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Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Future is Here and the Future is Mobile

By now you may have heard that most people access the Internet, especially social media, via their mobile devices. You may also have heard that Smart phones have more computing power than NASA had during the entire Apollo manned space program. Huge rooms filled with huge computers that were so limited back then, but for nerds like me the world of the USS Enterprise made communication technology better, faster and smaller.  As a kid watching Star Trek reruns on weekday afternoons, I couldn't wait for the future to get here and start using things like the communicator and the tri-corder We now live in the age of the Star Trek communicator . . . only better.

It's not hard to understand how so many people have moved away from the desktop and have exchanged it for a more mobile means of electronic communication, at least when it comes to their personal lives. The power of the desktop computer is right in your hand and just happens to be a phone, a camera, a calculator, and a game console, et al. It stores your music, your pictures . . . everything that is of value to you that can be stored electronically can be kept on your Smart phone.

With all this in mind, it makes sense that the people at Facebook have developed a strategy that puts mobile first.  The savvy iPhone or Android device user knows all this. We download music, pictures, and apps like crazy. One app I absolutely love is AppsGoneFree (thank me later). There are thousands of apps, perhaps tens of thousands. I'm not really sure how many, but I do know this, the future of electronic communication is the handheld device - and the future is now.

For people in the parks and recreation profession who see the importance of social media and have developed their agency Facebook account, start thinking about how you can put mobile first, because that's what Facebook is doing, because that's what our society is doing.

By the way, this post was done from my iPhone using Siri.
21st Century reality vs. 23rd Century fantasy.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Science of Service

I'm always encouraging my full-time staff to ask part-time staff for their opinions on how programs are running and how facilities are operating, and I encourage all staff (full and part-time) to be asking our customers questions.  What do they like, what would they like to see different?  What do we do well and what are we missing that would make their experiences better?  Studying our customers is what Disney calls Guestology.  They define guestology as the study of the people for whom we provide service.  Of course, they have it down to a science (see diagram).
For Disney, identifying the amenities, services, and experiences that satisfy and dissatisfy their guests is what helps them understand their guests' wants and needs, and helps them meet and exceed guest expectations.  If it works for a multi-billion dollar company like Disney (for over 60 years I might add), it can work for little West Sacramento Parks.

We will always know what we want and need, but finding out what customers want and need takes time and effort.  Focus groups, public hearings, electronic surveys - these are all ways we can gather input to better understand customer needs and wants, but nothing beats that impromptu, on the spot chat with a customer.  We all find ourselves in conversations with customers when we're visiting programs or on-site at a facility.  We need to add the questions, 'how are we doing, what do you like, what would you like to see different, and how could we make this a better experience for you and your family?' to our conversations.  I'm always surprised by what I hear (and often pleased, too).  Come up with your own questions and begin the study of your customers.
"You don't build it for yourself.  You know what the people want and you build it for them." - Walt Disney
Want to know more about Disney's approach to customer service?  Check out 'understanding your customers using guestology' and add their blog to your reading list.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Wanted: Expereinces and Memories

JULY 22:  It's 6:35 am on a Sunday and I'm on a plane about halfway between Sacramento and Phoenix. I'm traveling on business and will spend the next 5 days as a member of a visitation team to another parks and recreation agency.  It's for a re-accreditation visit where we will evaluate the evidence and report our findings.  We are the eyes and ears of a commission that will determine if the agency we are visiting remains in compliance with standards our industry has identified as best practices.   But that's not why I'm writing this.

In the late 1990's, I let it be known that I wanted to travel and see the United States. When I was a kid in the late 1960's and thoughout the 70's, our family took several family vacations by car and motorhome to places throughout the West - Arizona, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, etc.  We saw Yellowstone,  The Grand Canyon, and Disneyland.  We rafted down the Snake and Salmon Rivers, toured Butchart Gardens, the Olympia Brewery and the old Shipwreck Aquarium.  We saw lots of things, but once high school ended, my travels ended.  For about 20 years I stayed close to home.  College and work were, for the most part, limited to Northern California.  I'm not complaining.  I met my beautiful wife here, got my college degrees here, have family here.  Sacramento and the north state are home for me.  But I always felt I was missing out on seeing other parts of the country, other adventures.

