Archive for the ‘seattle’ Category

The view from Microsoft’s new digs in Bellevue, WA (yeah, that’s Seattle across the water).

Sorry about the lack of posts this past week. I was traveling and attending meetings and whatnot.

Just to give you a quick recap, here are some of the cool things I saw and did while in Seattle:

1) I took a tour of Microsoft’s concept House of The Future. (Think: “Open the Pod Bay door, Hal” meets Minority Report, but in a very, VERY good way.)

2) I participated in a pretty kickass simulation in Microsoft’s “Information Worker Of The Future” concept office. (Think: CTU meets Minority Report meets your office, only in a very, VERY, VERY good way.) Wow. To see where software is going and how well it will integrate with every task it touches was IMPRESSIVE. (Yes, I am a geek.)

3) I accidentally had dinner at the best French Restaurant in the US (and I know what I’m talking about). I won’t tell you what it’s called, however. You’ll have to guess or find it yourselves. Let me just say this: It’s almost on the water, the operators are French (not Canadian), it isn’t far from the original Starbucks store,and they have cassoulet on their menu. Nuff said.

4) I had a latte (3 raw sugars, thank you) at the very first Starbucks. (It wasn’t the first time, but I always make it a point to go there when I visit Seattle now.)

5) I stopped by the Athenian restaurant for a very necessary oyster shooter. (Again, a pilgrimage.)

6) I bought some incredible hand-made stuff from Raven’s Nest – great place to go Xmas shopping for the people on your list who either a) like esoteric stuff, b) already have everything, or c) both. (I mean come on: Who hasn’t dreamed of having a genuine hand-carved cedar orca/eagle totem in their office?)

7) I played pool on the 24th floor of Microsoft’s new digs in Bellevue – which, by the way, has such a monumental view of Seattle that I had a tough time dragging myself back into meetings. The above photo is only about 1/20th of the whole panorama and doesn’t even do that little portion justice. Interesting note: Some of my coworkers may now believe that I am some kind of pool shark after watching me accidentally play two perfect games in a row.

8) I drove a PT Cruiser all over town for three days (convertible and vanilla-colored) and didn’t get laughed at once. Interesting note: You can fit 3 people and 4 very large suitcases in that thing. You will use up every available square millimeter, but it can be done.)

9) I flew across the US twice without a single delay, without a single problem, and without a single frown or hint of attitude from any flight attendants. Delta/Song/Alaska Airlines once again – without blowing me away or anything – did an awesome job through and through. Even the TSA teams in their terminals were friendly and courteous. Thumbs up.

10) I ate a bad raw scallop. Or raw oyster… or raw something. I survived, but let’s just say salmonella, e-coli and their buddies put up a pretty decent fight for a couple of hours. Bleh.

Anyhoo. It’s good to be back.

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I am flying to Seattle/Redmond today for three days of meetings, lunches, dinners and more meetings about all things Microsoft, which means I am probably going to be way too busy to blog until Thursday or so.

I’ll be back with tons of stories and experiences to share and review with you, I’m sure.

Have a great few days, and try not to miss me too much. I know it’ll be tough… but hang in there. I’ll be back before you know it.

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above: the kind of gorgeous stuff you see from 35,000 feet, by the way

Just last week, I was lamenting on the sorry state of airlines in general and the effect poor service has on the way people treat each other. (If you missed it, take a few minutes to check it out.) Well, this week, I have to say that the hypothetical “airline that does it right does indeed exist.

I’m sure there are more than one, but so far, this is my first 100% pleasant experience with an airline I’ve had since 1991, when I last flew British Caledonian from the US to Europe. The airline in question is Alaska Airlines (a Delta Airlines partner), with whom I flew from San Francisco to Seattle, and then from Seattle to Atlanta. What did they do right? Everything:

– Boarded the flight intelligently (not front to back): Check.
– Left on time: Check.
– Pleasant, professional, and elegant flight attendants: Check.
– Making passengers feel at home and comfortable: Check.
– Seat design intended for normal human beings: Check (Yay to the old Boeing 737-700!).
– Pilot pointing out sweet landmarks: Check.
– Bringing glamour back to air travel by offering grown-up drinks in a classy way during flight: Check.
– Friendly and prompt personal attention from the cabin crew: Check.
– Landing on time: Check.
– Friendly farewells from the pilot and crew for passengers exiting the plane: Check.
– Luggage arriving at final destination: Check.
– Passengers being friendly, happy, and conversational upon arrival as a result of the way they were treated by Alaskan Airlines employees: Check.

People bumping into each other and not apologizing: Zero.

Nuff said.

So far, Alaska Airlines is hands-down the best airline I have flown with in the US since Y2K. The rest of the Delta organization could learn a thing or two from their Northwestern house brand.

