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Add Desirable Do-It-Yourself Features to Lower Costs and Add Customers

Feb 25, 2008
I acted and my action made me wise. --Thom Gunn

If beneficiaries, customers, and users can help themselves, costs can fall while satisfaction rises. For instance, some stores now offer the experience of being a potter. Everything you need to make and decorate a pot is there, and your artistic creation can be carried away to use after it has been fired and cooled by the store's staff.

Selling you a decorated pot simply wouldn't be the same. This experiential approach is also a lot cheaper and less time-consuming than taking a pottery course. With plenty of written directions at the work stations and people you can ask for help, customers find it easy and pleasant to create pots.

But many organizations start with the idea of people helping themselves to reduce costs and fail to execute well. Why? Setting up workable do-it-yourself conditions is hard to do.

Here's an example: Promises are sometimes easier made than kept. That's a lesson I learned the hard way when I founded The Billionaire Entrepreneurs' Master Mind.

Members were promised that they would receive recordings of all the group's teleconferences in MP3 format. Why did I promise that? Because the teleseminar-based courses I have taken provide replays in MP3 format. I liked listening to those replays and thought that such recordings must be the best way to go.

After touring more store shelves than I would have liked, I picked up a few boxes from a section that said "MP3 recorders" and bought the version that a wandering teenage clerk told us would serve this application. Since the first teleconference was now less than 14 hours away, I opened up the box and began to read the directions.

Good news! There was a separate owner's manual to make a "fast start" and I soon had the item charged up and running.

But after the fourth "fast start" step, I could never get the control screen to change to the one shown in the manual. Frustration was setting in. More buttons were pushed and different batteries were tried. A flashlight was used to inspect the minute buttons but revealed nothing helpful.

Then I eventually noticed that the "screen" was actually a piece of protective plastic with a printed imitation of a real screen on it. Peel off that plastic, and you could see that the actual screen was showing just what it was supposed to . . . as the owner's manual promised. But there was no mention anywhere of an opaque printed plastic strip pretending to be a real screen that needed to be removed. That item of missing information was strike one against that manual.

In baseball, a batter is out if three strikes are recorded against him or her. Americans often accept three failures from organizations and directions before concluding that there has been unacceptable performance.

Feeling more confident, I decided to test the player to be sure it was recording. I read the manual from cover to cover and learned how to record voices. I next did the "testing, 1, 2, 3" routine as a voice check.

But I could find no place where the operating manual told us how to play back and listen to voice recordings. I could see that something was happening when I recorded my voice, but without hearing a playback I could not figure out how the sound quality needed to be adjusted. That lack of information about voice playback was strike two against that manual.

Feeling less confident, I decided to also use a regular tape recorder for the teleconference in case the MP3 recorder wasn't working properly. With both recorders appearing to function, the first teleconference took place and was recorded. A great sense of relief set in. Now all I had to do was to send out the MP3 recording.

I reread the manual a few more times and couldn't find any description of how to send an MP3 voice recording to someone else over the Internet. Thinking that I had just reached strike three, which would mean pitching the recorder out or going back for a refund, I noticed a 5-inch by 5-inch piece of orange paper that said in large letters: "TOP! Having Trouble? Before you return it . . . Contact our Web site. We Can Help."

Okay, now perhaps I was getting somewhere. I visited the Web site and felt pretty good until I realized that all of the information there was a PDF version of the owner"s manual I had already read more often than the Bible. Strike three was clearly headed for the plate when I noticed in tiny type on the orange sheet a toll-free number to call.

Picking up the telephone with shaky fingers, I soon reached someone who calmly asked what the problem was. I told him, and without pausing he told me the eight required steps. He double checked to be sure the steps worked, and I was off the phone in less than two minutes.

Wow! I was about to score. The MP3 file was quickly loaded onto the computer and I could listen to its lovely quality. Ah! Relief was setting in.

Quickly opening an e-mail program, I began attaching the file to e-mail for the members. After grinding and grinding through the attachment loading process, nothing happened. After six false starts, I noticed that the file seemed to be too big for my service.

No problem. We would just compress the file.

After finding out how to do that, I tried to attach and send the file again. The same problem occurred. Feeling a little panicked, I bought the upgraded e-mail service that allows e-mailers to send huge files. You guessed it. The file was still too big.

Here's what I began to understand. The reason that MP3 files sound so good is because they record vast amounts of sound details. But within 15 minutes, you've got more data than most e-mail accounts will send or accept.

No wonder those course replay MP3 recordings we had been listening to always divided the material into 20 to 25 minute segments. Also, the courses never sent us the files by e-mail. The courses always directed us to sites where we could download the files.

Did the MP3 recorder manual mention this issue? No, of course not. So I had a file I couldn't share electronically unless I posted it to a Web site (not a very secure solution) or burned the file onto CDs and physically shipped those all over the world.

And so I needed a plan B for electronically sending this recording. Thank goodness for that tape recording. I played the recorded tape back in 15-minute segments and recorded each segment as a separate MP3 file.

Then I e-mailed five times to the members to send them all the segments as attachments. Naturally, I overloaded many of their accounts with data, too. One poor fellow had his segments sent to three different addresses before he received a complete set.

But I did succeed in keeping my promise. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending . . . if you overlook the nine hours dedicated to buying the player, learning how to make it work, and sending the eventual files to our members.

Thom Gunn was right. I acted and that action made me wise. But that wisdom came from an unexpected direction. Mainly myr actions made me wise about how to write this chapter to help you avoid the mistakes that many make in adding do-it-yourself features to their offerings.
About the Author
Donald Mitchell is an author of seven books including Adventures of an Optimist, The 2,000 Percent Squared Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution Workbook, The Irresistible Growth Enterprise, and The Ultimate Competitive Advantage. Read about creating breakthroughs through 2,000 percent solutions and receive tips by e-mail by registering for free at

http://www.2000percentsolution.com .
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