Open Your Eyes

I had an interesting and slightly odd experience a couple of weeks back which made me open by eyes a little (literally) – and it involves customer service.

When given the choice, I normally will try to push my money to local businesses in the town I live in, which is Maynard, MA. That said, we are lucky to have an optical shop right here in town which can do standard exams and provide you with frames or contacts. I never really need to go anywhere else other than Look Optical.

Here’s what I like about it. First, I can walk there. As someone who has been in the retail business, convenience of location is huge with a capital H – we saw it in every customer survey we did. Look Optical also has a good selection of frames and they actually make their own frames, too. Also good. Convenience and selection – two major hot points.

Alex Thayer - Look Optical
Alex Thayer – Look Optical
But here’s where the hammer nails it in – service. The owner is a guy named Alex and he’s one of those people who has that talent where he can remember people’s names and he cheerfully says “Hey Jeff!” every time I walk in and he’ll remember I like music and ask what I’m listening to these days.

What’s more, he has the ability to remember what frames I used to wear and on more than one occasion, he remembers what frames I have previously tried on and not purchased. There is the magic. I will likely never shop anywhere else for optical needs.

I went in a few weeks back to order some new contact lenses and get a quick exam. I’m in the room and we finish up and Alex turns off the bright-as-the-sun light that was shining in my eyes and I can see he turns serious and then he asks me “what do you think is the most dangerous thing about contact lenses?”

Of course, I have no idea and I say so.

The answer: you can lose your eye. WHAT? He then proceeds to tell me that he had a patient who developed some kind of bacteria issue and ended up in the city in surgery – and lost an eye.

See the FDA’s page on the dangers of contacts here.

I’d never seen him so serious and it was clear that he took it hard. So we talked about ways to minimize the risks, including washing your hands when you put them in and take ’em out (which I do every time, all the time, anyway) and also not swimming or showering in them, because water carries bacteria.

Now this I hadn’t heard before. Almost every Sunday, I shower with my contacts in after my Sunday night hockey league games. And I must confess I swim in my contacts because a) I’m blind as a bat and don’t like blurry vision in the water, but more importantly, b) I’m usually swimming with my children nearby and I’m damn well going to make sure I have clear sight of them.

Of course, Alex understood the latter and discouraged the former, but wanted to let me know there is some risk in showering and swimming with contacts and he wanted me to know about it. I’m glad I don’t live in Flint.

Bottom line – customer service is king. I will take my contacts out when I shower from now on.

devotionIn this case, my devotion to Look Optical IS about convenience and location, but truth be told, if Alex moved to Acton or Sudbury, I’d drive there. Because he knows my name.

This applies to online marketing and customer service. The better you know your customers and the better you cater to their wants and needs, the better off your business will be. This is basic marketing 101 type stuff, but I continue to see it muffed by companies big and small.

Sure, there’s software – GOOD software – that can automate this for you in some facets and it can be quite effective. But responding in REAL-TIME in human ways AS SOON AS POSSIBLE is where people start seeing you like I see Alex.

For example, my goals in Social Media at my last job were to try and respond to any and all mentions of our brand within 1-5 minutes.  That was a lofty goal because I always had a lot of other stuff going on, but I’m proud to say that more often than not, I did it.

open your eyes
You wouldn’t believe how happy it made people. Does it show up in Google Analytics? Nope. Does it show up as a trackable ROI event? Nope. But I can promise you it shows up in people’s hearts and minds and that means one word, which maybe trumps them all: Devotion. I know this was effective because I saw repeat orders from certain people after I engaged with them.

So don’t swim or shower in your contacts, get to know your customers and be obsessed about making them smile. Open your eyes. Be human.

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I’m Ready for the Laughing Gas

I recently got back from a family trip to Hawaii.

(Editors note: Back when I wrote on this page more regularly, my next sentence in this post would have been “but that’s a blog post for another time” or something like that. But let’s face it – at my current pace of roughly two posts per decade, there’s little chance you’ll get a Hawaii post out of me).

Anyway, while I was in Hawaii, I still tried to keep up with news back home on my IPad via my Boston Globe subscription. To give you an indication of a) just how much less attention I pay to music than before and b) how much U2 has fallen off my map in the last 5-7 years, I had NO idea that U2 booked four nights at the TD Garden, with all four performances occurring while I was gone. I am not entirely sure I would have gotten tickets, but I thought it a little strange that I hadn’t even heard of the shows.

