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Archive for the ‘gadgets’ Category

Microsoft: World’s Worst Customer Service? (Walmart, Amazon, GE, BestBuy, MacMall, and Paypal Not Far Behind)

Posted by Bob Warfield on July 28, 2014

microsoft-surface-pro-3I recently tried and failed for the fifth time to buy a Microsoft Surface Pro 3.  It’s been a real comedy of errors, but the latest attempt has been by far the most spectacular failure.

Let me start out by saying I really like the Microsoft Surface Pro 3.  I am a perfect candidate for it as I would like to replace the combination of my Macbook Air and iPad with just one device for travel and for demos of my software away from the office.  The business I’m in is software for the CNC Manufacturing world, and while my own software runs on both Mac and PC, most from that world is PC-only.  Hence a device about the size of an iPad that can run desktop Windows software would be a real boon.  The Surface reviews I’ve read have been largely positive, and I played with one at a Microsoft store for long enough to feel like I would be very productive on it.  The keyboard was great and I had little trouble dealing with the Win 8 differences everyone is complaining so much about.  So I resolved to get one.

In fairness, all of my problems have stemmed from one little wrinkle in how I wanted to buy the device.  I’m looking at about $1500 all in, and I wanted an interest free for 12 months deal–the same kind of deal I used to purchase my Macbook Air.  My business is steadily growing and I like the idea of charging most of the cost to the larger version of the business that will exist down the road.  These offers all involve signing up for a credit card, with my Apple Macbook Air it was really no big deal.  I recently had paid off the Macbook Air and so time to get another device.

Here’s what happened.

Fail #1:  Best Buy

Despite haunting the Microsoft Store since the Surface launched in hopes of their offering a deal, no joy.  So I started Googling and wound up at Best Buy.  Looked great, so I attempted to make the purchase.  The online credit card app simply froze up the browser and would neither confirm nor deny I would be able to do the transaction.  Geez, how can a company the size of Best Buy have IT producing forms like this that flat don’t work?  Seems like they’re wasting a lot of opportunity if it happens to very many.

Fail #2:  Walmart

A little more Googling and I discover that Walmart has the same deal.  Great.  Except, oh oh, same problem–the credit card app just fails.  Takes all the info, hit the button to go for it, and nothing happens.  I’m now starting to wonder if the problem isn’t some common third party?  It doesn’t really matter, both these two retail behemoths have lost a $1500 transaction for a stupid reason–their web site didn’t work.

Fail #3:  Amazon

At this point I am thinking it can’t be that hard, SOMEBODY must do this.  So I tried Amazon.  Aha!  They’re offering the no interest deal I want!

I filled out all the information to apply, the application worked (I guess Amazon knows a lot more about software than Best Buy or Walmart), but it turned out to be bait and switch.  Buried in the fine print is a notice that GE Capital would only finance $500 of my $1500 purchase.  Now I have a GE Credit card that will get shredded and never used.  That has to be sub-optimal for both GE and Amazon–they went to all the trouble and cost but are getting no revenue from me.  Not to mention a $500 limit is insulting.  Amazon knows I spend a fortune with them on all sorts of things including Amazon Web Services and have never missed a payment.  Come on guys, do your computers talk at all?  Why offer this stupid $500 credit card on a $1500 purchase?

Fail #4:  PayPal + BillMeLater + MacMall

I went back to the PayPal site to process some orders for my business, and noticed BillMeLater being advertised.  Wow!  I had seen the ads come up every time I had paid for something with PayPal, but I generally just pay cash and had more or less ignored them.  They have a product search that will plug you into a BillMeLater transaction with some merchant that has what you want.  I promptly searched for “Microsoft Surface Pro 3″ and got vectored onto MacMall.  Hmmm, that’s kind of odd to buy a PC from a company that sounds like a Mac company, but why not?  I was getting pretty tired of the chase by now.  I started down the path and promptly noticed I was only going to get 6 months interest free, but again, I was beaten down and ready to do a transaction, so I went ahead.  Filled out all the forms, yada, yada, and BOOM!  I was back to Fail #1 and Fail#2:  PayPal reported that they couldn’t complete the transaction for unspecified reasons (like those other credit card apps just freezing up) and I should try again later.  WTF?!??

