Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Hey, Look Over There, It's Free Advertising!

And that's what this post is all about, indirectly.

More to the point, this post is about openenness, respect for customers, brand growth and defense, and web savvy. And I'm going to do all this in less than five yards of column inches. Substantially less, I hope.

Here's the problem. I've used this blog over the last two years to call several businesses to repentance regarding customer handling and nonsensical internal practices. Archos, Baja Fresh, Acronis, Video Professor, and others have received fairly thorough bashings from me here, in this semi-public forum (anyone can read here, only a few can post here, anyone can comment here).

All of these companies have made obvious and embarrassing mistakes in reply to these posts, chief among these being simply ignoring the post.

The one exception, Acronis, made nearly as embarrassing a mistake in allowing a first-tier agent to post his not-so-well thought out rebuttal to my post, spelling mistakes and all, here for all the world to see.

Now this is just sad. Aren't any of these companies familiar with a neat little up-and-comer called Google? Right, gotcha, I know I'm not a huge PageRank contender. But other people are, and they're writing about these companies and not getting responses. And even more importantly, maybe someday my blog will be higher up in the PageRank stats.
Q: What then?

A: It will be too late, and that's worse than it sounds. There are two negatives here. I call them the Shame and the Real Tragedy.

The Shame is that I won't get my question answered. My readers and friends will wonder why the company wasn't smart enough to answer my question. They'll ask me if I ever heard back from that company, and when the answer comes back no, they'll think twice about doing business with that organization. That's the Shame; lost sales more or less up-front because the company powers simply don't care enough to have people watching for this sort of thing and taking care of it.

But as the name implies, the Real Tragedy is much worse, and it involves the differences between doing nothing, and doing something, and doing something great.

Let's use Acronis as an example. My complaint was that their hard disk management software wrecked my server. That's reason enough to trash talk the company, but I'm an even-handed guy, and I wanted to see if they would care enough about the issue to re-sell me on the company.

They did something, albeit poorly, and they deserve credit for that. To their discredit, they attempted to pass the buck, stating that it was the fault of Windows that Windows wouldn't boot any more after using their software. This is pretty ridiculous on its face, but if you'd like all the gory details and my point-by-point debunking of their reply, you can find the post here.

There are many ways to do a thing well, and there are many ways to screw a thing up. Our example, Acronis, had an abundance of choices that they had already made before I came along that would determine how I was dealt with.

And so my first proposal is this: Get your company to make a uniform policy on dealing with blog and forum posts and be proactive when dealing with brand attacks. The proactive thing is too smart to have come from me. See the above link for more about that.

Acronis' policy at the time was: "When a blogger complains in a public area of the internets, do nothing." I know this, because their tech support agent was clearly acting on his own, and had the company made a policy for this situation, I would have been given a response that at very least had been run through spell check first.

And that spell checked public reply would have been a step in the right direction. You can pretty much fill in the blanks on how they could have made the situation better for me and them all at once, or if you can't, you can see the suggestions I wrote at the time in the post linked to above.

That they didn't do this is not the Real Tragedy. The Real Tragedy is that they didn't do more than this. It really is a shame, because people are making all kinds of money on the net these days by doing unusually brilliant things. What about this....

Dear Jake-

We're so sorry you had a problem with Disk Director. Perhaps you're right about having a warning message before performing operations that may break Windows. Thank you for bringing our attention to this problem. We'll have our developers look at it right away.

Because we appreciate your help in this matter, we'd like to give you a free license for any one software product that we offer, and we'd also like to give the first 25 of your readers who comment to this post a free license for Acronis Disk Director, the premier disk utility available today, for free.

Simply send us their names and email addresses when you've collected the 25, and we'll send them license keys and download links.

Best Wishes,

Some Internal Functionary,
Acronis Software

THIS IS NOT A NEW IDEA! It's just a really smart idea that no one has tried since the first time. The makers of X1 Desktop Search had a problem when Google announced their own desktop search product, which was free. So X1 teamed up with a blogger and gave away 100 licenses to people who 1.) Linked to that post from their own blog, and 2.) posted a comment with their blog address and the email address to send the license to. It was brilliant. Jason Calacanis, the guy who owned that blog, got a boost, X1 Software got a boost, and I got a free X1 license worth $75. If you look, I'm commenter #55.

Now, 1.5 years later, I still recommend X1 Desktop Search over Google Desktop Search to anyone who asks, even though I still have never used my free license! EVER! That's almost embarrassing, but it isn't the point.

The point is that X1 had a huge competitor with a free product to contend with, and instead of doing business as usual, they did something outstanding. And now they're thriving. Curious, isn't it?

I propose that the Real Tragedy of ignoring user forums and blogs is not simply losing a few sales or displeasing a few geeks. It's losing the opportunity to make your brand outstanding by being different and innovative.

1.5 years ago, I would never have paid $75 for desktop search software. But now I'm considering using my X1 license, and if I didn't already have one, I'd consider dropping $75 on one. Why? Because there are enough people who feel that X1's product is so much better than Google's product that they're willing to pay the $75, and maybe if they're willing to spend that much on it, it's really worth it. Or it could just be that they're still around because they did something bold in the shadow of Google's 800 lb. software gorilla.

Archos missed a chance to talk to a card-carrying geek about what he wants to spend money on when it comes to an MP3 player.

Baja Fresh missed a chance to talk about what went wrong when they catered my party. Now they won't know why I've never gone back.

Acronis could have graciously admitted that their software broke my server, and creatively fostered goodwill. They missed that boat.

John Scherer of Video Professor has an opportunity to shine staring him in the face, but I've not heard a peep from him or any of his people.

CEOs must hire creative people to develop, market, and support a product. If you are the CEO, why not choose one of these creative geniuses to spearhead an initiative to manage your online brand? Have your genius do a daily Google search for new mentions of your product, and proactively reach out to those complaining. Don't let the ranters turn you off of making a bad review better. Make sure that there is special routing for messages coming in from people who want to hear from your company in a forum or blog. Create dialog with these people and find pain points in your product to fix. Be an eager listener to your customers if you want them to stay as customers.

Most of all, I liked writing this above so I'll repeat it: make your brand outstanding by being different and innovative.

Now, if I can just find that X1 Desktop Search license key...

UPDATES:

I found my X1 key, and I'm closer than ever to installing and trying it.

Also, I fixed the above link to Jason Calacanis' blog where the X1 contest happened.

1 comment:

Alex said...

I think your argument makes great sense. The key is to drive enough traffic to your blog so they will care more. Until then, they probably won't do it. Sad but true!