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Answer Up Right Now!

By Bob McElwain
Posted Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Online businesses that once thrived continue to fail to our left and right. Yours has no special immunity.

If you have begun to notice the ground shifting about you, the foundations of your business may already need shoring up. They may even need to be rebuilt upon the more secure ground of fundamental business principles. Which includes, right at the top of the list, providing excellent customer support.

Microsoft Models Will Fail

Microsoft is notorious for launching a new product or a new version of one that exists, that crashes on most systems the moment it is installed. And it often crashes other software as well, even tools you need and use every day.

Have you ever tried to get an answer from MS regarding such a problem? I don't know of anyone who has received one that was helpful. The best I've seen was, "We're working on it."

I don't have a profound observation to share, for my thinking is not sufficiently clear. But Microsoft will not be around forever. They can be beat. And since it's possible, it will happen. Not in the near term, of course, but it will happen, perhaps sooner than anyone expects.

Adobe Acrobat's Days Are Numbered

Acrobat's claim to fame is its ability to run compiled postscript files on most any computer system. If we produce software or ebooks that run only on Windows systems, we ignore MAC users, and in many cases, those with older PCs as well. To date, Acrobat offers the only solution. But they are doomed.

There is not a word of explanation on the site about how to use the program. <http//Adobe.Com> There are no specifics about what it can and can not do. There is no email address offering answers to questions. Only some fuzzy Q & As intended to sell related products. There is a user forum. However it is not supported by Adobe and the information available is limited in scope and accuracy. There is no contact information of any kind for Adobe Systems. Not even a phone number or street address.

Since there is no trial version (the trial on their site is a joke; it will compile only a single web page), I had to buy it to try it ($268). And it's just awful. The documentation is written in computerese with a liberal sprinkling of Adobe jargon. There is no search function.

I have never seen a more cumbersome piece of software, or one tougher to get going. Further, results in converting web pages are disappointing; they are not the equal of those produced by Internet Explorer or Netscape.

The technology is available to do it right. Adobe apparently sees no need to change. One day some creative person is going to produce a cross-platform compiler that works effectively, intuitively, and as expected. When they add in solid customer support, Acrobat will be history.

The Danger In Rigidity

Adobe has taken an extreme position regards the way in which Acrobat is , and in denying support. It works only because there is no competition.

Given a competitor, they will begin the long slide to failure. Large businesses such as Adobe (or Microsoft) simply can not shift gears quickly enough. The business model in place tends to remain the mode, long after its usefulness has ended. Others with more effective contemporary models will shut them down.

What Shape Is Your Model In?

If you are not using the best business models available, you are at risk. Even if you are, a further step is required. All must continually be reevaluated, then enhanced as new thinking becomes available. To the extent you lack flexibility, you are at risk.

Two More Examples

I have been using Eudora to handle my email for many years. I was forced to upgrade Internet Explorer recently, and this clobbered Eudora (among other programs). When I visited Eudora's site, the upgrade price was $29. This is kind of steep, since a new user pays only $39. It's even steeper, since I needed an upgrade only for compatibility with Internet Explorer. It should have been free. Instead, the arrogance of Microsoft was converted to a "business opportunity."

Eudora has provided excellent support over the years. But it is slipping now. A purchaser can ask only six questions. The new version is not working well; I have more than six questions right now. It took me six business days to get an answer to the first one I asked. They now appear to be riding the no-support trail, a dead end not far ahead.

I signed up with the my current hosting service quite some time back. I liked the performance and support very much. Now both are slipping. Support is a joke. Replies are incorrect, and often off target.

My Options

I'm stuck with Windows. And I'm stuck with Adobe for now, if I want to support MAC users. But Eudora is not the only mail handling program available. And hosting services abound. I am considering options.

Customer Support

There is a clear trend within many businesses to minimize the need to provide customer support. Given its awesome size, Microsoft may be able to ignore customers indefinitely. A smaller firm such as Adobe faces greater immediate risk. A small business has no hope of making this model work.

Support Is Expensive

The reason companies block support questions is the expense. If Adobe were to suddenly open the doors, they would be flooded with questions. They might see most of their profits disappear in answering them. And collectively the questions might demand modification of the program, another great expense.

If you are handling all aspects of your business, the time required to respond to questions comes out of your day. If you hire someone to respond, the dollars come out of your pocket. Either way, the questions will likely indicate things about your business or products which must be changed. Which is another expense. But you must accept such costs as a part of doing business.

Customer Service Is The Key

Provide a great newsletter. It's a must. Even if most site visitors do not subscribe, they expect to have the option. Coupons and special offers need to be abundant. In all ways possible, you must demonstrate your concern for, and interest in, your customers.

What Matters Most

Answer all questions received. Do so quickly, completely, and cheerfully. And from the questions asked, seek ways to improve your products and services.

New ways of interacting with customers are coming. Some will provide exciting opportunities. None will beat the effectiveness of answering a customer's question. And doing so right now!