I suppose, I looked at the organizational chart and set a meeting with the Chief Information Officer for all of USDA. We had a nice meeting… she was very friendly and appreciative to hear what Microsoft had to say, unexpectedly for me, she asked me a lot more questions about what was happening within USDA then I was able to ask of her. Like most executives, she wanted to know what was happening in the field and she recognized that she only received very filtered information. All and all, it was a great meeting that got me nowhere.

I quickly realized that the org chart and the real power structure within an organization were not the same thing. Eventually, I found my way to Gene. He was located in Davis, California – about as far away from the DC headquarters as you could get. He worked in a small regional office and had a relatively unassuming title. There is a long and very interesting story about how I found Gene that I am happy to share in person, if you’d like to know. Turns out Gene started at USDA when he was 17 years old and had been there for more than 40 years. He was someone who not only believed in the mission of USDA but had lived it most of his life.

In my first meeting with Gene, I passionately sold the value of Microsoft Software with all the features and benefits. He was patient, asked a few questions and politely allowed me to finish my presentation and then asked me to lunch. At lunch, he explained to me that he didn’t really care about all the features or benefits, what he cared about was how our software could impact the mission of USDA. He wanted to know if I even knew the mission of USDA. Without elaborating too much, he made it pretty clear that he saw vendors every week and all of them spent too much time talking about their product instead of talking about how they could improve USDA. He woke up every day thinking about how to make USDA a better agency, and he wanted partners to achieve that goal.

Over the years Gene and I became good friends; he was a second father in many ways. We did a lot of business together and I am very proud of the positive impact we had on USDA. What I learned from Gene was that his organizational power wasn’t a byproduct of his position on the org chart, it was that for almost 50 years when he finally retired, he made a difference every day. So when he spoke or made a recommendation everyone listened. It was his fidelity to the organization that was the source of his influence and power. Secondly, he taught me that my job wasn’t to do product demos or send feature benefit spec sheets, it was to understand how my products could solve problems and improve his agency.

Now when I engage with our clients I look for people who care deeply about their company and their mission. I want to get to know those people because they are the ones who make it happen – they are the ones who I can partner with to make a difference because making a difference is what they do every day. We are a customer experience agency; our business is about making our client’s customers a little bit happier every day. Go find the “Gene” in your account, learn everything you can about your client’s business and start making a difference.

Let’s go be great!


With the Super Bowl this weekend and with our 2018 plans, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about winning as a team. So much of our culture is based on the idea of personal achievement – ‘What’s in it for me? What’s my opportunity? How do I get rich and famous?’ and so forth. Ironically, much of what we appreciate is the group effort: The ensemble cast on our favorite show, our favorite sports team or favorite band. Remember at the anniversary party when Dave shared the video of him winning his first Formula One race? While Dave was driving the car, it took an entire team of people to win that race.

We’re all about helping our clients provide a better customer experience. To do that, it takes a wide range of expertise and a diverse team working in harmony to deliver the results our clients expect from Tahzoo. Our new plan is designed to reward high functioning teams, not individuals. We either win together or we lose together. While some of you may worry about not having the control you want… (What happens if a particular group does a poor job on project?’) As a member of the team, it’s your job and everyone’s job to support one another in service of our clients. You don’t need a title or position of power to effect change or improve the performance of the team.

Leadership is about recognizing challenges and opportunities and then having the courage to effect change. Don’t be the person who sees it and says, ‘That’s someone else’s job’. Take a chance and make it better. I’ll assume most of you will watch the Super Bowl this weekend; remember those teams are playing this week because they had the teamwork, the talent and the willingness to hold one another accountable. I want the same for Tahzoo – we all want to be part of a winning team.

Let’s go be great!

Cinematic Design

We just wrapped up a day of video shooting for the new Tahzoo website and internal training. By all accounts, it was a very well-orchestrated and produced event, special thanks to Don Low and Bryan Fitch. It seemed a fitting conclusion to the week and in advance of my Desk of Brad this week, as I am writing about Cinematic Design. Our Experience Design Practice is grounded in a cinematic approach. It’s an approach that is unique to Tahzoo and separates us from all of the design firms that we compete with on a regular basis.

