Answer Up Right Now
by Bob McElwain
Online businesses that once thrived continue to fail
to our left and right. Yours has no special immunity.
If you have begun to notice the ground shifting about you,
the foundations of your business may already need shoring up.
They may even need to be rebuilt upon the more secure ground
of fundamental business principles. Which includes, right
at the top of the list, providing excellent customer support.
Microsoft Models Will Fail
Microsoft is notorious for launching a new product or a new
version of one, that crashes on most systems the moment it is
installed. And it often crashes other software as well, even
tools you need and use every day.
Have you ever tried to get an answer from MS regarding such
a problem? I don't know of anyone who has received one that was
helpful. The best I have seen was, "We're working on it."
I don't have a profound observation to share, for my thinking
is not sufficiently clear. But Microsoft will not be around
forever. They can be beat. And since it's possible, it will
happen. Not in the near term, of course, but it will happen,
perhaps sooner than anyone expects.
Adobe Acrobat's Days Are Numbered
Acrobat's claim to fame is its ability to run compiled
postscript files on most any computer system. If we produce
software or ebooks that run only on Windows systems, we ignore
MAC users, and in many cases, those with older PCs as well. To
date, Acrobat offers the only solution. But they are doomed.
There is not a word of explanation on the site about how to
use the program. http://adobe.com
There are no specifics
about what it can and can not do. There is no email address
offering answers to questions. Only some fuzzy Q & As intended
to sell related products. There is a user forum. However it is
not supported by Adobe and the information available is limited
in scope and accuracy. There is no contact information of any
kind for Adobe Systems. Not even a phone number or street
Since there is no trial version (the trial on their site is
a joke; it will compile only a single web page), I had to buy
it to try it ($268). And it's just awful. The documentation
is written in computerese with a liberal sprinkling of Adobe
jargon. There is no search function.
I have never seen a more cumbersome piece of software, or one
tougher to get going. Further, results in converting web pages
are disappointing; they are not the equal of those produced by
Internet Explorer or Netscape.
The technology is available to do it right. Adobe apparently
sees no need to change. One day some creative person is going to
produce a cross-platform compiler that works effectively,
intuitively, and as expected. When they add in solid customer
support, Acrobat will be history.
The Danger In Rigidity
Adobe has taken an extreme position regards the way in which
Acrobat is sold, and in denying support. It works only because
there is no competition.
Given a competitor, they will begin the long slide to
failure. Large businesses such as Adobe (or Microsoft) simply
can not shift gears quickly enough. The business model in place
tends to remain the mode, long after its usefulness has ended.
Others with more effective contemporary models will shut them
What Shape Is Your Model In?
If you are not using the best business models available, you
are at risk. Even if you are, a further step is required. All
must continually be reevaluated, then enhanced as new thinking
becomes available. To the extent you lack flexibility, you are
Two More Examples
I have been using Eudora to handle my email for many years.
I was forced to upgrade Internet Explorer recently, and this
clobbered Eudora (among other programs). When I visited Eudora's
site, the upgrade price was $29. This is kind of steep, since
a new user pays only $39. It's even steeper, since I needed an
upgrade only for compatibility with Internet Explorer. It should
have been free. Instead, the arrogance of Microsoft was
converted to a "business opportunity."
Eudora has provided excellent support over the years. But it
is slipping now. A purchaser can ask only six questions. The
new version is not working well; I have more than six questions
right now. It took me six business days to get an answer to the
first one I asked. They now appear to be riding the no-support
trail, a dead end not far ahead.
I signed up with the my current hosting service quite some
time back. I liked the performance and support very much. Now
both are slipping. Support is a joke. Replies are incorrect,
and often off target.
I'm stuck with Windows. And I'm stuck with Adobe for now,
if I want to support MAC users. But Eudora is not the only mail
handling program available. And hosting services abound. I am
There is a clear trend within many businesses to minimize
the need to provide customer support. Given its awesome size,
Microsoft may be able to ignore customers indefinitely.
A smaller firm such as Adobe faces greater immediate risk.
A small business has no hope of making this model work.
Support Is Expensive
The reason companies block support questions is the expense.
If Adobe were to suddenly open the doors, they would be flooded
with questions. They might see much of their profits disappear
in answering them. And collectively the questions might demand
modification of the program, another great expense.
If you are handling all aspects of your business, the time
required to respond to questions comes out of your day. If you
hire someone to respond, the dollars come out of your pocket.
Either way, the questions will likely indicate things about your
business or products which must be changed. Which is another
expense. But such costs must be accepted as a part of doing
Customer Service Is The Key
Provide a great newsletter. It's a must. Even if most
site visitors do not subscribe, they expect the option to
do so. Coupons and special offers need to be abundant.
In all ways possible, you must demonstrate your concern
for, and interest in, your customers.
What Matters Most
Answer all questions received. Do so quickly, completely,
and cheerfully. And from the questions asked, seek ways to
improve your products and services.
New ways of interacting with customers are coming. Some will
provide exciting opportunities. None will beat the effectiveness
of answering a customer's question. And doing so right now!
Want to build a winning site? Improve one you already
have? Fix one that's busted? Get ANSWERS. Subscribe
to "STAT News" now! mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Web marketing and consulting since 1993
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