By my best recollection, the last time I saw U2 would have been around 1992. It’s safe to say that back then, they were IT for me and many others. I think I may have seen them 4-5 times on the Achtung Baby tour alone and can clearly remember shows in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Foxborough and New York City. I love SetList.FM!

Anyway, it got me thinking about U2 again and while rock radio ruined them for me by pounding all their Top 10 songs all over the radio for years, there’s still so many very very good songs that the radio doesn’t play. So I had an idea to construct a Spotify playlist of all my favorite U2 songs that did NOT chart above #50 in the US Billboard Charts. What I found was that there are 17 songs that I can go back to again and again and probably never get sick of. These are songs that you will likely never hear on the radio, either. Bonus!

I can split the playlist into era’s for myself, because that is fun to do if you’re a music nerd. So I’m gonna do it. It won’t be that painful for you and if you know me well enough, your name might even be in here.

The Middle School Era (1982-1985):

As a middle school boy, I hadn’t really cemented myself as a deep music fan, but the foundation was there. I had a deep appreciation for Led Zeppelin – and not just the hits that everyone else knew. I also liked deep Def Leppard cuts, AC/DC and upon looking through my 6th grade notebook recently, discovered that I also liked The Firm and Journey quite a bit.

Songs from this era on the Playlist:

  • Like A Song – oh, the urgency and liberation of being young and untouchable.
  • Seconds – one of my favorite U2 songs ever, I think about nuclear weapons. Takes a second to say goodbye!
  • 40 – they got it from the Bible. Really. A mellow, lovely tune.
  • Surrender – another of my all time U2 faves. Vaguely referencing suicide, prostitution and attempting normalcy.
  • A Sort of Homecoming – a warmer vibe here, but that moment in the song when he sings “…and we live by the side of the road, on a side of a hill…..as the valley explodes!” — you just know that this band is a beast. Emotional, brilliant, beautiful. So much going on in this song.
  • The Unforgettable Fire – another rich, emotional beauty of a song. Listen closely for Larry Mullen’s “shit” near the beginning as he struggles to get in time. Love it.
  • Wire – could be my favorite U2 song of all time. I think it’s about drug use, but I can’t be sure. That’s how I interpret it, anyway. A frantic, dark, rock and roll song that stays with you. Ends with “I’m no dope, I give you hope, here’s the rope, here’s the rope, now…swing away…..” This is KILLER!

But I didn’t know ANY of these songs back then! All I really remember about U2 back then was “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” their first real radio breakthrough from the War album. I sure liked the song, but they were pretty new and I wasn’t going deep with them.  I also have a very specific memory of sitting in my room one day, being afraid of Hurricane Gloria in 1982 and listening to their song “Gloria” repeatedly. Why does that stick in my head?

The Unforgettable Fire came next, in 1984 and that was another step forward in terms of my exposure. Like many other people, I gained a huge amount of respect for them after Live Aid’s killer performances from that record. I still wasn’t ALL in on U2 then, but “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and “Bad” were two songs I really liked. It wouldn’t come to me until much later how strong this album was from front-to-back. Dear Lord, it’s a near-masterpiece. I didn’t really get it, though, until the early ’90s.

The High School Years (1985-1989)


OK, this is when U2 went totally bananas. Everyone LOVED them! My specific memories during high school are of three people who were always pushing me to listen more. Thank you Josh Harmon, Karen Skinner and my high school girlfriend Paula. Karen sat behind me, I think it was Spanish II class. She was a year ahead of me and I remember her really pushing me hard to listen to more than just the hits. Truth is I’ve never, ever liked “With or Without You” or “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” But the rest of that album is on the money, honey. Big time. Karen was right. Josh was just a U2 fanatic and also had an influence.

Songs from this era on the Playlist:

  • Exit –  a man plunges into darkness. Maybe their most depressing song ever. But compelling as hell.
  • Running to Stand Still –  another story about the ravages of drug addiction, but beautiful nonetheless.
  • Red Hill Mining Town – likely my 2nd favorite U2 song ever. Crazy highs and low lows. They’ve never really performed this live because they discovered that Bono couldn’t hit those high notes quite enough. This makes me so sad, because if I saw it live it would probably make me cry. It’s about miners and the effect of their job on their families. The moment when Bono screams “Hanging on! You’re all that left to hold on to” is maybe my favorite moment in the bands whole catalog.
  • Van Dieman’s Land – So many people were turned off by Rattle & Hum, but there’s a lot to like here and this is one of them. A dark, simple song sung by The Edge. Always has stuck with me.
  • Hawkmoon 269 – Another one of those quiet tunes that hits some frantic highs.
  • God Part II – Most certainly not their strongest work, but I’m still a sucker for a memorable song with good rock guitar and lyrics that reference other famous musicians.

