UPDATE: Shortly after this Seth Godin put up and excellent piece that almost seemed like he read this post (Click Here). He said, “the real point of the exercise, which is to build an organization that makes a difference.
I don’t care so much how much money you raised, or who you raised it from. I care a lot about who your customers are and why (or if) they’re happy.”
Yesterday, I wrote a great article that ties with this one about tech companies failing on user abuse. Read that one after this.
I’ve been spending more and more time in the tech world after being a serial entrepreneur in “brick and mortar” business all my life. There a few things I see that disturb my business sensibilities. For instance, try to find the 1-800 customer service numbers to Facebook or Twitter. A 50-year-old woman who asked for my help in 2010 sent me a snotty suspension email from Twitter she’d gotten, that was worded like it was accusatory letter to some grand super hacker who was fully aware of her crimes. She was stumped at how rude the 20 something was that wrote it and was completely confused as to what had happened. Most customers of the tech world are usually normal people and I’ve seen many a confusion and abuse as the two worlds try to understand each other. The Color App is a great example of the developers being so far up into their “techie” minded “private Idaho” that even “techies” couldn’t figure out their App.
I’m really beginning to think some of these companies need customer service and human relations managers to help them understand the real world. That or a girlfriend or wife. I’m half kidding. If I was a VC invested in these companies there would be, to help round them out. My impression is: you make a startup – then run around partying like a nerd rock star for having a great idea while losing assloads of money – then get bought out by Google or some major company, all the while never achieving profitably. Weirdly enough the companies usually fail out after they are sold to the big company. Sometimes they win. Very Odd. In “brick and mortar” we kept our nose to the grind stone until we hit profitably, then we partied.
The startups kinda like a hot plate of musical chairs and who gets stuck with it last. Everyone keeps passing it around making money selling it, Angels selling it to VC’s, VC’s selling it to Wall Street. Somewhere in the whole mess there seems to be some law that Yahoo or Aol get it at the end of the day. They over pay for it and lose billions when someone discovers the hot plate is just a hot terd. Then they reward the founders with more money to go build another money losing company they can sell again. Did I just about cover it?
Since tech companies seem to be playing for a combination of the big company lotto buyout, VC capital and the freemium models, maybe the issue is that they think of their end users LESS since the end users are not paying for it. Although technically, “end-user” free content provides ad income. Tech’s REAL “customer” is a VC or Google for the big lottery. Kinda backwards wouldn’t you say? Maybe be one of the other problems is that in technology you rarely have to “face” your customers in person, like “brick and mortar” has too.
This last week I ran aground of a tech CEO who I had filed a complaint with, over his endorsed representatives abusing his customers. The other thing that bothered me is in working on some Apps we’ve been going through I keep seeing the word: End User. I come from sales where you empathize and care for your customer.
In my discussions with the CEO and I’ve noticed it in other elements of the tech world, never once did I hear anything close to “We appreciate your business,” “As a customer, your important to us,” “thank you for your business.” I’ve seen it in form emails but not so much said in person.
The only time I can think of being treated well in tech was at an Apple Store but then that was completely ruined when I met the almost non-existence customer service Developer side of Apple. Apple even states in their manuals that they see the App User as a customer, not the developers. Interesting concept considering without developers they’d have no App Users. On top of that Developers have to buy Apple Computers? They arent Apple Customers? To prove this idiot thinking call the Apple sales line, someone will pick up quick and hump your leg off. Then call the Apple Developer line, you’ll wait on average 1/2 an hour and talk to someone who isnt an expert but will have one get back to you in a week…maybe. I’m still waiting…
The CEO discussion was over email so it was easy to see the theme context of his argument. His whole communication had no concern or recognition of the importance of the customer. I was really blown away at having to teach and argue with a CEO the importance of ethics and customer treatment. All the discussion was about the pressure on his startup, the team, the tech community, me me me me me. I was admonished for going public when my repeated customer service emails went unanswered. At one point I was told my asking for customer service was a “disruption” to their startups busyness. I hadn’t seen any “disruption” when they took my credit card? That went all too easy. Its one thing to feel “jilted” by a company and more so to be told “shut up but give us your credit card.”
There was/has been no rush to fix my problem. I’ve been the CEO of companies larger than his and could fix this problem in 5 minutes. Instead I was told they would get to it after balancing it with their other demands and meetings. Its seems I should have told them I would “get around to it” when they asked for my credit card. No matter how much we argued I could not get the concept of “customer” and “ethics” through to him and the discussion was “me” and “company” based. I couldnt get him to understand that defending his customers to get them to return and refer business was important. Even worse in the end, there was no “thank you” for putting my hard earned cash into his coffers. “We appreciate your business,” Most executives know you have to stick that in on the end even IF you dont mean it. The CEO is an extreme example but I wonder how pervasive this is in the tech world from what I’ve seen.
In my experience, sometimes I’ve had to goto the startups investors and get them to kick sense into their tech companies. I wonder if VC’s should just start calling themselves “the adults.”
“Customer” Definition: A PERSON or organization that BUYS goods or services from a store or other business.
“End User” Definition: The person who actually USES a particular product.
As a successful salesman you learn to never ask for another order until you thank the customer for his past business. I like the word “customer,” its sounds a little official but also reminds me that this person SHOPS AROUND their BUYING interest and its a success when I can deliver them a product or service that will improve the quality of their life experience. He/she is a HUMAN BEING with a CHOICE I have to EARN. If they do business with me ITS A PRIVILEGE. I have to RESPECT my customers in order to make them HAPPY and keep them buying more. I have to APPRECIATE them. If you are a successful true salesman you believe in your product and you care and empathize with other people to help them achieve their interests. Customers are smart too, you screw with them and they’ll cut you out.
I hate to be crude but HONESTLY, “end-user” sounds like I took a shit. I’m sorry but it really does. It seems completely lifeless. “End”? WTF, no return for repeat customers? Usually if you hear the work “user” it refers to drug addicts. Yet these two words are a tech world favorite.
One thing I’ve noticed in tech companies is the customer service division always lags being developed behind the rest of the company. The internet is littered with these complaints. Customer service is so disregarded that companies like GetSatisfaction.com have made a killing providing a faux customer service department for tech companies. It mostly ends up being customers helping other customers. I’m still waiting on tech question I’ve posted on there from years ago. I understand it costs a lot of money to do a startup…gotta save it for that 100 million the CEO gets on buyout. Translation: Tech needs to learn to give a shit about human beings. Someone tells me the average life span of a tech company is 10 years, maybe theres others reasons for that. Customer service should be at the top of the list of your startup.
Zappos is a tech company that has achieved huge success BECAUSE OF respecting and loving their CUSTOMERS. Customer service is #1. Goto the site. On the FRONT PAGE, Zappos readily uses the word “customer.” Its in their language and thereby their ethics mindset. When I talk with a Zappos rep, I’m not number 82751o38561 in their database, I’m customer #1. Translation: Success!
I think one of the biggest challenges facing our new economy is not having face time with your customers. I’m not a profile or avatar. In the end, my suggestion would be that maybe if you are immersed in the tech world, take some human studies and ethics courses might help round out your ability to be more successful. If you’re a Angel/VC give your people customer service courses. Remember that words define us. Take care of your CUSTOMERS and make sure your employees know who they are and do so also.
Wanna be a rockstar, go make a profit without a buyout. Hopefully, right now the generation that replaced the pocket protector with the Macbook is thinking “Ethics and customer service…I wonder if theres an App for that!”
George Carlin did a great bit talking about how the words we use define our reality – After you read this post, click this for the link.