A Salute to Persistence

Persistent: tenaciously or obstinately continuing despite problems or difficulties (Encarta Dictionary).

I think persistence could be the single most underrated attribute. Persistence can often make up for deficiencies we have in our characters or skill sets. It’s one of those little things that can go unnoticed, but I bet if you were to analyze most successes under a microscope, you’d probably see persistence in abundance. And I think this would be true of people born with all kinds of natural talent and ability as well as those who have little but manage to “win” nonetheless.

Pick a hat; any hat. Pick an industry; any industry. It doesn’t matter if you want to be a successful teacher, banker, salesman, coach, parent, or spouse – you have to be persistent. If you want well-behaved kids, you can’t enforce the rules just once. You need to persistently uphold the rules and create consequences for when they aren’t obeyed. If you want a healthy marriage that stands the test of time, you and your spouse had better be prepared to work at it – persistently. What if you want to change the culture at your workplace or make some headway for the children participating in your inner-city youth soccer program? You’ve got it… you have to be persistent. Heck, remember the old standby question from high school or college “How’d he get her to go out with him?” More often than not, persistence is probably a factor in the answer.

So, let’s apply my thought process to the sales arena. Obviously, persistence is an important part of making a sale but somewhere along the line, I think persistent sales people have gotten a bad rap. Of course, if you’re persistent in an effort to sell ice to Eskimos, people will probably develop some strong, and not-so-nice, ideas about you as a sales person. But in my mind, that’s less a problem of persistence and more a lack of respect. Most of us don’t feel good about a sale that doesn’t benefit the client just as much as the vendor and, in the case of the pushy sales guy who can’t respect the fact that his prospect doesn’t need his product or service (or has simply said “no” to his sales pitch), I think persistence might be getting thrown under the bus.

As a sales consultant here at Algonquin Studios, I’m always going to be persistent. I’ll be persistent in my attempts to learn about your company; to learn what your pain points are and what you need from your web site or software; to learn what your ideal vendor relationship looks like; and to demonstrate the expertise we’ve developed and can implement for you.

And, I’ll always encourage my sales prospects to be persistent, too – persistent about vetting potential vendors for their experience, capabilities, and a general willingness to share the ins-and-outs of their companies. You should take the time to identify a clear scope of service for your projects and you should share that information with the vendors you’re considering. You should give those vendors time to ask questions about your project and allow their expertise to modify and further develop its final scope. And you should remember that if your persistence is met with reluctance or a lack of disclosure on a vendor’s part, you’ll want to take notice and be careful.

In the end, persistence will help both of us figure out if a relationship between Algonquin Studios and your company is going to be successful. So, I’d like to thank persistence for helping me and my clients get to a good place; the right place.

Moving Into The 21st Century, And Feeling A Little Silly That It Took Me So Long

I remember the time my parents called to tell me that they had signed us up for a family plan and I was getting my first cell phone. That first cell phone didn’t tell me what time it was and it didn’t hold contact information, so I had to memorize the phone numbers for anyone I wanted to call, but in the past 10 years I’ve slowly upgraded as technology has progressed and phones have gotten smarter and smarter. Two plus years ago I was due to get another upgrade but I held my ground and said “no” because I didn’t want to deal with picking a complicated data plan and deciding which bells and whistles were right for me. Working for a technology company, the last thing I wanted was to be “addicted” to my phone and always reachable via email even when I wasn’t in front of my computer. I enjoy my time away from the digital world and I like to be completely cut off from the world at some points.

But when I started working here at Algonquin Studios I found that everyone here had a smart phone of some sort and most people were shocked that I still had what I liked to call a “dumb phone.” I still stuck to my guns and kept telling myself (and everyone else) that I didn’t need or want a smartphone and I was perfectly content with what I had. But of course, as time went on, I found myself wanting a new phone. And not just so that I could say that I had the latest and greatest device out there, but because I realized a more functional phone would make life easier – both at work and in my personal life.

I started discussing with my coworkers which platform they preferred and got a lot of pretty strong opinions. The Android lovers told me why they think Andriod is the best and why iOS leaves much to be desired and, not surprisingly, the iOS lovers told me the exact opposite. After weighing comments from both sides of the argument, I decided to go with an Android phone and needed lots of assistance from my coworkers on even the most basic functions as I’d only worked with a Windows-based smart phone (due to my work with SWRemote) to that point.

But, honestly, now that I have a smart phone and am up to speed, it really is making both my work and home life so much easier. My phone lets me receive customer service emails that come in after close of business, when I’m on call but not necessarily sitting directly in front of my computer, and our support system has an app that makes keeping an eye on support tickets as easy as looking for the perfect restaurant for a night out on the town (which my phone also lets me do, of course)! I’m no longer shackled to my desk but I’m still able to provide high-level, quality support to our clients wherever I am, whenever they need it and I’m kind of embarrassed to have fought the smartphone revolution for so long!

