A simple step to customer satisfaction: databases with long memories

I’m flying United Airlines later this month for the first time since 2004. A few days ago, United emailed me: “Don’t miss out on award miles on your trip.” The email encouraged me to sign up for MileagePlus, United’s customer loyalty program.

I’m no United regular, but as I actually have three flight legs booked with them through April, I figured they had a point.

But I decided to do them one better. Digging around old text files, I found my old Continental OnePass number.

I pulled up my flight details and dropped in the old OnePass number. United recognized the account instantly and added it to my itinerary.

Pleasantly surprised, I proceeded to log into my account, using the same number and the decade-old PIN I had on file. United.com had no trouble pulling my account together, listing my lifetime miles flown while simultaneously updating my address to the one I entered for my upcoming travel.

This is what all customer loyalty programs should look like. With the right investment in database architecture, companies can have information about their customers readily available, and utilize that to surprise and delight even the most passive of patrons. Like me, the once-every-twelve-years infrequent flier, now pleasantly blogging about a company I once publicly rebuked.

I recently had an unsatisfying discussion with Hyatt via Twitter where I challenged their policy of expiring accounts. Seems they are deleting my Gold Passport account next month because of lack of use—not expiring my points, but wiping out my ID entirely. Why? I asked. I got back a corporate version of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and a suggestion I buy some points to stay in their good graces.

Compare Hyatt’s attitude with United, where any customer stickiness remains part of my lifetime value, regardless of frequency. Or AMC Theatres, where my Moviewatcher account worked for roughly 20 years, despite being forgotten for a good 15 of them between uses, when I lived out of reach of one of their locations.

AMC welcomed me back with open arms (and I’m now a highly satisfied Stubs customer, too). United has now done the same, and suddenly I’m looking forward to my flight.

Assessing the importance of North American cities by their major league sports presence, revisited

A few years ago, I dissected what a city’s sports footprint says about it, a fun (for me) exercise that gave interesting perspective to the American landscape. In light of Stan Kroenke’s merciless city-bashing as he took his Rams out of St. Louis this week—he’s from St. Louis! He’s named after two local sports heroes! And he told the city it’s a national laggard!—I’m revisiting the list, updated below.

Herewith, a revised tally by city of the major sports markets in America, covering MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL teams, in descending order of size, organized by my own arbitrary but numerically derived categories.

The majors
New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Washington, DC. These dozen cities are the hosts with the most: a team from every sports league. Of them, New York is the most major of all, as it has two teams in every league, if you include the Jersey-based football teams with NY in their logos. (New York’s position atop the hierarchy is much cleaner with the Nets’ and Islanders’ moves to Brooklyn.) Chicago gets bragging rights for its two baseball teams, while Dallas gets a partial bye, since its baseball and football teams technically play over the border in Arlington; and Los Angeles, long a football pariah, has a team once again, and may have two NFL franchises by the end of the decade.

The mid-majors
Cleveland, Houston, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Tampa Bay, Toronto. These cities have 3/4 coverage, not a bad haul, especially for cities you wouldn’t otherwise think are major or important on other scales, like Tampa. With the Rams’ move to L.A., there are now just six cities with this kind of sports presence. I almost demoted San Francisco because the NBA Warriors still refer to their location as “Golden State,” which makes no sense to me, even with the Golden Gate Bridge in their logo. Also, bonus points to Toronto for being so American that it boasts several of our pro sports teams.

The players
Charlotte, Milwaukee, Baltimore, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Kansas City, New Orleans, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Nashville. Each of these cities has two pro teams. Interestingly, all of them count a pro football team as one of the two (with the exception of Milwaukee, which has Green Bay up the road). Indianapolis and Nashville get less credit here than the others, because they have teams that cite a hometown state rather than the city. And woe to St. Louis, longtime home of the proud Cardinals baseball team, which has now suffered the loss of an NFL franchise—twice.

