The Daydream Blog

Archive for the ‘Marketing’ Category

I’ll have your customers if you don’t want them

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

Garrett Murray, developer of Ego, an iPhone web stats aggregator, recently posted a difficult support experience he had. (Via Tim Burks on Twitter):

In summary, Ego’s Google Analytics access stopped working because Google felt too much traffic was coming from Ego’s server and blocked the IP address. Is this the customers’ fault? No.

Several users voiced their problems on a 3rd party support site called Get Satisfaction. Murray responded, on Get Satisfaction, that the problem had been resolved with Google, an update had been submitted to the App Store and was awaiting approval. Crucially Murray marked the issue as “solved”, before the update had been approved by Apple.

Murray initially complains about the length of the approval process, which, given that it’s been over a week since he submitted the update, is probably valid. Is this the customers’ fault? No.

However Murray then goes on to highlight the complaints of one user, who was unsatisfied with his response on Get Satisfaction, and created a negative review on the App Store. The App Store does not allow developers to respond to reviews, which again is a fair criticism. Is this the customers’ fault? No.

The user’s review on the App Store was:

I bought this because it claimed to support GA. It worked for me one time the day I bought it and hasn’t worked since. I posted to their support forum and was berated for not reading this long and confusing thread about how it is supposed to be working, or it will work again soon, or something. I feel like the software developer did a poor job building and testing this, and now they’re willing to blame the users for their own mistakes.

Which given the Murray’s own blog post and the situation in the Get Satisfaction thread is exactly correct. Pointing users at a separate thread, as if to say “You should have looked first” is rude and obnoxious. If your software is broken, apologise, explain and apologise again.

Murray defends setting the issue as resolved by saying:

Apparently they didn’t understand that “solved” was a relative term. Yes, sure, it’s not solved for you right now, but my resolution was pretty clear—it’s solved in the version Apple is looking at. JUST HOLD TIGHT. I thought this was enough. But no.

This is just plain ridiculous. “Solved is a relative term” is utter rubbish and a completely idiotic stance to take with your paying customers. With software there is only ONE definition of “Solved”; when the issue is solved for the customer who has paid good money for the product. . Until the fix is in the users’ hands, the problem is OPEN.

It highlights the stereotypical blinkered developer attitude that once a problem is “fixed” in code, that is the end of the matter.

I have multiple examples in my support log, where I have sent a user a response, asked them to contact me if it does not solve the problem and never heard anything back. In my support system I often wait months before marking these issues as resolved. Unless I hear from the user that the problem is fixed, then as far as I am concerned, it is not.

Murray goes on to say that:

Apple is creating an ecosystem of the kind of customers I don’t want

Well Garrett, if you don’t want them, I’ll quite happily take them off your hands.

John Gruber describes the user as an “asshole” on his heavily read Daring Fireball blog.

This is completely outrageous. Ego’s users have paid good money for the product and rightly expect the product to work as advertised. The issues with Google are not the customers’ fault. Even if everyone has done the best they can, the customer is the one least at fault, having paid for a product that DOES NOT WORK.

As for Gruber’s incendiary remarks, I personally would sue for defamation if I was described in that way.

So often as developers we fail to put ourselves in our customers’ shoes. The user had a faulty piece of software, went to the support site (many wouldn’t go that far), filed a complaint (fewer still), saw a response that belittled him and told him that the problem was solved, when it clearly was not. What other recourse does the user have other than to write a negative review?

There are several lessons to be had from this:

  1. Program Defensively: the product should respond sensibly when the Google API did not work, rather then report “0 Visitors”
  2. Program Defensively: provide a support link from within the application
  3. Respond to every customer complaint individually. If it is a known issue, state that it is, but do not expect the customer to know that. Apologise, explain, apologise again.
  4. Treat your customers with respect. A customer who has paid you money owes you nothing, whereas you owe him your livelihood.

As I have stated many times before, the customer is always right and there are no stupid users, just stupid developers.

Microsoft Thinking Different?

Friday, September 12th, 2008

Microsoft has launched a new Windows ad campaign starring Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates, to much derision. It does not, as yet, directly answer the criticism of my last post, that Microsoft’s PR is undermining its flagship product, Windows Vista.

Daniel Jakult, on his Red Sweater Blog, breaks ranks and suggests that the ad campaign is in fact genius, as it is trying to tackle Microsoft’s uncaring image.

Seinfeld’s sense of humour is not something I have ever particularly enjoyed, though I did get a warm fuzzy feeling from these ads. More so from Gates’s performance than from Seinfeld’s.

Daniel points out that:

“Most critics of these ads point out, quite rightly, that the message doesn’t ask viewers to buy anything. If an ad doesn’t ask you to buy something, surely it’s a failure.”

