Burn your ships, Inbox by Gmail is here

hernado cortesThere’s an oft-debated historical reference made about Hernado Cortes burning his ships after they landed in the New World to encourage his men to fight and survive there rather than giving in too easily and sailing home. It’s how I’ve handled the conversion to Inbox by Gmail and, if you receive an invite, it’s what you should do, too, if you want to be successful with it.

The reason the Cortes story is debated is because now historians believe he didn’t order the ships burned but rather run aground and stripped of materials. Potato, pot-ah-to — either way there wasn’t an easy escape route when things got tough.

Those who follow me on social media or read this blog know that I’m a big fan of Google. It’s not a blind infatuation, I actually like their products and their methods, even when they destroy products I enjoyed using, like Google Reader. I have long enjoyed living deep within the Google universe because of the ways they find to integrate everything. Automation or at least quick manual access to my online life through various programs and apps usually makes my life easier and simpler. And I’m all for that, as I suspect most people are. But at times there are things with promise that come along that attract my attention, even if they aren’t within the Google universe.

The latest example of this was Mailbox, a self-standing startup that was eventually acquired by Dropbox. The beauty of the app, which started as mobile and then became a beta desktop app, was that it allowed you to swipe through, deal with or snooze email very efficiently. There were many times when I longed for GMail’s integration with attaching files from Google Drive or interacting directly with Google+ posts from within the email notification. But when I had a stack of emails flooding in, I went to Mailbox to quickly sort, swipe, snooze and delete them to get my head above water again. I should note here that the concept of Inbox Zero is paramount to me. I see my email inbox as a running to do list and as long as an email is sitting in there – read or unread – I have something I need to do. So by the end of each day, and sometimes by early evening, I have achieved Inbox Zero. That doesn’t mean everything is done, but it has at least been addressed, even if that means scheduling it to handle tomorrow.

Oh, how I longed for the functionality of Gmail and the efficiency of Mailbox to become one. I often wondered why Dropbox had to acquire Mailbox before Google could. I needed the two apps to marry so I could enjoy their companionship.

inboxSo, along comes Inbox by Gmail. It’s odd that it’s not Inbox by Google, but maybe they’re trying to show commitment to potential users, those of us who have been there done that with Google Wave, Google Buzz, Google Reader, etc. If they say it’s “by Gmail,” maybe we will believe that this time they won’t abandon it just as it’s starting to get good.

But I digress. Let’s focus on Inbox. Aside from its silly name (couldn’t they have come up with something less confusing than making us yet again use a common word as proper noun?) it’s a winner in my book, albeit in need of some tweaking. I suppose I should be happy that Google didn’t follow the other naming trend these days of obliterating random vowels and call it “Inbx.”

inbox feedbackI’ve been taking notes for this blog post as I’ve provided feedback to Google, or Gmail, or whomever is on the other end of the line. Sending feedback is easy, and they’ve even set it up so that it can automatically include a screen shot, highlight what you’re referring to, and black out personal information. It’s a feedback system that instills confidence.

So here are my notes so far, after having used Inbox on mobile and desktop for about three days now:

