Archive for May, 2011

Over on the 3DC blog: A whiskies inspired weekend…

Posted by on Thursday, 26 May, 2011

This is going to be a short post, since I’ve already blogged about last weekend over on the 3DC site. I just didn’t want you all to think I’ve gone a week without posting 😉

So go check out my post about my experience bottling up some Bourbon at Big Bottom Whiskey in Hillsboro, Oregon, and my fun new endeavor: barrel aging my own whiskies!

Enjoy! I know I did!

Musings on social business ROI for support…

Posted by on Monday, 16 May, 2011

Having troubles providing ROI for your social business efforts in a client support context? Yeah, you’re not alone. As support workers, we deal with intangibles every day. It is actually a big part of how we solve problems at times; using that support intuition and gut feelings which come from experience and a roll up of all the differing variables at play, not to mention some well-implemented educated guesses. But how do you quantify all that into a reportable metric to show the value returned from the efforts?

Martin Hill-Wilson over on had some great insights to share as they relate to ROI and Customer Service. He makes a point of showing that the intangibles of support can’t be measured, yet are still as critical (a fact which those of us working in the space already know):

“… the inability to directly measure something does not mean it is worthless. Quite the opposite. In fact the most abstract topic that has continued to evolve up the greasy pole of corporate favour is culture. This is illogical from the perspective of corporate Vulcanlogic. You can no more directly show me culture that I can show you that unicorn. Yet huge amounts of cash are invested by the C-suite to improve corporate cultures.”

Everyone who is working today in the social business spaces knows there is value. We feel it in our bones with as much certainty as there is coffee in our mugs (which is to say, a lot). If we were not so convinced of the value and need to be social, to engage with our clients and colleagues in these spaces, you can rest assured we’d not be spending time here. But we’ve all been tasked to find that one thing that evades us, the holy-grail of social business: tangible metrics to show real returns on the time, energy, and capital we have invested to be engaged in the social spaces.

In the marketing worlds, these intangibles are a bit easier to quantify through what Martin calls ‘proxy metrics’; linkages between tangibles and intangibles that indicate correlation if not causation. Imagine a television ad running for a week’s time, and measured sales increasing over the same period. You could make the correlation there that the campaign had a particular return on investment.  And while, yes, we do have proxy metrics in the support world, connecting these linkages from investment to returns is a far greater leap. In marketing, there may be a three jump difference from a campaign to sales increases. But what about support where we aren’t focused on driving revenue?

In client support, the number of jumps grows exponentially from any given activity to revenue recognition, be it direct product sales or maintenance renewals. Does a single tweet containing an FAQ solving an issue translate directly to revenue recognition? No, no more than a television ad for a new car can translate directly into a sale. Both provide the potential, but with so many other factors in play, how can you say that this one piece of content made the maintenance renewal sale? I imagine even ad agencies and dealerships find it difficult to prove that TV ad was the deciding factor for that new car purchase!

Unless the clients are providing direct feedback, noting the explicit reasons for their maintenance renewals, or lack of need to open support tickets, we only have indicators at best to help guide any potential ROI measurements. Martin comments on these client-satisfaction proxies as well:

“But remember, at best these are indicators and should not be assumed to be true in every market. In some, the nature of the product, the price point, the availability of alternative choice, are stronger drivers as to whether customer are predisposed to hang around a brand for any length of time.”

Without that direct client feedback, within support we can only rely on indicators like “visits to content” and “audience base” (followers counts) to show us reach and potential for increased revenue or call ticket avoidance. While call ticket trends and content visits can be easily tracked, I’d argue that connecting the two directly to social business efforts is a dangerous practice. Like so many other aspects of business, trends in revenue and client problem tickets are not tied to a single variable. Changes in the economy, product stability, support staffing, along with any social business campaigns or overall program efforts can combine to drive trends up or down, or even cancel each other out of one effort is successful while another variable may be causing problems (think improved products in a down economy causing sales to plateau rather than increase or decline).

In most instances, de-constructing these trends into their various, granular pieces is simply not possible. You simply can not isolate the various trends and look at the measurable components in a vacuum. Each piece needs to be weighed against the entirety, as a collective effort; each portion doing its own work and supporting the other pieces at the same time. We do not live in a black and white world, why would we think our various efforts are effective in black and white ways?

What does that leave us to gauge our efforts? Transactional data; simple indicators of progress or failure which may, or may not, be entirely accurate or reliable. Yes, we should continue to track those quantifiable items like visits, click-throughs, and followers, but not to the detriment of longer term benefits. Taking the television ad analogy again: that ad spot may not directly impact a purchase decision tomorrow, but the benefit may be seen 6, 9, 12 months, or even years later as part of an overall affinity for the brand. How do you connect such a compound and complex result with a single ad or campaign to show direct value for that single investment? Translating back to the Support arena, how do you connect an intangible, something which doesn’t exist (like the lack of a problem submission), with an individual tweet or larger social program to show any causation and direct return on that social investment?

Let’s look at a shift in thinking for a moment: what if we use transactional data as simple indicators, and then reset our focus to work and efforts designed to build overall relationship value? After all, isn’t that the social part of Social Business? Building that trust, and personal connection with clients is a key part of ensuring not only their success, but our mutual continued business relationships. The trick, of course, is figuring out how to measure those highly valuable but intangible connections. Activities alone won’t show that value… sometimes a handshake is just a polite greeting, other times it is the start of a long term complex relationship with decided fiscal impact, but there’s no way to attach value on the handshake alone.

Obviously I don’t have the answers here. If I did (and I’ve joked to my boss a number of times) I’m quitting my job and going on the lecture circuit for 6 figures per engagement… because that is how big of a deal this is to the industry. Find that silver bullet, that perfect ROI formula, and you’ll be set for life. As it stands, we’re all inching closer, but we’ve still got a giant chasm of a gap to bridge.