I am sure you’re asking, ‘What is Cinematic Design?’. It’s a philosophy, a methodology and a series of techniques to guide the consumption of content. Just as a great movie director frames a shot so that you know where to look when you’re watching the movie, cinematic design is about shaping the navigation and presentation of content so that you automatically know what to do. It’s about ‘less is more’, it’s about centering your eye on the content, and making the next step in the process obvious. It’s thinking more about the personalized experience and less about making every option available.

In contrast to the current approach to UX in which every navigational choice is made possible, cinematic design is about creating individual journeys through content, applying contextual awareness and the form factor in mind. Think of it as curated navigation – storytelling in a visual context. When the page opens, or the application loads on your phone, where should your eye go first? How will you know what to do next?

There is a great book called “The Design of Everyday Things” by Don Norman. It’s a fantastic read on how great design is not only aesthetically pleasing but it also informs you about how to operate a device. Think of the fixtures in a shower – it should look great, but you should also be able to easily figure out how to create the right temperature. As someone who has stayed in a lot of different hotels, there is nothing more frustrating than having to figure out how to make the shower work. A website is no different – the design and the operation of the site should be elegant.

In our case, we are tailoring an experience for each person. With dynamic navigation and menuing, cinematic design becomes even more important. We have to create ways of exploring content that are particularly pleasing and relevant. Many of the concepts developed over the last hundred years of filmmaking apply rather nicely to design approach.

There’s a great video entitled, “David Fincher Hijacks Your Eyes”. Please take a moment to watch the video… You’ll really enjoy it and in turn, hopefully, have a better understanding of why some filmmakers give you the feeling of being in the scene and not just a spectator of the big screen – watch it here. Our approach to Cinematic design follows similar precepts; we create immersive digital experiences through visual storytelling. Even if you’re just on the site to order coffee, you should feel in the moment as the story and the experience is personally directed towards you. Over the next few weeks, Don and Bryan will be presenting our approach in more detail.

Let’s go be great!

Looking Glass

What is the problem that Tahzoo is trying to solve? We want to implement technology that enhances the human experience. All too often in marketing, the one size fits all approach brings depersonalized experiences, stealing brand equity with a callous disregard for the needs of the individual. Our Fortune 500 clients have made massive investments in their products and services that are slowly eroded with benign neglect.

I want everyone to take a moment and put themselves at a social event. There is someone who you know pretty well; let’s say you interact with that person once per week. Culturally and psychologically, it is expected that you greet or at least acknowledge one another. It may be a nod, a handshake or a warm embrace, but to not acknowledge someone you know is an offense, plain and simple. So, imagine this person ignoring you or pretending not to know you – what are you thinking how does that make you feel?

When the President and Hillary Clinton didn’t shake hands at the during the presidential debates is was the subject of much reporting and speculation about how much they dislike each other. For many reasons rooted in our evolution, greeting someone is part of the human condition. We are trying to make sure that the practical implementation of technology doesn’t rob consumers of their humanity. We are trying to create experiences that are pleasing and relevant, replicating human-to-human interactions. Keep this in mind while I shift to a different topic.

When was the drone developed and when was the first unmanned flight? Human history is replete with examples of technologies developed for war or in pursuit of a national effort that resulted in commercially viable products. We can credit World War II for advances in aviation that made commercial flying possible. The software created to optimize power consumption for drilling on the Apollo missions became the basis for developing The Dust Buster, a cordless vacuum cleaner. One of the more well-known examples is that DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) in 1968 contracted with BBN Technologies to build routers which enabled the first version of the internet.

