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How Zappos Delivers “Wow” Through Service—It’s the Culture

May 15th, 2012 · Uncategorized

E Source Utility Customer Experience : How Zappos Delivers "Wow"

I created this envizualization (large scale visual notes) From a talk by Elia Lata of Zappos at the E Source Utility Customer Experience 2012 Conference in Las Vegas. For a larger size version, click here..

When you think of utility companies, you probably don’t think of nimble, customer focused organizations. Utilities tend to be fairly large, and focused more on keeping the electricity (or gas, or water, etc) flowing then getting into the mind of their customers and providing a great experience. They also tend to be unchallenged in the market place, without competitors. But utility customer expectations are set by all kinds of companies, from FedEx to Zappos, who have to stand out in competitive markets, and thus work to create ever improving customer experiences. So that is creating pressure on utilities to consider customer experience more seriously.

As far as the bottom line goes, utilities need to impress regulatory boards and local governments as well in order to get approval of rate changes and to get other activities approved. And customer attitudes can make a big impression on regulators for good or for ill.

Improved focus on customers also can yield bigger profits—for example if a utility makes it easy to pay a bill via the web or mobile device, they are going to lower their costs. Payment by mail or phone is expensive and time consuming.

So hearing from a customer experience leader like Zappos was eye opening. Customers are rarely going to get as excited about something they take for granted—like electricity, as they would be about anticipating a fabulous pair of shoes from Zappos, but Utilities realize that thinking beyond the electricity meter to the actual customer makes a great deal of sense.

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Envizualizing the E Source Utility Customer Experience Conference

May 14th, 2012 · business, entrepreneurship, envizualize, graphic facilitation, graphic recording, information design, large scale visual notes, partnerships, presentation design, public speaking, storytelling, visual sensemaking

E Source Utility Customer Experience Conference
The photo above is from the E Source Utility Customer Experience Conference, which I just had the pleasure of joining in Las Vegas. E Source’s mission is “To advance the efficient and environmentally sound use and provision of energy.”

My friends know that I love the rush of public speaking—It’s even better when I can combine it with my visual summaries. So I was delighted that E Source asked me to give a talk synthesizing the ideas bouncing around the conference. I love creating visual notes all the more when I get to use them as a backdrop for a presentation.

At the conference, representatives of major utilities (mostly electricical, but a few other utilities participated as well) shared insights, successes, and challenges related to focusing on the utility customer experience. Utilities are in an interesting position where they are often operate without direct competitors. But they still have plenty of motivation to focus on the user experience it turns out. Since every household and organization in North America needs to interact with utilities, an improvement in their customer experience has a broad impact.

It was heartening to see the participants in the conference think about the big-picture reasons to value customer experience, as well as to explore case studies of how industries within and outside the utility industry are improving their customer experience.

(Our friendly Zappos tour guide and Customer Experience Magician, Rocco)

From outside the utility industry we heard from FedEx, Sprint, and Zappos. We even got a tour of Zappos, which maintains its office conveniently around the corner from our conference venue. The tour drove home the message the culture is bedrock of customer experience—Zappos is famed for both its creative and supportive culture and its focus on delivering a “Wow” customer experience.

I was wowed by the conference that E Source put together, they clearly care about the experience of their customer, and it showed.

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Show ‘n’ Tell Debut’s at CatpultPGH Coworking Space

May 4th, 2012 · Uncategorized

On May 4, 2012, folks from CatapultPGH coworking community and nearby organizations came together for our first monthly Shown-n-Tell event. We heard about the new Pittsburgh Tool Lending Library, the history and current activities of the Sprout Fund, the multiple services provided by the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation, the new neighborhood centric app, Scenable, and the gluten detection kit distributor, Glutentox. Thanks for coming out, and stay tuned for the next Show-n-Tell Friday, noon, June 1, 2012!