  • As I said earlier, you need to go all in. I’ve seen complaints from early adopters saying that what they do on the Inbox mobile app doesn’t transfer well to their Gmail inbox on the web. Well, duh, then go to your Inbox inbox (sigh) on the web and everything will be right with the world. Yes, many of us have invested time and energy in Gmail labels and folders, and those are still available to you under Inbox. But you now have a system of “bundling” available that seems to work well, so find a way to merge the two concepts and you’ll be singing a happy tune.
  • Speaking of bundling, one of the things you have to do is be a little patient with the technology. The initial bundles for Promos, Travel, Updates, etc. are pretty good. After all, Google has scanned your email surreptitiously for years, so they should have a handle on sorting it by now. But you can make your own “bundles,” and you can adjust which emails go into the standard ones or your personal ones on the fly. I say be patient because it may take a few days for Inbox to learn what you like and how you like it. But it seems to be picking up on my changes quickly and accurately.
  • One of the key features of Inbox is swiping and snoozing. That means you can select an email, or a group of emails, to go away and magically reappear at a later time or date or, because Google has this advantage over Dropbox as the mother ship, you can have them appear when you reach a certain location. That’s handy if you want to snooze an email until you get home after work, for example. One tweak that needs to be made to Inbox is the ability to adjust the default snoozes. On Mailbox, I could adjust what “later today” meant or what time “tomorrow” the reappearance would trigger. While you can manually select a custom date and time in Inbox, your defaults are their defaults, at least for now.
  • I also have discovered that when a snoozed item reappears, it is automatically unbundled and pinned. Unbundled means it just appears in your inbox, and not returning to the bundled group you had it in originally. Just because I want to look at something later doesn’t mean I want the category removed. And the concept of pinning emails by sticking a virtual stick pin in it is handy. It protects those emails by saving them to your inbox no matter what you try to do to it. That helps protect you from mistakes as you start to swipe, snooze and trash things with speed. But snoozed items don’t necessarily have to be pinned. If Google is listening to my feedback, they’ll know that I just want my email to pop back up, in the place I had it, and without a pin.
  • As for trashing items, Google has again opted to focus on archiving emails instead of deleting them. This happened with the Gmail mobile app initially until enough people hollered and they gave us the option of “trashing” meaning delete instead of archive. It’s an important difference and one that users should be allowed to toggle. Hopefully, that will happen soon. I’ve started using keyboard shortcuts in Inbox a lot more than in Gmail because I discovered the one for delete that actually means “delete.”
  • Formatting can still be a little tricky at times, too, as sometimes I’m finding things I’m cutting and pasting from the web into the body of the email being smashed together instead of formatted with paragraphs. I’m hoping that’s just a glitch that Google will address soon. I do like that there is a “speed dial” function hidden under the compose button. It populates with a few of your most-used recipients so you can address an email with two clicks and no typing.
  • The biggest letdown I’ve run into so far is the lack of proper integration. Sometimes it’s more efficient for me to reply to a Google+ post via the email notification instead of actually going to G+. In Gmail, I can do that and you’d never be able to tell I did it. With Inbox, my reply shows up, but so does a truncated header about who sent the response that I’m replying to. That’s unnecessary clutter and needs to be addressed. And, Inbox is not yet fully integrated with Google Drive as Gmail is. That means there is no easy way to attach or embed files and pictures from Drive. Sure, you can easily attach files that are on your computer, but unless they’re in a Drive folder you sync to your hard drive, that means you have to go get it first. That is soooo 2013! Google owns all of this, so it might be in the next iteration without much coding needed (says the guy who knows nothing about coding).
  • One thing that is integrated is Google Reminders, which is going to take some getting used to but may be something worthwhile. I use Reminders through Google Now, and having them populate in my inbox may be a nice time saver. It’s weird to see them there, but since I use my inbox as a to do list, maybe Google knows something about me that I don’t?

All-in-all, I’m happy with it. Is it perfect? Of course not, and maybe it never will be because we always want more than we can have when it comes to apps and software. Oh, and we want it free. And we want it handed to us for free with no ads, and without giving up any privacy, and we want it to never go down, never let us down and never make us wish we hadn’t switched email programs. But, that’s not real life and eventually all of us as consumers will need to start learning that.

Of course, we all have one major advantage Cortes and his men didn’t. If we decide to “unburn the ships,” all we have to do is make a few keystrokes and, voilà, we’re sailing home. But for now, I’ve deleted Mailbox because this New World inbox has a lot of promise.

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Image courtesy of http://kurtkoontz.com/

There is a greater challenge than dumping a bucket of ice over your head – are you up for it?

A few weeks ago, you couldn’t get away from it no matter how hard you tried. Friends, family and celebrities were getting in on the viral publicity stunt known as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. It was on the news and it was in your news feeds on every social media outlet you frequent. But this isn’t just a rant about that viral maelstrom, so bear with me.

ALSA logoThe ALS Association notes on its website that since July 29, they have received $115 million in donations, mostly due to the publicity of the viral video challenges and responses.

That’s great, but one of the things I found frustrating about the Ice Bucket Challenge was how many times I saw people doing the challenge and challenging others, but not really connecting with the reason for it. I saw many videos where ALS wasn’t even included in the video or posting — just Ice Bucket Challenge, as if buckets of ice water had become the new fraternity initiation tool. Too many people didn’t know why they were dumping ice water on their heads or what ALS is really all about.

Most commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” because of the famed baseball player who died from it, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease. According to the ALS Association, the disease “affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons  die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.”

