Glass half full – Better Place transforms station error into customer service case study

February 19, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Business, Environment 
The message reads "Error in process...please wait"

The message reads “Error in process…please wait”

Hey Better Place electric car aficionados: ever wonder what would happen if you pulled into one of the company’s fully automated battery swap stations and it didn’t work? Well, I’m here to tell the tale. It’s a classic glass half empty/half full situation. Half empty: the station broke down and we weren’t able to get the fresh battery we needed at midnight. Half full: Better Place has really great customer service.

The full story: we were driving back to Jerusalem from a bar mitzvah party in Rehovot. We left relatively early because we knew we’d have to swap batteries before climbing the hill home. We asked OSCAR, our electric car “operating system” and friendly GPS where the most convenient swap station was. Anava Junction, it replied, near where Highways 1 and 431 intersect.

We’ve swapped at Anava before and, in the past, there’s always been a station attendant present. But Better Place is phasing out that staff (they had mostly been doing quality assurance anyway as the stations run on their own). No problem: we pulled up, the station “recognized” our car, the gate swung open without a word, and we were guided through the process via the stations’ electronic signage.

The car was hoisted up as normal, allowing the Better Place robot to slide under the vehicle to remove our battery and insert a new one, a process that takes all of five minutes. And then, a yellow warning sign appeared. It read takala – a word that first year ulpan students quickly learn to dread. “Error.”

We waited a couple of minutes, but the yellow warning remained. So we called Better Place Customer Service.

Now, I’ve written before about Better Place’s attentiveness and professionalism towards its customers and Dor, who picked up the call, was no exception. He calmed us down and tried various fixes on his end. The yellow warning would disappear, the process would resume, but then the takala alert came back.

We went through this quite a few times over the course of about half an hour before it was clear that the ever patient Dor had exhausted his ability to remotely fix the issue. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just that we couldn’t get a new battery. The robot now would not release our car to go find another station (we could have driven back a few kilometers to Nesharim or tried our luck at continuing on to Beit Shemesh or Hemed on the charge that remained).

Incredibly apologetic, Dor made us an offer we couldn’t refuse – especially one at 12:30 AM. He pressed a button on his call center console and the door to the station manager’s office magically opened. There on the desk was a set of keys to an identical Better Place car sitting in the station’s parking lot. “Take the keys,” he said, “and drive home with our car. In the morning, we’ll bring your car directly to you.”

Which is what we did. And since Better Place only sells one model of car, our replacement vehicle was identical to our regular one: just as powerful up the hill, same comfort we were used to. We made it home with plenty of juice to spare.

In the morning, our car was delivered as promised. Alon, the driver, was ecstatic at having the chance to visit Jerusalem. “I’ve only been here once in my life,” he said, “and that was to the Old City and the Kotel” (the Western Wall). Apparently, Better Place is operating a clandestine employee Birthright program on the side.

My wife Jody pointed out positively Zen-like that these things can happen in any kind of car. “We could have gotten a flat tire in our old Toyota Corolla,” she said. And it’s doubtful we’d have had such cheery Customer Service.

Bottom line: sure, we would have rather stayed at the party and danced for longer than explore the insides of a Better Place swap station. But it gave Better Place a chance to prove again how it has mastered the art of keeping the customer satisfied even under unexpected adverse conditions.

Scientology in Tel Aviv poses as a job recruitment firm

February 5, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business, Religion 

U-man logoMy son has been looking for a job. Recently released from the army after three years with some very solid computer skills under his belt, he has been sending his CV out to various manpower agencies and headhunters. The other day, he received a call from the U-Man agency, which had listed a posting for a position at a biotech firm in Jerusalem that sounded promising.

The woman on the other end of the line invited him in for a personal interview. This was a bit strange – he’d never had to meet any of the other headhunters; they just wanted to make a shidduch as fast as possible and collect their commission. But she said it was mandatory. Could she tell him a bit about the interview? he asked. No, she responded. “It’s a personal test and I can’t go into any details about it.”

Both annoyed and intrigued, my son did what any 21st century jobseeker does: he Googled U-Man. What he found was surprising: the firm appears to be a front for none other than the Israeli branch of the Church of Scientology.

According to my digging, a business consulting firm called U-Man is linked with Scientology in a number of European countries where it offers a personality test called the “Oxford Capacity Analysis” (OCA). The test asks 200 very bizarre questions that have seemingly very little to do with job placement, such as “Do you make thoughtless remarks or accusations which later you regret?” “Do your past failures still worry you?” “Are you normally considered ‘cold?’” “Do you often “sit and think” about death, sickness, pain and sorrow?” The full list of questions (in English) is here.

The test is then graded and the applicant is given a rigged, highly negative score, according to the website, which is dedicated to debunking Scientology. Test takers are urged to sign up for “advanced” courses and seminars, which will help them, improve their human interactions (and presumably land that dream job in the end). These courses cost money, of course, and before long, the unsuspecting jobseeker is on the road to becoming a full-fledged Scientologist.

