I’ll Have the Apple Juice with Oatmeal Cookies Please

One of the many benefits of living in the greatest city in the world, NYC, is access to some of the world’s best doctors and hospitals. One such place is the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS). HSS is nationally ranked No. 1 for orthopedics and No. 3 for rheumatology by U.S. News & World Report (2017-18) and has been among the top-ranked hospitals for orthopedics and rheumatology for 26 consecutive years.

Late last year I found myself in need of HSS’ services, specifically an Epidural Caudal. In non-medical speak, this is an outpatient procedure that involves using an ultrasound machine to guide a needle into the lower back to deliver medicine to a targeted area that is causing chronic pain.

As you can imagine, the thought of having a needle injected into my spine, well, caused the hairs on it to rise and as I arrived at the office that morning my nerves were working overtime. Little did I know that the amazing folks at HSS were more than prepared to alleviate my anxiety and my pain.

Thoughtfulness and empathy were clear themes throughout the day. Upon check-in, a woman at the front desk greeted me with a welcoming smile and a calming hello; instantly, I could feel my nerves subsiding. She asked me if I wanted a loved one to receive text updates during and after my procedure (this gave me the warm and fuzzies). When I excitedly responded that my wife would love that, she replied, “is this Dana (my wife’s name)?” This, I thought to myself, is how things should work!

With a smile, they quickly moved me from station to station where I digitally completed my required paperwork. Special consideration was given not only to my emotional well-being but also to my physical comfort; the process was smooth and efficient. Every person that I encountered was friendly, knowledgeable and professional. They took the time to explain the details and answered all my questions, the entire time reassuring me that I was in good hands.

The doctors never made me feel rushed; they even asked if I wanted to review the images from the procedure while I was still in the operating room. About halfway through the procedure, my doctor asked how I was feeling. I replied that I had been very nervous when I arrived that morning, but couldn’t even remember why as the experience had turned out to be quite pleasurable. Without hesitation, he responded, “that’s exactly what we strive for.”

Once out of surgery, I was taken to the recovery room and given a menu that rivaled any business traveler’s hotel snack bar (see below). Don’t mind if I do!

The positive experience that I had that day wasn’t an accident, but rather a carefully crafted journey. From the moment I walked through the door until the moment I walked out, everything was about me. Any company that is in the business of service could stand to learn a thing or two from the folks at HSS.

On my bus ride home, I couldn’t help but feel sad that I likely wouldn’t have another experience like this again for a long time!


See this and other posts here: https://pixelsbricks.wordpress.com/



Millie & Molly: My Son’s New Best Friends

My parents grew up in a small town outside of Pittsburgh, PA, during the 40s and 50s. While my mother was from a more traditionally sized family of three, my dad had 10 brothers and sisters. For his immigrant parents, this made life a lot of things: busy, tiring, loving, challenging and most of all, equal…let me explain.

Growing up poor, at least for my family, simply meant that there wasn’t time to hate or to consider one’s race or gender. The focus was on putting food on the table, making sure everyone was clean and well mannered and figuring out how to advance in life while following the golden rule. For my dad and his siblings, as they grew up and began having their own children, nothing changed.

In the tradition of my grandparents and my parents, this is how I’ve lived my life. However, having a lifetime of diversity amongst my family, friends, and co-workers has taught me that for many of my fellow global citizens, demographics matter deeply.

Over the past few years, as racial tensions in our country have grown and as more and more women rise in power in our world, I find myself not simply entering into rooms and taking a seat, but paying careful attention to the make-up of the room hoping to see fewer people that look like me.

These thoughts are even more prevalent given the two latest roles that I’ve assumed: start-up co-founder and father of a 15-month-old boy. The relevance of these new experiences is the lens they each bring along with them.

As a start-up co-founder, I will be in a position to influence the make-up of the team and culture. I will hire and I will fire, and while previously I would have only considered the experience of the candidate weighted against the role we were asking him or her to fill, I believe I’ll now need to consider demographics as well.

As a father, I now look at the world through the eyes of my son Grayson, wanting to make certain that whether he grows up in the suburban world I did or in the urban one he was born into, the view is the same: one of diversity and equality.

I find myself hoping that this is so due to two of his new friends, Millie & Molly. These women are the stars of GE’s latest television spots that support the company’s goals of having 20,000 women fill STEM roles by 2020. Mildred Dresselhaus was the first woman to win the National Medal of Science and Engineering while Molly is a fictional girl who invents brilliant engineering solutions to the problems around her.

I LOVE these commercials, and as it turns out so does my son. When they appear on TV (please, obsessed parents and those who are MDs, try to calm yourself at the thought of a 15m old watching TV), he is mesmerized. Just look at these photos:

Admittedly, on the Molly spot, he digs the jingle, but that doesn’t start until eight seconds in and there’s no (what he considers) dance music playing behind the Millie ad. We actually don’t yet allow my son to sit and watch TV, but it’s on in the background and there’s not one other piece of content that when it hits the screen, outside of a Steelers’ game, pulls his attention away from whatever he is doing.