Remind you of another ad campaign designed to change the image and brand of a poorly regarded company? It reminds me of nothing more than Apple’s Think Different campaign. At the time it was criticised for being grammatically incorrect, vague and completely unrelated to the benefits of Apple’s products. It was the complete anti-thesis of current iPhone ads.

Apple’s marketing since Think Different has been an evolution from establishing a new brand through to promoting specific features, via customer endorsements (Switch campaign) and product differentiation (Mac vs PC). At the time of Think Different, Apple’s image was terrible, even if its products were actually quite strong. At the time, Apple needed to change people’s perceptions and expectations of it as a company, before they would even be willing to consider its products.

Microsoft is in a very similar position. Kevin Hoffman’s first take on the ads at The .Net Addict’s Blog points out that Vista is actually a strong product. Microsoft’s other products are also beginning to show considerable signs of improvement. However, the company still receives a lot of criticism, some of it less justified than in the past.

Microsoft has understood that any sympathy towards it is the result of Bill Gates’s philanthropy. Any company whose chief executive gives that much money to charity can’t be all bad, can it?

Apple needed to re-establish its credibility. Microsoft needs to show that it cares about its customers and they seem to be thinking different to do just that. An excellent move on their part.

It is also an excellent demonstration of how Google, Apple, Sony, Mozilla and Oracle’s competition with Microsoft is hugely important for consumers. A Microsoft as a monopoly in all computing markets is terrible and worthy of scorn. A Microsoft that has to compete will be great for everyone.

Mojave, Vista and Midori: Osbourne Redux?

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

Microsoft’s Windows marketing seems to have been extremely muddled of late. Windows Vista has been a publicity nightmare for the company, garnering poor reviews, demands for XP’s lifetime to be extended, users downgrading and major partners and customers holding off from upgrading. Some major clients have even decided to take the opportunity to switch to the Mac.

What has been most surprising throughout the first half of this year, was Microsoft’s unwillingness to come out in support of its most unloved product. Key Microsoft staff, including Bill Gates himself, spent considerable effort talking up Vista’s successor, Windows 7. This led to conjecture that Windows 7 would be released much earlier than expected. It may also have led to many enterprise customers delaying their Vista upgrade programmes.

Windows 7 talk went quiet midyear, with Microsoft promising to come out fighting for Vista. The first fruits of that campaign is the Mojave Experiment. Irrespective of the scientific and content value of the experiment, from a marketing perspective it is a disaster. Essentially a Pepsi challenge, Vista is put into a blind taste test against not its current competitors, but against the 7 year old product it was supposed to replace.

With Mojave barely having had time to make an impact, Microsoft is now talking about Midori, a complete replacement for Windows altogether.

What is really surprising about the situation is that Microsoft’s muddled marketing may actually be leading to a reduction in their Vista sales, as customers wait on Windows 7. Has Microsoft created an Osbourne effect entirely of its own making?

With its stock flat-lining, Microsoft’s mind share is taking a significant battering. Tellingly, start up software companies no longer plan to be taken over by Microsoft, nor worry about a competing Microsoft product. Instead Google, Apple, Amazon, eBay and others are the gorillas in their respective fields. The Yahoo! take over debacle clearly demonstrates how “Microsoft is dead” in terms of its influence.

I recently concluded that the role of CEO of Microsoft would be a much more exciting role than succeeding Steve Jobs at Apple. There is so much more potential to improve a company.

As an unashamed Mac zealot, it is actually disappointing to see Microsoft in this situation. However, the prospect of a resurgent Microsoft in the future, in a more competitive market place will only be good for consumers in the long run. Its current problems are a surprising, sad, but necessary step along the way to Microsoft’s rehabilitation.

iPhone Enterprise Halo

Friday, June 27th, 2008

Apple has clearly focused a lot of effort on targeting the iPhone at the enterprise market. A significant amount of emphasis in the iPhone 2.0 update is towards features demanded by existing and potential enterprise clients.

The iPhone will undoubtedly be a success in the enterprise market. Anyone who doubts that is kidding themselves or trying to downplay the iPhone for marketing their own products.

The question is whether success with the iPhone will lead to increased enterprise Mac sales. There has been a long debate as to whether the iPod Halo effect exists. Will there be an Enterprise iPhone Halo effect.

The key factor is that enterprise IT departments will have to purchase Macs and learn Mac development tools to develop custom, internal, iPhone apps. Whilst many enterprises have a small number of Macs in their design, web and media departments, having Macs in their IT departments is much more likely to lead to a wider uptake of Macs.

Although administration and development functions are normally quite separate in enterprise IT departments, administrators are going to make considerably more effort to better integrate Macs into their environment for IT users, than for design or media users. Once IT administrators are confident that they can integrate Macs into their infrastructure, the door is opened for wider scale adoption. With significant misgivings over Vista, readily available Mac VM software and continuing Windows security concerns, removing the biggest barrier to entry – a Mac cynical IT department, will lead to a significant increase in the number of Macs in enterprise.

