Business

At times I have strong opinions about what is good business. These will be both praise and rants against poor decisions. These are all IMHO.

Open Letter to James R. Chambers head of Weight Watchers – Hire Fitbit to manage your website and apps

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Dear James R Chambers,

It’s January 2015, and the Weight Watchers mobile site at http://mobile.weightwatchers.com says Copyright 2013! No wonder it has been broken for months.
Go to your main site’s mobile tools page: https://www.weightwatchers.com/templates/marketing/marketing_utool_1col.aspx?pageid=1191351
Click the link for the “Mobile Site” near the bottom.

You get this error:

"The requested URL was rejected. Please consult with your administrator.
Your support ID is: 503463347762402832"

Why?  Because months ago you changed the location of the WW mobile website, from http://m.weighwatchers.com to http://mobile.weightwatchers.com. But no one will find it because one of the main links to help people get started with mobile tracking has never been updated on your main site.

Now Try this:
From Windows 8.1 using Internet Explorer go to http://mobile.weightwatchers.com.  Food Tracking is broken, same as on my smart phone.  I searched the web.  It has been broken for months. There are complaints on other sites about this.

Food Tracking is the main behavior you are trying to teach customers, but your web team doesn’t even test to see if it is working for Mobile users. It only works if I use it from full Windows using Google Chrome.  I guess we are supposed to eat in front of large PC? Go to it from Windows Phone 8.1 using IE or even the top alternate browser UC Browser same thing. I have no way to use my e-tools from my smartphone!

It does work from a desktop computer using Google Chrome. Only!!!

What does this tell me? You have people in your IT/Web department that have been some anti-Microsoft war that is more important than serving your customers. OR they have not basic testing process against common devices your customer use.

Fitbit gets it

Guess what? I have a free app with my Fitbit that works nicely on Windows Phone 8.1.  It links to my Fitbit device. It scans barcodes. It even lets me use speech to log my food!! It is a world class app.  Plus Fitbit’s food logging system and database is as good if not better than Weight Watchers’. It is well made. Weight Watchers has NEVER had a tracking app for Windows Phone.  Fitbit has in a few months mastered serving its customers on all mobile platforms.

No effort to serve your customers on Windows Phone.  No testing of website links after changes are made. Etc. What are you paying them to do this level of work?

You already have partnered with Fitbit. Time to just write up a contract for them to write your phone apps and manage your website. Do this before we all just leave you for Fitbit.

I have a recommendation to people who care about losing weight and fitness. If you are paying for Weightwatchers E-Tools… Wake Up! Fitbit has tools that are better and cheaper! Walk away from this out-of-date company who has not quite figured out the web and mobile devices.

eBay Negligence and a 22 Year-old Twinkie

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What I want to discuss here, is how a company can create failure by turning over too much to automation and off-shore support.  That failure can hurt its customers.

Today, I learned eBay has some serious flaws in its business processes.  In this case they truly affected the probable success of a charity auction.  This level of automation and seeking to avoid hiring people to do a job real people need to do, is where eBay is failing and in my opinion negligent.

Even as I wrote this I realized what makes this story of eBay so frustrating, is that they actively promote people putting their businesses and charities online.  They tell us to promote our auction listings.  So while each listing may carry the weight of a business or organization’s hard work, eBay has a system that throws away listings like they are worthless.  There is no undo or trashcan we an recover the listing from, both software technologies are over two decades old. When they end an auction even by mistake it is incinerated, destroyed with all the bids and extenal promotion work for that listing.  They do not value their own service, yet we are suppose to.

A Historic Theater and a 22 Year Old Twinkie

The story begins with the 111 year-old Historic Everett Theater, that needed to raise some funds if it wanted to continue to show films.  Its half-century projectors work fine, but Hollywood is ending the distribution of movies on 35mm film.  They will need a digital system or they will have to stop showing films.

Enter the 22 Year-old Twinkie.  Matt Terry, the unpaid, passionate Film Coordinator for the theater, in 1990 bought a box of Twinkies and put one away in a wood box to see how long it would last.  Given the sad demise of Hostess and the fact that Matt had just kicked off a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter.com the idea of using a 22 year-old Twinkie auction to raise some money and gain publicity for the theater seemed perfect.

