Crystal: Creepy Or Helpful?

I listen to a few podcasts related to technology, one of them being “Note To Self” (formerly called New Tech City). The last episode I listened to, it talked about a service called Crystal Knows. When you go to email someone, Crystal analyzes things they have written online and generates a sort of personality profile for them.

So I decided to start the free trial. I installed it within Gmail. During this trial period, I’ve gotten a new client (someone I have never met) and also have dealt with a few touchy customer service situations. You know, the kind of thing where it would be nice to have an email coach for.

Crystal: Confirming What I Already Knew

Of course naturally, the first thing you do when you get a piece of software like this is test it with people you know. In fairness to others, I’ll use myself as the example here:


First of all, I’ve done this analysis with about ten people and each summary sentence was pretty different. (Not one of those online quizzes that has one of five outcomes.)

My accuracy level is 85%. As someone who has been blogging for seven years, this is higher than most people I tested for. Still, even when someone had a 45% accuracy rate, it was better than having 0% knowledge (ie going in cold with the new client.)

The thing I think is funny with this is how it thinks I like conversation. My tone on our blog is quite conversational but if it was socially acceptable, all my emails would be like. “Can you send me this file? Thanks.” I have cultivated this friendly, approachable personality online so that… well, I seem friendly and approachable. I am very much so in real life but in terms of online/texting interactions, I prefer to be really utilitarian. Ask my husband about our texting relationship.

Now this isn’t the only thing it gives you. Scrolling leads to deeper:



It’s true, I do seek consensus. If I am working in groups, I want to agree then move forward. Nothing drives me more nuts than having to redo work because all the stakeholders weren’t consulted before I proceeded. I also appreciate feedback but it needs to be given to me in a certain way (again, ask my poor husband.) Crystal Knows, indeed.

Now, I keep scrolling and this is where it for some people may get creepy. It tells you how you can sell to me and what NOT to say to me. If you have a paid account, it will help you write an email to me:


Understanding My Relationships Better

While Crystal couldn’t find my husband (he’s difficult to find on the internet, you should have seen how panicked I was before our first date when I saw his lack of public record online) but it did find my coworkers. It is interesting how I subconsciously write differently to the different people I work with. Crystal confirmed my style with each.

It was also nice to put in my new client’s name and have it say “If your email is over 250 words he won’t read it, try to be concise.” I would have rambled on, as I tend to do. With a new colleague, it urged me to be specific and break things down into steps, something I wouldn’t have normally done in that case but seemed to please him. Hmph.

I found this lovely blog (which has more about Crystal) but also has this compelling animation showing how Crystal coaches you as you write an email:


Please appreciate that at first, as Crystal was saying ‘Good job’, I thought I was supposed to give the person I was writing to a pat on the back. Apparently it just meant keep going. So if you got a compliment from me via email in the last two weeks that seemed odd, that may have been it.

There is a relationship analysis feature in Crystal available to premium (paying members)… but Crystal will let you try it for 2 weeks. Then you can decide for yourself if this tool is creepy or helpful.

Is it creepy?

I’m still on the fence personally but I did ask to extend my trial another two weeks. In a world where he who has the most information wins, it seems like this tool may be good, especially if we are in contact with someone who has done a fair bit of online writing (so Crystal has data on them).

I guess I’m on my own with my husband. But maybe some relationships shouldn’t be coached by an algorithm anyway. But for those people who I don’t know well, I thank Crystal for making me at least feel like I am not going in blind.

Tech Thursday: Splitsville

In this week’s episode: Foursquare splits into two apps, Google+ splits up different kinds of content, businesses we know try to do too much. When to add on, when to split, and when you should keep doing what’s working!

Plus, some really fun plant-related analogies and Kassie is really excited about the new Mad Max.

Who’s Eating This?

Kassie was recently telling me about the website that seems to no longer exist called “Pick the Perp”. You pick who you think was charged with a particular crime. Here’s an example:



Now in some cases, it seems obvious… until a little old lady is charged with being a serial killer.

Point is, we have a stereotype in our heads of who is our customer but sometimes it pays to do actual research on who our customer is.

We decided to bring back this game, if only very briefly about a much less controversial topic: food. So we went on Instagram, grabbed a photo and you guess who took it.

What: Root Beer Float





Who drank the root beer float?

