If a phone is launched in the forest, does anyone hear it?

This is a bit of a rant (I do that a lot, don’t I?) Partly it is a rant about Microsoft and its Windows Phone 7 launch. It is also partly a rant about our local Bell Mobility retailer, and their complete lack of customer service or sales skills.

I am in the market for a new smart phone. My current phone is a 3 year old HTC touch, which I like, but it beginning to show its age. Over the past few weeks, I have been looking at both the iPhone 4 and the Samsung Galaxy S. I like the iPhone, but am pretty much anti-Apple because I do not really approve of either the undeserved hype around their products, or their obsessively controlling attitude towards developers and users alike. The Galaxy S looks like an interesting option, however.

For the sake of completeness, however, I wanted to wait and have a look at a Windows Phone 7 device. I am tied to Bell, so unfortunately my only choice would be the LG Optimus Quantum. I am not a fan of slide out keyboards, but I thought I would give it a chance.

I have been faithfully watching the Bell Mobility site for news of the launch. That was a waste of time. Even now, on launch day, there is no information, just a form to fill out to “get more information when it is available”. Last night (November 7) I did get an email from Bell saying the device would be available in their stores today.

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So today I go to my local Bell partner retailer (Sounds Fantastic in Moncton). Actually, I tried calling Sounds first to save myself a wasted trip, but three calls over the course of a couple hours all went unanswered. I figured they must be really busy. So, I decided to visit the store on my lunch break. Not busy at all – in fact, no one there. So I was able to very quickly get the attention of a helpful sales parson. After a brief sequence of questions and one-word, grunting responses, I learned the following.

They do not have any Windows Phone 7 devices.

He does not know when/if they are getting any.

No, he does not know if anyone else in the area is getting any.

No, the guy who might know if they are getting any is not in today.

Not very helpful. He could have maybe taken my name, or tried to find out the information I needed. But he was too busy (even with no other customers in the store).

So that is my rant about Sounds Fantastic. I was very disappointed by the service, but not surprised. It sort of matches all my other experiences there (on the mobility side, anyway – they seem to be completely different business).

Now to talk about Microsoft, and the Windows Phone 7 launch in general.

How can a major tech corporation manage to launch a major new product, and yet generate no hype whatsoever. I have commented on this before. It seems to me that Microsoft’s biggest weakness right now (and for most of the last decade) is its marketing department. Microsoft makes some very cool technology. In my opinion, they are at least as innovative as Apple, and probably more so (at least they are innovative across a much broader spectrum of technologies and solutions).

But lets looks at Microsoft’s marketing track record (especially marketing to the consumer market – their marketing to the enterprise seems pretty good).

  • Tablet PC: Microsoft launched the Tablet PC back in 2002. Since about 2005 it has been a viable platform. I have been using productively that entire time. And yet, even up to about a year ago, I would have people see me in airports, on airplanes, and many other places, ask me what they device was I was using, and be surprised that anything like that existed. Microsoft completely and utterly failed to communicate the existence of this technology outside of the hard-core techie community. And even within that community, they failed to communicate the power of the platform, or to entice developers to develop for it.
  • Windows Vista: Where to begin on Windows Vista? To be clear here, Windows Vista was far more of a marketing failure than a technology failure.  Yes, Vista had its problems. The vast majority of them (in my opinion) were due to third party driver and application updates or lack thereof – this is of course a marketing/product management issue as well. Vista’s biggest problem was public opinion, and failed marketing. For how long did Microsoft sit back and watch while a certain competitor raked them over the coals with very popular and effective TV commercials? When Microsoft marketing did respond, what was the best they could do? Seinfeld and Gates in obscure, bizarre skits? Please.
  • Microsoft Surface: Ok, this is not a consumer-oriented device (yet), but it is an example of Microsoft coming up with really cool technology and then actively hiding it from the world. Until a year ago, it was very difficult to get any information about it at all. Buying one was damn near impossible. Even now, people look at it and say “hey, that’s copying the iPad” – not knowing it has been around for 3 years.
  • Windows Phone 7: Major new launch, and no hype or energy at all, outside of hard core Microsoft circles. A few articles here and there. Even mobile service providers carrying the devices have almost nothing on their web sites about the devices, and then it is buried. And then I go to a store to look at one, and there are none.  Not “we had some but they are sold out”, just “we have none”. I realize I live in a backwater of the world, but it is amazing to me to see how little attention Microsoft has generated for this launch.

This to me is indicative of what truly ails Microsoft right now. In the enterprise market, they are very healthy. But in the consumer market, they cannot generate any hype. As everyone in this business (or any business) knows, you can have the best products and technology on the planet, but if you cannot get the word out, get people excited, and manage consumer perceptions of your products, you will fail!

Update: After my experience trying to look at a Windows Phone 7 device at Sounds Fantastic, I decided to reply to the above Bell email, asking why there were none at my local Bell dealer. Yes, I know it would bounce because that message was obviously form an auto-mailer. I did get an automated response, though:

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Good enough. I happily click through the l;ink to voice my concerns – only to see the following page:

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Just not my day for talking to Bell Sad smile

Customer Service RIP – Update

A while back I posted a rant about customer service in general, and about my problems with a particular telescope manufacturer specifically (Celestron). In fairness to Celestron, I think I should post an update on the situation. I did finally receive a response (to my emails) from Celestron customer support, though it did take a couple of weeks. After a number of exchanges over another couple of weeks, I also managed to convince them to pay for the shipping to return the item, and to ship the repaired/replaced item back to me. The item in question is now in transit back to Celestron. I will post another update when I know the final result of the exchange.