I am Matt’s brother-in-law.  I have worked on marketing programs for Microsoft and I have done online work for small businesses and non-profits.  The idea came on Thanksgiving, but we didn’t just rush out and put the Twinkie online.  We did hours and hours of preparation (unpaid.)  We followed the entire process eBay outlined for setting up a 501(c3) account on eBay so the auction funds would go to the Theater and not fees etc.  We did everything right.

We used our website 22YearOldTwinkie.com to anchor the part of the campaign.  Set up a Twitter account and Facebook page. We started the hard work of building “buzz.”  With the hope of hitting a viral goldmine and getting the funds for the theater.

We did everything right, except we trusted eBay to be a professionally run business, which it clearly is not.

It was working.  One of the area’s largest radio stations KIRO FM recorded an interview, in which Matt discussed the end-time of the Twinkie auction.  The Everett Herald was writing a story about the Twinkie and the fund raising for the theater.  I even invested $120 of my own money to pay for a professional press release through PRWeb. That was scheduled to go out early December 5th.

By Tuesday evening, December 4th a week before the auction close, we had nearly 300 views and 3 bidders.  That is a terrific start for an auction.  We were building Buzz locally, with the hope it could go national.  The auction listing had 4 days of maturity to validate the idea when the Press Release went out.

Tuesday evening, PRWeb sent me a note about what edits I need to make to our press release, for it to receive full distribution.  I noted this process clearly meant a real person reviewed our content and made clear helpful suggestions.  I made the edits and resubmited for a Wednesday morning release.  All is good, I went to bed.  It’s nice doing business with people who value their customers. You can see the final press release here.

We did everything right, except we trusted eBay to be a professionally run business, which it clearly is not.

How Trusting eBay Damaged Our Charity Auction

Again eBay was NEGLIGENT with its customer’s asset and destroyed real value we had created with hard work and planning.

At 7:30 am I get up and start checking all my Twinkie sites for problems or new traffic etc.

To my shock, our eBay posting been removed!!  Gone was the link we had tweeted out all weekend. All those tweets are broken and will have to be deleted.  Gone are the nearly 300 views we had that helped reinforce the buzz for our auction.  Gone are the very early three bidders we had that validated that this was a real auction for a real item that had value.

Can a Computer or Someone in India Understand the Value of a 22 Year-old Twinkie?

There are messages in our eBay inbox telling us because “they suspected”, not that “we reported” suspicious activity on our account and it had been suspended.  Not because WE did anything wrong, but they wanted to confirm IDs.

That’s like shooting a possible victim at crime that never happened!!

From what they tell me this is an automated process.  There is no way a computer could know how to look at the listing, see all the back-links to that theater’s websites etc. and know all was fine.  eBay didn’t do the proper thing and flag it for review by a human, and if they did that person clearly was not trained well enough.  The computer just canceled a 4 day old listing with active bids, and suspended our account until we called back.  eBay was negligent, in that they turned over a customer account and customer asset of value to a machine to manage.

When I called, I was talking to a very nice man in India.  He was very professional, bcause I was yelling mad, I had no clue how betrayed and cheated I felt until he answered.  I don’t use profanity. But I was loud and upset, I have worked tech support lines and I was a nightmare call.  Because I didn’t want to hear “I’m sorry”.  As a customer and a charity customer, I need to hear.. “We are ready to fix our mistake.”

That never came.  After three supervisors.. I am still told there is no way, even though we passed the ID check, to turn back on our original listing.  It’s gone, destroyed by an automated process with no clue the work and timing that went into the creation.

Again eBay was NEGLIGENT with its customer’s asset and destroyed real value we had created with hard work and planning.

Even after talking to the supervisor’s supervisor, they have no access in India to any technical support people who could help them do one of two simple things, recover our original posting. Or at least help us repost with the same end time. [We have had to repost after losing a full day, the day our press release went out.  The new posting is set to start at 7PM PST December 5th and end one day later than before]

eBay acts like they have no ability to manage their own system. Or is it just they save money by routing calls to India, and not trusting those people with the ability to serve the customer and correct errors?

I don’t yet know where this will go, I will never know the cost to the charity when bids were canceled and people saw our press release but ended up with a removed item error on eBay, instead an auction with three bidders and almost 300 views.

That’s like shooting a possible victim at crime that never happened!!