More great brand experiences from my left coast trip:

above: Tea time @ The Slanted Door

The Slanted Door restaurant (SF):
This is the kind of restaurant that makes me realize how not so fresh food actually is in most fancy-shmancy restaurants that overcharge and under-deliver across the US. Everything about that busy, trendy, impeccably designed restaurant made me want to recommend it to friends – and more importantly – go back next time I am in San Francisco. The setting itself (right on the water) is enough of a story – as is the name – but the dining experience tops it all. Every dish looks and tastes like a work of art while managing to be gloriously simple. Genius. Bonus: The waiters actually had fun with the whole Flat Stanley thing we had going on, which earns them good tips forever.

above: The Bay Bridge @ night

San Francisco’s Bay Bridge (SF):
$4 buy you a pretty spectacular way to enter San Fran after dark. Absolutely magnificent. This is the kind of experience you wish your friends or loved ones could be there to share with you. (Yes, more cities should flirt with the idea that the way you enter a municipality sets the stage for the entire experience.) In this respect, cities are no different from buildings, meals, concept stores, luxury hotels, movies, and art museums. Smart thinking. Bonus: The toll attendant was super friendly.

above: b.a.r.t. station underneath San Francisco’s downtown

B.A.R.T. (SF):
San Francisco’s rail transit system. Nothing spectacular, but well run, relatively clean, inexpensive, and supremely practical. Good stuff. I would gladly ride this system into work every day, which is more than I can say for most US transit systems. Strangely enough, people riding b.a.r.t. were cordial, and I even saw folks giving up their seats, proving that chivalry isn’t quite dead yet. Once again, a pleasant environment breeds pleasant behavior. It never fails. Perhaps the most intriguing part of riding b.a.r.t. is how encapsulates the diverse, international community that resides in the Bay area. I was one of only four caucasian passengers in my completely packed car. The rest of the passengers hailed from all over the world: China, India, Korea, Iran, Japan, Philippines, Armenia, Africa, Vietnam, Pakistan… It was a very unique experience for a white man in America to suddenly feel like such an insignificant minority. Believe it or not, it was a beautiful experience. And pretty surreal. Very Blade Runner, except without the rain, the flying cars, and those pesky replicants.

Thrifty, Hertz & Enterprise: $18 per day to rent a compact car from Thrifty @ SeaTac. Sure, it’s a POS Ford whatever, but $18 per day? I can’t touch that kind of rate in any other first tier city in the US. Not even close. And the agents we worked with were top notch. Definitely a fun experience I intend to repeat next time I fly into LAX, SFO or SeaTac – although with a slightly better car this time. (Oh well, reducing our carbon footprint for 24hrs. earns us style points too – and those little Ford engines have more pickup than you’d think.) The process was easy, pleasant, and fast. Obviously, car rental companies seem to have figured out how to do things right – at least on the West Coast. Very nice. Story-worthiness: The rental agents’ unique personalities and quirks, and Tokyo-Drifting with a Ford Focus on one of the I5’s entrance ramps, for starters.

above: Seattle’s Space Needle through the “weather” – shot from I5.

Cool city. No traffic issues. Complex interstate setup near downtown, but well designed nonetheless. Friendly people. Great food. Made me want to move there in spite of the weather in about twenty minutes flat. You can really sense that Seattle is a frontier town, on the edge of civilization in many ways, but it is also has an unusually quaint vibe that makes you instantly feel like you’re home. Caveat: Buying a cup of java from the very first Starbucks store is pretty cool, but it’s a little disappointing to order a Latte and end up with a cup of straight coffee. (Doh.) But you know what? Everyone was so friendly, it didn’t really matter. I added my own cream, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Enough stories in one day already to fill many a dinner conversation.

above: an unpronounceable Catalan-inspired dish of clams, ham, rice, peppers and all sorts of good stuff on Pike, which followed this.

Pike Place fish market (SEA):
The freshest seafood I’ve seen and tasted in the US so far. (Yep, even better than the stuff in NYC.) Shopping there (what with the fish throwing and the yelling and all) is a memorable and fun experience. Combine that with some of the freshest produce I’ve ever seen at an open air market, and you have yourself a recipe for scrumptiousness. (The local eateries most definitely benefit from this, which makes me salivate just thinking about my next visit.) When people are passionate about their job – whether it’s selling the freshest food or preparing it, it shows. (Today’s 5-second business lesson: Quality doesn’t happen by accident.) As many stories as there are merchants, obviously. Good stuff.

* * *

With so many broken brands about, it is nice to string so many pleasant (dare I say remarkable) experiences together in just a few short days. Seeing the positive effect these experiences have had on me and others around me, I can absolutely tell you with one hundred percent certainty that smiles breed smiles, enthusiasm is infectious, and positive interactions are contagious.

If your business is suffering or stalling and you can’t figure out how to get it jump-started, begin with your human touchpoints: Start with enthusiasm and good-will towards customers, and… slowly, methodically, empathically work your way backwards. It most certainly worked with every business I mentioned in this post.

At the very least, a friendly, helpful, enthusiastic human touchpoint can make up for an monster amount of otherwise business-killing problems.

At least for a while.

Beyond that, anything your business does to help customers take stories home with them (especially those they will tell for the rest of their lives) is absolutely pure 100% certified brand-building gold. More on that topic in weeks to come, I’m sure.

Here’s to a brand new week – which is going to be crazy-busy for me – but what else is new.

Have a great Monday, everyone. 😉

all photos by me.

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