Are you being served?

Written By:
Content Copyright © 2006 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

Like many Microsoft desktop users this week I clicked on the
icon ‘upgrade to Explorer 7’. Mistake. Outlook and Express
disappeared. As did the Explorer multi-choice menu. Panic. Has it
deleted all my emails?

The Explorer multi-choice menu reappeared when I learned to
press the ALT key. Unfortunately the Help menu for Explorer 7 had
no knowledge of ’email’-even though it had just disabled
mine! A flurry of unchecking and checking various menu options
followed (I think the phrase is: “spray and pray!”), and
still no emails. ‘Set up new email account” was the only
(and unwanted) prompt available. Finally, I tried Control Panel and
the Taskbar and Start menu. I put Outlook in my Start menu and up
came my calendar and emails! Phew. Only 1.5 hours lost. Here are
some other recent fine user experiences:

  1. iPod. Burn a CD without being online and you just get
    ‘Artist 1 Track 1’ prompts rather than the actual artist
    and track names. Or plug your iPod into your new Portable-it
    deletes all the music you have previously recorded.
  2. BT Broadband / Yahoo! gives you a pointless toolbar you
    can’t get rid of. If you untick ‘Google’, the BT Yahoo!
    toolbar disappears. Interesting. On your Windows desktop, BT Yahoo!
    icons are everywhere. But you can’t get rid of the bits you
    don’t want without uninstalling the whole programme. I
    understand Orange Broadband does similar.
  3. Skype. Try paying by bank transfer. Processing goes on for
    days, but there is no way to retract or cancel your order.

Microsoft, Apple, BT, Orange, and Skype have strong credible
brands offering low cost and potentially highly valued attractive
products over the Internet. This is a good thing. The bad thing is
that installation is not interactive. Surely Microsoft can manage a
prompt question that says “are you sure you want to disable
your existing mail system?” or Apple “are you sure you
want to delete all your existing music from your iPod?”

Worse, after a bad event has happened, corrective action is
based on spray and pray for most of us, as getting responsive and
empathetic support is seemingly impossible. Try BT. They are quite
happy to take sales orders, but try getting a sensible response to
a customer query. Many IT suppliers these days are uncontactable by

Increasingly, users are turning their backs on suppliers whose
systems don’t work ‘right first time’ as they cannot
bear the hit and hope self-service fixing process, nor the waiting
on the help line followed by customer service complacency.
Customers just find another way of getting round the problem-they
abandon ‘the shopping cart’ i.e. the supplier.

This is a bad thing for suppliers. Bad news travels fast both my
word of mouth and via the internet. As brand loyalty declines
future cashflows are lost and shareholder value is destroyed. OK,
most of us are not very profitable customers and don’t deserve
a premium service. But we do deserve a service. And we do talk to
customers who are premium customers. You cannot compartmentalise
and divorce the highly profitable customers from the less
profitable customers no matter what your CRM systems tell you.
People talk.

At Christmas time the conversation often turns to customer
shopping experiences. One name comes up time and time again when
outstanding customer service is mentioned. John Lewis. Whether it
is in their own stores, their supermarkets (Waitrose), or their
online delivery service (Ocado). Their web site tells us “The
Partnership aims to deal honestly with its customers and secure
their loyalty and trust by providing outstanding choice, value and

  • We aim to provide a consistently superior service for our
  • We like to hear what our customers think. We want to know what
    we can do better.
  • We keep track of customer complaints we receive as well as the
    number of letters of appreciation.”

The challenge for IT vendors is to stop benchmarking themselves
against each other but rather benchmark against a really
customer-focused supplier like John Lewis. Because to stop
ever-increasing customer churn rates in the Internet age, suppliers
need to create lasting customer loyalty based on customer service
excellence and great customer experiences every bit as much as big
brand names, innovative products, and low prices. Merry Xmas!