It all sounds very clinical and I wouldn’t expect people to have cited all of the details in their videos. But I would have liked people to remember more about why they took the challenge. They needed to remember the people and the families affected by this horrific disease. They needed, for once, to not let a viral video be just another flash in the pan. They needed to think about what they can do to help with ALS patients and families now and in the future.

IceBucket_Staff_0814_18I participated in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge along with a number of coworkers and colleagues. I made it a priority for us to produce a video at work that did more than just showing legislators and employees getting ice dumped over us, although I’m sure that made some people happy just on its own. We talked about why we were doing the challenge, what the disease involves and encouraged people to stay connected with the cause well into the future.

For us, it was personal. Our chief of staff at the Michigan House of Representatives is Norm Saari. His son, Eric, was our inspiration as he was battling ALS and we wanted to do what we could to honor his challenge in life with our challenge to raise funds and awareness. We did well, raising more than $5,000 with our efforts.

I can only hope we raised awareness, as well, which is part of the reason I’m doing this blog post, too. As I wrote earlier, this isn’t just a rant. Sure, there are plenty of things I could write about what happened with this campaign from a public relations perspective or as a review of social media activities for fundraising.

But, instead, I’m writing this to urge you to find out more about ALS. To keep folks like the Saari family in mind. And as a tribute to Eric Saari.

Because Eric died on Sept 18. I never met him and now I never will. But I will always remember him. Not because he was the reason I had a bucket of ice water dumped over my head to become part of a viral video sensation. But because any time someone asks me to give to a disease-fighting cause, I will be thinking less about the disease and the tax write-off and a lot more about the affected people and their families.

So, thank you, Eric, for showing me something I never realized I needed to see. Rest in peace; challenge accepted.

Racing around…and around and around…with Google Glass

Michigan International Speedway Pit Road

I had the privilege this past weekend of being a guest at the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR race held at Michigan International Speedway. The track was interested in seeing what I could do with Google Glass as a fan, and I also kept thinking about what the track could do with the device if they owned one.

As you can see from my Google Plus photo album of my day, there is no end of fun things to capture at a race track. I shot pictures and video of race cars and track facilities before and during the race. I used Glass to track rain on a radar app and I looked up information about drivers by Googling information without ever taking my phone from my pocket. Google Glass vignette

One thing to note is that while I believe Glass’ microphone and voice recognition are excellent, they cannot compete with the noise from a revving race car engine! My wife and I had to go around the corner a few times when trying to do something with Glass while I was in the garage area. Glass could hear me and would try to interpret what I was searching for, but just couldn’t do it. In Glass’ defense, I doubt my smartphone would either. It was amusing to see what it would come up with though. My favorite was when I attempted to search for “Jeff Gordon,” and Glass responded that it was searching for “Yahoo Porn.”Google Glass photo vignette

Overall, Glass did very well with the photos and videos I was shooting, both indoor and out. Of course, as always, the super-wide angle of the camera lens means you can lose some details if you aren’t close to your subject. On the other hand, being able to take a photo in tight quarters is a nice feature, and wide-angle shots makes it ideal for some expansive locations. I suppose the answer would be for a digital zoom feature to be built into Glass’ camera. As one of the track employees noted when discussing this “shortfall,” though, Glass sees what you see, so the wide-angle view didn’t surprise them in the least.

MIS garage inspectionBecause I had a special level of access to the facility, I was able to get to places that not everyone gets to go. This made me think of my trip with Glass in two ways: What could a fan do with them and what could an employee do with them. My access included the Media Center, which fans can’t get into but employees can, plus a Cold Garage pass, which gave me access to the garage area prior to the race. I also could get out on the track for the pre-race festivities. The Cold Garage and Pre-Race passes are available to a small number of fans and all employees.

From a fan standpoint, besides the easy navigation, weather and Google access, Glass was a great way to capture photos and videos. I took a shot while driving to a parking area in the track infield, which means you have to cross the track. It was raining when we arrived so I wanted to capture a shot of the wet track. I glanced to the left while driving and shot a picture in a split second, hoping for the best. My wife commented later that it was better than the one she shot on her smartphone even though she had the advantage of being able to concentrate on taking the picture from the passenger seat.