Studies show that the average consumer is exposed to up to 10,000 brand messages a day and ones such as these are the ones I hope will permeate my son’s subconscious. Most importantly, my hope for my son and his generation is that companies like GE aren’t simply talking the talk, but are also walking the walk and that the enrichment, both personally and professionally, that comes from diversity will no longer be something that has to be measured to prove its efficacy.


Retail Cuba!

My wife and I had the unexpected pleasure of spending three days in Havana, Cuba last week, a coveted destination for me since the embargo was lifted.

Our official reason for going — the U.S. Government provides 12 — was people-to-people. Given my love of retail, we decided to make this the focus of our trip.

First, let me share a couple of details on Havana. It’s hard to describe, but everything is in shambles – from the roads to the roofs to the stairways inside every building. It’s almost impossible to escape the crumbling architecture. However, it’s easy to see the beauty that once existed and why Michael Corleone wanted to invest there. It’s hard not to close your eyes for a moment and daydream about a rebirth.

Second, it’s important to forget everything about our everyday way of life and remember that in Cuba the government owns almost everything with most products sold through government stores.

Recently, Cuba started allowing small businesses and entrepreneurs to sell directly to consumers. This has led to a proliferation of vendors around Havana – everything is a commerce opportunity. Cubans are selling goods in the stairwells of apartment buildings, offering everything from T-shirts with images of Che Guevara, to Cuban magic boxes and rattles, paintings and handbags with Cuban flags and images.

Third, the country has been under an embargo and so there’s no America there. No McDonald’s, no Starbucks, no Coca-Cola and no Yuengling (made at America’s oldest brewery for those of you not from Pennsylvania). I’m not saying whether this is a good or bad thing, I’m just pointing it out.

Retail, like in any major city, takes many different forms, from a roadside fruit stand to a kiosk to a tourist trap full of remembrances of your journey.

Becoming a retail-store owner requires a license from the government. Most retailers rent the space and pay the government a monthly license fee plus 10% of sales.

An example is this spot owned by Luis. He gets his goods both from the government and from locals who hand craft some of the items. Speaking of locals selling goods, during our visit the cracker guy, who sells door to door, stopped by to drop off an order. We witnessed this happening all over the place.

Markets (below-left picture) are located throughout Havana and are interesting to visit. Some are stocked with general items e.g. soda, fruits and vegetables, basic toiletries, while separate locations sell meat, fish, and poultry. In either scenario, access to products and supplies is limited and cleanliness is, well…yikes!

A few shops, such as this bespoke government-owned perfumery (below-right picture), were absolutely stunning and could have been seen in any hot shopping district in the U.S.


On the contrary, government-subsidized ration stores sell rice, sugar, oil, beans and salt and other basics. Customers bring a notebook to keep track of their purchases.

While American brands might not be present in Cuba, it doesn’t mean that big brands haven’t been adopted. We frequently saw Samsung, Nokia, Lacoste, Haier, Adidas, and Puma while exploring.


Despite our best intentions to bring back gifts for our friends and family, this proved to be quite difficult; unless of course, your vices are rum and cigars, in which case Havana is the place!

The question is, what is the real opportunity for retail growth in Havana. Our experience taught us the people are capable, ready and hungry for change. Paladars (homes converted into restaurants) and Airbnb’s are showing up everywhere and as we said commerce opportunities exist every five steps. The challenge is a combination of citizens with little to no disposable income, limited access to the goods they need, controls on how they can market them and an expensive and spotty Internet service.

We have high hopes for the people of Cuba, who are happy to see Americans as they stated we are good customers and spend money so I encourage you to book your flights, make the journey and let me know about your experience.  And most importantly, spend time talking and listening to the people!



By the way, a good article and one that I referenced a few times in this one can be found here: https://nrf.com/news/cuba-rising.

I’m Your Huckberry

Like most people in the world who receive mail, I find myself inundated with catalogs that I have no recollection ever signing up for and more importantly that have nothing to do with anything I care about.

One day last week, as I was tossing the five I received into the recycling bin, one caught my eye. I’m not sure if it was the name, the logo, or maybe a combination of both, but something said to me, hmmm…this looks interesting.

It was from the guys at Huckberry, an independent online retailer, and magazine for adventurous guys, and after a flip through the story-telling pages of their magazine it turns out interesting was an understatement.

This particular issue, which they advise you enjoy under the influence, check, was telling me all about their 72ish hours in the San Juan Islands with a few of their compadres. With each turn of the page, I was transported a bit deeper into their journey feeling less and less like I was being sold to and more and more along for the ride.

As they state, their goal is to be equal parts store, magazine, and inspiration meaning that customers falling in love and finding value with the content and the company are just as important as the goods they are hawking! I found this to be the case.

The pieces that occupy each page are carefully curated, essentials for the Huckberry lifestyle, making it easier to conjure up why I would need the Bare Bones Forest Lantern, the Armogan Spirit of St. Louis Watch or everything on pages 40 & 41.

They don’t stop short at only caring about how I look. They also care about how I feel, ensuring I’ll be well nourished and well oiled, detailed by the Salt Baked Trout and Apple Maple Hot Toddy recipes.