Is there a technology or device you’d been claiming you didn’t need and then realized how silly you were being once you got it or started using it?

Designing With User Technologies In Mind

When building, redesigning, or maintaining a web site or web application, it’s important to understand the technology visitors will use to access the site to create the best user experience possible.

So what do you need to consider? Although there can be many factors at play, here are the key questions you should answer:

  1. What browsers are used to view the site?
  2. What devices are used to access the site?
  3. What screen resolutions are commonly used by site visitors?

Browsers

Most of us web developers have a tendency to get pretty excited about using new coding techniques and technologies like CSS3 and HTML5, but it’s important for us to consider what browsers the site visitors will be using so we can determine whether those techniques are appropriate or not.

If you find that your user base primarily views the site in recent browsers, then you may have more flexibility with new technologies. However, if you find that a significant portion of users are accessing the site in older browsers, you’ll need to make sure that they can complete all functions without any major drawbacks.

That doesn’t mean that the site has to look identical in all browsers however. Many web developers commonly employ a technique called progressive enhancement. This coding technique allows for users in recent browsers to see the site design as intended (with enhanced design elements) without negatively impacting the experience of users in older browsers in a significant way. Enhancements might include design elements like rounded corners, gradients, or drop shadows.

There are many desktop browsers that support progressive enhancement techniques including Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer 9, and Opera. Internet Explorer 8 and lower usually do not get the benefits of such enhancements.

Most mobile browsers tend to have good support for progressive enhancement techniques as well, including the default Android browser, Safari, Google Chrome, Amazon Silk, Opera Mobile/Mini, and many others.

Devices

Understanding what devices your visitors are using will help you engage with them more effectively. There are many devices that allow people to hit the web in addition to computers, including tablets, phones, and gaming consoles. Most computer users access the web in a similar way, with a keyboard and mouse, but don’t forget that there are some users who rely on screen readers to recite the content of the page to them and who navigate by keyboard only.

Tablets and phones are “tap” devices, meaning that users interact with web sites using their fingers. For these devices, it’s typically helpful to create larger tap radii for links and to avoid displaying critical content on mouseover or via right-click.

Because there are many different ways to access a web site, it’s important to design and develop with accessibility in mind. You should always aim to make your site accessible for your target audience and their expected browsing devices, but not at the expense of impaired users.

Screen Resolution

With users accessing the web on phones, tablets, PCs, laptops, TVs, and a seemingly endless number of devices that come in all shapes and sizes, there is, likewise, a seemingly endless number of screen resolutions that you must consider while developing a site.

PCs and laptops tend to have resolutions equal to or greater than 1024 x 768 pixels, although you may still see a few users running at 800 x 600 pixels. 1024, though possibly the lowest desktop resolution that you’ll need to really consider, is still rather popular and has held a significant portion of the market share for many years. You should, in most cases, consider that to be your base and confirm that your site is usable at those dimensions.

Phones, tablets, and netbooks bear further consideration. If your user base includes a number of mobile users, you may be able to improve usability significantly by applying a different layout or styles optimized for smaller sized screens. CSS3, widely supported by recent mobile browsers, offers an elegant solution of applying different styles at different browser sizes and is often the preferred approach.

Bringing It All Together

Understanding how users experience your site or application will allow you to serve them better and, ultimately, improve overall customer satisfaction. The easiest way to gather data on browsers, devices, and screen resolutions is via Google Analytics, which offers reports for all three. I highly recommend that you review these reports to get a better understanding of your users, especially if you are considering a redesign for your current web site and to close it out, here are some nifty screen shots of those reports:

Browsers:

Devices:

Screen Resolution:

Web-based Support – The Way of the Future

I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about the evolution of support and customer service platforms, and it struck me that we’ve come a long way in such a short time. It seems like only yesterday that I spent close to an hour listening to cheesy hold music while desperately trying to get my apartment’s heat turned on. No matter how many times the automated recording thanked me for my patience, 5 minutes into holding, I was already frustrated at the wait. If it was the utility company’s goal to annoy me before I could even use their service, they were definitely succeeding.

In many instances, phone-based support is a necessary option – if immediate help is needed in the case of an emergency, for example. However, companies are slowly beginning to realize that web-based support offers a solution that is cheaper, more concise, and best of all for the customer – more convenient. These benefits are precisely why I believe we will see more companies put an emphasis on web support and more customers begin to lean towards the web as their preferred method of getting help.

