marketing and sales executives from Silicon Valley

Friday, January 28, 2011

Lifetime Customer Value Case Study - Turning a Negative to a Positive

I’ve talked about value and customer service in several posts, where I discussed the impact on perception, confidence, and trust when customers work away, against, or oblivious to their customers. The choices some vendors and companies make simply don’t make sense, are not well thought out, or are just dumb, while others seem to treat customers as not only single sales targets, but as a source of long term income.

Recently, I received a defective product from an online vendor ( that was priced low enough that it wasn’t worth my time to work through the support tickets, RMA process and shipping costs to return the product. It was a loss to me, and yes, I lost faith in the vendor and silently put them in the “low QC & poor products” list in my mind, planning to avoid ordering from them in the future.

Imagine my surprise when they sent me a cheery email asking me to review the product. That email tipped me to action in a bad way. I went to the site and product page and promptly ripped on them for the quality problem, linking the review to the photos I had also posted of the defective goods. I got it off my chest and thought that I won a minor moral victory that cost me a small lesson in trusting that online vendor. It was over and I moved on.

Out of nowhere, a short while later, I got an email from the online vendor. I expected it to be a “please contact us to resolve the problem” email, like I had seen on some other sites. I expected that it would only anger me by requesting more time and effort of to do the customer service ticket, RMA, and shipping steps I sought to avoid. I was wrong. The firm was notifying me of a new shipment, when I didn’t order anything. There was no clue as to what it was, why it was shipped, or even if they were planning on fixing the problem - there was just a shipment coming.

A week later, the package arrived, and in it, a replacement for the defective product, but no note explaining why they shipped it. I promptly tested it, and it worked. I was pleasantly surprised enough to write this article, as I realized that the company had regained some trust and the benefit of the doubt with this simple, but important act. While I also realize that I have not given up on my concern for quality from the company, I can trust that they will do what is right to fix a problem.

They may or may not have done the calculation, but they made a good move. As a repeat customer, I have ordered from them more than once in less than a year, and over the course of 5 years I might represent a decent chunk of change in revenue. If they ignored the problem, they would have guaranteed that I would spend my money elsewhere. As it stands, they’re on my approved vendor list not just as someone who had products I purchased, but as a company with a customer service policy that values it customers.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Your Customer Said Build Green, but You Need to Build a Jaguar

People say what they think, but not always what they mean

Ever have a customer who wanted a product and would say something like "that would be really cool in forest green"? Then you might build them a version in forest green and they continue "that's not how I imagined it would be, I don't think I'd really want one in forest green."

You haven't been punked, you've been hearing, but not really listening. The customer may have imagined a version of your product that had the color, shine, and elegance of a Jaguar that was both art and gadget. You just delivered color when the customer really wanted experience.

Sometimes customers say things that are the easiest to say. Colors are easy to see and describe, but they often have emotional ties with meaning. But it's not just colors, but think of shapes, another difficult topic. What do you do when someone says your product is too linear or angled? Do you add curves , make it curvy, or even wavy? The linear shape may suggest industrial, simple, or cheap, and the lack of rounded anything may symbolize austere or minimalist expectations.

My point is that when someone gives you feedback on a product or service, be sure to listen deeply and don't just record the words you hear. This problem exists for consumer goods,  physical services, and even online applications and enterprise software.  If you listen deeply, you may just uncover a real need or opportunity that the customer has not figured out how to articulate.

If you do your job right and extract the real need, you may be rewarded with happier customers and a larger market.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Google App Inventor - What Could Have Been

When Google announced their Chrome notebook with the program where they would issue a few units for feedback and testing, my mind started racing. Not only was this a great idea that would lead to buzz and market interest, but maybe I could get my hands on the product and start building some Android apps with on a notebook that featured Chrome OS, a cousin to my now favorite web browser, Chrome. I would prove to myself and the world, that Chrome OS and App Inventor could more smash the development success that Microsoft had with VB and by enabling anyone, even business types/former coders like myself to jump into the game. That night, I had a dream that not only would I get the notebook that I applied for online, but I would also get my invitation to Google App Inventor.

The next day, I saw blog posts from people un-boxing the Google Chrome notebooks. I crossed my fingers, checked my email for my App Inventor invite, and silently hoped that my notebook would arrive. Days passed, then weeks, and I lost interest and hope that I would be able to spend my entire Christmas holiday building apps and testing the notebook. By the end of December, I was resigned to my fate, no Chrome OS notebook, no App Inventor invitation. I had to make a decision and spent a few days looking at some of the development SDKs and web developer tools, finally settling on Appcelerator for a number of reasons.

I have a number of app ideas that I could build myself or farm out, but I really wanted to prove my point - doing it the Google App Inventor way, and also benchmarking against doing it with Appcelerator later. I had even hoped to blog about how Google Chrome + App Inventor could best Microsoft, Appcelerator, and Apple, but w/o the tools that just won't happen.

A day or two ago, a friend told me that he got a Chrome OS notebook. It was shipped to him 2 weeks ago. While I was glad that I didn't hold my breath waiting, I was envious. I was silently more upset when he said that he had not figured out what to do with it, while I would have tried to build 3 apps in that time. Sure, he has provided some PR value for Google by carrying it around and showing it to all his friends, but one of his work friends received one as well, so the novelty has started to wear off for him.

So after watching another developer tutorial on Appcelerator and brushing off my envy, I decided to peak back at the App Inventor site. To my dismay, the App Inventor site no longer was invitation only, but open to anyone to download, install, and start building apps. Again I felt cheated and now face a new dilemma - should I abandon my Appcelerator proejct for App Inventor, even without my Chrome OS laptop, or do I keep going forward with the current plan?

As I ponder the question, I'll list a few factors weighing on me:

  1. Last communication from App Inventor team - 10/2010, telling me it's invite only
  2. 10+ hours invested in Appcelerator documentation and videos
  3. Downloaded an installed Android SDK to use with Appcelerator's Titanium
  4. No Google Chrome OS laptop, so I would prove a different point if I used my Windows machine
The lack of communication and time invested are bigger factors than #4, which was a nice to have.  The key issue for me here is the human factor. Whether is product engagement, contract negotiations, sales, or marketing, the underlying issue is people. People use the product, people give feedback, people tell their friends, and negotiate or communicate with each other about it. I like the concept of App Inventor enough that the lack of human consideration hasn't dominated the decision, but I hope that Google communicates better to employees and the market when it launches Chrome OS in ways better than I've seen for App Inventor.