All Business On Vacation

Last week I left my family behind and took my 82 year-old father and his brother to Yellowstone National Park. This was a bucket list item for both of them and due to their declining health, it may have been our our last opportunity for such an adventure.

There are tons of details that need to be sorted out when traveling with someone who has special needs. In this case, it was two gents who have trouble walking long distances. This meant that during the air travel portion of the week, I was arranging for wheelchairs and negotiating the hotels of Yellowstone — which are preciously short on handicapped rooms and other accommodations for the elderly in lodgings — many of which were built long before ADA and not since updated.

I’m not going to go on my “We need to invest in our public spaces” rant. Suffice to say, we have these beautiful places and we make it difficult for folks to visit them in the name of preserving a quaint vision of the distant past. Upgrade, folks. Upgrade.

Being on vacation, I try to swivel my brain to things other than my day-to-day grind. Of course, that business function gets a little bored so it eventually looks for opportunity for improvement in all the processes that it encounters. So here’s my list from my current trip. It’s an age-old problem.

The Myth of Automation: Humans in the Loop

One of the things our clients have been asking for is automation tools that help make search better. This is a great idea. For example, there’s no reason that search success metrics can’t be embedded in algorithms that A/B test improvements and automatically kick in if the testing demonstrates improvements. But automation alone isn’t the answer. Humans need to be in the loop a critical parts of the process to ensure that the automation is achieving the right goals. The greatest myth of search automation is that is eliminates the need for people to be involved.

Two Things You Can Do Now to Improve Your Site Search

Search is one of the most critical customer experiences on your website. Search is also the customer experience that likely gets little attention in your management system and at budget time. Sometimes this is because site search improvement seems like a dark art.  It’s not uncommon that we see people measuring site search wrong. However, if you’re just getting started with search improvement (and many of you are, you just may not know it) there are two things you can do now to make your customer experience better. 

Lessons from Folkston, GA

I’m just back from a week in southern Georgia (the state, not the country) fishing with a few buddies. For the past few years, I’ve had a side hustle writing for fly fishing magazines about fly fishing in places where fly anglers don’t normally lurk — most fly anglers go after trout — and fish for species that are not normally pursued. This past week we fished the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and pursued Bowfin (called Mudfish locally) and we caught a bunch. The weather was perfect.

It was a great week. While on vacation it always takes a while to shut off my work brain so I do have two lessons from the road.

Go Deeper

When the VRBO listing says “Only a short walk to the train viewing platform” we mused about the hobby that is Trainspotting. Apparently, trainspotters come to Folkston and stay at the charming little house we were renting. We should have looked into this further. We didn’t.

When we arrived in town, we crossed the two tracks that run the length of downtown Folkston.  Our house was about a hundred yards from the tracks. Taped to the refrigerator was a sample list of the trains that come through Folkston daily. The list contained 40+ trains. We then Googled “Folkston Trains” and learned that Folkston is not just a train viewing locale. It is one of the best train viewing locales in the US. Almost all the trains that go in and out of Florida must go through Folkston. They even refer to this area as the Folkston Funnel.

We didn’t count the trains. There were a lot of them. Running 24 hours a day. It seems like a particularly busy time of day is between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. and then again in the evening. And then again in the early morning. Really, all day long, trains, trains, trains.

If we had gone deeper upon discovering that there was a train viewing platform we might have chosen a different location for our lodgings and would have slept better. We didn’t.

Fun Fact: At every railroad crossing a train must blow its horn. The pattern is: two longs blasts — one short blast — one long blast.

Fun Fact: Regulations say that a train horn must be 110 decibels. That’s rock concert loud.

Fun Fact: At 160 decibels your eardrums burst. The threshold for being driven insane by train horns is much lower.

Be where your customers are

This is a town that has little industry outside logging and only a handful of trainspotters making up the tourist base so there aren’t a lot of dining choices for tourists. When you look on Yelp, you find a handful of fast food restaurants mentioned and a few local eateries. We worked our way through these and found that Jalen’s BBQ, a dodgy looking place, served excellent barbecue and were mystified why the top rated restaurant in town was, in fact, the top rated restaurant in town. It wasn’t very good.

Tuesday evening when we stopped by the grocery store to replenish our supplies, we noticed the Brickhouse Restaurant a few doors down. It wasn’t on Yelp (it is now, I added it). It’s a breakfast/lunch place so we stopped there the next morning. This restaurant turns out to be the best one in town. Great staff. Excellent cooking.

While the Brickhouse is well known to locals, you would pass it by in this electronic age when increasingly travelers are using apps to find dining options in unfamiliar places. Is your business listed where your customers are looking? If not, get going. For us, that’s paying attention to site search when your visitors make use of it. You need to be where your customers are.

I’m back

This morning I dig out of a stuffed inbox. The good news is that I slept most of the day yesterday recovering from the sleep deficit I gathered in Folkston. I’m energized to see what the week brings and marvel at the quiet. Want to talk more about your customer experience? Connect with us.