Sunday, December 11, 2005

lowering costs vs increasing revenue.....

and the end of service as we know it....

During the years I lived in the US (early through mid 90s) one thing that never failed to amaze me was the quality of customer service. Many might think I am exaggerating, but compared to where I grew up (Bolivia), service was incredible.

I used to use long distance service a lot. My friends and family where pretty far away from where I was. If I ever saw something wrong with my bill, all I'd have to do was call my long distance company, mention the problem (sometimes things that had actually been my fault), and they wouldn't question it. They'd credit my account.

Same with in store purchases. If for any reason you had to return something, no questions where asked, you could return it. Living in the US was living life in "the customer is always right" land.

Those days are gone. At some point in the very late 90s, maybe during the bubble....maybe early 2000s (I don't really know as I no longer live there) some point corporations gave up on the theory that good service increased profits. They went from creatively seeking ways to make the customer happy, and get more return business, to creatively seeking ways to reduce the amount spent on maintaining existing accounts. That of course means lower service. This includes outsourcing phone service to places where they barely speak US English, replying to email questions with canned responses, and giving service personnel instructions to shun the customer if necessary and not waste to much time on them (time is money...and they are trying to save money).

I still do a lot of business with the US. Online purchases, using an American credit card, paying from my American bank account, sending to my US based forwarding mailbox, etc. I also travel to the US once in a while and participate in real shopping at physical stores (a.k.a. brick'n'mortar shops). My experiences during the past years have been horrible. Each one worse than the previous. Sometimes annoying, sometimes frustrating, but in general just plain bad experiences.

Why? Are economies of scale (due to the internet's instant world reach) such that its more efficient to lose customers than to gain new unsuspecting ones? Is the new generation of corporate managers just not capable of increasing profits and is therefore forced to lower costs simply to maintain previous years revenues? Did they just give up? Is keeping stock prices high more important than making world class companies?

Stock pricing, it seems, is a big culprit in all of this. Publicly traded companies pay millions to there top management and their top management wants to keep their million paying jobs. In order to do this all they have to do is make the company look good on paper. As long as revenues seem higher they look good. Stock owners are happy and they get to keep their jobs. Stock now-a-days says nothing about the quality of a company. It doesn't say anything about profits, it doesn't say anything about the company's beliefs, growth prospects, etc...all stock says is what is in fashion. Today's stock darling is tomorrows AOL??? Its all a mirage, and its this mirage that has caused quality of service to go down the tubes.

Its quite ironic that a good portion of US consumers are also stock holders and they themselves push "their" companies into doing whatever it takes to increase revenues but then complain about the service they get. This is especially true about the online community. Chances are that most people that will read this blog (yes, both of, not you, I'll explain later) are stock holders of a company that has given them bad service. Will these stock holders do anything about it? Nope...why? Because of the exact same reason that companies find its cheaper to get a new victim than to maintain a decent relationship with an existing customer. Because one person will not make a difference in the grand scheme of operation of multinational corporations. The stock holder knows that he can't punish the big company by selling his stock and doesn't have the power to make a difference in running the he might as well keep the stock and hope that his bad service experience is made up by his stock gains. The big company on the other side of the dilemma, can afford to lose a customer, but can't afford to hire better qualified staff, or (if the case be) have their qualified staff waste their quality time with one customer.

So all this adds up to....bad service and us having to learn to deal with it. Some of you might point out the priceritephoto deal that happened a couple of weeks ago, and how one blogger was able to get his revenge. This is really nice, but its got a major problem. Now these stories will start surfacing all the time. After all I am pretty sure most bloggers get bad service quite often (seems there are few good service stories out there...though there are), and once everybody starts blogging about their specific bad stories nobody will care and the blogosphere will become one more epinions like space.

So what to do about this? My theory is we can't do much. We created this ourselves. I think all we can do is just wait....with enough time, I am pretty sure the cycle of bad service will come to an end. This will most likely happen in several years...when service reaches some new low and a new company will offer a little higher prices but excellent pricing...and people will notice...and it will grow...and others will try to copy the "new formula"....and then companies will differentiate themselves by the quality of service they provide...and then the cycle will start again.

Friday, December 09, 2005

anyone know how to point a domain to blogspot?

I own a domain and want to point a host to blogspot.
I tried creating a CNAME something like

myblog CNAME

but even though it brings me to blogspot all I get is a
blank page with the words OK.

any ideas?

the IM as my PIM.....

since I wrote about instant messengers, and bitched at the useless stuff they have added, I might as well write a bit about what I think they should add.