States that matter, because their cities don’t
Minnesota, Utah and New Jersey each have teams that don’t bother to name-check any town in particular. Poor New Jersey not only lost the Nets, but the Jets and Giants, who have played in the Meadowlands for decades, continue to pretend their port of call is across the Hudson River. And Utah has a lone sports team, which migrated there from New Orleans but retained its name, so we get to enjoy the dissonance of a team in straightlaced Salt Lake City called the Jazz.

Legacies
I love cities that have a sports team much larger than they would otherwise deserve. Green Bay, for one, with its legendary football club. And San Antonio with a leftover from the NBA-ABA merger in the 1970s–which, by the way, explained the New Jersey Nets for more than 30 years.

Canadian cities that make the list thanks to the NHL
Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver. I bet the CFL has a team in each of these cities. (Montreal had an MLB team until a few years ago, and Vancouver briefly sported an NBA franchise.)

One-sport oddities
Columbus has a hockey team. I don’t know why. Jacksonville has a football team, and not even the NFL is sure why. They play basketball in Memphis and Oklahoma City, mainly because wealthy men chose to buy teams and plunk them across town from their estates. Orlando, on the other hand, has a fairly strong basketball presence but no other teams.
Portland has a lone and legendarily popular basketball team; Sacramento also has an NBA presence. A few miles south, San Jose has a hockey team, which I’ve also never understood, although they always had a pretty terrific logo.

And speaking of hockey, the NHL has a team in Raleigh, N.C., which is probably why they call themselves the Carolina Hurricanes. Got all that?

The year in cities, 2015

Eleventh edition! Here is everywhere I visited and slept overnight in 2015. Repeat visits denoted with an asterisk—lots of them this year.

New York
Palm Beach Gardens, FL *
Lake Buena Vista, FL *
New City, NY *
Livingston, NJ *
Toronto, Ontario, Canada *
Hershey, PA
Gloucester, MA *
Groton, CT *
Edgartown, MA *
Athens, GA
North Creek, NY *

Helpful cashier, II

I’m at my corner deli when a man pokes his head in the front door. He barely comes into the store. He has a dog with him.

The cashier recognizes him; he’s obviously a regular. “Iced coffee?” she asks.

“Please.”

“Black?”

Please.

She intuitively grabs the largest cup she has. “This size?”

He nods in assent. She begins to prepare his drink, helping one gruffly appreciative man to better face his Monday.

Helpful cashier, I

The lottery is $202 million tomorrow. On the way out of work I stopped in the little shop in my office building to give it a shot.

“One Powerball ticket, please,” I asked the manager behind the counter.

“A winning one?” he asked.

Ina Golub, 1938-2015

Ina Golub, an award-winning Judaica artist whose weaving and beadwork are in the permanent collection of the Jewish Museum of New York and many congregations nationwide, died today in West Orange, New Jersey, from complications resulting from throat cancer. She was 76.

ina_golub_headshot_yarn

Ina was my aunt. She was the only notable relationship I had on my mother’s side of the family; my grandparents died early, and Ina and her husband, Herb, did not have children.

Going to their house was a much different experience than being in my own home. Ina and Herb were into the fine arts. He was a concert pianist and university professor; she, of course, was a weaver, and later a beadworker.

As a kid, stepping into their home was fascinating: the pianist rehearsing downstairs, the huge looms taking up two bedrooms, the balls of yarn and professional-grade drawing tables, the reel-to-reel playing classical music, the Eames recliner. Her house, never renovated, always stood out in my mind—the polished-brick entryway floor, the thick carpeting, the purple accents everywhere, and the dog, always a dog, a succession of fluffy Shetland sheepdogs when I was young (named Sebastian and Amadeus, naturally) and later an adorable rescue.

I spent hours drawing with high-end colored pencils in Ina’s studio, encouraged by her continual focus on creativity. Ina, my mother and I all inherited some of my grandfather Irving’s creative genes—Ina most of all, by far, but enough trickled down that Ina saw her lineage in me, and welcomed my explorations and curiosity.