What: Home cooked meat, potatoes, and salad




What: Chocolate cake




So here are the answers:

Root Beer Float: A

Meat and Potatoes: C

Chocolate Cake: A

Now besides being a silly exercise, can this teach us anything?

1) Context helps. So the meat and potatoes on a glass coffee table? That may have pointed us to the fashion blogger looking person. 🙂 Understanding the context people are in (friendships, where they live, what kind of coffee table they have) helps us understand when our customers choose us. Important to understand context because it can help us pick out future customers… or maybe even working with another company on a cross promotional opportunity if we have the same customers.

2) Look at clues… but only if they are helpful. In one of the examples above, I kept the hashtags. (To be fair, not sure how easy it is to read them.) In two of them, I kept in the handles in. You had the most information in example one (root beer float) and the least in chocolate cake. Was the one with more information easier to guess? If you thrive on information and it helps you make better choices, use it. If it paralyzes you, don’t.

3) Don’t assume. I’m betting you got one of these wrong (I would have if I hadn’t created it). We can make assumptions: that overweight woman isn’t interested in clean eating, that older man wouldn’t attend our computer class, etc. But sometimes our assumptions can keep us from truly reaching our potential with our businesses… and helping people we could be helping.

Anyway, we thought this would be a fun exercise. Can you pick out your customers from a lineup? What helps you do so? What are you assuming wrong that you want to correct?

Selling Stuff Online: Your Time

The final in our series of ‘selling stuff online,’ is selling your time.

Now this is somewhat covered in the ‘events’ post but there we concentrated on ticket selling and more of the questions you’d need to ask if you were running an event with a group of people. Lots of people (massage therapists, internet marketing consultants, etc.) trade time for money and having a system that integrates with a calendar is their saving grace.

Instantaneous (Live) Support Versus Book Ahead

The first question you need to ask yourself is do you want live support or do you want to book time ahead. Most people don’t have the staffing (or general interest) to be available nearly constantly but I do know some consultants who hold ‘office hours’ where people can drop in unscheduled.

Most of the time though, there is some kind of way you can schedule time, like a calendar interface on the side of a page (as with



To a slicker landing page one a la



Free or Paid

So a free consult could get people in the door but taking payment ensures people are truly booking something of value.

Some scheduling programs will allow you to take payment (or at least hold a credit card). There may be some additional fees (processing fees, monthly fees, etc.) for this, just as a warning but getting paid for your time up front may be worth a bit of cash to you. Sublime Canines won’t let you book a class without payment, which I’m sure makes sure EVERYONE shows up to their scheduled session:



The more meetings you schedule, the more rescheduling you’ll have to do.

Having an email automatically go out to the client after they book (and also on the booking page) can communicate your rescheduling (and possibly refunding if you are taking payment then) possibility.

If not, you’ll want a way to handle rescheduling, whether it is setting aside your own time for admin or hiring out. I have been trying out Fancy Hands this month for rescheduling with clients and it has been AMAZING so far.

In any case, if you are going to think of exchanging your time for money, it is something to think about.

Taking Your Time Into A Marketplace

It’s one thing to have people book time with you through your website but there are a whole generation of websites that let people consult with people who will pay them.

Google Helpouts, probably the best known example, is shutting down in April but there are plenty out there: TaskRabbit, LiveNinja and other sites have let people sell their time/services for money in a general way.


Depending on your service, there may be sites specific to your service (for example Uber with driving) or you can start on a more general website like LiveNinja.

So even if you don’t have any products, you can be selling something online. And that’s pretty powerful.

Other posts in our series:

Selling Stuff Online: Products

Selling Stuff Online: Events

Selling Stuff Online: E-products

Tech Thursday: All About Systems

Okay, well maybe not everything. But, as we get busier, we’ve come to appreciate the function that systems provide. The point of having a system is to get things running smoothly, whatever the “things” may be, with a “begin with the end in mind” mentality.

Recently, Nicole chatted with Tim Hoffman about implementing systems in personal and professional settings. All good systems have 3 traits:

1) Effectual (they help reach a desired outcome),
2) Efficient (they ultimately save time/energy), and
3) Flexible (if an obstacle arises).

At Breaking Even, we’ve started systems for documenting processes that we repeat quite a bit, as well as meetings (that’s right, those can be systems, too)!