I should start with me IM should not be just IM but my basic communication platform. My communications and my personal information manager. It should host everything only and it should go with me wherever I go and log in...regardless of what computer I sit at. That being said. I'd say my ideal IM would start with most of the features skype v1.x has offered plus:

1)grouping of contacts AND configurable online status on a per group base. I should be able to have a friends group, a family group a work group, an ex girlfriends group, etc...and be able to set my work group to Busy (I want them to think I work hard) friends group to Online (I always have time for friends) family group to Away (I don't have to explain that all have families....and of course, my ex girlfriends group to Invisible

2) multiple email addresses on the same interface (like trillian as far as multiple accounts go, but no need to have one on each IM)

3)more robust telephony features...forwarding between IMs, more complex follow me features (if not online forward to my deskphone, else to my home phone, else to my cell phone, else to voicemail), integration with company IM server (to not have to ask for permission when calling intercompany), etc, etc

4) better contact management....and by contact management I mean a full fledged addressbook. One that looks a lot like yahoo's online addressbook, but integrated to the IM. Why yahoo as an example? cause its the only one I know that has synchronization!!!! I don't want to import and export...I want to sync!!!

4) my bookmarks.....I have online bookmarks on, quite useful actually, but why not in my IM...afterall, this IM of mine will be everywhere I go, what's the point of me having to log on to if the bookmarks could be right there? (by the way, what's the point of the online bookmarks on the MSN search bar for IE? do they expect me to install that bar on every computer I use? I don't think so....installing an IM...That's a different story)

5) my calendar and to do items...for the same reasons as on the former ones.

If you think about it, the instant messenger can and should be an online PDA.
The IM is contact centric, and so is everything in a standard PIM. Why can't the basic IM interface evolve into that?

what the hell is skype doing....

other than killing themselves?

Ok, so eBay bought skype for a ridiculous amount of money....fine...i dont didn't cost me a cent and it didn't gain me a cent...but...
what the hell is skype doing now? Have you seen v2.0 beta? What kind of crap is that?

Lets go back a bit and analyze the history of instant messengers....rise and fall of IM brands according to me.

In the beginning there was was the first was was similar to Unix talk but included presence information...awesome....I was sold from day one. Then ICQ grew....and everybody I know got ICQ...and I was happy....and ICQ added features, and I was happy....and ICQ added more features...and then I was not so happy...initial configuration of ICQ became annoying (once set up it wasn't that bad...but remember....I am my neighborhoods friendly geek so I had to configure it for all friends and family too)....
Then came the rise of MSN Messenger... MSN had three features that where definite ICQ killers..the first one was the enter key...pressing enter would send the message...ICQ didn't have had to press ctrl-enter (or some key combination like that) or press SEND with the IM became more common, pressing the SEND button became annoying...MSN solved that. A simple ENTER made conversations much more fluid. The second feature was online storage of buddies. That was a big one too. ICQ required me to save buddies locally, back them up...copy them to another computer, install, etc. Using a friends computer (or a public terminal) didn't let me see if my users where online. MSN did. The third was simplicity. MSN started simple, it did what it had to do, messaging. That made MSN grow. Some people will say that the fact that windows messenger was included in windows made a difference...I doubt it, I don't buy it. But then messenger started to add "features". Some where useful (smilies as gifs) but most were crappy. Tabs made the interface cluttered, search boxes in the messaging window as well as the buddy list window where plain stupid. Adding remote assistance was a good idea, but the implementation was crappy (connections usually don't go through unless both have UPnP enabled routers). More and more and more crap has been added with time. Those useless avatars with moods, backgrounds, etc...all useless. In between a few good tools, but once again bad implementations. Good idea...lets have audio, but once again...requires UPnP and sip...connections take forever and with many sites they don't work because of the UPnP requirement. Same with video (which got to complex...there are video conferences, audio conversations, view webcam, many ways to do what essentially is the same....but actually use different protocols and formats...high complexity)...
ok, so now I am going to skip the part about AOL and yahoo...but they both did the same thing as MSN Messenger...they added useless features which made using the programs annoying.

So lets get back to skype.

Skype did things right from the very beginning. They concentrated on one feature...voice communications. They did it right. From the beginning betas audio thorough skype had several advantages over other implementations. 1) connected almost immediately on 99% of occasions. 2)sound quality...the voice quality was better than on analog phone conversations 3) simplicity....the whole program was mapped to its analog world counterparts...a ring sounded (surprisingly enough) like a ring. Ringback tone, busy tone, and all them....sounded just like they do in my phone....and the screen buttons used words/symbols I was used to (a phone, a hung up phone, etc). They called a call a "call" instead of "audio" as the others did. Skype was awesome, and I (as well as all my family) was happy. They added very useful features like skypein, skypeout, skype forward, voicemail, etc...all useful.

But then came the eBay buyout and now Skype 2.0....have you seen this abomination? What the hell are these people thinking? They arbitrarily changed all the sound events to what can easily be described as the "waterworld" motif. They created the worst implementation of contact grouping ever seen in instant messengers. They've added unneeded complexity, and have completely changed things in such a way that breaks with user expectations and comfort. They've added video which I suppose isn't such a bad idea (though I don't see anybody using video conferencing for anything other than cybersex). But other than video, all changed in skype 2.0 are for the worse. They also claim they will start adding all the useless crap (that's the 5 time I write crap in this post) that other messengers have already added (all the avatar, mood, background stuff).

