Wednesday, February 29, 2012

2 Hours From Awesome

Often, when I'm contacted by someone that I haven't talked with in a long time, they will ask me whether I still play guitar or whether I've been riding lately. Thinking about it this morning, I realized that there are a bunch of things like guitar that I probably have 9,998 hours at.

Perhaps you know the feeling. One day, when I get some time, I will devote some more time to it, focus on it, and finally cross that expertise finish line. Hell, if it were just one hour a way, I'd probably pull out that guitar right now. But it's not just an hour. It's not just one more turn to level up. So I should probably focus on something else. Besides, that next hour will probably be awkward.

Monday, February 27, 2012 Customer Support: Round 2 - FAIL

So I spent the better part of this last week playing phone and email tag with customer support. As noted in my previous post, Customer Service: Transforming Strategic Service Tiers Into Service That Sucks, I started the week with an issue and since that time I have learned the following:
  •'s standard tier of customer support has been outsourced.
  • standard tier customer support is happy to work with you during their business hours which generally seem to run from about 7:45am to 5:00pm CST -- kind of funny when you consider that both Salesforce and I are located in the San Francisco Bay Area (that's 5:45am -3:00pm PST for you math challenged kids at home). What happened to working with the customer as though you were within their time zone? Or at least having customer service people who understood what time zone you were in?
  • If two cases are created and you receive a response from two different customer service people, simply using a cloud-based platform for service and support doesn't mean that they will consolidate your case, give you one contact point, or solve the issue using 'the wisdom of crowds'. Twice the fail, Slow and Slower response.
  • When your end solution is to direct your customer back to their account rep that created the case for help, you have probably failed.  
As I mentioned in my previous post, once upon a time support wasn't this crappy. It used to be that when you called customer support, you felt like you were talking to someone working in a Bay Area office who probably had as much expertise with the platform (and with the various technology interconnects) as you did -- probably more. During this round, I have found myself dealing with customer service reps who seemed at best capable of running me through the "is my computer plugged in" script and searching their canned solutions for an answer. Not really the kind of support you'd expect when your the admin for a complex, integrated enterprise software platform.

I'm not sure when or where their support passed the milestone from "great restaurant" to "Kitchen Nightmare". It's not like there was some well-published devolution. It's not like everyone I've met, when the discussion of comes up says, "yes, but my god their service and support sucks." Instead, it seems likely that the erosion was taking place behind the scenes, away from the shiny new features that we often get caught up in.

When you use the platform all of the time -- and it mostly just works like it's supposed to -- you don't ask questions, don't raise your voice. A perfect example is help and training -- once upon a time, I used to refer users to the 'Help and Training' section, told them that there were tons of free online training vids to help them understand the application and it's capabilities. Recently, when I went back to look for them, they are all gone -- replaced by training that you must pay for.

The erosion of aspects of the platform like this, it may not affect the core value of the product, but it moves away from one of their old marketing themes. Remember when was focused on making you, their customer, successful. Somewhere in all of the upgrades to 'The Social Enterprise', they seem to have lost backward compatibility with customer success. They also seem to have chopped out some of the support from my word-of-mouth evangelism platform.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Good Design vs Online Piracy: What So Many Get Wrong

Right versus pragmatic is from a blog by Marco Arment, creator of Instapaper. It's a nice post on how the Hollywood Media industry is failing to adapt their delivery model to their customer base. It's also a great reminder about how often businesses and process owners want to force users into a poorly functioning design simply because it meets some other objectives that probably have little to do with the actual process. Worth a read.

Thursday, February 23, 2012 Customer Service: Transforming Strategic Service Tiers Into Service That Sucks

Recently I ran into a strange issue with Perhaps the best way to describe it would be unusual behavior in the application that appeared suddenly with no clear cause. If it were a medical condition, I would put it in the category of, "if this happens, call your doctor."

In the past, I've generally been impressed with customer service. When I called them, they were often quick to realize that I wasn't simply an end user that had lost forgotten their password. They were friendly, worked quickly to diagnose my issue, and escalate it if necessary -- not that I had a lot of issues with the platform.

So, that probably underscores my surprise and tremendous disappointment in their customer support with this most recent issue.
  • Want to submit a case? Gotta go through the web interface. Standard response time, 1-2 days. 
  • Email? So outdated. No options. 
  • Wanna talk to someone on the phone? Be told repeatedly by the automated system that, unless you have premier support or you have a lot of users unable to access SFDC, you should use the web interface. Then wait for a long time on hold, have someone answer and then they submit a case. Standard response time, 1-2 days. 
  • What to use the online Chat feature? Only available at the Premier level service tier. 
  • Thinking about contacting your account rep? All that they can do is submit a case. 
In short, their customer support response tier has gone from a benchmark to matching the lowest common denominator of crappy in order to make their premier level seem more valuable. They have essentially deteriorated their base service to service and support in name only. Keep in mind that this is a component of your business infrastructure that you're paying upwards of $1000+ per seat per year for -- what many businesses would consider good customers, business customers.

The funny thing is, considering many of their recent presentations and Dreamforce keynotes, maybe I would get a more responsive experience if I posted my issue on Facebook or Twitter. 

