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April 2007 Archives

April 1, 2007

For customer support, informal is better.

Getting customer support right is probably the single hardest thing for any company, but oddly enough I think it's easier and better for the customer the less formalized and structured the process.

I spent an hour or so on the phone with Apple this morning because my macbook is giving me the spinning multi-coloured wheel of death whenever I so much as try to scroll a window. The support rep was very polite, but as is often the case he took me through a bunch of redundant steps before determining that I'd have to take it into my local mac dealer.

 
 

 

It's Sunday, which means I'm out of luck until tomorrow. So I tried the forum for Macbook issues on the Apple site (which, by the way, probably has the least intuitive navigation of any support portal). No luck, I got an error bringing up the forum (although it's working now).

Anyway, my support woes got me thinking that all of the positive support experiences I've had recently have been on well-organized user forums (fora?), with questions answered by other users, not by the support staff of the company with which I'm having issues. I'd rather find out as quickly as possible whether my problem is common or unusual; whether it's simple to fix or not; whether I can fix it myself or it requires intervention from an admin, or a service visit if it's a piece of hardware.

Some people might cry foul that diverting support requests to a user forum is shirking the responsibility and cost of dealing with customer problems, and in certain cases that's true. It's definitely true in the case of Apple, since they make it quite difficult to contact them directly, even though I paid extra for the AppleCare extended warranty.

No pun intended, but I know it's not comparing Apples to apples to talk about community-based sites and their models for user support, but there are definitely some lessons to be learned, and Apple more than almost any other company prides itself on the cult-like passion of its users. Flickr does a pretty good job with their user forum, with threads marked [Official Topic] being the ones initiated proactively by staff. But then it should, given that its premise is sharing and interaction among users.

But companies that really understand the power of the user forum can be best identified by the tone of the posts. I've written before about 37signals, and I don't mean to make this blog a love-fest for everything they do. But the simple fact that the partners post on the forums and answer user questions directly, often right away, creates an environment in which average joe users like me feel like the company really cares about making the products right. In this environment, users will accept the inevitable bugs and glitches in exchange for feeling like their ideas and suggestions are really taken into account and respected. Much less frustrating than what we're used to.

Even Erik likes the pretty boxes

I don't have time to hate Microsoft, even though for some it's a full-time job.

But when I was on the phone with Erik today he happened to be in Future Shop (whose parent company, Best Buy, incidentally just bought business VoIP provider Speakeasy) walking down the aisle stacked with boxes of Vista and was struck by the brightly coloured moulded plastic packaging. Now leaving aside that for Erik walking down the MS aisle is akin to being spotted walking into a leather bar, it struck me that all this pretty packaging is symptomatic of just a little bit of desparation in Redmond.

jumping the shark, retail style 

Perhaps it's just me, but the woeful try-hard design of the boxes feels a bit too much like the introduction of a quirky new character in season nine of a series that ought to have been retired years ago.

Whatever, my gut tells me the user experience is better outside the box than in.

April 2, 2007

The five gaboogie food groups

I am talking about the gaboogie dungeon and its proximity to facilities that serve any kind of food. Preferably take-out or delivery.

 

So, the five food groups of late are as follows: Pizza (no surprise there), Butter Chicken (Palki's delivers and it's simply awesome), Spaghetti (cause I like it and I can make it fast), BBQ Chicken (yeah I got my ticket a while ago) and tonight we discovered Greek!

Yes, very exciting I know! Variety is hard to come by out here in Deep Cove so we welcome food that will break the monotony and has more nutrition than soggy cardboard. You try working out of a dark basement for months on end and see where you end up. I'll tell you where.. A&W, Tim Hortons, Wendy's, even dreaded MacDonald's. It saddens me to think about the state my body is in, it may be time to mandate the daily hike in on Seymour mountain again!

April 3, 2007

Conference calling of old = no fun

There are quite a few services out there providing phone conferencing and conference calling services but none are really leveraging the technology that is available today to make the experience pleasant for the attendees or moderators. So many conferences start late, or attendees forget altogether to dial-in, meaning valuable time is wasted and the benefits of meeting with remote employees, clients or partners go out the window.

Reservationless or operator-assisted, old school conference calls might as well be in the dictionary, next to "bad user experience".

courtesy of www.soundghost.co.uk 

Gaboogie was conceived to do what other conference providers are not: make phone conferences easy and even fun to use!

Why do I have remember PINs and dial-in numbers? Why doesn't the conference call me?