It took almost another 25 years for the internet to take hold and become commercially viable. If you think of technology as a layer cake – one advancement built on top of another – while there is continuity in the progression, the practical implementation usually comes in a moment of inspiration. An entrepreneur or a visionary sees as a unique combination of technologies to solve a business problem. Let’s take the Xerox Park example: You had a bunch of researchers and engineers inventing the Graphical User Interface… Xerox had the technology, but Jobs and then Gates saw the value. They saw this was going to profoundly change computing… the rest is history.

The misnomer is that when inventions are marked ‘a moment of genius’ or brilliance and the idea ascends to meteoric heights, fortunes are made and the world transforms. While this fits the American cultural narrative, it’s largely a fantasy. What actually happens is that someone sees the practical application of a collection of technologies to solve a common problem. Sometimes it’s just making things easier, sometimes it’s a whole new experience – but at the core, the invention replaces something that already exists or that we were already doing, it’s just better. We were able to walk to our friends, then we rode horses, then we drove cars and maybe soon, we’ll beam over.

What was the last technology revolution in retail related to the customer experience? Sure, we have systems that manage inventory or store operations more efficiently, but something that makes the in-store experience better…? There hasn’t been much in the last 50 years. Arguably now that Point of Sale systems are tied to computers, transactions happen more quickly and a cashier can look up the availability of a product but really… Is that a better customer experience than Amazon can provide with super efficiency?

This brings me to our Looking Glass Product. Marketing to customers, serving customers and managing store operations is something as humans we’ve been doing for thousands of years. The efficiencies of Amazon aside, shopping is a quintessentially human experience. We trade our hard-earned labor for things we need or want… agree with it or not, we enjoy shopping.

Looking Glass is a novel implementation of existing technology to improve the customer experience. With a camera and a digital display, we use visual recognition technology to make determinations about a customer or groups of customers and then modify the content on the screen to meet the needs of the customers. For example, if you’re a middle-aged mom with two kids in tow, rushing into a Starbucks, Looking Glass would present content about the Mobile Order and Pay feature on the Starbucks Mobile Application… “Move to the front of the line with mobile order and pay”. If you’re an Asian man in a duty-free airport store walking up to the Jack Daniels section, the video will feature the Sinatra-branded Jack Daniels created specifically for the Japanese market. If you’re walking with a sense of urgency, we may identify you as having a propensity to action and share different content to someone who is browsing.

Our product delivers this capability built on technology that has been around for decades. What enables our solution is the increases in computing power and algorithms that have been developed in pursuit of bad guys after 9/11. We can collect vast amounts of data, quickly process it, and in real time deliver a differentiated experience. What’s astonishing is how much data science has evolved during the war on terror. There is no real difference in how you predict behavior – its accuracy is largely dependent on having enough data to have a reasonable likelihood of success. With a camera in-store, we can understand and measure how people behave, how they react to various types of content and the conditions within the store. If through a network of cameras I am monitoring behavior to see if someone is acting in a way that might lead to a crime (“propensity to action”) and I can also monitor behavior to see if someone is likely to make a purchase (“propensity to action” )… it’s the same thing. We’re just applying the technology to different business problems. One of the things that is most remarkable is the accuracy of the visual recognition systems to determine gender, age, ethnicity, and sentiment (level of happiness) for every person that passes by the camera. On top of that, we can see how fast the line moves, what was your happiness score when you walked into the store, and what was it when you left.

Looking Glass is a tool and technology to present custom experiences, to collect first-party behavioral data and create enriched in-store experiences. We can tie the online and offline worlds together. It may not be the same thing as talking to your favorite salesperson at Nordstrom, but it’s a big step forward in that direction. When we couple Looking Glass with Artificial Intelligence, well then, the real magic can happen.

I am very excited about what we’re doing and although the application of what we are proposing is novel and unique, it’s founded on technology that has been around for a long time. Sometimes the best ideas are a simple change in paradigm.

The answer to the drone question is that in 1916-17 the first pilotless drone was developed, and the first unmanned flight occurred on Long Island in March of 1918. It only took 100 years for drone technology to make its way to the commercial market. Hopefully we’re going to bring Looking Glass to market fast than that.

Let’s go be great!