Of course, this is barring the government doing anything to compensate for this trend by -- for instance -- barring companies from hiring contract workers instead of part-time employees, or by forcing them to hire a greater percentage of their worforce as full-time. This would be a collossal mistake. In fact, the current trend toward freelancing is largely representative of the market's adjustment to government mandates on employers.
How? Let's take a look.
Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the Affordable Care Act (A.K.A. "Obamacare"), when in full effect, every person will be required to have "health insurance." How they are mandated to pay for that insurance is quite a tangled web, but the end result is that it becomes more expensive to keep a full-time staff onhand. Companies under 50 employees have to think long and hard about the implications of growing beyond 50 employees in a manner commensurate with the risk they're willing to take, simply because they're opening themselves up to higher expenses in penalties or fees.
So what do they do? They have a few options available.
They can just not hire that 50th employee and have everyone else work longer hours
They can reduce the number of full-time employees and rely on a number of part-time employees (I've heard fast food restaurants already do this)
They can farm out much of their work to contractors instead of employees
They can hire the extra employees and assume the associated costs
There is nothing "ideal" about any of these scenarios. Each one has an associated benefit and a cost. And here's another newsflash for people who want to tell the companies which one of them they have to pick: You don't know all of their businesses, and therefore you don't know which one they can afford to do and which one they can't.
When economists talk about the cost of labor, it tends to make workers seem like a commodity. And in economic terms, they may be, but we risk desensitizing ourselves to the very uniquely human needs, hopes and dreams that go along with the people who are affected by these policies. However, this applies both to the workers as well as the people who own and manage the companies that this affects.
Attempts to demonize companies for doing the best they can under the macroeconomic climate they probably had no hand in creating may win votes for certain politicians, but it is counterproductive to the goals of reaching full employment and increasing prosperity for the whole of the people.
Postscript: It's also important to consider the other effects of the increased cost of living such mandates require. This started long ago, but the new law now requires younger people to subsidize the cost of insuring older people, and healthier people to subsidize the care for less healthy people, average families can ill-afford to have only one working parent, which means two-parent families also have to outsource the raising and caring for their children, irrespective of what they would otherwise be capable of doing if only these requirements were never handed down from the rulers on Mount Washington.
At last year's Big (D)esign Conference, Russ Unger, the co-author of The Project Guide to UX Design, suggested that UX practitioners should start to learn programming, or they risk becomming dinosaurs. I like Russ. He's an extremely talented hack (in the best of ways), and I recently began to brush up on my coding skills, which were formed when we were still coding with hammer and chisel. There is another discipline that is underutilized in the UX field, however, and those of us who do not adopt some rudimentary skills in that area also risk becoming dinosaurs. The discipline they need is analytics.
Most of them have Google Analytics installed already. It's free and most development or design firms will install it without even being asked. The simplest and most direct way of identifying poor usage is to look at the conversion reports. If there are no goals set up, that means they don't know how to use it properly.
What does this likely mean?
They're not getting any insights from how people are really using their site
They're not able to act on the information they're getting
Any action they take is likely to be grossly misinformed and based on the wrong information
Helping them here is a concrete way to demonstrate wins that will resonate with everyone in their organization and yours
This is a wonderful opportunity to start helping your clients get genuine insights into how their website affects their business. But only if you're prepared to dive in and learn something that may be a departure from your (perhaps) primary function as a designer. As a UX person who is responsible for solving user needs, you cannot ignore this rich source of direct user data.
What does how we mourn tell us about what we value?
According to an article I read this morning, published Jan 18, this season, 29 children in the United States have died from influenza. That is 9 more than were killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary Massacre. Yet there were no flags flying at half-staff. There were no media hoards covering the heads-of-state making tearful speeches about this tragic loss of life. To the parents who lost their children, one tragedy is no worse than the other. The end result is a lost innocent life.
It got me thinking about how and why we react the way we do to tragic events.
In 2009, a single gunman murdered 13 soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, and wounded 29 more. Again, flags were flown at half-staff. Leaders gave moving speeches about the way they lived useful lives. Halfway around the world, there have been nearly 1,800 casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq between then and now. There were no special national days of rememberance for these who gave their lives willingly.
What makes one life more worthy of being remembered? Or 20 lives more worthy to be remembered than 29? Or 13 more than 1,800?
Why do we express outrage at mass shootings like Sandy Hook or Fort Hood, while we conveniently disengage when it comes to the everyday loss caused by acts no less evil, against victims no less innocent, and for deaths no less tragic?
Could it be that our speeches, our chest-thumping, our grandstanding is more about ourselves than the victims? About building for ourselves a better brand by capitalizing on concentrated tragedies rather than the everyday?
Maybe it gives us a greater sense of control over the narrative of the human experience... that if we can give meaning to the deaths, we think we can exert some sort of control the evil that lies in the human heart.
I wish I had a clearer picture to paint. - Cam Beck
Last week, I called for marketers to be more responsible in their efforts to move goods and services, by appealing to their better natures rather than their narcissistic or hedonistic tendencies. In light of Friday's massacre of 20 people, mostly children, it seems like a very prescient admonition.
It's difficult to wait for all the facts to come out before we decide on a direction. As we grieve, we want answers. We want solutions. We want a justice that is impossible to achieve here on earth, and we submit it to God to deal with in His way, trusting that He is wiser than we are.
In such situations, perhaps a little perspective is warranted.
Stalin, Mao, and Hitler remind us that sometimes -- more often than we care to admit to ourselves -- evil people gain power and commit such grotesque acts of savagery that it makes Newtown look like a Sunday family picnic. Sometimes they get away with it, and sometimes they don't.
The difference between them is that sometimes good people of character, conscience and will, at great personal risk, steel and equip themselves to stand against them and for good.