Why would I want a conference call operator to control my call when I can have my Executive Assistant attend to that with little or no effort?

Why would I pay two people to do something that one person can easily deal with or maybe I want to deal with myself!? Come on, that's crazy talk!

Yes, Gaboogie calls the moderator and all the attendees; no-one needs to remember to call in. As the moderator, you can mute/unmute, drop and add new callers on the fly during the call.

Watch as attendees put up their hands and answer them on a private channel / sub-conference simply by clicking on their hand. Record the conference to MP3 and it's autmotically transformed into a podcast for you to share or to review privately at a later date.

These are just some of the features available in the upcoming public release of Gaboogie.

If you'd like to be one of the first to try Gaboogie, just visit Gaboogie.com and submit your email address.

April 4, 2007

Customer experience is not a department

In preparation for writing this post I poked around on Google, checked out a blog or two, and read something about the disappointing results of attempts at marketing on Second Life. In fact the amount of discussion on this topic was a little overwhelming.

I'm the first to admit that customer experience is vital to the success of any business, and know for sure that frustrating interactions with a brand can ruin my impressions of what might otherwise be a great product or service. But I've got to be honest, I find the increasingly scientific methods large corporations use to create customer experience not exactly distasteful, but perhaps futile.

I suppose what I mean is that there's a huge difference between making the most of what you've got, and pretending you're something you're not. When I see a UPS commercial asking what Brown can do for me (worst theme for an ad campaign ever, by the way), and then I'm verbally abused by staff at their call centre for the heinous crime of trying to track a package, it's an understatement to say that something doesn't sit right. Saying you do something well isn't the same as actually doing it well, just as manufacturing a customer experience sitting around a boardroom table isn't the same as actually believing and doing it.

The problem, I think, is mostly because the marketing department is usually so far down the hallway, so to speak, from the bits of the company with which customers actually interact. There's been lots of talk in the past couple of years about marketing performance measurement (better aligning marketing with real results, whether that means sales targets or more subjective measures such as brand awareness), and consequently lots of marketers have jumped on the bandwagon of getting better data about their campaigns and related activities, and getting it faster.

Mostly I think striving to measure marketing to the nth degree is an utter waste of time and money, or at least when it's a substitute for getting marketers to understand their product and interact with the customers who buy it. At heart I'm a simple kind of guy and I believe that it's all about having genuine conversations: "here's my product, I'd like you to buy it because it's good in ways a, b and c; once you've bought it I'll be here to answer any of your questions directly." Honestly, I think a lot of the demand for "optimization" of marketing campaigns is a function of getting the product and the articulation of its value wrong in the first place; and polished pitches about customer experience are usually just empty promises.

Building a great customer experience really sounds like a great idea, but unless you have the influence and persistence to make it happen, please don't put it in your ads or the stuffers that come with my bill. I promise we won't put it on Gaboogie's website unless it's true.

April 9, 2007

gabloggie mac widget

Here is the mac widget you have ALL been waiting for [tongue firmly planted in side of cheek].

Download: Gabloggie Widget

Now, if I can convince the gabooger developer-type guys to RSS the welcome page in the gaboogie dashboard we could give you one of these silly widgets so you and everyone else who runs that widget could see all of your upcoming conference calls. Could be a good tool for any company. Are you feeling the love, mac-centric guys?

Morris makes another break for freedom.

Surely life at Gaboogie can't be so bad? Perhaps Morris likes the old way of conference calling (he does after all like to show up late to meetings). Get him some opposable thumbs and he can really work that dial-pad. He's not so hot at remembering PINs, though...

 

Morris would prefer that we didn't call him. 

April 12, 2007

Gaboogers are a breed apart

Russ and his wife are trying to sell their place back in Calgary so his wife Karly, with young son Jacob in tow, went back to clean things up after the renters moved out. Apparently the renters left the place in total disarray and skipped on the last month's rent and damage deposit. On top of all this little Jacob managed to catch Foot and Mouth disease and had to be rushed to the hospital. Needless to say we were all quite concerned. Russ was ready to jump on a plane at a moments notice but Karly said she could deal with the situation. She and Jacob came home the day before yesterday and as it turns out Karly ended up catching the same disease from Jacob. Quite the reward for all of her hard work.

All of this was happening as our VIP Beta was fast approaching (business people NEED this conference calling app!). Russ knew this and he never missed a beat pulling some of the longest hours he has worked since starting here almost two months ago. These are the kind of people we have here at Gaboogie; it's what we mean when we say Gaboogers are a breed apart.