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Show ‘n’ Tell at catapultPGH

May 1st, 2012 · business, entrepreneurship, envizualize, graphic facilitation, graphic recording, Information Visualization, large scale visual notes, npTech, partnerships, public speaking, visual sensemaking

Show 'n' Tell

The blocks between Children’s Hospital and Negley on Penn Avenue are crackling with character, invention, and reinvention. Every month I see formerly empty storefronts buzzing with new ventures. This is overlaid with businesses and institutions that have been around for decades. One of the newer entries on Penn Avenue is the Co-working Space, catapultPGH. CatapultPGH is a membership organization that provides shared office space, facilities, and most importantly a sense of community for independent workers. At catapultPGH, we want to foster connectivity not only among ourselves, but also between the people behind the businesses and organizations that make this stretch of Penn Avenue home.

When: Friday, May 4, Noon-1PM

Where: Catapult PGH, 5139 Penn Ave (Just down the block
from People’s Restaurant).

What: People from the Penn Avenue Arts District show ‘n’
tell their awesome projects and obsessions. Jonny Goldstein will visually capture the conversation on a whiteboard.

Who: This month: The Bloomfield Garfield Corp.
Scenable.com, GlutenTox, The Tool Lending Library,
and The Sprout Fund.

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Wall Street Journal Article: “Doodling For Dollars”

April 27th, 2012 · business, graphic facilitation, graphic recording, information design, Information Visualization, large scale visual notes, public speaking, storytelling

Nice article in the Wall Street Journal on how businesses are using what I call “Hands-on visual thinking,” and what they call “Doodling,” to work more effectively. Here’s the link.

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Innovation Illustrated 1: The Build-Measure-Learn Feedback Loop

April 18th, 2012 · business, entrepreneurship, envizualize, graphic facilitation, information design, Information Visualization, visual sensemaking

Innovation Illustrated 1: Build, Measure, Learn

I am really excited about the current energy around innovation in general and startups in particular. For me, one of the best ways to learn something is to attempt to distill it into a visual summary. I hope this will be useful for you too. One of the powerful things about creating a visual version of an idea is that it gives something tangible to discuss—“No that should connect to that,” “The sequence of that process is out of order,” “You’re missing X,” etc. So consider this a starting point, and feel free to chip in your ideas about how to best express whatever idea I am trying to distill.

This visual summary is based on my interpretation of the “Build, Measure, Learn” concept as expressed by Eric Ries in his book The Lean Startup. He defines a startup as a venture which is creating a product or service in an environment of extreme uncertainty. To maximize chances of success in such an environment, the lean startup needs to create learning process where it can learn what works and what does not as rapidly as possible, engaging in a “Build, Measure, Learn” cycle. To go deeper, check out Eric’s book The Lean Startup here. Stay tuned for more Innovation Illustrated installments based on books and concepts gleaned from a variety of innovation thinkers.

Love to hear feedback or thoughts on this or other installments of Innovation Illustrated.

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Preview of IFVP 2012 Conference

April 6th, 2012 · envizualize, graphic facilitation, graphic recording, information design, Information Visualization, large scale visual notes, npTech, partnerships, presentation design, public speaking, sketchnotearmy, storytelling, technology, Uncategorized, visual sensemaking, vizsales vizmarketing vizpersuasion, workshops

Get ready to connect in the City of Bridges  at IFVP 2012
(Graphic by Leah Silverman)

Initital Visualization of the IFVP 2012 Conference With the PIttsburgh Team
(Leah Silverman, Emily Marko, Jonny Goldstein at our first planning meeting for the IFVP 2012 Conference)

IFVP 2012 Conference on the Whiteboard

(Jonny Goldstein with brainspill on the topic of the upcoming visual thinking for groups conference in Pittsburgh, AKA the 17th Annual IFVP Conference)

The rapid approach of the 2012 International Forum of Visual Practitioners Conference (IFVP) conference in Pittsburgh is sending tingles down my neurons. The power-triangle of Leah Silverman Leah Silverman, Emily Marko, and myself are the Pittsburgh core of the planning team, with help from far flung members of the tribe of graphic facilitators, graphic scribes that comprises the IFVP. I will be sharing emcee duties with the fabulous Heather Willemsof Imagethink.

(Promotional video for the IFVP 2012 Conference. Video by Envizualize.