There is another key user group that will help to drive adoption – gadget hungry executives. As key executives increasingly purchase Macs for their own use, they will demand full access to their corporate infrastructure. Again IT departments will prioritise keeping this user group happy, further weakening barriers to entry.

Combined with the “one” feature of Snow Leopard being better Exchange integration, Apple stands well placed to take advantage of a “perfect storm” of iPhone developers, executive decision makers and a weakened Microsoft to finally make that breach into the enterprise computing market. The question is whether they will listen to enterprise demands for the Mac, in the same way as they have listened to their iPhone demands.

It also opens an opportunity for Mac software developers to develop enterprise class business software, a market segment where the Mac currently suffers. Products like Differencia will hopefully be well placed to help Apple win new business.

Differencia 1.1 Press Release

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

The official press release for Differencia 1.1 can be found here:

DayTime Software announces Differencia 1.1 for Mac OS X

The Year of Hubris

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

I woke up this morning and thought I need to post on Apple’s Year of Hubris, only to find that Wil Shipley had beaten me to it.

Apple has hat its “Year of the laptop” and “Year of HD” and this year seems to be the “Year of Hubris”. A number of decisions this year have led to major backlashes from their normally ultra loyal customer base.

Most of the controversy has centred on the iPhone. Before WWDC there was strong demand for an “iPhone SDK”; a set of tools to allow developers to create iPhone applications. Steve Jobs tried to fob developers off with web based tools. Many felt Apple would have been better stating they were not offering a proper SDK, rather than patronise intelligent developers, by telling them Web 2.0 tools were just as good.

Then there was the dramatic iPhone price cut. Whilst I appreciate the humour that suggests that this “was a repeal of the nerd tax“, it highlights that whereas most handsets are subsidised when on a contract, the iPhone was actually sold for two months at a $200 premium.

Ring-tones for the iPhone are another sore point, with users having to pay an additional $0.99 to use a snippet of a song they already own and no way to create ring-tones from songs not bought from the iTunes Store. John Gruber covers this issue far better than I can. Though I would point out that long before the iPhone, ring tone buyers have shown a bizarre willingness to pay through the nose for poor quality song snippets. The best that Apple can say is that they are pricing below the current market rate.

Of course in the UK, at the current exchange rate, the iPhone should be priced at around £200 before tax or £235 incl. VAT. The extra £34 for additional business costs seems a little excessive.

Some criticism from the press feels contrived to avoid appearing to pander to Apple. Unfortunately in the UK, we all to often like to bring success stories down to earth. For example, the criticism of the iPhone’s lack of 3G seems perverse. 3G has hardly lit up the UK market since its release in 2003 and it appears to be a flawed technology. Jobs’ complaints about 3G battery consumption are completely valid. Power consumption should have been resolved long ago, given how long 3G has been available. I, for one, am happy that Apple is not championing a technology that benefits networks looking to sell content, more than is solves problems for consumers.

As with each succession of the iPod, the press are always keen to point out missing features without justifying the customer benefit for those features.

Away from the iPhone, Apple’s decision to charge more for DRM free tracks from EMI has surprised many, given Steve Jobs’ open letter of criticism of DRM. Apple’s recent public stance on DRM has also been somewhat confused.

iMovie ’08 has also generated criticism for being a step backwards in many ways. Apple, fully aware of this, quietly ensured that iMovie ’06 was still available for free to iLife ’08 purchasers. Whilst there is a need for an app like iMovie ’08 in this modern Max Headroom / YouTube era, there is still a need for iMovie ’06 type app as well. Many feel that Apple should have found some way to have both applications coexist within iLife and update the original iMovie, rather than replace it.

And finally there was considerable disappointment at the “Top Secret” features in Leopard and the redesign of key UI elements in the new OS. There will undoubtedly be further backlash if Leopard is delayed again beyond its October time frame. The lack of new seeds for developers and testers, suggests a delay is more than possible. I personally predict that Leopard will be delayed until MacWorld in January.

Many of these issues come down to poor PR or Marketing, or simply bad timing. They suggest some hubris on Apple’s approach to its existing customer base. As Wil Shipley says:

That sure reminds me of the old, crappy Apple. The one that almost went bankrupt because of its hubris.

Apple will undoubtedly learn from the backlash, but more worrying than the Marketing missteps are the ring-tones pricing and restrictions, along with Apple’s drive to increase gross margins despite strong sales volumes. It appears that Apple is trying to maximise returns from loyal customers. Fortunately, Apple continues to produce great products to increase its customer base, unlike its previous period of hubris.

 
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