Once a year, she’d drive me into New York from the suburbs, and we’d spend the day on the Upper West Side, poking around the dinosaurs at the Museum of Natural History, and occasionally exploring the flea market on Columbus Avenue and the curio store Maxilla and Mandible. Decades later, I now live in the neighborhood, and I think of my aunt every time I bring my sons to the museum.

ina_golub_fishIna was immensely talented in a variety of physical media. Her “Adon Livyatan”
Havadalah Spice Container (right) won first prize from the 1998 Philip and Sylvia Spertus
Judaica Prize. Her tapestries hang in congregations like Emanu-El in New York, Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, California, and at several synagogues in her home state of New Jersey, including my mother’s own congregation.

I am honored to possess a variety of Ina’s works, including a woven challah cover and an astounding pair of beaded candleholders. Ina also created a pomegranate encasement that contained the ceremonial glass that I broke at my wedding ceremony, and the tallis in which I was bar mitzvahed and married. They are among my more cherished personal belongings.

Ina is survived by her sister, Myrna, and a lasting body of work that should be her legacy.

Emergency maintenance

Discovered late tonight that I had script errors that were compromising my WordPress install. The Ideapad looks to be up and running cleanly again, but some errors may persist. My kids’ websites may be offline a bit longer. Of course, you should just be following Nate and Eli on Twitter, anyway.

On leadership

In the wake of the Royals’ latest improbable postseason run, I’ve been thinking a lot about the recent New York Times Sunday Magazine profile of Ned Yost.

Not because Yost is so hard to parse—how is someone that obviously wrong turning out to be that right?—but because of Yost’s anecdote about his friendship with Dale Earnhardt:

In 1994, when a labor dispute truncated the baseball season, Earnhardt invited Yost to travel with him on the Nascar circuit and serve as “rehydration engineer” (in other words, water-fetcher). At one race, Earnhardt roared back from a huge deficit and nearly won. When Yost congratulated him, Earnhardt grabbed him by the shirt and pulled his friend nose to nose. ”Never, ever, let anybody who you’re around, anybody you’re associated with, allow you to settle for mediocrity,” Yost says Earnhardt told him.

What great perspective. So good I’m going to highlight it twice:

Never, ever, let anybody who you’re around, anybody you’re associated with, allow you to settle for mediocrity.

Why are the Royals successful? Because Yost holds his players to a high standard and expects them to reach it. He doesn’t pander, second-guess or micromanage. He sets a standard and his team follows it.

Ballplayers like to say they “believe in ourselves.” Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer stated as much in his post-game interview last night. That comes from the top: Yost, like his mentor Earnhardt, doesn’t let his team settle. It’s an attitude any good manager should adopt.

On Ghostery

With all the recent industry fuss over ad trackers, I got responsible and reinstalled Ghostery on my browser, and I activated many of its blockers. This has had several interesting effects.

One is that active tracker blocking is invasive in its own way. I’m creating hardships in my own browsing experience that privacy hard-liners don’t mention. If I block optimization schemes too aggressively, I can break essential functions once in awhile, including a site I manage at work whose navigation is mboxed for Adobe Test & Target tracking. Visiting Monoprice with Ghostery on, I discovered today, gnarls their top nav, too, and their search box disappears. And so on.

Another is the level of awareness that Ghostery creates in the end-user. I know about ad networks and trackers, of course I do, I’ve been in this industry 20 years now. But I didn’t actively think about them all that often.

Then I turned on Ghostery, and I visited copypastecharacter.com, a humble little type-geek website that allows for quick unicode character finding. And in finding my ✔, I also found 87 trackers. Eighty-seven! I no longer wonder what purpose the site serves beyond its builders’ nerdy satisfaction: it’s a robust ad engine. As are many other websites for whom users unwittingly expose their usage details.

The full list, behind the jump, for posterity’s sake.

Continue reading

On spin

Re/code, this morning: “Some Uber passengers said they’re waiting to buy a car because of the ride-hailing app,” was a finding from a new report. “CEO Travis Kalanick has said the company’s real competitor … is the auto industry.” The report was commissioned by Uber.

The auto industry, last week: “New-vehicle sales soared a stunning 16 percent last month to 1.4 million cars and light trucks. … Practically all automakers reported double-digit percentage increases.”

We tell the story we want to tell.