Michigan International Speedway track

In the garage area, I shot pictures to share on social media as well as a few to capture some memories. I also did a few videos to capture the experience in ways a still photo can’t, particularly in an environment where the noise and commotion convey as much as the image.

 

During the race, pictures and videos of the action were easy enough to do. The lag time on the picture being shot is very short. And the access I had to various areas of the track made for some good vantage points for pit stop videos. I still was a bit far from the finish line, so the pictures and videos of the actual race don’t have the zoom factor I would like, but they’re reasonably good overall.

From a staff standpoint, I could see the track putting Glass to some phenomenal uses.

As I wrote earlier, I had access to the Media Center, which means I could take pictures and video during the press conference with this year’s winner, Jeff Gordon. If I was an MIS employee, I would have been more comfortable sitting closer and making the most of Glass’ recording capabilities without feeling like I was an intrusive outsider. I did get a kick out of Gordon pointing at my Glass and saying, “Hey, cool!” when he walked by me on his way out of the Media Center.

 

The track also could do a lot more “behind the scenes” type of work with Glass through pictures and video than I had the ability to. Imagine being able to see areas as a fan that we just can’t get to. There’s the stage where drivers are introduced to the fans, but what about a little of what goes on behind the wall before they are announced and come out? Pace car rides are always a big hit with fans, so what about a video showing what it’s like to go fast around the track — or maybe a trip around in one of the actual race cars to see what it’s like to go really fast?

Roger Curtis, president of MIS, and his team have made a great commitment to putting fans first. At every race I’ve been to at the track, I’ve seen Roger out working the crowd — talking to fans, getting their comments, handing out special passes — anything to make them feel welcome and appreciated. You know he’s a good leader for the track when fans are often reaching out to him for an autograph, not just to the drivers. I think Roger wearing Glass during events, sharing pictures of fans and video of working rope lines, could be a big hit on social media.

#99 race carAnd then there are the drivers, the pit crew, the team managers and owners, and the many staff that make things happen at the track seamlessly — or at least make it seem that way. Letting them wear Glass and share a first-person perspective either through a live feed or through pictures and videos shared later could be one more way for the track to expand a fan’s experience.

NASCAR fans and visitors to MIS are a committed bunch. They are, in many cases, the epitome of the word fan, which is derived from the word fanatic. And I say that with respect, not as a slight. I wish there were more events and venues where people really cared as deeply for their team as race fans care about their drivers.

Who knows, maybe if Google Glass were available and put to good use at venues and for the right activities, more fans might find a connection to people and events they never knew they would like. There’s an old saying about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. Imagine if you could do so virtually, thanks to the power of Google Glass. That’s something worthy of a trophy.

2014 Pure Michigan 400 trophy

Rain makes my Glass half empty

If you read this blog regularly or follow me on Google+, you know I’m a big fan of Google Glass even with its beta-product flaws. I’m wearing it regularly and have found the more I use it the more reasons I find to use it. 

Sunglasses and Google GlassUnfortunately, I’ve become so accustomed to wearing Glass that I sometimes reach up to do something on a regular pair of sunglasses only to find that they don’t do anything but block the sun. How old-school!

This happened again yesterday evening when I went out for an exercise walk. The sun was coming and going from behind rainclouds and my weather app said to expect rain within 20 to 30 minutes. Knowing I’d be gone longer than that, and not willing to risk getting caught in the rain while wearing the water-intolerant Glass, I left them at home.

Sure enough, several times during my walk, I went to do something on Glass only to discover I was just wearing glasses. That meant I couldn’t check the radar to keep an eye on the incoming storm or text my wife to give her an update on my walk status. Oh sure, I could have pulled my phone out of my pocket, but that seems sooo 2013, plus it would have turned me into a distracted walker because I would have been forced to look down while doing those tasks. 

I’ve worn Glass so much at work that people now tend to comment when I’m not wearing them, which is a reversal from people noticing them immediately when I walked into an office. These days, if I leave them on my desk to charge, for example, I tend to get double-takes and the common quip about “not recognizing you without your Glass.”

So as soon as Google fixes its fatal design flaw caused by foil bubbling, I have another challenge for them: make Glass waterproof. Sure, most phones and other electronics haven’t achieved that yet, but this is Google. They’re like the modern-day NASA of the moonshot era. So shoot for the moon again Google gang, or maybe even Mars. Let’s see what you can do when you really stretch!