Customer Service RIP

We all live this every day.

We go to the airport – wait in ridiculous lines, get strip searched at security, sit and wait for flights that are late for no reason.

We go to the bank – and if we want to speak to an actual person, wait in another ridiculous line, and charged outrageous service charges for the privilege. Or we can bank at a machine, or online, and get charged ever bigger service charges.

Our phone company, our doctor, our government. Everywhere we turn, customer service has gone downhill. And the sad thing is, no matter how bad the service is now, you know it will be worse next year, and the year after, and the year after.

Do these organizations purposely set out to suck? No – I would be willing to bet that every organization you deal with (even the government) claims to have a policy which puts customer service first. When was the last time you heard a company openly declare “We don’t give a crap about our customers – so there!”

Often the only refuge from bad customer service is with expensive, luxury items – most companies which supply these goods go out of their way to provide outstanding service. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

This brings me to the trigger for today’s rant. A company called Celestron. Celestron makes telescope, and has for a long time. In fact, they are one of the primary manufacturers of telescopes for amateur astronomers in the world. While these telescopes are not expensive on the scale of a yacht or a Mercedes, I would definitely classify it as an expensive, luxury item.

A couple of months back, I purchased a fairly expensive telescope from Celestron. Quite honestly, I am thrilled with the telescope. Optically and mechanically it is everything I wanted. I have so far enjoyed every minute of using it.

Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for one of the accessories I ordered with it. This item is a PowerTank, basically a wrapper around a car battery to allow me to power the telescope in remote locations. This item did not arrive with my telescope – in fact I only received it this week. It also arrived broken. Doesn’t work. No signs of life. Nothing.

So, I contact the dealer who sold it to me, and he contacts Celestron. Celestron tells him that I have to contact Celestron directly. This is where the real fun begins. Firstly, Celestron – a world-wide vendor of a luxury item, and a market leader – has no toll free support number. I have to call them long distance in California. Second, no one answers. I have tried twice now to call through, and both times have spent well over half an hour on hold (on long distance, listening to a polite lady’s voice tell me that someone will be with me “momentarily”. I tried using the eMail support form on their web site, with no response at all after 2 days.

I also note that, according to the documentation that came with this door-stop I now own, that if I wish to make a warranty claim, that I must pay for return shipping on the item. This means that if I want to get it replaced, I will need to pay more in shipping than the item cost in the first place!

Fortunately, the dealer who sold me the item (Astromechanics in Barrie, ON) has offered to make things right. Thanks, Dave. 

The long and short of this is, that despite the fact that I am overwhelmingly pleased with my new telescope (heaven help me if I ever need support on that), I will never buy anything from Celestron again, and would strongly recommend to anyone who asks that they not either. So, Celestron, you have lost at least one customer.

The real irony here is that I chose Celestron over Meade (the market share leader) because of horror stories about Meade’s customer service.

So this is the sorry state of our society. For the most part, customer service no longer exists (except occasionally in small, independent companies like AstroMechanics). For me, this is one of the reasons that the economy is where it is – because this poor customer service is reflective of poor management in general. And for companies that lose customers and fail because of it – can’t happen fast enough for me!

NOTE (May 28, 2008): I want to make sure that it is absolutely clear that my concern is with Celestron, not with the vendor who sold me the PowerTank, telescope, etc. AstroMechanics has been extremely helpful and responsive, and my experience with them has been great. – fgy

Confessions of an airline executive – CNN.com

Confessions of an airline executive – CNN.com

This is an interesting article. unfortunately it does not address the main outstanding question I have – why does the airline industry (and this includes not just the airlines, but the airport authorities, government agencies and all others involved in this continuously worsening mess) believe that it is acceptable to provide atrocious customer service, disrespect their customers, and generally perform badly in all aspects of their operations, and yet feel they should stay in business. Quite honestly, most business that were run this badly would be dead in months.

As a side note, a couple of weeks ago I had written a post (more of a rant than a post) about my recent experiences flying. I saved it, but did not post it, as I was not online (I was on a plane). Unfortunately it seemed to disappear from my saved drafts. I took this a s I sign that I should not post it! To summarize, though, I was on my 4th trip in two weeks – one to Toronto, and three to other endpoints, but going through Toronto. So, a total of 14 flights. The “on time” performance on these 14 flights was somewhat less than 50% (and this is considering anything within an hour of on time as “on time”). What was disturbing to me was that none of the delays were due to whether, air traffic congestion, or any cause “outside of the airline’s control”. In all cases, the cause airline mismanagement. For example, 2 cases of “the plane is not working”, because the flight segments between Toronto and Moncton are all crappy, old, small planes. Another case, we could not leave Moncton because the incoming plane from Toronto had not arrived. Why? Because no ground crew had been assigned in Toronto to the departure gate, and so they could not load the plane. Yet another case, we sat on the plane for 45 minutes after having landed at Toronto because no ground crew was available at our gate (what, they were not expecting us?).

All of this reflects the fact that this airline (and almost all others with whom I have travelled in the last 5 years) accept that lousy service and disrespect for passengers and their time should be the norm. And they will continue to think this way as long as it costs them more to fix the problem than accept it.

So, how do we make it cost them more to be incompetent? Well, how about every time they are late due to their own incompetence, everyone on the flight gets a partial refund. Say, $50/half hour delay? Make it cost them money, and they will fix the problem. 

Of course, this will only partially address the problem, since we still have to deal with airports, security, and other aspects of the experience which are designed without any consideration for the customer.