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Monday, January 17, 2011

Rethinking Business

Paul Ford has a great post The Web Is A Customer Service Medium. His point is that the web can do fabulous customer service and that is what browsers want. It's a more satisfying way of explaining what is often called information wants to be free.

Customer service, or customer care as it was defined at McCaw, often starts as some hero satisfying a customer. Heroes get crushed by big systems.

What the post suggests us is that successful offerings must be designed to take advantage of web-based customer service.

Did you ever call the Google Help Desk? 1-800-GOOGLE? Nobody answers.

Google and their peers have designed products so they can be used by people who have to use search to learn to use their tools, for instance, Google Sites, Blogger, YouTube, and Google Profiles.

Microsoft, which earlier brought computing to the masses, created a culture of guru assisted computing. If you are a corporate user, you probably have (or are looking for) a human resource to pray over your sick computer and make it better, or at least give a plausible explanation of why it won't work.

An electrical engineer, a chemical engineer, a materials engineer, and a computer engineer all get off the plane at the little airport and realize they are going to see the same customer. They decide to rent one car and ride together. On the road out of the airport the rental car dies.

The electrical engineer says, "We should pull the spark plug wires to make sure we have a good connection!"

The chemical engineer says, "It sounded to me like bad fuel. We should drain the gas tank!" 

The materials engineer says, "It sounded like the bearings. We should pull the crankshaft!" 

They turn to look at the computer engineer. He thinks for a minute, then says, "How about we roll down the windows and roll them back up?"

I've worked with some of the best, and I've noticed no two computer gurus solve the problems the same way.

Back to rethinking business. Have you designed your offering so your customers can easily use your products by themselves, or do they need to call someone to read to them from a manual or database?

Putting a human interface between the customer and their solution creates a rich cost structure and a barrier to growth that makes your offering a prime target for being displaced...soon.

Are you building toward a web-supported offering?


  1. Dick:

    Couldn't agree more - particularly the point about being face to face with the customer - this give her the chance to give further insight into the issues & problems from work that keep her up at night.

    Cute about the computer guy fooling with windows...the open source guy (who passed these four on the road) would have called the rental company to bring out a working version.


  2. Usability - Why is it a 12 year old can download a game and use it instantly, while an experienced executive needs months of training to use far less complex business software? Software must be intuitive or it it useless.

    Psychology - Why is it that Esurance starts out "all web all the time," but then has to add phone reps and dedicated claims advisors? Marketers must recognize that only a fraction of users will do all-tech solutions, a larger portion want some hand-holding (e.g. phone reps), and the rest will always need personalized service.

  3. Hi Robert!

    Good comment!

    Maybe what makes the difference is time. Seth Godin says it takes 10,000 hours at anything to become a master. I observe that the people who are intuitive merely have more time in working the problem.

    In any case, it seems today we have to master more skill more quickly than I can remember.

    Thank you!