Until their room full of geniuses comes up with a plan, though, I guess rain will continue to make my Glass half empty. My plain sunglasses can block out harmful UV rays but fall incredibly short when I tap them and say, “OK, Glass…”

 

Foiled again by a fantastic traveling companion

snidely whiplash

 

I was in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for the past few days for work and then a couple of days of vacation. I found Google Glass to be a fantastic traveling companion. But then, on the drive home, I suddenly discovered my new unit that is less than a month old has already developed the fatal design flaw known as foil bubbling.

This is the second time I’ve had this happen, although my first unit lasted 6 months without any problems with the foil. Last time, it made Glass unusable immediately. This time, just the corner has bubbled, although I believe it will continue advancing its way to unusable quickly so I’m working with Google to get another replacement unit.

The “optics pod,” as Google refers to it, is the video screen you see everything with on Glass. The apparently ridiculously fragile foil covering one end prevents light from entering the end of the prism. Without it, you wouldn’t see anything. When it bubbles, you end up with magnified bubbles all over the video screen, which makes it progressively worthless. I still haven’t heard if Google has figured out to how address this fatal design flaw. I don’t envy them, because it can’t be easy to engineer a solid end to a single piece of glass cube. But c’mon, you’re Google!

Google Glass foilAs I mentioned, the foil seems to be Glass’ Achilles heel, so I am very protective of it. No liquids have come into contact with it. I’ve heard humidity is a problem, but that’s pretty hard to avoid in Michigan during the summer. Google cannot keep producing a product that only works in the environments of certain parts of the U.S. without self-destructing. I’ve also heard extreme temperature shifts may be a problem, but Glass experienced none of those the past few days.

Until this problem developed, Glass was a fantastic travel companion. Along with my Droid Maxx, it helped me put together a great photo album of our trip. It served as a wonderful navigational aid and it helped me keep track of appointments and locations via my calendar. It also worked very well as a way to chat with my kids and coworkers while we were on the road for many hours at a time and to share messages and photos with them while we were working or being tourists.

Despite all the media hype suggesting Google Glass is evil, the more I use Glass the more I see it becoming a natural extension of our mobile phones that helps us stay connected without dropping our eyes to a phone screen and becoming physically disconnected.

But until Google can address this flaw, I see a future where more people are saying they were foiled by a fantastic traveling companion or simply choose to leave that companion behind. And that would be a damn shame.

 

 

 

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Vignettes on Google Glass is one of my favorite features.

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Help yourself help your customers

Kroger app screenshot

 

Once a company has made things easier for its customers, there are few things as frustrating as having them turn around and make things difficult again.

I experienced this recently at my local Kroger grocery store when they had a sign advertising a coupon for a free item.

Kroger has one of the better shopping apps available for your mobile phone. It offers more than you really need, but it builds upon the company’s shopper’s card, which helps you get discounts at the store. I find the app most helpful for “clipping” coupons to my shopper’s card. It easily replaces the old paper coupons and actually has me using more coupons than I ever did the old-fashioned way.

Back to my recent experience, I spotted a sign in the store for a Free Friday Download, which is a relatively new marketing promotion Kroger is trying. The idea is that you can download a coupon for a free item — in this most recent case, it was for a bottle of pop. So, I decided to try to take advantage of the freebie. That’s when frustration reigned supreme.

My first thought was, “I’ll just open my Kroger app on my phone and grab it from there.” I don’t remember seeing the Free Friday option the last time I was on my app, but since it’s a new thing I figured maybe I just hadn’t noticed it yet. So, I opened the app and searched while following my wife through the store. I searched. And searched. There was no Free Friday download or related coupon. I made my way back to the sign to see if I had missed some direction.

Kroger Free Friday download signWhat I found was a website address. Fine, it’s not as convenient as the app, but if it was mobile-optimized maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. While the site was mobile-optimized, it was not the doorway to a convenient experience. I could see the Free Friday coupon, but I couldn’t download it to anything. The reason is that it required me to log in to my Kroger account via my email address and password.

The reason I have an app, and use it, is because of its convenience and the fact that I don’t have to constantly remember my log-in information. It just opens and works.

I couldn’t remember my log-in and I wasn’t going to waste time standing in a grocery store aisle to try to figure it out. So, I gave up. That means instead of getting a free pop and expressing appreciation for it to anyone who would listen, I am now writing a negative blog post about a customer service and marketing screw-up by a company that does well normally.

