All is fair in love and biking…

Speaking of ecologies of service, I bought a bike a week and a bit ago. Not an easy task in a city that’s just swarming with them, they’re usually overpriced and demand is high, and so for the few weeks that I have in this lovely city, I didn’t want to invest 200 euros. I went online to a aggravatingly badly designed dutch website and with the help of my friend Laura, bid on a woman’s bike that a woman was selling in the North of Amsterdam. Eventually she agreed to the low low price of 45 euros and I went to meet her. Took a bus at Centraal (to be pronounced as if you had a potato stuck in your mouth with a long hiss for the s and a long drawn a) and 30 minutes later, in a weird look-alike of american-suburbia in Amsterdam- Noord, I waited at the bus stop for Rebecca, the bike owner. Turns out the bike had a flat tire and so, i grumbled a tad but remembered seeing bike pumps at my flat and after having convinced a bus driver to take me back even if it was against the “rules”, I walked my bike home happily.

Flash forward to back home where the bike pumps end up not working as befitting more elegantly a mountain bike rather than my city bike. I remember that there are 2 bike shops by my place and decide to go there to get the tires pumped. These little stores have, however a very north american schedule of 10-6, which also correspond to my work hours. Flash forward a week, I wake up on Saturday morning, decided to deal with this “issue” and get a the tire fixed once and for all, I step out my door, and freeze. Nothing. My precious bike with an already rich history was stolen! As i turned to my local friends here and cry out in outrage, they just shrug their shoulders and go “yeh a week is too long, it’s bound to get cleaned off”… what! There has to be a service solution somewhere in there… a 24h bike store anyone? a dropoff anytime/repair/get it back the next day service? a call this number and we’ll deal with the problem 24h? RFID on each bike to locate it back? If North America has the CAA for example, what’s the equivalent here?

Yes, I’m just bitter and miss my bike… god only knows what happened to my precious Tulipa bike that I left in Milan. Sigh.

More digital dating critique

Ok now I’m really freaked out… I found someone else I know on a dating site…arghh… the world of design is just too small.

Ok coming back to it, now in Amsterdam, a friend of mine is also using online dating and I tried to get some feedback from her as well. She’s dutch, in her mid 30’s and has been on about 6-7 dates so far, which I personally find really cool, seeing as I haven’t “dated” in about 3 years and have somehow lost the notion of what that means. Her biggest criticism of the site was also to do with the pictures, she said that they never match and are always a disappointing aspect of the date…

I find this a bit confusing, I mean, I’d rather be honest about what i look like online while there is still an element of anonymity, absence of judgment, and so I’m sure that whoever wants to meet me isn’t disappointed when we meet, starting the date on the wrong foot.

But apparently, because we like to kid ourselves into thinking that looks aren’t everything (they’re not of course, but seeing as 80% of our understanding of the world is through our eyes, they’re pretty damn important), we lie and cheat our way into airtime with a person who will ultimately be disappointed at first sight… I guess that’s why they call them blind dates…

So in the world of dating, so far I’ve found this very uselful blog by Gordon Smith about the online dating industry at large. He talks about MatchActivity an online dating service in California (so far, it’s in Beta still) that makes people meet over activities that they post up. Kinda like eBay for people… I want to take a walk in the park…5 people answer, who’s gonna be the chosen one? Bah…not convinced about the approach. Then of course there are sites like Match.com which make me sick, i mean, its like a shopping list of people…

There has to be a web 2.0 of dating… it would be really useful… hmm something to think about over the weekend as i sit in Vondelpark and read my book.

How cultural are services?

Something interesting just occurred to me as I familiarize myself with the Dutch and Amsterdam (although I did date a dutch man once and have two great friends who are dutch). Here a waiter is actually paid very well, which is not the case at all in North America usually when young people who have these jobs rely heavily on tips and therefore provide what we consider a great service or attitude in consequence.

Here’s it’s like a parallel universe.

Waiters ignore you, accuse you of being subordinate, and that’s apparently accepted. Dutch clients are expected to treat them rudely and expect the best, sometimes returning plates if they don’t like the look of it, waving frantically to get the bill, ie being direct and what a north american might consider rude. Is one feeding the other? Is it the contempt of the client that is creating the “laissez-faire” attitude of the worker? or the other way around. Is it purely cultural? I can’t tell yet, but it makes for a very odd service experience.