No doubt, there were dozens of conditions that led up to the massacre on Friday. We will learn about them, albeit slowly, in the coming weeks. Everything from guns to mental health awareness to violent video games to "kicking God out of schools" will take its turn in the spotlight as the "real reason" we had to witness another event like this.
But when we abstract the principles involved, we know that evil happens in this world for two reasons: 1) We live in a fallen and rebellious world where people with selfish hearts tend to do evil things, both big and small, and 2) Not enough people are prepared to wage war against them (both figuratively before the fact and literally during it) in the precise moment of need.
I have no desire to scapegoat marketing for the evils perpetuated in this world. I don't believe it's to blame, and I wouldn't suggest it is. However, what I would ask all of us to do is look deep inside ourselves and ask a tough question: In our personal and professional lives, are we conducting ourselves in a way that would discourage bad behavior and encourage good?
A few months back, I had a very negative experience with my energy company that cost me $1500 in unexpected electric bills. I was so frustrated and so sure of the righteousness of my cause that I nearly came out of my self-imposed exile from blogging to publically rip the company in violation rules 1-3 of my "10 Somewhat-Flexible Laws of Blogging About Companies."
Never talk ill of a client or potential client.
Almost everyone is a potential client.
If you must violate rule #1, don't mention the company name.
I'm glad I didn't. Even though they never reimbursed those excessive fees, they eventually implemented a program to make sure my situation never happens again.
A Series of Unfortunate Electric Bills
In July, I received a bill that was about 4.5 times the normal amount (for activity in the month of June). Convinced this was a mistake, I called my electric company about it, and they advised me to have my meter re-read, and that it would take about 10 business days for this to take place, but that they would contact me when the read was done.
I did not hear from them again until I got my next bill, which was also 850% more than it was over the same period the previous year. At that point, I wrote them again on August 7 and asked why they hadn't let me know what the results of the re-read were so that I could look at different options. When they responded (2 weeks later after promising a 24-hour response), they said they never put in a request for a re-read.
While this was happening, I contacted my apartments to have them check my air conditioning to make sure everything was working right. They said it was, but that they cleaned the appliance regardless.
Whenever I called the electric company, instead of helping me figure out why my bills were so high, kept trying to sell me a fixed-rate contract. Sure, doing so would have saved me some money, but the scope of their "fix" would have saved me $10-$12 per month, not $500-$600, which is what I really needed. They had their script, and they were sticking to it. It took escalating the issue two levels before I got someone at the company to admit that something seemed "off" about my bill situation.
In the middle of a brutal Texas summer, with my dog staying there and while the bill was in dispute, the electric company shut off power to my apartment to force me to pay at least part of the disputed bill (I later found out this was in violation of the Utility Customer Bill of Rights).
How Energy is Delivered and Billed in Texas
Getting to the bottom of this, I got quite the education on how electricity is delivered and billed in Texas.
Essentially, the company that delivers electricity has nothing to do with how electricity gets billed, and the billing company (which can be one of several) is ready to lose you quickly, because customers are easily replaceable. It can be TXU, Reliant, Green Mountain or any other electric company. All they do is service the billing. Which you choose as a consumer is based on the rates and service you expect to get.
Thanks to the help of a knowledgable friend, I finally found the real cause of the issue, I called the electric company and asked if they would help with the part of the bill due to their lack of responsiveness. They refused. Eventually I protested through regulatory channels, and a very small portion was refunded.
Customer Service: It Is Your Job
I finally spoke with a representative of the office of the president in response to this official complaint, and suggested that they need to be more responsive and help people between bills realize if something is happening between billing periods. Not only did she disagree that their lack of responsiveness imparted on them any responsibility for three months of outrageous bills, but she directly told me that, regarding my suggestion that they notify people when their usage seems to spike 850%, "That's not what we do."
Then I took to Twitter, hoping to find someone higher in authority than the last person I spoke with.
The person who monitors their Twitter channel is a marketer, not a customer service person. She had no authority to help resolve the issues of customers, which only further frusterated me, because though she asked me to tell my story, she could not help. To her credit, she seemed sincere in her concern for my frustration (If she wasn't being authentic, she at least faked it well).
"Remember, it is easier to train a good customer support representative to use social media than to train an experienced social media user to be a good customer support professional."
As for the representative within the office of the president, she was just intent on getting me to pay three months of outrageously high bills, not helping me solve my issue or even making me feel heard. She took a very "That's not my job" approach, not only for herself, but also for their entire organization. Had she met me halfway, had she hinted that she understood why I was upset and her company's role in that frustration, my tone in this article would be much different.
So, normally I would have cut off ties with the company regardless. End of story. Although I'm better equipped now -- having learned an awful lot about how electricity works in Texas -- I had no faith that this is the company I wanted to do business with should I ever have any difficulty again. Then the organization did something that suprised me.
They implemented my recommendation.
Now, I receive a weekly email between bills that tells me my usage for that week. And I am able to spot if something is amiss and don't have to wait an entire billing period -- while the meter is still running -- to discover it.
Now, I don't presume that I was the first to provide that recommendation, or that they went through with it because of my issue. Something like that takes more time to develop and execute than they had from the time of my first complaint and suggestion.
So someone besides me had to have thought it was a good idea. But the value of that idea did not trickle down to the customer service reps or to the office of the president, or at least they had no interest at all in acknowledging it, or admitting I had a valid point.
Though if they had, I'd not only be naming the company, but praising them to my friends about how well the company treated me, how awesome this service is, and how they should use this company for electricity as well.
How much better could companies do if they only trained and empowered their customer service reps to treat people as people and not means to and end? If they trained them to listen instead of follow a script?