Fail #5:  Microsoft + PayPal

Is this becoming Epic Fail, or what?  It’s almost comical by this point.  But, the best is the final episode (so far) and involves Microsoft and Paypal.  I was still focused on the idea of using BillMeLater and it was a new day.  So I had the idea of just seeing who would sell me a Surface Pro 3 and let me pay with PayPal.  I tried Microsoft first, and sure enough.  Excellent!

So I hopped on, performed the transaction, got to the part where you pay PayPal, and for the first time ever (I have made hundreds of PayPal purchases) I saw almost nothing of PayPal and never got the opportunity to use BillMeLater.  Bloody Hell!

I immediately went to PayPal and cancelled the transaction.  There’s a button right there and they accepted and confirmed the cancellation.  Then I went back to the Microsoft Store.  Not so easy to cancel there, I had to call  the dreaded 800 number and wait.  But eventually I got a Service Agent and after answering many strange questions, she assured me that the transaction was cancelled, and that she couldn’t really help me in any way to purchase a Surface with 12 month no interest financing or even to use BillMeLater to make the purchase.  Gee thanks, Microsoft.

So I’m thinking this is pretty silly.  Microsoft must want to be moving these stupid devices and should be making it easier, right?  Maybe I would just go lob a suggestion in to them and maybe someone would get back in touch with me with the right stuff.  I searched in vain both the Microsoft site and the Microsoft Store site for some place I could make the suggestion.  Apparently they are not at all interest in hearing from customers.  I guess I should’ve expected that after getting this far.

Fail #6:  Microsoft + PayPal, Again

This morning I logged into my computer to find 3 email message from Microsoft–a return authorization, a notice that the cancellation had failed, and another notice telling me I should just refuse deliver on the shipment.  Oh boy.  You would think Microsoft could manage to process a cancellation that happened within minutes of an order to avoid needlessly shipping physical goods to a customer who doesn’t want them.  No joy.  So then I bopped over to PayPal to confirm that my cancellation of the prior day was still in place.  The report had been updated to say they were going ahead and paying Microsoft.  WTF?!??  Really?  After both organizations had confirmed the cancellation the prior day?  Are you kidding me?

Now I’m angry.  Both these behemoths had clear instructions from me and had accepted and confirmed.  So, I called PayPal Customer Service.  A nice lady eventually picked up (yeah, lots of voice menus for THEIR convenience) and she confirmed from her screen that I had indeed cancelled payment.  Why then, does my report show this as a transaction that will be paid and why is the cancellation no longer showing?  Well, it looks like the transaction went through before the cancellation could take effect was the response.  OK, why does my balance still not reflect a deduction for the payment then if it’s too late to cancel 24 hours after the cancellation went in and was accepted?  “I’m sorry sir, but it is too late to cancel.  You’ll have to wait 48 hours to see if the seller has refunded your money and if they haven’t, you could file a dispute at that point.”

 

Conclusion

I was really pretty excited about getting a Surface Pro 3 when I started this trek.  I’m shocked at just how many organizations screwed up their Customer Experience along the way and at just how low the bar is set for that Customer Experience to be acceptable to them.  It can’t possibly be a good thing for sales of the Surface for there to be this much friction in the process.  I am hopeful that some one of the organizations involved will read this and contact me with a solution I’d like, but at the same time, I don’t think I’ll hold my breath.

Macbook Air and iPad?  You’ve got a solid year ahead of you still.  Maybe I’ll just wait until the Surface Pro 4.

Posted in amazon, apple, business, customer service, gadgets, Marketing, microsoft surface, mobile, strategy | Leave a Comment »

Welcome to the Age of Mobile Devices, Mr Romney

Posted by Bob Warfield on September 18, 2012

Mitt Romney was dealt a tough blow today by a video that looks like it was taken with a smartphone:

The video was published by Mother Jones magazine.  In it, Romney says, “There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”  He goes on to say that his job “is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

That’s not going to sit well with a large number of Americans, at least the 47%.

It marks the first time I remember a candidate running afoul of ubiquitous smartphones, but you can bet it won’t be the last time.  There are no closed door guarded moments with a friendly audience in the Age of Mobile Devices.  Everyone is potentially always on and always public.