If your company an app, then use it, drive people to it, promote more downloads; never abandon it. The marketing sign should have promoted the app. If Kroger wants customers to download something, they should have them download the app, then make the Free Friday coupon available on it.

Kroger has figured out how to help its customers in many ways. Now, it needs to learn how to help itself help its customers even more.

I’m doing the 2-gig jig with Glass

 

After having my Google Glass replaced due to the fatal foil flaw, I was excited to learn that I had not just a new piece of hardware, but the new hardware. The latest version of Glass is shipping with 2 gigs of memory on board instead of the 1 gig found on the original second-generation units. (Google has yet to call the 2GB versions the “third generation,” but some Glass Explorers have dubbed it that.)

Tim the Toolman TaylorExplorers have gone through update after update on the software side as Google has tried to fix problems caused by moving Glass to the KitKat operating system. I believe they have now found the solution: give it more power!

As with any computing device, if you dump an operating system and more programs on it that will do more that doesn’t mean your computer can do more. KitKat clearly chews up most of the memory available on the 1GB Glass and any sort of multitasking with apps kills it.

Instead of constant crashes, freezes and random reboots while trying to multitask with 1GB, the new 2GB version running the latest software (XE 18.3) resulted in my recent post to Google+:

I did a short bike ride tonight while listening to some music on +Google Glass and a undertook a mission on Zombies, Run! (It’s still entertaining, even on a bike, because you still have to sprint periodically to stay ahead of the brain eaters!) Anyway, it performed very well and operated smoothly.

I listened to some music for about 10 minutes while getting ready. I even took a picture of a backyard visitor while listening to music and there was no lag in the picture being taken and no stuttering of the music being played.

Once on the bike, I listened to the first mission of Zombies, Run! for about 30 minutes or so, then listened to music again for about 10 minutes. (News and email alerts kept flowing in, too, but I didn’t open them.)

Upon arriving home, I sent and received a few text messages and made a four-minute phone call using Glass as my headset.

All of that chewed up 35% of my battery.

The new 2GB model running XE18.3 is what I always imagined Glass should be like.

There are also subtle design differences with the new unit, with some as mundane as where they put the design and build text, which is now located under the battery housing. The attachment screws are black instead of silver now, too.

Google Glass

The nose pads are different now, as well, with the ability to swivel more, much like you often see on regular eyeglass frames.

Google Glass nose pads

The “optics pod,” or what people who aren’t Google Glass Guides would call “the screen,” seems different, too, but I can’t put my finger on it. It’s almost like it’s brighter, and sometimes that means I’m getting more of a ghosting/glare effect on what I’m viewing than I did on the first unit.

The only unfortunate thing for me so far is that I cannot get the Notification Glance option to work on this new unit. It was super easy to calibrate on my old Glass, and I found it to be a far superior method to checking what the notification ding means compared to bobbing my head to do what some of my coworkers have dubbed, “Ari’s Glass twitch.”

I need to mess around with it some more, but if that’s the only negative thing about upgrading, I won’t complain.

I’ll just keep doing the 2-gig jig and multitasking on Glass like there’s no tomorrow.

 

Elaine Benes dancing

Google offers good customer service in spite of itself

 

If you follow this blog, you know that recently my Google Glass had a serious hardware breakdown and I sought to get it replaced under the 1-year warranty.

Overall, the experience has been a positive one, but it there were times when I questioned whether a massive technology conglomerate like Google will ever figure out how to handle customer service. At this point I’d have to say they are getting close.

Interacting with Glass Guides, as they are called, has been great as they are very friendly when you talk to them. And Google Glass handles their account on Google Plus well. After noting my foil flaw on Google Plus, the Google Glass team jumped into the thread, apologized for the problem and provided me the link I needed to reach their Guides.

glass helpWhen you go to that link, you can opt to “call” Google, which really means you enter your phone number and press the call me button. It then tells you how long it will probably take for a Guide to call you. I called three times during this incident and each time it told me to expect a call back within 1 minute. All three calls actually came in within about 15 seconds, which is impressive.