The woman at U-Man didn’t tell my son the name of the test (which has nothing to do with Oxford the university), but an experience reported by another Israeli confirmed that the OCA is indeed the test being offered by U-Man Israel. His report is here (it’s in Hebrew, but Google Translate does a passable job on this post).

Suffice it to say my son didn’t schlep in to the U-Man office in Tel Aviv. Scientology will have to find another victim. For other jobseekers: consider yourself warned.

The Israel You Love Photo Contest

Show us the Israel you love in a new photograph contest by ISRAEL21c that launches next week and you could win an iPad mini or two runners up prizes of Amazon gift cards.

The new ISRAEL21c photo competition.

The new ISRAEL21c photo competition.

It’s the first time that we’ve run a photo competition and we’re keen to see what you can come up with.

We’re looking for great images that celebrate Israel. Wild, wacky, beautiful, happy, funny, warm, moving, breathtaking – we want to see Israel and its people through your eyes.

The competition begins next week on February 11th and runs until February 25th. Stay tuned to our Facebook page for details.

Readers can vote for their favorite snaps until March 5, and then ISRAEL21c will choose the final three winners from the top 20.
Winners will be announced on March 8.

The best shots will be featured on ISRAEL21c and will be included in a special movie to celebrate Israel’s 65th birthday in April.

So let your friends know, get your cameras out, and start snapping.

Haaretz digital paywall rebuttal (part 2)

January 27, 2013 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: A New Reality, Business 

By Lior Kodner

For part one, click here

Following in the footsteps of the New York Times, FT, The Wall Street Journal and other major international publications, in May 2012 Haaretz shifted its digital strategy and began offering digital subscriptions. We asked our loyal readers to register in order to read up to ten free articles a month, or to pay $95 a year for unlimited access.

In the last seven months more than 135,000 users have registered with Haaretz, while the number of digital subscribers is a five-digit figure. Since access through Google, Facebook and Twitter is largely free, the number of unique users has remained stable. Overall, in the last seven months the advertising revenues have also remained stable, while the subscriptions added income.

Our innovative digital strategy received praise and attention on Harvard Journalism School’s prestigious Niemanlab blog in September 2012. “We can derive larger, even universal, truths from the Haaretz experience,” wrote Ken Doctor. The article goes into the “If you don’t charge them, they won’t pay” mantra, discusses the value of building a database of readers, lauds adding mobile entities with iPhone, iPad and Android editions, and emphasizes that newspapers must “back up your offer with…journalism.”

Hundreds of items are published on Haaretz platforms every single day. Over the past eighteen months, Haaretz has added editors, writers and contributors in Israel, the U.S., the U.K. and across the Jewish world. All create original material for digital readers. A dozen bloggers enrich the site’s content.

Haaretz’s example can be treated as a test case, which proves that frequent consumers are willing to pay for digital content if it’s branded, upgraded and more suited to their needs than the free alternatives.

* Lior Kodner is the Head of Digital in Haaretz.

Haaretz digital paywall rebuttal (part 1)

January 27, 2013 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: A New Reality, Business 

By Lior Kodner

In a major report on the state of journalism, published in November 2012 by the Columbia School of Journalism, the authors gave one recommendation to news organizations – “SURVIVE.”

Part of this challenging task is in finding new revenue streams to finance quality journalism. At Haaretz, one of our main goals in 2012 was to define and implement a paid strategy for our digital entities; a major change for a traditional, print-oriented news organization, founded nearly 100 years ago.

In his blog post on Israelity, Brian Blum criticizes our decision to charge digital readers for our services. “The paper has to figure out a way to make money, or how would I receive any remuneration for my work? But as a reader, I’m frustrated,” he writes.

As I myself am an addicted digital user, who is used to free web content and relates to that ideal, I can sympathize with this frustration, but I would argue that a paid model is the right direction for us.

Let’s start with the basics. Most news organizations have two major sources of revenue – advertising and subscriptions. In recent years both these sources of income have suffered from continued decline at Haaretz – both for its Hebrew edition and its daughter English publication. The latter, which largely publishes translated material, was founded as a joint venture with The International Herald Tribune in 1997, the same year the paper launched its Hebrew and English web sites ( and respectively).

Echoing the troubles of other newspapers around the world, Haaretz lost high-margin classified ad business to free websites (such as, the Israeli equivalent to, advertisers switched to performance-based campaigns and partly abandoned print, plus the global recession and the local social protests led to a 10% drop in overall ad revenue in 2012. According to reports in TheMarker, additional declines are expected in 2013. Aging print readership and the wide distribution of the free Israel Hayom newspaper are also further reducing income from subscribers.

With this in mind, we have been increasingly focusing our attention on the digital sphere – where the majority of our readers, both in Hebrew and in English, consume Haaretz content. At present, three million unique users visit per month. More than 65% of these live in North America and about 12% in Israel. This high foreign-based usage and the loyalty of Haaretz digital readers presented a business opportunity – to start charging those who have no option to subscribe to a Haaretz print product due to their location.

For part two, click here.

* Lior Kodner is the Head of Digital in Haaretz.

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