 

Countdown to VIP beta

The hours are ticking by, we are going hard. I have a head cold, my nose is sore, I am dazed - thanks Ky. We are tired, we are showing it, we can't stop ... the finish line, so close. Must code faster!

 

Quickly now... test, debug, fix, test, debug, fix, test, debug, fix.

April 14, 2007

Do it yourself?

Oddly enough it's the areas in which you're supposed to be frugal and do the work yourself that I don't want to. Oil changes, painting, even mowing the lawn, none of these is my thing.

There's some good stuff by Toni Schneider on Found + Read, the new GigaOM site, about the virtues for start-ups of genuine word of mouth. I might very well be one of the marketing people Toni suggests you keep away from the product for the first year, but still I buy in to the idea that it's about a great product that really fills a need; a genuine story instead of a contrived pitch; and making it easy for the first group of users to engage their network simply by using the product.

Perhaps I'm missing the point, wanting to look at sales in the context of this discussion, but when, like Gaboogie, your product is primarily for business users it's unavoidable. And the thing about sales is it's the job that everyone's always tempted to hire for rather than do themselves. It's also why sales people often have a bad rap in the start-up community. They do a job the founders don't necessarily like or respect, and inevitably because the technology is new and resources are scarce they underperform, further reinforcing distrust and all kinds of bad feeling.

DIY for Start-Ups 

From my perspective the answer as a founder is (bet you can't guess where this is going) to do it yourself. If you genuinely believe the product you're creating has unique value (I'm 200% sure that's true of Gaboogie), then that enthusiasm will be infectious, and it becomes an intelligent conversation rather than a sales pitch. It'll certainly be a lot more compelling than the competitors who've created a yawning chasm between the people behind the company and the people out in front trying to sell it.

So Erik, does that mean I just signed up for a couple of years on the road?

April 16, 2007

Code envy

I don't envy the insane hours the guys are putting in right now as they polish up Gabogie for our release, but I do envy their ability to create magic out of lines of code. I'm in awe, particularly since the last time I wrote any code was on my trusty Amstrad 6128.

 It has 128K of RAM and a disk drive!
 

April 17, 2007

Bill Dance is off to Dallas

Our leader, will dominate the lessor!

 

So close I can hardly take it

We are so close to having this beta preview ready for early eyes it hurts.

 

Here is Craig, debugging what we hope is the final outstanding cirtical issue standing between us and this initial victory.

April 18, 2007

The gaboogie un-teleconferencing beta preview is on!

Now that the word is out everyone wants in on the gaboogie conferencing action.

Little Kyler has become quite serious about his role in QA, just try and pry that phone out of his hands.

April 24, 2007

Order amid chaos.

So a few days after Andy Abramson very kindly wrote about us, suggesting people live vicariously through our blog, we've managed to post precisely zero entries. All I can offer up by way of excuses, in no particular order is:

selling house

packing

herding (real) cats

filing taxes

prenatal doctor's appointments

broken computer

broken blackberry

And I almost forgot, the insane but exhilirating process of building this crazy start-up from scratch. Actually the guys have been doing all the building from scratch stuff. I've simply had the privilege of previewing Gaboogie with a few friends, all of whom have been nice enough to say they like it. I really shouldn't complain about all the minor adminstrative annoyances I've been subjected to, because I can't thank the guys enough for building a product that I'm confident will sell itself.

I included this image because I liked its description: displaying chaotic behaviour past a threshold.

April 27, 2007

The Koolaid Point

A while back I read this piece on creating passionate users, it really hit home and I find that it kind of exemplifies how we have approached gaboogie.

Physics of Passion: The Koolaid Point 

We want our users to truly love our service, we will do whatever is in our power to make that happen. With a little hard work and much interaction with our users we may see some of them get to the Koolaid Point. As for us gaboogers... we are already there ;) Getting pretty damn excited about this public beta on May 3rd.

The final hours...

I don't know how I get myself into these situations. And what I really don't know is how Susie and I found each other. Two start-up businesses, two type-A personalities, two terrible procrastinators, when it comes to anything practical... like packing, organizing, administrating. We're leaving for Vancouver in about 10 hours, and our home still looks like this:

 

 But all of that said, I couldn't be happier to be leaving Calgary for the Gaboogie Dungeon. If this is what it takes to stand the conference calling industry on its head, then I'm up for it.

About April 2007

This page contains all entries posted to Conferencing | Conference Call - Gaboogie in April 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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