What systems do you have set up in your life, personal or professional? We’re interested in hearing what others have to say!

The Temptation To Automation

I was having a conversation the other day with another business person. “You know, I’m trying to get better with systems.” I told her. “Ugh, systems, that’s such a 2015 obsession!” she lamented. And she’s right.

We’re all obsessed with doing things better, more efficiently. I have heard more systems consultants on podcasts and read more blog posts on systems in the past six months than I have for my entire life before that.

Oftentimes, systems are automation. Like automating putting money in a retirement account for example versus someone having to think about making the funds transfer once a week or month.

One place to go with automation is social media marketing. I will say I think it’s one thing to schedule some updates while you travel or are going to be in meetings. It’s another thing to never log in and do a live update. Or to never log in and respond to comments. Or to never repost someone else’s great idea or otherwise engage with them.

Someone once asked me in a seminar if they could bulk schedule tweets… for a year. Talk about missing the point of being on a social network.

But in this age of systems, we’re all getting access to tools that basically suggest we do something like this, something I call automation. What I mean by ‘automation’ is ‘set it and forget it’ marketing. It can look like scheduling tweets for a year. Or writing all your blog entries for six months and scheduling them to publish ahead of time.

Automation does take some work (clearly) but it suggests a one sidedness: you say the things… and you either aren’t ready or willing to respond to what other people are saying.

We may schedule some ‘pushes’ for our clients but was also make sure to log in and interact with people. And here is why this seemingly tedious and definitely time consuming process is worth it to me.


Different networks, different purposes, different content.

Every time someone asks me to make it so everything they say on Facebook goes to Twitter and LinkedIn automatically, I try to talk them out of it. But if they insist, I do it. But I will say here I think this is a terrible idea.

If you follow us on our social networks, you may see 5% of what we post being repeated. Maybe.

But for the most part, we treat different networks differently. I post different kinds of content on Google+ (where I mainly follow tech nerds and journalists) than I do on LinkedIn, where people are more concerned about business and marketing best practices.

I’ll just say what everyone is thinking: people can tell when you’re automating stuff (ie phoning it in). And if you think people on a social network you treat as mediocre at best are open to your message and excited to hear from you when you have something actually important to say, I’m here to say they are not.

Being flexible.

You know when something amazing happens and you are right in the middle of it? Well, if every Facebook status we write has to go through a committee for Company A before we post, it means we can’t be participating in real time on behalf of Company A.

It’s one thing to have something ‘in the can’ as an idea… and it’s another thing to have a better idea and be able to go with it. Automation would keep us from these moments of creativity and community.

Avoiding awfulness.

The best part of checking in regularly for the networks we update? Avoiding disasters.

The one that comes to mind (and one John gets full credit for) is a tweet we had planned about Robin Williams for a substance abuse counselor client. The tweets get composed ahead of time (it’s always easier to write blocks of content) and had we just a ‘set it and forget it’ mentality, this tweet would have gone online two days after he died… and it would have made our client look pretty insensitive.

John not only remembered (because he was checking in and retweeting for them regularly) but stopped the issue before it even happened.

Can we measure avoided awkwardness or awfulness? Not really but there is certainly more than one time when a human brain looking at something in a timely way not only made a client look good… but kept them (and us) from looking bad.

If you don’t systematize your friendships offline, why would you do it online?

Do you accept only every third party invitation you get? Do you only email your friend the third Friday of every month? It’s one thing to make sure you are regularly updating people about next week’s important event but it’s another thing to not be genuinely interested in who is sharing those social networks with you: your family, friends, and customers.

So let me just go on record. I am anti-automation. And let me clarify:

Repeating social media updates is fine, since not everyone sees a particular update… especially on ‘noisier’ networks like Twitter.

Scheduling is a tool that allows us to not be chained to our computers. Definitely do that to save your sanity and make sure important information gets out.

Automating means you aren’t willing to put the time in to develop real friendships with your customers. It’ll look like you’re phoning it in because you are. And your customers won’t care because you clearly don’t.

So, if you’re tempted to make an automated social media system, I hope I’ve talked you out of it. By all means make a plan and feel free to structure 70% of what you want. But let that other 30% give your company the humanity it needs online to be truly successful.

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