Posted in gadgets | Leave a Comment »

Time Commoditizes Every Advantage

Posted by Bob Warfield on May 25, 2010

“For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeteers, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conquerors rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”
– Gen. George C. Patton

Indeed, all glory is fleeting, as is all competitive advantage.  Steve Jobs is one of the modern-day Pattons of Tech, very much in the mold of the George C. Scott movie character.  He is a superb warrior who occasionally embarrasses himself through his ego, but who rarely loses the fight.  His thirst for more glory in the form of more crushing wins for Apple is seemingly insatiable.  But time is not on his side from many perspectives.

When left to his devices, Jobs will eventually spawn a product that completely upsets the conventional wisdom and storms the markets.  John Doer has rightly called Apple one of the four horsemen of the Internet, and Steve Jobs is surely the rider and master of the horse.

Yet the very success Jobs craves drives competitors to extraordinary lengths to take the market back.  Imitators come along and at first do poorly.  But over time, they get better and better as Apple’s advantage gets less and less.  Eventually it boils down to brand and fashion.  Sure, its a nice polo shirt, but mine has an alligator or a polo player, so it has to be better.  Time whittles away competitive advantage.  It is relentless and cannot be bargained with.  The only antidote is to keep running to produce more innovations.  Apple is actually quite good at this, but they’re poised on a teeter totter of advantage that can come crashing down quickly as weight shifts.

Because their devices are better and came first, many more people use them.  Because many more people use them, their ecosystems are more vibrant, which makes more people use them.  It’s a virtuous cycle, but it is vulnerable.

Larry Dignan says the Android Tablet Armies are starting to form.  He has a great insight in that the iPad isn’t as big an innovation as the iPhone was.  In fact, it is many of the same innovations built on a different form factor.  The world is further along at copying the iPhone, so therefore the iPad will enjoy an even shorter period of uncontested glory.

Google is already outselling the iPhone with Android during some periods.  A growing audience is getting experience with both phones, and will write about the experience.  Some people will choose the alternatives for reasons that Apple’s followers will scoff at–because they are cheaper, because they have keyboards (I know a lot of women who hate the iPhone because their long fingernails make the touch screen difficult), because they like Flash (and mobile Flash games are pretty cool), because the Kindle screen is easier to see in direct sunlight, because Android has tethering, to get away from AT&T, and on and on. 

This is the part where open beats closed just by sheer attrition, and one man, one device, and one carrier cannot claim to be more open, no matter how skilled they are at marketing.

The other thing that happens is a peculiar emotion related to Schadenfreude (pleasure derived from the misfortune of others).  We’re genetically wired to be wary of the most popular thing.  There’s too much power there that can one day be used against us.  In fact, you don’t have to watch the Tech Markets for very long to conclude it will be used against you–it’s only a matter of time.  This genetic wiring is why the underdog always has a following.  In this case, Google is doing a masterful job of positioning themselves as the good guys and the underdog, just as Apple’s share of these devices is huge and the value of their stock is soaring, even though Google itself isn’t exactly an underdog by any normal measure.   It doesn’t matter, people crave an alternative to the leader.   It isn’t safe when there is only one leader.

Startups take heed.  A long time ago a very successful VC drew a chart on a napkin that he said was everything anyone needed to know about startups.  It consisted of a line that popped up very suddenly and then grew slowly.  Meanwhile a faster growing line starts a little later, but without the big initial pop.  The initial pop represents the startup’s inspiration–the big idea that put them on the map, created most of the value, and then grew from there.  The faster growing line represents the market trying to copy and commoditize the startup’s idea for their own advantage.  We don’t necessarily know all the variables at the outset:  how big is the pop?  How fast can the startup grow?  How long will the market wait before it tries to commoditize?  How fast can it commoditize?  What we do know is that when the lines cross, the startup is changed forever unless it can create another big innovation.

You can grow a startup to a big company either because all the variables line up right (you got a really big pop, you grew really fast, and the market gave you time to build up an unassailable lead), or because you keep building with more innovation pops.  Either way, you’re running out of time faster than you think.  Time commoditizes every advantage.  All glory is fleeting.

