Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Gadgeteer

I have been following the various reviews and articles of The Gadgeteer website for many years. Back in the waning years of the last century, I found out about new Newton and Palm cases, software, and accessories from their many posts. At one point, I responded to a call for those interested in an iPod battery replacement, and won the right to attempt it. The first review I wrote was about an experience of irritated failure. Several years went by, and in early 2009, I again approached Julie about reviewing several iPhone apps that I loved and used quite frequently.

After completing the reviews, Julie asked if I'd like to be on her staff of writers, and I eagerly accepted. It's quite a range of personalities, and I'm enjoying getting to know them. Most of us have never met face-to-face, but in the true spirit of Web 2.0-ness, message and email each other about things both important and inane. So, if you think I've not posted often enough here, you may want to check out the list of articles I have posted on that site. I'll try to link here, but don't expect miracles.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Could Good Service beat Marketing?

Mobile phone carriers, especially those in the 3G arena, are marketing on every medium they can think of, trying to convince us – the weary, wary consumer of phone service – that they are the best around and we should use them for our roaming phone needs. But when you get their service, there's always something that comes back to bite you, and then there's the long contract and penalties involved if you don't want to stay.

Hey phone carriers, here's a novel idea: take all that money you spend on ads - making commercials with crowds of people representing "our network" hiding behind buildings and trees who pop out at the last minute, or those sappy "trap your friends into switching to your carrier" ads, billboards, truck wrapping, the works - take all that money and put it into the actual business of mobile telephony. Build towers. Innovate. Hire and train and pay a crackshot customer service team. In short, build a company that will beat the living daylights out of your competition. Then, fire all the lawyers and collection agents and phone-threat agents you have. Replace your two-year, iron-clad, you'll-never-get-out-of-this-alive contract, and replace it with this little paragraph above the signature line on new contracts:

"We are intent on being the best mobile service provider on the planet, and are happy to have you as part of this endeavor. If you find, at any time, that our service does not meet your standards, we will try to work things out to your satisfaction. Failing that, we'll agree to part friends, and you can move your phone service to a supplier who will better meet your needs."

Signing most phone contracts is similar to signing a pre-nuptial agreement. It's like saying "I know I'm hard to live with, and you're probably a creep who is just marrying me for my cash value. But if you ever try to leave, I'm going to make it hard for you - so hard, that you'll really, really think long and hard before you do. But you aren't going to want to stay, because all you're going to get out of me is a quick hello between my morning paper and me leaving for my job."

Come on, phone companies, woo me! Make me want to love you! Treat me so well that nothing any other phone company can promise will be the slightest temptation! Flashy service? Pfft! My current company has more service in more areas than anyone else. Neat new features? You ain't got nuthin' on my company, baby! Great customer service? Hah! Customer service at my company thinks of what I'm going to ask before I even call, and preemptively calls me to say "You know, we noticed you haven't been out of the country for 3 months. If you turn off International roaming and texting, you can save $50/month. Would that be OK? I can pro-rate that starting right now, if you'd like. But be sure to call us when you're planning your next trip, OK? But if we notice that you make a call from another country, we'll just turn it back on starting that day." Who in their right mind would leave a company like that???? And who would complain about whatever they wanted to charge? I sure wouldn't. And I'd be lobbying for my company to switch to them as well. I'd be buying their stock. I'd be talking them up to all my friends. I'd be putting videos of my conversations with customer service up on YouTube to prove to people how scary-good you were.

Don't just promise a good life and then turn into a pot-bellied couch potato who never buys flowers or helps around the house. If I've just come in from a hard day in the salt mines, have quiet music on, a glass of wine poured as soon as you hear my car in the drive, and the grill ready to touch off for that juicy steak you bought. And you know what will happen? If you act like you love your customers and treat them like valued partners, rather than villagers to be raped and pillaged, they will stand behind you through any tough, crazy, unfortunate event in your company's history, no questions asked. They will brag about you to everyone within ear shot. They will Twitter about you, blog about you, and laugh your competition to derision. And you may even find that, as time goes on, you actually do love your customers! After all, marriage is a two way street.