So what's the take-away? Perhaps, as an enterprise software vendor, there is an expectation of an entitlement to annual maintenance fees for service and support. Old habits die hard. At the same time, it's not unusual to see service and support devolve like this -- it's probably more common than 'amazing' customer support. Either way, it's certainly not the level of service that's going to win your business great word of mouth.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

When A Thought Exercise Goes Horribly Wrong

Recently, I was hired as the "Empress of Enthusiastic Evangelism". It's the kind of thing that many creative people might get very excited about. It's the kind of thing that I might have gotten excited about. Once. Some time ago.

Sure, everyone wants to work at one of those companies where they get to have cool, funny titles that spit in the eye of traditional business culture -- and now I do. Or thought I did. Until I was hired.

Once upon a time, this company -- my new company -- was the embodiment of that free-minded culture. But then they decided that it made more sense to stabilize and follow a traditional set of values. They decided that it would be a good idea to be predictable, to avoid changing. I came in after that, hired to replace the former Empress who had left, perhaps looking for a more regally appropriate environment.

It goes without saying that I'm not a woman. And 'Enthusiastic Evangelism' really only represents a small portion of what I do. Or am supposed to do -- since lobbying for a new title is one of the things that also takes up a lot of my time. But it's rather difficult convincing the "Lord of Strategic Conquests" that I'm not being taken seriously with my current title.

I've never been one to get hung up on job titles. After all, I do what I do, who cares what they call me. But this one is making it is starting to make me crazy, I mean, forget about the people I have to deal with not taking me seriously, I'm starting to wonder myself. The other day, I started wondering -- what's the next position, where do I go after empress?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Forget About Santa: Target Uses Big Data to Know if You're Naughty or Nice

Here's an interesting couple of items that I came across on Linked In. They are some great insights into the power and pitfalls of big data analytics and it's impact on marketing.

How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did by Kashmir Hill with Forbes.

And the original New York Times Magazine article that her post is based upon:
How Companies Learn Your Secrets by Charles Duhigg

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Frustrating Aspects of Blogger - Lost Posts, Accidental Publishing, and more

If you use blogger, perhaps you've experienced this. You spend hours or days crafting a post. Then, as you get ready to publish it, you go back in to make edits. You make a change, then decide that you don't like that change. So you undo. Suddenly, your entire post is gone. A blank text area has replaced all of those words you put together. Quickly, you try to recover before Blogger's auto-save replaces your precious text with nothing. Too late. It's gone.

This morning I lost another post to the monster that lives underneath Blogger. To say that it's frustrating is an understatement. Part of the problem is auto-save, but part of the problem seems to be something in the way that Blogger handles undo. Of course, the whole thing would be moot if Blogger provided something like subversion on the auto-saves for a given session. Would it be complicated? Perhaps. But I, for one, think it would be totally worth it compared to the frustration of the lost post.

The Accidental Publish Feature
Another Blogger problem that's frustrated me several times recently seems to be related to the interface. Several times, as I started to type the title of my post, I accidentally hit the return key instead of the shift key or the apostrophe -- it happens. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, Blogger seems to automatically click the Publish button based on that return. The next thing you know, I'm publishing posts like "The". Then deleting them.

I suppose in the high speed world of Google, two-steps is too long for publishing. Think about the drop out rate in the publishing pipeline!

Ah well, don't mind me. I'm just grumpy because I lost another post.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Boring, Unloved World of Enterprise Software that Sucks

Sarah Lacy published an interesting read on PandoDaily over the weekend. The post, Why Oracle May Really Be Doomed This Time, was a nice analysis of the changing landscape in enterprise software. Spurred by Oracle buying Taleo, Sarah's post takes an interesting look at the forces that are pulling on Oracle and SAP. There are several aspects that make it worth a read, but I want to highlight a few things that I found particularly amusing about the piece.

One is the idea, essentially, that in terms of 'loving the product', Oracle sucks. Oracle sucks, SAP sucks. It's complicated, it costs a ton of money, and it doesn't do what the sales guys promised. As Sarah tells it, this is the story of enterprise software of the 90s and the early 00s. One of my favorite parts of her post was this quote:
The reason Oracle’s rollup strategy won was because companies were pummeled into a place of Stockholm-syndrome-like acceptance. When I was covering Oracle in the mid-2000s, I spoke with customer-after-customer, and I can’t say any ever loved the software they spent millions on.
My own experiences with Oracle users/champions is similar. Nobody loves the software. Many love the idea of the software and the potential of the platform, but the user interface invariably seems like it was designed from the school of ugly equals functional. Cost is also a common complaint, whether it's those ongoing annual service charges or the, "we can do that, it just means implementing this other module" never-ending upsell. Contrast these aspects with, particularly when it comes to their ongoing extension of the capabilities without having to deploy yet another expensive module in order to use the functionality.

But the point of this post isn't really a enterprise software versus enterprise software debate, nor a look at the idea of "when it doesn't matter if your brand experience sucks". What I really found amusing about Sarah's post was the comments. To date, there are 118 comments on her post -- and some extremely passionate voices coming from a variety of angles. Check them out. This isn't a topic that is being argued by a few PR people making statements and promoting the company line -- many of these comments are from angry people who are passionate about their software -- enterprise software.

And they said that enterprise software is boring and that nobody cares.