Cost
While there are typically some upfront expenses and time investments needed to implement web support, it pays for itself in the long run. The more instances where the customer is helped without the need to speak with a representative of the company, the more man-hours are saved. This can eliminate the need to hire extra employees for the sole reason of handling simple, everyday issues.

Clarity
Clarity can often be lacking with phone support, especially after the call is over. Unless I’ve scribbled down every word the support representative said to me during our conversation, I’m left with only my memory afterwards. Chances are, I’m not going to remember everything and, in the event I need to review something I forgot from the conversation, I’m simply out of luck. Web-based ticket systems allow me to access all the information related to my issue at anytime and from anywhere, ensuring that if I happen to miss an important piece of information or directive, everything I need is still at my fingertips.

Convenience
We live in a world where breaking sports updates are automatically sent to our phones and Chinese food can be delivered to your door in 20 minutes – convenience has become a necessity in our every day lives. It’s expected. So, why do we put up with being placed on-hold when there are better solutions out there? Nobody enjoys hearing the static-laden music or the canned “your call is very important to us” message. If it’s so important, why am I sitting here waiting and becoming increasingly frustrated?

I recently had an experience with a computer peripherals manufacturer that helped solidify my position on the subject. I had an issue with the company’s product, so naturally I visited their web site, but not to find assistance online – I was looking for a phone number, as I had been taught to do time and time again. I wasn’t able to find a phone number to call, but I did locate a “Support” button. Clicking the button led to a ticket system that prompted me to type up a quick description of my problem and submit it for review. I did so, and then went back to my routine. A short while later the representative assigned to the ticket responded and he was able to resolve my issue without me ever feeling inconvenienced or frustrated in the slightest.

I truly believe that, in nearly every way imaginable, web-based support is king, and this trend will only increase as time goes on and more ideas and technologies are put into practice. It might take a bit of convincing on the part of consumers, but I feel as the shift towards web-based support systems is an inevitability with all things considered. In what ways do support options influence your decision to use one company over another?  Do you have any feedback on web-based or phone-based support?

My Journey to Android After Five Years of iOS Loyalty

I’ve been an avid Apple supporter for years, and have owned iPhones in various incarnations since their launch on June 29th, 2007 (Yes, I was one of the unfortunate / foolish folks who shelled out $599 for the shiny new handset).  Over the past five years I have watched both iOS and Android grow, but my focus has always remained on Apple.  When I was due for a phone upgrade about two years ago I naturally gravitated towards a new iPhone 4 and likely would have purchased it solely based on my belief in Apple, regardless of the phones new features.

Until recently, my experience with Android devices had been quite limited.  What initially turned me off to them was that, despite having great specifications on paper, they couldn’t seem to accomplish even the most basic tasks smoothly. Things like scrolling through a list of contacts or zooming in on a web page made it seem like the hardware and software were fighting with each other.  The unification of software and hardware is an area that Apple has always prioritized, especially with its iOS platform.

I became eligible for a phone upgrade a short while ago and, up until quite recently, had decided that I was going to wait for the next iPhone.  However, after some coercing by some of my Android-loving coworkers, I decided to do something pretty scary – ditch my iPhone in favor of a device powered by an operating system that I’d been so against for so long.  I was hesitant to say the least, but after doing some research and weighing the pros and cons, I ultimately made the switch.  I ended up purchasing a Samsung Galaxy S3, and can say that after using this phone for about ten days, I don’t regret switching one bit and really couldn’t be happier with my decision.

One major plus Android has going for them, from a developer’s standpoint, is that you can develop Android apps for free.  Apple charges a yearly $99 subscription fee to be a part of their iOS Developer Program, and while that may not be a lot of money if you’re an established company, it’s a lot to ask from someone who just wants to be able to develop for mobile devices as a hobby, with the hopes of one day maybe submitting an app for sale.

Recently, Google has begun to roll out their new operating system –Android 4.1 Jelly Bean.  One of the core features of Jelly Bean, known as “Project Butter”, is meant to help the operating system run as smoothly as possible.  Using technologies like triple buffering and vertical sync, the OS is able to run silky smooth, which really hits Apple in an area that iOS has absolutely dominated until recently.

The future is looking very bright for Google, as they’ve resolved the vast majority of the issues that I’ve had with their Android platform and, in my opinion, have caught up to, or surpassed, iOS in nearly every way.  While the iPhone UI is still slightly more polished, the differences are becoming less and less significant and are easily outweighed by the additional capabilities, raw performance, and overall sense of freedom that the Android platform provides.  I can safely say that iOS will always hold a special place in my heart, but it definitely won’t be occupying a special place in my pocket anytime soon.