Friday, October 02, 2009

Is Everybody Happy?

Back in December 2005, I blogged about the "Parable of the Drill" and keeping focused on the goal of making your customers or patrons happy.

In the October issue of Wired magazine, there's an interview with the founder of Netflix. He tells how the company was founded and why they conduct business the way they do. To help customers find movies they might like, they're encouraged to rate the movies they rent. This helps Netflix recommend other movies. They can also get suggestions from friends who use the service. Near the end of the article, he says, "When people connect with a movie, it really makes them happy, and that's fundamentally what we're trying to do. Today you love one out of three movies you watch. If we can raise that to two out of three, we can completely transform the market and increase human happiness."

This past week I got the chance to put this philosophy into action. I work for a library automation company located near Syracuse, NY. If you're in the library field, you know which one it is. Yesterday, I got a call from one of the libraries I work with. Their patrons where getting empty e-mail notices from the library. Each day, a computer program sends out hundreds of e-mail messages to notify people that their holds have come in, that their items are overdue or that they owe the library money. I checked the log files and, while the job had run successfully, I saw that the body of the messages was indeed empty. We discovered that the program that backs up the library's data each day wasn't working right and, because everything is linked together in this system, it was affecting the e-mails. One of our programmers was able to reclaim the missing data and replace it in the message queue. But the job wasn't scheduled to run again until the next morning. I considered running the job manually to send out the notices right away, although this would put a load on the system during business hours. But patrons had already contacted the library, wondering what was in the messages. I was afraid this would continue when people checked their e-mail that night. Sending the corrected message could help prevent more confusion. I talked it over with the library and we decided to run the job. It was late in the day and we were getting ready to head home. But we decided to do the right thing and help make the patrons happy. The job took 30 minutes to run, which made me a little late, but there were no more complaints from the library's patrons.


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