The College Years (1989-1993)


This is where it peaks for me. Achtung Baby came out and I about went berzerk for U2. Lots of people didn’t appreciate (or maybe understand) U2’s change in direction, but I LOVED it. I didn’t mind the serious U2 of the ’80s, but I LOVED the whole approach in the ’90s of the band spitting irony of the mass media and creating characters to mock it (the whole FLY thing). But that was just the sideshow. The MUSIC on Achtung Baby, to me, was their peak. Adventurous, a little more rocking, richer and a little less preachy……and catchy as hell. This is also the last album by them that I loved. Really, my admiration was over the top, probably.

A year or two later, they unleashed Zooropa and that had a few gems, but it was the beginning of the end of my adulation for U2. Ever since then, it’s been 10% hit and 90% miss. But that sweet spot from 1982-1992 is one I don’t think any band will ever accomplish again.

Songs from this era on the Playlist:

  • Zoo Station – if only for the distorted, rocking guitar intro. It was the opener on the Achtung Baby tour for all those shows I saw. And it’s awesome.
  • So Cruel – maybe one of their most beautiful songs to listen to.
  • Zooropa – the last song I really loved by this band. An atmospheric rock song that would have (and should have) fit perfectly on Achtung Baby and it’s a song that I have never gotten tired of, even after 20 years. Super cool chorus, awesome vocals, great mix and just a  beauty. If you haven’t given this song a chance in a while, you really should.
  • Wild Honey – From the “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” album. I liked this album. But it didn’t destroy me like Achtung Baby did. This song is a nice, acoustic-based rock song with a great hook.

So there you have it. When I post to the blog, I go big. I’d love to say it won’t take me three years to post again, but who knows. Playlist below. This is basically the set list I would hand them for a live show if it were up to me. Gosh, I would pay a LOT to see them do this set:

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In Through The Out Door

I’ve been reading a book about parenting lately that explores, among other things, how to embrace and engage your “spirited child.” We have one of those. A delightful little kid who has TONS of spirit. So we’re trying to figure out how to utilize that spirit in the most positive way we can. You see, my in-laws both spent their entire careers trying to better the lives of children. Not their own, though they did a damn good job at that, too.  So when they speak about and give guidance on what to provide children with at young age, I listen. Intently. The recurring theme is this: focus on their strengths and use those strengths to overcome or minimize any weaknesses. It’s not a very complicated theme, but some of the stories I hear from about their work seems to indicate that many parents  weren’t able to embrace that simple theme.

Once again, I’m getting sidetracked. This book I’m reading goes into fairly specific detail about introverts and extroverts. I began thinking about my own personality traits as I really explored the two supposed opposites. What I found was that I have most definitely lean towards introvert, but I do have some extrovert tendencies.

Let’s go to Wikipedia for some more detail. My responses below are in bold:

Introverts often:

  • Gain energy when they are alone – hell yes
  • Derive energy from the inner world, ie, feelings, ideas, impressions – yep
  • Are good listeners – nope, but I’m trying
  • Think before you do or say – most of the time
  • Maintain more eye contact while listening to someone than when you speak to him – big time yes
  • Have little interest, but any interest is very immersed – nope
  • Only deep relationships with others is called “friendship” – yes
  • Prefer to talk face to face than in the group – oh lord yes
  • Speak slowly, with pauses –  no
  • That they need silence to concentrate, do not like it when they interrupt the work or any other activities (eg, ringing phone) – pretty much
  • Benefit from long-term memory, which often have the feeling of “lightheadedness” and may have trouble finding the right words during a conversation. yes
  • Better than extroverts to cope with tasks requiring attention – perhaps, but I’m not convinced
  • Easier to learn than by reading a conversation with others – yes
  • Prefer to reveal their inadequacy wit and mismatch – yes bigtime
  • Work the same regardless of whether they are praised or not, – nope, love praise
  • May have difficulty remembering faces and names – big yes, but can remember almost ANY phone number

So you can see that I have a lot introverted features. I am generally very uncomfortable talking and participating in large groups and prefer smaller groups or one-on-one. It’s not like I start to shake and pee myself in large groups, it’s just not my preference. I try my best. I absolutely LOVE spending time with myself. Which isn’t to say I ALWAYS need to be alone, but having time to myself does get me re-energized and always has. I spent a lot of time by myself as a child, so perhaps I got used to it and embraced it.