The first Guide, Michael, was apologetic for my problems, verified my account info and then said he would send me an email with a questionnaire. He wanted to me to reply to the email with answers to questions about what was going on and include three high-quality photos showing the optics pod foil was in fact damaged. He said that would arrive within about 30 minutes. About 2 hours later I still hadn’t received an email. Given how responsive all the Google Glass interactions have been since I first became an Explorer, I worried there was miscommunication about my email address. Plus, once you start missing your Glass, you are anxious to get it replaced.

My follow-up call with a Glass Guide confirmed that they did indeed have my address, that someone was working on the case file, but that this second guide would jump in and push another email out to me right away. About 15 minutes later I received the email, but from the original Glass Guide.

I didn’t mind having to wait a few hours to receive the email; I would have not worried about it at all if the first guy hadn’t told me “30 minutes” when he meant “a few hours.” In customer service, under-promising and over-delivering tends to bring a smile to a client’s face.

The other disconcerting part of my first call was that Michael said he couldn’t guarantee a replacement but that they would look into the matter thoroughly for me. When you have a $1,500 paperweight in your hand — one that’s too light to really hold down much paper — with a known design problem affecting it you immediately become irritated when someone doesn’t say, “Of course we’ll take care of it!” But I realize that perhaps Google does not authorize every frontline person to make such commitments, even though they should be at every company. 

The email questionnaire was simple and straight-forward; it asked about half a dozen questions that all made sense to me in terms of Google Glass needing it for research purposes on a failed unit.

What happened before issue / breakage?

Any solutions come into contact with Glass?

What was the environment like?

How is the device stored or carried?

How is the device charged (only relevant for power issues)?

After sending my answers with three photos attached, I heard back within 4 days that Google was replacing my Glass and I would be notified when it shipped. Also, they had updated their advance replacement process, so they would send me the new unit without putting a hold on my credit card for the value, and provided me with a return shipping label for the busted unit. Hooray!

I made my third call during those four days, being an anxious customer and wanting to know what the resolution to my problem was going to be. The third Glass Guide I talked to verified that the Glass was going to be replaced. He said it unfortunately can take a week or so to get through the process, but that the good news was once it shipped, it would come by overnight air delivery.

Later that day, I received an email telling me my new Glass had shipped, but that it would take 3-5 business days and that they appreciated my patience. Here again, Google stumbled by providing mixed messages. The entire process took less than a week, but now the shipping would be by standard post, apparently, with a 3 to 5 day delivery period. Why did Glass Guides keep telling me different information? The last misstep by Google in this process was that they then shipped the new unit to me via overnight air delivery.

20140702-184840-67720482.jpgI had asked via email for the UPS tracking number so I could be available to sign for it. (I’m not sure why they didn’t just include the number in the first email; it’s better customer service and more efficient for their team than having to deal with another email or phone call from a customer.) I immediately typed it in and was told the package wasn’t in the system yet. Since they said it would take days to arrive, I figured I would just check 24 hours or so later and start tracking it.

Well, imagine my surprise when I received a notice from UPS via email the next morning that they had tried to deliver a package to me but no one was home to sign for it. That was on the Thursday before Independence Day, so they would try to deliver it again on Monday. No way! I contacted UPS, as I have before, and asked them to hold the package at the customer care center after the driver returned and I would pick it up from them Thursday night. That system always works very well and I’m pleased to say it did this time, too.

This worked out well in the end for me, but it could have been an infuriating situation. If you’re going to ship something overnight, don’t tell me it will take 3 to 5 days. This is one of those times where “under-promise and over-deliver” doesn’t work.

All is well that ends well, and I thoroughly enjoyed having Google Glass available for a July 4th party at my nephew’s house. I also have found the new unit to be incredibly responsive and smooth, details of which I’ll cover in a subsequent post.

But back to my earlier question: can a tech behemoth become a customer service powerhouse, as well? The answer is yes, and Google almost has it figured out. At this point, it’s offering good customer service in spite of itself. All the components are there now: friendly representatives (Glass Guides), an efficient replacement process, and a commitment to fast shipping.

Google HQWhat they need to do now is create a better guide for their Guides. It should include what information should be provided to customers about the units, the replacement process and shipping details. I’ve heard from other Explorers that the way to get the best customer service from Google Glass is to always work with the same Guide. But that shouldn’t be necessary, and other than what turned out to be relatively minor hiccups in my case, working with four different Glass Guides seemed to be fine. Consistency is key. Even if you’re telling your customers that something will take longer than they want to hear, if you’re up front and consistent with them no matter who they talk to, they should still be satisfied.