Until then, we stand with the belief that within a support context raising visibility to our content to help prevent problems, and providing solutions just in time when problems do arise is one more way we can ensure client success through our social business program. But more importantly we believe that open, transparent communication is simply the right thing to do for our clients and our business.

Martin Hill-Wilson’s source article, as linked above:

Full transparency: I am an IBM employee. This post is wholly my own and does not necessarily reflect any official IBM policy, opinion, or position. Read more about the guidelines which I follow at IBM’s Blogroll Policies and Guidelines for Blogging

My first photo prints since high school, an Mpix review

Posted by on Wednesday, 4 May, 2011

I received my print and framing order yesterday. For those playing at home, I ordered at 2:10pm Thursday April 28th, and received the delivery in full at 2:20pm on May 3rd. All in all, a total of 3 business days from order to delivery. Not too shabby for a standard order of 9 prints and 2 frames.

Ordering was a breeze: I uploaded my final copies, selected the images and chose print size, paper type, cropping, and for two of them the framing options. All told (including upload time and pondering framing choices) it took me 30 minutes from account creation to checkout for 9 prints. I was honestly shocked at how quickly I was able to nail down all the options, sizes, and finalize the order. It was so easy, in fact, that I was a bit suspicious that the final quality might be as simple as the ordering was. After all, you get what you pay for… and I have no qualms telling you that for $130 (including next-day FedEx shipping) I got the following:

  • One 6×9 on E-Surface paper
  • Two 10×15 on Metallic paper
  • One 10×15 on True Black & White paper
  • One 10×15 on E-Surface
  • One 8.5×11 on E-Surface
  • One 8×12 on E-Surface
  • One 8.5×11 on True Black & White
    Black Rounded Frame with white mat and non-glare glass
  • One 10×10 on E-Surface
    Black Flat Frame with single weight matboard and non-glare glass


The box my order was delivered in was well protected, and the two frames placed next to each other rather than on top of each other to ensure neither would crush the other or suffer any damage during transport. Liberal application of bubble wrap also helped ensure the safety of the contents.

Digging into the wrapping I started to pull out the frames and prints and study the quality of each. The first one I opened also happened to be the one I was most concerned about when ordering. You see, it was a print made from a highly adjusted image taken with my Canon PowerShot SD1000, not my new 60D. As I tore off the bubble wrap, I could see my concerns were unnecessary, as the print and frame around it were far better than I’d expected. In fact, I can only see ever-so-slight pixelation in certain parts of the print, and only during very close inspection. Framed and on my wall, I doubt anyone but the most particular would even notice.

The remaining 8 prints were all generated from my Canon 60D, and had varying levels of adjustments made. Most were small light level tweaks, while a few were more heavily adjusted with colour saturation to bring out more drama and vibrance to the images. In each case the final products I hold in my hand match the image I had in my head an on my monitors when I was tweaking them. While I wholly admit to not being a colour expert, even the Black and White prints match what I’d expect a proper B&W print to look like; and I have far more experience with making my own B&W prints.

From a paper perspective, all three papers I tested performed beautifully. As you note above, of the 9 prints, two were on True B&W, two on Metallic, and the remaining five on the standard E-Surface. More info on the paper types can be found here:

The E-Surface paper is a typical matte finish photo paper with a thickness I’ve come to expect from good 8×10 sheets of Ilford in my darkroom days. Nothing of this paper makes me think “digital print”, and that is how it should be, From my early days of seeing home printed photos, even those on “photo” quality papers, well, I was left feeling as though I’d never see the quality in a digital print to rival that of an analog SLR/35mm negative printed to proper photo paper. I am here to say I no longer fear that. All the prints I received on the E-Surface have satisfied my demand for higher quality prints.


Likewise the True B&W didn’t disappoint either; with its more glossy finish, and light card-stock thickness, I felt as though I’d processed it myself. And I LIKE that feeling. After all, when it comes down to it, I want to feel that connection to any photos I hang on my walls. The two black and white images both fall right in line with the other B&W prints I have hanging in my home, printed more than 20 years ago… the only difference is these two new ones don’t yet have that slight yellowing of time as it takes its toll on darkroom processed paper which I may or may not have processed perfectly 😉   (Side note on the image below, it looks a bit off due to reflection from afternoon sun through my office window, it really is much more crisp and without any tint of colour.)


The Metallic paper was the odd-man out for me, as I had no experience with this type of paper. It has a slight pearlescense which lends to a more vibrant colour image. I was particular about the images I chose for this paper, and I am glad I was. The paper has the potential to detract from the image if not used correctly. Happily I think the two images I chose were well suited for this paper and have made good use of the qualities to enhance the images and make the ‘pop’ just a little more, rather than detract.


Framing… I said above, you get what you pay for… but this may be the case that stands as an exception. These are not the high quality, high cost custom frame jobs you’d get if you walked in to your local shop, but that in no way implies the framing is shoddy either. While the two frames I received don’t have the weight of a high quality frame, they also don’t carry the sticker price either. For about $40 per frame, I really can’t do any better myself, and hanging on the wall, no one would likely see them as anything less than professionally framed.  Really, I’m just being a tad nit-picky here because I have to find something to couch my otherwise glowing review. I’ve seen better framing jobs, but those always came with a price upwards of five times what I paid for these. You can rest assured I’ll be using Mpix for framing again.


Final conclusion: I am -very- happy with Mpix as a vendor for both  printing and framing of digital photographs to a professional quality and standard that I would expect from such a shop. Of course, the fact that I am finally getting my own photography printed and hung on my walls may be playing a small part in how pleased I am with the quality and service has provided. But, casting my own giddiness aside, I still have high standards for quality and Mpix has delivered that for me.