The long way out…

(Warning…incoming rant) : )

I am now sitting on Richard’s plaid red and white puffy chair writing for the first time in ages and I thought I’d recount my journey door to door from Milan to London last week, simply because through the pain and agony of it, I think there are some design lessons to be learnt somewhere in there…

I left my full-of-stuff-that-wouldnt-fit-in-my -2-suitcases milan hotel room/apartment with the help of Victor and Tristam and after a very long and expensive cab ride to Centrale, I realised that the not so trusty Trenitalia website had indicated the wrong time to my plane on their online timetable. Victor has a ticket booked for that same day with Easyjet as well so we walked across the street to an internet cafĂ© and exchanged tickets, names, departures, etc… so an expensive last minute flight became a really expensive, really last minute flight… ok so that wasn’t so bad considering that it would have been impossible to fathom such control over your flight less than 5 years ago…

So i wait with them for a shuttle bus to Linate, my new aiport destination (the first flight was leaving from Turin, silli yes, but less expensive), get there too early, wait forever as the checkin hasnt started… then get to the check-in. Of course to process 100 or so people there are only 2 people behind a booth. My limit on my luggage was exceeded and so I had to pay for extra luggage, but instead of actually doing that on the spot I had to go to Linate’s ticket booth. I leave my luggage in the care of a kind Australian whose husband had to run there too and line up for 15 mns at least, waiting for my turn to pay for my 10 kilos of excess luggage, thank god my flight wasnt leaving right there and then like some other people in line… Get to a booth eventually pay my fine, go back to the lovely woman retrieve my bags and check them in immediately (at least i didnt have to line up again).

That’s of course when I notice that the flight is actually 1h 30 mns late…arghhh can’t anything go wrong today! So i get through customs, getting the usual raised eyebrow for my passport picture (I had shaved Sinead-like hair at the time it was taken some 4 years ago, and yes a boyfriend too :P) and go get something to eat for the first time in about 6 hours. I then proceed to the gate, second passport check, then slump into a hot waiting room with 2 flights to London, ours from easy jet and the other one from Allitalia. I must have waited about an hour there and 2 flights from Allitalia took off during that time. I was really sleepy so didn’t really care at that point and dozed off on the uncomfortable plastic-moulded chair. The eventually the flight was called, and people lined up, (although i find that the Americans are better at lining up for things, in Europe, no one cares about that sort of thing) hot and tired already before even have set foot in the plane. A hot and sweaty bus after we pack into the plane, which was the first time that i went into a plan with a “first come first serve” attitude to the seating and no assigned numbers. It really felt like i was in a strange over-sized bus. I slept through most of it, as i had slept 3 hours only the night before, seeing Shawn and Alejandro off in the early morning. The Easyjet “flight attendants” were nice enough although at this point id call them waitresses…

Arrival at Gatwick eventually after a rather bumpy landing, you’d think they’d get the hang of these things, even the first ever flight from a pilot i had coming into Europe 2 years ago was smooth as cream… is that what you pay for? or that you don’t? I started to wonder what was so fabulous about low-cost airlines and if they weren’t actually missing a lot of opportunities in terms of services. As i visited the RCA show today (more on that in the next post) I saw something which made me think real hard about this issue. Apparently, Ryainair will gain so much money from in-flight gambling that they might come to a point where they might not have to charge at all for the flight… so in that case, will the services totally dissapear? will we get small vending machines next to the bathrooms to choose a sandwich from if we’re hungry? Nowadays I have to remember to bring a blanket and my headphones for a flight, but what about all the commercial posibilities of dealing with people who are tired, exhausted and would actually pay 3 pounds for a coffee? Could there not be the sale of zen-like products for the flight? Could you not order your food at the same time as your ticket and have it delivered to you as you check in? Would an association of cab and flight services be lucrative? “Come and get me with my heavy luggage for this and that flight and ill pay a little extra but will be much happier….”.

I believe that there truly are opportunities for low-cost companies to actually gain some market share by understanding people’s needs and how they are missing out on part of the market. At this point, people would rather pay a little more to be treated properly than with efficiency. That’s the real service economy, an economy where businesses understand the opportunities presented by their customers needs, and not business models whose only value is the low cost of the service. The day an airline company will provide customer-sensitive services, at a low price, the market will be seduced immediately… so in the meantime, ill book my flight for Amsterdam…ugh.