I do know:

  • That we lost 4 days of momentum on our auction. We lost bids and validation that comes from planning and getting page hits.
  • Our first charity auction was made to look like it was dishonest so our reputation was damaged.
  • And I have lost all trust for eBay, it a poorly designed and run business, which has the monopoly on a useful service by being there first.
  • I do know that eBay doesn’t value the importance of their service as much as some of us made the mistake of doing.  If they did, they wouldn’t destroy auction listings so easily.

At some point eBay and other business need to understand to destroy customer value with an automated process is not efficiency it is negligence.

One more note: eBay promised me a call back, and they NEVER did.  Again you can be poorly run, and still make money.  That is sad.

Amazon models how good customer service should be

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This is a repost from something I posted on an astronomy board.
http://www.astronomyforum.net/off-topic-forum/115473-amazon-makes-good.html#post1057324175

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So on Sunday.. I decided to use my AMEX points of pay for most of a Celestron 8-24 Zoom.
(Using for projection AP as it has T-threads)

On the same order from Amazon I ordered a couple of smaller items from other sellers on the Amazon system.

As of this evening, 2 items had arrived one item was in transit. The EP which was ordered directly from Amazon, had not shipped!! Continue reading

Netflix.. Is a 50% increase in price a Mistake?

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In our house Netflix streaming has been a game changer in entertainment.  My 7 year old loves it. She has access to hours of her favorite shows. For over a year we have had the one DVD/Blu-ray w/streaming for $11.99.  Last night I got an email saying that prices were “going down”, but the plans were separated to $7.99 for streaming and $9.99 for one Blu-ray at a time by mail.  This is an increase of  50%, spun as price reduction! It is  this kind of double-speak that gives marketing a bad name.

It is my belief that this is a bad move for Netflix and will cost them money and goodwill that is expensive to recreate.  Here are my reasons.

The combined streaming and disc-by-mail Netflix offered had no real competition, especially at the price levels.  When you separate them out, each service has to compete on its own. 

For $2 more a month than Netflix’s new pricing, I can get Blockbuster’s disc-by-mail plan with games and 5 same day swaps at the local store.  Blockbuster also gets new titles sooner than Netflix.   I can get a movie at Redbox the day I want it for $1.   That is 8-10 ten movies a month before it cost me the same as a Netflix system that at most can get me 10 movies a month if I watch them the same day I get them and mail them back that day.  In my opinion Netflix disc-by-mail plan is a poor value compared to both Blockbuster and Redbox.

Netflix for our needs is the best all-you-can-eat streaming for older content.  Problem is some people may want fresh content from Hulu or Amazon.  Amazon Prime has a growing all-you-can-eat plan for about $6.50 a month that also includes free 3 day shipping for the year too.  Amazon Prime at Christmas could make the streaming free!  So I am sure more than a few people will find that with higher prices, another streaming service fits what they want better.

My feeling is that the marketing team that owns this pricing model is going to be under fire inside Netflix very fast.  Yesterday we were happy customers, endlessly paying $12 a month for streaming and one disc at a time service that we hardly used. 

Less Happy and More Expensive Customers

Today I am a disgruntled customer looking at all the new competition Netflix has AND I that just cut my monthly payment to them by $4 a month!!  All of us that were willing to pay $4 more a month so we could get the occasional Blu-ray are going to leave.  Those that they will keep the service at the new rate will be the heavy use more expensive users.  So while at first blush, it looked like a good way to increase net revenue per-account, what will happen is that those who were light usage on the disc-by-mail side are gone and they are now paying less.  So the average revenue per account may stay pretty level between those that pay the new price and those that go to streaming only.  But the cost per account will go up, as the only ones paying more are the ones using it the most.  Netflix disc-by-mail service makes no sense if you have a Blockbuster or Redbox location nearby and it make no sense unless you are using it a lot.  Netflix just learned how to remove all the lower cost accounts and keep the higher cost accounts. 

I will predict that this cynical attempt to raise prices will cost Netflix revenue and will energize it’s closest competitors who’s main weakness was they didn’t include an unlimited streaming program with the disc-by-mail service. 

Most of all, it made a lot of happy customers who raved about the service into mad customers who are now complaining on Facebook and Twitter about the service.  In one day the Netflix blog entry about new pricing maxed out at 5000 comments with most being very negative and that at midnight they had over a 26 minute wait time on the phones. This tells me Netflix was clueless about the damage this will do to their customer mindset. 