Skype is in a position where they can differentiate themselves from the other IM's by being the "useful" IM...but instead it has opted to follow the herd and become the IM with features only 13 year olds will like. Since they intend to make eBay buyers use skype to communicate with sellers I the 13 year old demographic that big in eBay?

Good luck skype....hopefully you will backtrack...otherwise...hello google least they have a history of leaving things simple.

can antispyware companies sell there service as "critics"?

over the past few years, I've read about several spyware companies suing antispyware companies for including them in their lists as spyware... the latest I read about was 180 solutions suing zone labs. I don't really know how the past trials have ended, but I was wondering....what if antispyware companies stopped defining what is and what is not spyware with absolute terms? What if they started calling themselves "critics" and simply gave their opinion? This would all be simple legalese, but would it make a difference? I mean, a movie critic can claim a movie is bad and he wont get sued...even if his criticism causes people that respect that critic to not go see the movie.
In amazon and other stores (ok, I am not 100% sure about this in amazon) you get to see "other items" bought by a person whose opinion you respect. You pretty much click a button and see the recommended stuff. Could antispyware companies avoid costly lawsuits by calling themselves critics and have people that install their software agree to a statement like "I understand that by installing this program I am giving permission to YYYY company to block my computer from installing software they believe can be harmful"? would this fly?

I know some might say that that would allow the company to suddenly decide that MS office is bad and delete it from your drive...but I doubt they would do forces would make them behave even though that phrase would give them extra "powers".

so are bloggers really influencers????

a lot of bloggers out there are pretty proud of them being influencers, gatekeepers, etc....but other than influencing other geeks do tech bloggers have any influence over the other 99.999999999% of the planet? Scoble likes to think so, but his examples tend to always be about geeky stuff, I mean, its seems pretty obvious to me that a person will get more downloads from a post in a famous geek blog than from an article in a "major midwest newspaper."
I think that finally we have a way to prove this theory right or wrong...with hard numbers...on something that affects geeks and non-geeks alike. Music purchasing.

After the Sony rootkit fiasco, I was left pretty convinced (based on the online rage which was "mildly" perceptible) that even though few bloggers mentioned the word boycott, that that was what was going to happen: an uncalled, non-organized boycott on sony products (at least their music division).

Bloggers got the news item to be reported in major "real" publications and tv stations. Yet every time I read or watched the mainstream press I was left with a feeling the reporters had no idea what they were reporting and that normal humans would not give a damn.

So now we will finally see if bloggers are really "influencers", "mavens", etc (as Seth Godin calls them)...we just have to wait and see how far Sony music sales dip in the next few months. I doubt the difference would be caused purely by bloggers, so if it really happens, it will be proof positive or negative that indeed....geek blogging stuff permeates to other levels of society.

a multibillion dollar company of one....

Apple definitely does nice products....I don't usually like the way they operate (they tend to be to limiting), but I cant argue with the fact that they look great. Great industrial design and great graphic design... they usually work well too... good hardware and relatively robust software (but I still tend not to like them)...

but I digress... what I want to talk about is Steve Jobs. The guy is pretty bright. Has a history of having been pretty bright all along. His iPod success is not a one time deal, but the continuation of one success after another (with few flops) he has always been at the forefront of technology. He has designed revolutionary products (I don't care who copied who) and has created a cult of followers that follow his every move, every word, and every product launch. So much so, that "Apple Computer" could easily be called "Steve Jobs Computer" and nobody would notice. Which is what I find a little risky. Apple's stock has been rising continuously, apples profits have skyrocketed thanks to the iPod, the new Intel based macs will probably continue or even increase the growth trend. But do people really like the products? lemmingly follow them because they find the products useful/better/etc? or do they just follow them because most reporters like anything and everything Steve Jobs has to offer? Obviously reporters affect the masses so if they like Steve, the masses will like Steve too.

So what would happen to apple if something happened to Steve Jobs? Lets say he quits or gets fired (it has happened before), or worse yet, what if he dies (he IS human even though most mac lovers don't see him that way....and humans have been known to does happen).
What would happen to apple? Would it return to the disaster it was in the late 80s and early 90s? What would happen to its stock? Would apple be worth anything? What type of products would come out of apple?

According to most captchas, I am a computer...

or so it seems....captchas at a bunch of places have become so distorted that I can barely read them myself. Its a good thing that some have a button that says "click to refresh" or something like that and create a new image.
Are they trying to weed out computers and OCR schemes, or just confuse the hell out of me? I have quite a lot of experience in OCR systems (as a user in large volume digitization projects) and can tell you that captchas could be a lot easier and computers would still not be able to read them...