Posted in apple, gadgets, Marketing, platforms, strategy | 1 Comment »

Amazon Should Launch a Kindle iPhone App

Posted by Bob Warfield on December 3, 2008

There was news today that Amazon has launched an iPhone application.  The application is Amazon Remembers.  It’s an interesting application where you can photograph something you want to buy and Amazon will try to match it to a product they sell.  You can also just browse the Amazon shopping experience, but the “experimental” photo matching feature is the real news.  The photo recognition is done by real people via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk facility.

This is all well and good, but it just makes me wonder why Amazon hasn’t launched the real killer iPhone application:  a Kindle-style reader that runs on iPhones.  Assuming Amazon doesn’t think it makes most of the money from sales of the Kindle itself, the iPhone would be a huge acclerator for the Kindle business model.  And what better time than now, during the holiday season, to launch such a thing.  Amazon’s updated Kindle version 2 was delayed until next year anyway.

Can you imagine what a big splash a Kindle reader application for the iPhone would make?  Heck they could charge $50 or $100 for it and sell a bunch at a nice profit..  It might cannibalize some of the Kindle hardware sales, but I’ll bet not that many.  I’d sign up for an iPhone Kindle application in a heartbeat.

Posted in apple, business, gadgets, strategy | 10 Comments »

The iPhone of Home Phones?

Posted by Bob Warfield on January 9, 2008

I like this John Sculley idea that I found on engadget:

iPhone of Home Phones

It does seem a bit reminiscent of an iPhone.  What I like is the iPhone aesthetic, but more importantly, the idea of having a web browser in the kitchen that doesn’t take more space.  It doesn’t take more space because I already have a phone and answering machine in there.  Now there’s some fine tuning we could do to make it particularly nifty.  Here’s what I’d like to see:

-  A model with a little bigger screen, or maybe just iPhone-like zooming and panning.  I want to be able to see a recipe on this thing!

-  Pursuant to being able to see the recipes, it would be awesome if the touchscreen was removable so I can carry that recipe over to where I’m cooking.

-  I’d love to have an optional gizmo to extend WiFi from this phone.  Turns out the kitchen would be an ideal place at my house for another WiFi hub.  It’s close to the family room and it’s close to our deck in back–both places laptops are often seen.

I’ll bet we see a rash of the iPhone’s clever ideas and aesthetics applied to other devices.  Cool beans!

Posted in gadgets | 1 Comment »

30″ Monitors Rock But Smugmongous Is Really Cool

Posted by Bob Warfield on December 8, 2007

Recently I bought a Dell 30″ monitor.  I got a new one from eBay for circa $1000, which seemed like quite a deal to me given that it hadn’t been that long since I paid nearly that for a much smaller monitor.  I was immediately enthralled with the thing after setting it up.  Playing first person shooter games you can just about get lost in the image and motion sick it’s so immersive. 

For certain tasks, screen real estate can be very important.  I once heard Alan Kay say that using a windowed user interface wasn’t like a desktop at all.  He said it was like taking everything off your desk and throwing it into the bottom of a trashcan and trying to work on it there.  For coding, web page design, or whatever else you use your computer for, there finally seems to be enough real estate on the 30″ monitor. 

I also found that as I’ve gotten older, I’m reaching that uncomfortable state where I don’t quite need bifocals, but there are zones of discomfort where things are hard to read.  Initially, I would take my glasses off and it worked.  Now, for certain things, I move the glasses out on my nose a bit.  It was starting to be annoying, but the 30″ monitor makes everything easier on the computer.

Just as I had settled into loving this thing, I caught Robert Scoble’s video interview of Smug Mug founder Don MacAskill.  MacAskill demos their new services on a pair of 30″ monitors.  The SmugMug site has the cool ability to open a window that spans both monitors with tons of thumbnails and a giant view of the currently selected thumb.  Holy photo sorting Batman!  I need this thing.  It’s so hard to be able to wade through tons of thumbnails, and the Windows Explorer makes the thumbs too small anyway.  I may have to give this a try, although I don’t know where I’d even put a second 30″ on my desk.

SmugMug is a really cool business, BTW.  Watch the interview.  I met MacAskill briefly at the Amazon Startup Project.  I’m hoping to interview him some time soon–waiting to hear back on their interest. 

P.S. It was so annoying not to be able to get the interview to pop out on Scoble’s site.  It popped out once with Seagate.  I zapped that window and then could never get it to pop out again and zoom up.  Oh well.

Posted in gadgets, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment »

 
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