Now, an extrovert, according to Wikipedia:

is the act, state, or habit of being predominantly concerned with and obtaining gratification from what is outside the self. Extroverts tend to enjoy human interactions and are generally enthusiastic, talkative, assertive and gregarious in social situations. They take pleasure in activities that involve large social gatherings such as: parties, community activities, public demonstrations, business, and political groups. Politics, teaching, sales, managing and brokering are fields that favor extroversion. An extroverted person enjoys and becomes energized by larger groups of people while time alone is less enjoyable and boring to them.

This is not me. For the most part. I believe very much that I have some extroverted tendencies. I do enjoy human interaction very much. In small groups. There are times when I am very talkative, though you have to know me quite well. Other than that, nothing in that description fits me very well. It’s all very interesting stuff. More from Wikipedia – and this pretty much nails it on the head for me:

Although extroverts and introverts have real personality and behavior differences, it is important to avoid pigeonholing or stereotyping by personality. Humans are complex and unique, and because extroversion varies along a continuum, they may have a mixture of both orientations. A person who acts introverted in one scenario may act extroverted in another, and people can learn to act “against type” in certain situations. Jung’s theory states that when someone’s primary function is extroverted, his secondary function is always introverted (and vice versa).

So I see facets of both traits in my own children. I will, in observance and the experience of what my in-laws have told me, do my best to have my children embrace their strengths and whether they are introverts or extroverts doesn’t really matter because one isn’t better than the other. But it’s fun to delve into this stuff again (I studied and minored in Sociology in college). Yes, by the way, I have taken the Myers-Briggs test. I came out as an INFP, but was extremely close to ENFP. So there you have it. Your complete reading of my personality. Fascinating, I know. Or not.

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Company and Privacy

Tomorrow (March 8) will mark exactly one year since I changed jobs. It seems completely impossible that one year has gone by so quickly, but the numbers don’t lie. Many of my friends ask me how it’s going and if I think I made the right move. As you might imagine, sometimes it takes a year – or even longer – to know for sure if you’ve done the right thing when you make a job change. Making a change that dramatic can be traumatic. Me? Hell, I consider myself lucky that I elected to make the change. Not a lot of people seem to be able to do that on their own these days. So almost every day, I thank my lucky stars I even have a job.

The answer to the question, by the way, is a resounding, amplified, loud YES. Believe me, there are still days when I feel like I’m walking through the dark woods with little-to-no guidance, but for the most part I must say the move has been insanely positive, exciting and of course educational, but professionally and sociologically. There haven’t been many days when I wanted to get back to the utter comfort of what I did before, to slink back into the old chair at Ask and just put it on robot. That happens when you do something for nine years – it becomes robot. So you rust it out and move on.

So, that thing about walking through the dark woods – I think this feeling is amplified when I think about where I came from – a larger organization with a lot of processes in place.  I spent nine years there and Ask in 2001 was actually a lot like where I am now:  a younger, leaner, wild-west of a place. When Ask was bought for 2 billion bucks in 2005, everything changed. My job itself didn’t change much, but the company around me most certainly did. It matured. Fast.

I spent an additional four years there after the acquisition and, all told, ended up learning a TON and soaking up an environment of extremely smart, creative, driven people. People whom I sometimes miss daily. When I think about Ask, I never think “boy, I miss that job.” Because I don’t. Not because I didn’t like it, but because I didn’t really feel challenged there anymore. It was like throwing on that old, comfortable college sweatshirt during my last year, which by the way, was one of my most successful years there. I, like the old sweatshirt, was completely functional, but worn out, frayed – and, yeah, time for something new. So when I think about Ask now, I think about some of the really fun times I had there with really great people. The frustrations and crap fade away with time. Much like life itself, it’s the relationships that matter most. I don’t keep in regular touch with many people there, but I do occasionally drop in for a hello on chat or email from time to time. It’ll be fun to hang with them again when the situation presents itself. And it will.