The thing about this catalog, maybe the biggest difference,  was the sense of attainability, reminding me of an actual day in the life of my past versus a hopeful day in the life of my future. I know these guys; went to high school with these guys; drank beer and passed out on the porch and probably tripped over, or even onto, the fire with these guys. I didn’t have to stretch my imagination to connect to the brand as such is the case many of the others.

I look forward to the day they bring the 2D pages of their print and digital touch points to life with a physical experience; maybe in the shape of a pop-up shop on a houseboat or a stand on the side of the road to a picturesque Maine town.

Until then, I say well-done Huckberry!  I can’t wait to see where you take me next.


Shake It Up!

I live on the Upper West Side (UWS) of NYC, and to the dismay of what we’ll loosely call my exercise routine, there’s a Shake Shack just two blocks south of me.

After a long day, when I don’t feel like cooking and the line isn’t out the door long, I’ll stroll in for my usual: two Hamburgers – singles, with ShackSauce, lettuce and tomato, and possibly a side of fries.

It’s important to note the nuance in my order, Hamburgers vs ShackBurgers, as these come standard with cheese and are $5.19 vs $4.19; I know, get past it, they’re delicious!

Recently, I found myself in this very situation, and decided this was going to be my dinner for the night, of course, washed down by a glass or three of something red and Italian.

The line was manageable, so I ordered dinner and took my seat for my wait to begin. After what seemed like ages, but was probably about ten minutes, my buzzer buzzed! I approached the counter to be greeted by a smiling gentleman who handed me a bag, and as I looked inside, my normal delight turned to dismay when I saw cheese!

As I looked up, without a smile, he instantly knew something was wrong.  I explained the situation, and not knowing I’m a Shake Shack veteran, he asked me if I ordered ShackBurgers or Hamburgers.  It was in this moment that I realized, oh, I’m in a process and this guy is empowered to solve this problem.

I told him I ordered the burgers, and he asked whom I ordered them from. As I nodded to the woman who took my order, he approached her, and instead of looking at the receipt, he asked her what I ordered, to which she replied the Ham, not the ShackBurger.   Pretty awesome that she remembered, I thought.

It turns out that she was new and pressed the wrong key on the POS. All of this happened in a matter of seconds, and before I knew it, they were making my new burgers. As I stood there thoroughly enjoying seeing this process play out exactly as it should have, I realized that since she selected the Shack and not the Hamburger I had overpaid by two dollars. My blue collar roots wanted that two bucks back, but my New York sensibilities told me there was no way I was slowing down that line.

So, I resigned myself to paying an extra two bucks for what surely would be a delicious dinner, when, suddenly, the cashier who had taken my order approached me with a new receipt – my $2 had been refunded.

At that moment I experienced sheer retail utopia. This was exactly as it should have been, and it was beautiful to witness. The unfortunate problem is that this is the exception and not the rule.

Serving customers is a tough business, especially us New Yorkers, but these guys got it right and it’s my guess that for the employees of Shake Shack it’s the rule, not the exception.


SHA_Menu_8.5x11_UWS_Feb-2015 copy

Synchronizing The Conversation

Picture it…Lake Como…mid-day on the patio at The Grand Tremezzo Hotel; jazz playing lightly overhead; your favorite afternoon drink in hand. Perfectly displayed in panoramic fashion, the most picturesque view your eyes have witnessed. In a place like this, customer experiences are happening at every moment, all around you.

Then, as if torn from a movie script, right in front of you, a husband sneaks away for a moment to surprise his wife with a gift. He returns, placing it on the table in front of her. She’s taken aback, opens it, utters it’s perfect and expresses her delight with affection. The last day of their vacation has been made!

While our husband may have used the Internet to research this gift, his mobile to price it, and an app to find an offer, the thought that was required to enable the moment was all his…humanity! No matter how quickly technology advances, the difference between an amazing experience and a memorable one is always the human element.

Of course, the problem in today’s world is that technology has taken over, causing customers’ expectations to rise like never before while forcing businesses to keep up by deploying any number of these ingredient technologies.

The challenge, that is presenting itself as the answer, is Omni-channel; this horribly overused word that was no doubt conjured up by business-person rather than a creative, just like phygital or SoLoMo! Omni-channel, that’s another $20 in the swear jar, is about fusing together the right set of technologies to enable a seamless view of inventory or the ability to pay across touchpoints, etc…

The larger question is, how do retailers enable a synchroznied customer experience, one that allows, encourages, customers to shop the brand, leveraging the technology that has become as connected to them as their fingers and toes, and do so whenever they want, wherever they want, however they want, while finding the very best value for it

Now, for those of us in [the customer experience field], we all know the obstacles and complexities that exist, and we’re all working endlessly to solve them, but the task has grown so monumental, not one company can solve it alone.

In an attempt to do my part, I’ll be sharing a series of articles on customer experience from all perspectives: retailers, partners, designers, technologists, agencies, consultants, and everybody in between, while penning other posts on insights from the world of retail, as living in NYC provides me with access to experiences that can’t be had anywhere else.

My goal, just like the solution, is to synchronize the conversation, to provoke relevance and meaning, and to most importantly, learn from everybody involved.

I look forward to hearing from you!