I have heard about research that shows customers with a problem that is resolved satisfactorily are more likely to say positive things about your company than people who have never had a problem. I don’t know where I read that initially, but I can probably find it on Google.

“OK, Glass…”

 

 

 

I miss being a spectacle

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I’ve been living without Google Glass for a week now and I miss it.

Could I continue to live without Glass? Sure, but I also don’t want to and thankfully I won’t have to. The replacement process is well underway and a new unit is en route to my home. I’m told it will arrive in just a few days, so that’s good news. Working with Google on this problem has been a mixture of ups and downs, but mostly a positive experience overall. Once I actually have my new Glass and am up and running correctly again, I’ll do a post about the replacement process.

In the meantime, here are some thoughts on why I miss being a fully equipped Google Glass Explorer:

There’s no easier way to…

I’ve been keeping a list of things I would have normally done on Glass because they are just easier than on my phone, not that it’s all that difficult to begin with. But text messages/Google Hangouts, turn-by-turn navigation, taking pictures, checking the weather, keeping up with flight info while traveling and Google searches are just simpler and faster on Glass. They also are available to me hands-free and heads-up. In the case of messaging and navigation, that is incredibly important while driving. (I don’t text and drive, which means I am pulling over more during my travels to check text messages if my phone starts going off a lot, which has been known to happen.)

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Also, when you own a Jeep Wrangler and like to drive without a top and doors, having a quick way to double-check the weather while driving around through a heads-up device is faster and safer than if you have to use your phone.

I admit I’m a distracted walker…

I find myself looking down a lot more, and that means looking away from my surroundings. That makes me a “distracted walker,” and also means I’m missing out on what’s going on around me. Sure, I could put my phone down and walk somewhere before seeking out information. But so could you, and how many of you really do that? It’s just not realistic anymore. When I have Glass on, I am looking through the information I need, not at it.

I’m really an introvert…

People who meet me in real life often think I’m an outspoken, nutty person who can be loud and is not afraid of interacting with anyone. I also do a lot of presentations, some to large audiences, which freaks some people out but gives me an adrenalin rush. But I’d rather talk to a room full of 100 strangers than talk face-to-face with one or two of them. That’s because even though I’m outgoing and can project well in front of a crowd, I’m really an introvert who is terrible at small talk and will often retreat into my phone or some other device to avoid talking to people.

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Here I am with some MSU Spartan football players. They wanted to meet me because I was wearing Glass.

But if you are a Google Glass Explorer, you cannot be a shrinking violet. People will stare, people will talk about you and people will talk to you. And, honestly, I do sort of miss the interactions driven by Google Glass. If nothing else, it gives me a nearly endless supply of content to feed any small-talk conversation. And it’s a great catalyst for someone you’ve never met to strike up a conversation, which often means they get to learn about Google Glass and I get to learn about some aspects of their life I never knew I would be interested in until I heard about it. Cell phones and social media are, in many ways, making us less social. Google Glass is restoring interaction among people, not just feeding interaction between machines.

I’m finally OK with giving up my privacy…

I am still a very private person in many ways, often fueled by my current job, which opens me up to vulgar personal attacks from time to time. And while many ridiculous tech articles would have you believe that Google Glass is the end of privacy as we know it, they actually have it all backwards. Google Glass isn’t a threat to your privacy unless you are wearing Google Glass.

As I mentioned above, being a Glass Explorer means being willing and able to have conversations with complete strangers. There is no such thing as a personal space barrier when people decide they want to learn about Glass. They are going to talk to you whether you want to or have time to or not. I have to admit, there have been a few outings where I have left Glass at home because I simply didn’t want to be an ambassador that day. Those moments are few and far between, probably because I’m finally OK with being a Google Glass Explorer first and a private person who values his “me time” second.

And that’s not all…

I’m certain there are many more ways not having Glass has impacted my life, but I made a point of only jotting down the things that I kept bumping into regularly. Other Explorers may have a completely different list of what they missed when they had to wait for a Glass replacement, which is a more common occurrence than it should be but I suppose that comes with being a beta tester.

So I am anxiously awaiting my new Glass to arrive. I just hope it doesn’t show up when I’m not home to sign for it!

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