In my mind, Netflix went from  a useful innovator to a greedy and not very smart company all in just one email!

Fast Food – Customer Service Done Right

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If  you read my recent post “Beware O0ps Pricing” you will see how Papa John’s Pizza failed miserably to do customer service.  So it is with great pleasure I get to give kudos to Jack-in-the-Box.  This last week I took a break from my normal home-packed sandwich to get a guilt pleasure.  In this case it was a Jack-in-the-Box Sirloin Burger. 

Sadly it was terrible.  I don’t remember them being terrible, but this one was badly made with too much sauce, a meat patty that was falling apart, and sad bit-o-lettuce.

A few hours later, I got a call!!

It was so bad, when got back to my desk I filled out a feedback form on the Jack-in-the-Box website.  I gave them an email address and phone number and told them how bad the burger was.  I figured that was it, maybe someone would read it.  I might even get a “We’re Sorry” email.  However! a few hours later, I got a call!!  Someone has the job to read those feedback forms as soon as they come in and contact the customer.  The result was they wanted details on why the burger was bad, and then offered to send me a coupon so I could try one again in them.

It’s not that hard people!  Papa John’s had people staffing the phones, just no process to take care of the customer.  Jack-in-the-Box has the process in place and clearly showed they value their customers more than saving a buck or two.  Good Job Jack!!

Beware “Oops! Sorry” Pricing

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I am not giant on conspiracy theories.  I tend to think that most of what happens that is bad is the organic result of humans being part of the process.  As a matter of fact there are times that I would find a grand, global conspiracy a bit comforting, because it might mean someone knows how to keep the whole “thing” from melting down, falling apart or just not reaching the worst case.

However, I am a firm believer in watching for patterns.  Is is possible that 90% of the programmers writing computer systems that manage inventory and pricing them accidentally only put in bugs that charge me more?  Could be, but I doubt it.  How often do you get a better price at the check-out scanner than was posted on the shelf?  How often does an error save you money on your utility bill, vs charge overcharge you? Continue reading

Verizon and T-Mobile I Want To Be A Customer But…

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Today I am again writing about business.  This week I wanted to become a customer of T-mobile or expand my Verizon services.  In both cases it is clear to me that these companies are paying large amounts of money to product managers and developers to create molds their customers are expected to fit, molds that may be costing them many customers like myself.

As I wrote last week, I have an HP Elitebook 8440p that I really love.  One aspect I find exceptional about this machine is that even though I bought a well priced pre-configured version without Bluetooth or 3G broadband built in, HP shipped the unit with the cables and antennas installed. This has allowed me to add these later without taking the machine apart.  Kudos to HP for allowing me to expand my machine within my budget and not locking me out because I wanted to spend less to start.

That brings me to last week and my discovery that some large companies are paying product management large amounts of money to lose them customers.  It sounds silly, but it is true.  In my opinion these companies have product management teams that think they are in competition with the customer; that there is a game they can win by making the customer do what they want.  Why not create a system where you win customers to your product by letting them choose the service levels they want.  I am not talking about free products or even discount products, just letting the customer buy and use the product in the quantities that they need it. Continue reading

Dear HP, We Have Friends and Family

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This is my first post about business.  I chose this topic because it is a case where a business that could be exceptional is dropping the ball.

I currently own an HP Elitebook 8440p.  This is an amazing little business machine.  When my old HP failed, I was going to choose as different brand.  However, I often work contracts with large companies that use things like smart-cards for security and this machine was the best deal I could find on a machine with a built-in reader.

Buying an Elitebook class machine, kicks me out of HP’s consumer support division and into business support.  It has given me a fascinating view into a company that understands support, almost.  It is HP’s paradoxical business vs consumer support that has prompted the writing of this post.

My previous HP was a TX1419nr, Best Buy consumer model.  Because of a recent lawsuit with HP and Nvidia I expect it to be replaced because it died early do to a hot running graphic chip that slowly weaken the electrical connections and can cause a specific set of failures.  Mine failed the first time out of warranty.  I got it fixed and then it failed when I was on a key deadline.    BUT, it is not a bad support experience with that machine that leads me to question if HP understands that business people don’t live in the office. Continue reading