So here's the point of this post - I made it known that I wanted to travel to other parts of the country.  I once heard a person say 'let the universe know what you want and it will . . . . something, something'. I honestly don't remember how the rest of the saying went, but I interpreted it as this: if you want to do something in your life, you have to let others know.  I don't think of this as rubbing a magic lamp or praying, but rather as sharing with others your desires as a means of setting your own will in motion.

Example:  I never had the opportunity to play organized baseball.  I love the sport, but it was not something my parents considered for me when I was young.  In my mid-forties I shared with a buddy my regret over having never played and told him that I would love to play in a camp just to see if I could handle it.  I had played in a few softball leagues, but it just wasn't baseball.   For my birthday (I think it was my 44th) he gave me a garbage bag with about 50 baseballs in it - discarded baseballs from games he had officiated.  The very next year he told me about a fantasy baseball camp that was starting up in a nearby town.  So I had put it out there - I wanted to play baseball - and the opportunity presented itself .

Okay, so I'm romanticizing this whole process (I could just as easily searched the Internet for baseball camps and probably found something), but this wasn't the same as searching for songs on iTunes.  It wasn't a thing I wanted or a place I wished to visit.  It was an experience. More than that, it was an experience I felt I needed in order to: 1) say I had done it, 2) know if I was both physically and mentally capable of handling it, 3) know if it was an experience I would look back on and ,'I'm so glad I did that' or 'well, now I know I don't want to do it again'.  I felt I needed this experience in order to be a better person.  Honestly, I don't know if it has done that, but it's nice to say I've done it (especially at middle age) and I've made some great friends through that experience.  Plus, I got to play ball with my son!

Travel was the same way.  It's hard to afford travel when you have family and all the financial obligations that go with paying for kids' sports, college tuitions, music lessons, mortgage, cars payments, and on and on.  But the universe seems to have responded to my need and brought both the people and opportunities into my life that have made traveling possible.  Not a lot of travel, but enough to take me to places like Canton, MI, Grove City, OH, and Bellevue, WA - places I might not ever think of going, but have had the pleasure of visiting.  Getting to see really cool museums in Kansas City and Atlanta, the campuses of Ohio State and University of Michigan, and to have an office for 4 days in the first ever office of NASA in Houston were all pretty cool experiences.  Walt Disney World, Fenway Park, New York's Central Park, and Gettysburg are all places I wanted to see and fate has taken me there (for those of you who have travelled extensively, this may seem mundane, but not for me).  In fact, as I think of it, my limited travels have given me some pretty unique experiences, such as meeting a former president in Houston and catching a Home Run Derby ball in Seattle during the 2001 All Star Game event.

My point here is that if there is something you really want - a heart's desire - make it known.  Keeping those wants and needs to yourself is simply denying the universe the chance to bring the people and opportunities into your life that can 'align the stars'.  And perhaps the universe is simply waiting, waiting, waiting . . . . for you to ask.

One other thing about sharing what it is you really want - putting your money where your mouth is.  I've learned that if I say I want something and then opportunities come along, I have to act on them.  Sometimes this means some work on you part.  For me this meant taking on additional responsibilities - responsibilities I did not have to take on.  It also meant getting certified, which meant studying and passing an exam.  And it means overcoming fear - fear that you might have to go it alone with no familiar faces in sight.  It's risky, but no more risky than starting a new job or going to a new school.  You just gotta put yourself out there!

That's it for now.  Gotta get ready for this bird to land in Austin, Texas.  Glad I said something, paid attention, and took advantage of the opportunities life brought my way.

        “I'd rather regret the things I've done than regret the things I haven't done.” - Lucille Ball

        "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Stay hungry. Stay foolish." - Steve Jobs
        "For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, 'It might have been'."  - John Greenleaf Whittier
        "Take a chance!  All life is chance.  The person who goes furthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare." - Dale Carnegie