You Don’t Need To Recall Millions Of Cars To Lose Customer Satisfaction

February 24, 2010

As businesses in the small to medium enterprise, it is easy to think that only massive brands such as Toyota can get public relations nightmares from the loss of customer experience and trust.

Sure, a recall of some 8 million cars is a public relations nightmare for Toyota – But for SME’s, that type of risk is still there. The scale may be a lot different, (estimates are already in the billions for those recalls)  but then again the compounded effect on revenues can still be severe.

With Toyota recalling all of those cars, answer a question:

Are you, or anyone you know, reconsidering Toyota as a purchase choice? Are you maybe dangling on the fence a little bit, waiting to see what others say?

It only takes a small percentage of people answering yes to that type of question to begin hurting your sales pipeline. And for a smaller business, do you even know if those questions and answers are being spoken and answered about you?

Plain and simple, when someone has an  experience with your business, good or bad, regardless of your business size, there is a good possibility that they are going to talk about it.

In the good experience column, I previously noted this IT and Sales Success Story. Now this story falls into the bad experience column. Where a technology decision created customer frustration. (Mine!)

The Background

In our organization we receive a lot of data from customers and partners via a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) server running FTP server software by a vendor called Ipswitch.

I had to add some new functionality to this product, which meant that I had to purchase an upgraded version of the software. OK, so there is not a problem yet.

But then I had to install that upgrade……

And that is when things got frustrating.

First, something I have never seen before:  After purchasing the software upgrade, I received a license certificate in Adobe PDF format that would automatically download and install the software by simply clicking an embedded link in the PDF file.

While that sounds interesting, don’t forget Rule number 1: Never install unnecessary software (such as Adobe Acrobat) on a server! Period!

So I was forced to break rule number 1 and install Acrobat Reader. That was more difficult than it sounds since most newer versions of Adobe’s Acrobat reader also force you to reboot the computer that you are installing it on.

And I could not reboot a server that is in production. So I had to search around for an older version of the Acrobat reader software that does not require rebooting.

Then? The Phoning Home….

So I start the next step;  Which is starting the physical upgrade of that software. The software installs with no issues, but then it tells me that before it will work, it has to phone home to the Ipswitch mother ship activation servers before I can use it. This phone home sequence needed a user ID and password that the vendor had supplied.

OK, so I let it phone home!

And it dies. The mother ship software activation server was not responding correctly. The activation server said that the user ID and password was wrong.

OK, no panic yet, I manually try to log in to that web portal using the ID and password they provided; the portal said I did not exist. (I know I exist, I am here aren’t I??) So next I tried the reset my password button;  That failed too, it still said I did not exist.

Next step, since I apparently did not exist, I tried the create a new account option using the account information that Ipswitch had supplied – Of course, it failed too. It said that I could not change anything because the account already existed! (So now it admits I do exist!)

I was stuck

The one tool said that I did not exist, the other said I did – and neither would work. Most importantly, my software would not work either.

By this time I was well over two hours into what should have been a quick upgrade.

Another rule of course is to always back up everything before upgrading any software!  So I had to make the decision to roll back to the old version.

By the end of this process, more hours had passed.  Hours which meant failed data transfers that I would now have to work to recover.

This upgrade attempt was done on a Sunday,  so Monday morning I called support and they had the problem fixed in minutes – in fact maybe seconds.

But the decision that could have ensured this mess did not happen?

Think about it – Many software applications do the phone home to activate routine. I have no issue with that.

But in the world of software, nothing ever goes as planned all the time.

So instead of killing that software dead when the activation server does not respond properly, how about ensuring that the software keeps working for a grace period long enough for human support to rectify the issue?

If that decision had been made, my Sunday would have been about an hour of work, a minor swear word or two when the activation failed, but then a quick support call to fix the problem Monday morning.

Instead, Sunday was almost 6 hours of work, and then many more hours tracking down failed data transfers.

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