At it’s heart, the conference is for people who use visual thinking to enhance understanding and support action. There is a growing realization that words and numbers are inadequate for understanding and analyzing complex challenges. We are hard wired to process pictorial information, and harnessing that wiring gives teams tremendous advantages.

Some conference highlights:

SXSW 2012 Sketchnotes: 11-12 Electric Car / Steal Like an Artist

(Sketchnotes sample by Mike Rohde)
Mike Rohde, will give a talk about how he catalyzed a global community of sketchnoters and his upcoming book on sketchnoting.

MK Haley, from the Carnegie Mellon University Entertainment Technology Center will discuss collaboration and how different generations approach it.

Christian Schunn, a University of Pittsburgh Cognitive Psychologist, will share current research on how using shared visual displays helps, and occasionally hinders, design and engineering teams.

Babs Carryer, a node in Pittsburgh’s biotech and pharma startup ecosystem will convene a panel on the intersection of visual practice and business.

Nahum Gershon, Principal Scientist at MITRE and expert on data visualization, storytelling, and technology mediated interaction will lead a closing dialog.


Pre-conference workshops:

GR101 practice

(Photo from IFVP 2011 graphic recording workshop)

Graphic Recording 101 with Rachel Smith and Lisa Arora and 201 with Alphachimp. These workshops will be a full day immersion in the art and craft of visual listening—-turning conversation into large scale visual notes. The 101 course is geared to beginners, and the 201 course is geared to experienced visual listeners.


In-Conference Mini-Workshops (these might change a little in title and topic, but this is more or less what we have so far. We will have another couple of mini-workshops in addition to these).

-Sketchnoting and hand drawn type with Mike Rohde


(Interior of the Toonseum)

Recording Graphics by Llyod Dangle at USC Creativity & Collaboration

(Graphic scribing detail by Lloyd Dangle)

-Cartooning with Lloyd Dangle (at the Toonseum)

Detail of Jim Nuttle's record of my talk

(Detail of Jim Nuttle work)

-Advanced Cartooning with Jim Nuttle (at the Toonseum)

-Sketch Video Creation

Luke Williams by R Smith

(Digital visual notes by Rachel Smith)

-Graphic Recording on the iPad with Rachel Smith

Discussion exercise

(Detail from a Bigger Picture hands on visual activity)

-Graphic facilitation approaches and practices knowledge swap Ole Qvist-Sørensen.

-“Doctor’s Hours” with a variety of successful visual practitioners to personally address your business questions

-Distilling your visual practice’s unique value proposition, facilitated by MAYA Design

(Visual by Eileen Clegg)

-Timeline murals using Prezi, with Eileen Clegg

-“Getting Pens into Peoples’ Hands”, a session on how to get word and number crunchers over the hump of picking up a pen and drawing, with John Ward.



1) Visual Practice and Design Thinking

2) Visual Practice and Business


Open Space:

We are creating a time slot for self organized sessions where people can create impromptu discussions about topics of mutual interest.


Book Presentations:

Conference particpants will have the opportunity to hear lightning presentations from authors who are part of the conference.
Offsite at the Warhol Museum:

We’ll take a walk across the Allegheny River for Dinner and a private tour of the Warhol Museum.
And more awesome stuff that we can’t quite announce yet.
We have some amazing sponsors stepping up already. We’re thrilled to have Prezi as a top level Platinum sponsor. Look forward to sharing experiences, tips, and tricks in one-on-one time with Prezi evangelist, Zane Groshelle. We’re also thrilled to introduce you to Wizard Wall, a cling film that creates a portable whiteboard. Special thanks as well to The Grove for Silver sponsorship and Crowley & Co. for Bronze sponsorship.If you want to get involved in the conference on a sponsorship level, we would love to talk with you. And did you know that Sponsorship starts at the $100 level and gets you recognition online and at the conference while giving you the satisfaction of supporting the community? Sounds worth it to me, but that’s just my biased take on it:)
IFVP2012 on Twitter
IFVP2012 Facebook Page
Conference info and registration

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