The new job? I guess I can’t call it the new job anymore, can I? The last year has been a seachange, learning to navigate the sometimes choppy and sometimes smooth waters of an entirely new set of heartbeats. Retail is an interesting beast, let me tell you. I was on the ground floor of the Newbury Comics internet business for about a year back in 1998-99 and that’s the extent of my retail experience, other than working in a mall record store in high school in 1988-89. As you imagine, though, given my interest in hockey, the perks are lovely. Many people ask me if I am sick of hockey yet. No, I am not at all.

Ten years after Newbury Comics, at this time last year, I plopped into the chair of Marketing guy (online and offline) at one of the country’s largest hockey and lacrosse retailers. Niche retailing, they call it. I’m still learning every day. I learn from my boss. I learn a LOT from our store managers, whether they know it or not. I learn from my co-workers. And I sincerely hope they learn from me, because I do believe I have a lot to share. Geez, I hope they feel the same.

Anyway, isn’t that what life is about? Learning. Learning about work, about people, about everything. Tonight I had to explain to one of my children what “company” is. In the process of potty training, he has learned what “privacy” is, so in the context of one of those conversations, the subject of having “company” came up (as a quick sidenote, my boy has only requested privacy on the potty once, otherwise, it has required my or Steph’s, um, company). So I had to tell my son what” company” was and the only thing that popped into my head was to tell him “company is when you need someone with you.”

I have to say, needing someone with you is a statement for the ages, whether it applies to work, home, or friends. There are the very rare people you meet in life who are truly, completely satisfied being alone. Think about that for a second. How many people do you know who are 100% happy by themselves? Not many. Company is what it’s all about. Be it your spouse, your co-workers or your friends, company is what makes most people’s world’s tick. When you look back on it all, you’re sure as hell not going to think about all your jobs, are you?

I know I won’t. But I can tell you this: I love my job. And I love company. Am I making any sense? I’m not sure.

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Checking In

I don’t know. I have to tell you, I really wish I could write here more. I truly do. I miss really taking the time to write, to really think something out and put it down. It’s funny – this week a friend of mine emailed to tell me that he still reads the blog and is happy that someone out there is still writing in the “long-form” online format, instead of doing what everyone else is doing, which is writing in 140 character blips (i.e., Facebook and Twitter). Here’s the problem – I’m updating Facebook and Twitter WAY  more than here. Because that is honestly all I have time for. I feel like the bad guy, abandoning a 10 year relationship, which is essentially what I have done.

It makes me a little sad. But how sad can I be? It’s life, man. Commuting has replaced blogging. So be it. There’s not much I can do about it, so I’ll continue to miss writing, but I’ll try to do it when I can. “When I can” tends to be Saturday nights at roughly 11 or midnight. Normally I’m in bed at this time every night, but Saturday’s I’ll draw it out a little and go old school. Spend a little time by myself. Try to find some new music or read a book, maybe write a post.

But it’s hard to come up with stuff when my life is so……….well…….I don’t know. Nothing interesting is happening. I should re-phrase that. I’m pretty sure that every day something interesting happens with my kids and life, but I’ve said it before and I will say it again – this blog is not about my kids. And it never will be. There’s plenty of mommy and daddy blogs out there if that’s what you’re looking for, so go find them.

Speaking of books, I’ve just finished Jean Edward Smith’s FDR biopic. Good golly. It was almost 900 pages. Now, I knew FDR’s presidency was transformative, but I never realized to what degree. The things this man accomplished in office were astounding. He didn’t do it without controversy, or without having some pretty low ratings in the public opinion polls, but my goodness, the list of things his administration accomplished are extraordinary. If you are at all a fan of history, this one is one of the best. A captivating, interesting read. A lot of the personal stuff (and there was a lot with FDR) was left out of the book, which I appreciated. You can’t write a fair bio without getting into it in some detail, but the book was largely focused on his professional accomplishments. What a read!

I’m still following this year’s version of the Bruins with great interest. I’ve been to probably 6 games and I think I’m 1-5. All of them have been close. I’d like to hope I’m not an albatross around the team’s neck when I am there. Because I plan to be at all the playoff games this spring. I do not think they will make the Cup finals, but I think they’re a possibility for a fairly deep run if they can make a meaningful move before the trading deadline.

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