Wednesday, October 14, 2009

In Search of Excellence -- Why Have We Come to Expect Less (and Accept It)? Skype, Twitter, Pandora -- Guilty (But Shutterfly Gives Us Hope)

Skype, Twitter, Pandora -- three services I regularly use. And all are excellent ... well, scratch that ... very good ... well, scratch that ... get the job done?

When they work -- all three services are compelling. But, the problem is that they frequently simply do not work.

Take Skype -- I literally have not been on a single Skype call in the past month that didn't drop within the first 30 seconds, forcing me to call back, cross my fingers, and hope that the connection lasted the second time. Is that "business" grade? I think not. (And to add insult to injury, not only did eBay pay $3+ billion for this technology that frequently does not work, they now have been hauled into court for patent infringement by Skype's own founders who are challenging Skype's rights to use that broken technology! Now that is something!)

Exhibit B -- Twitter. In the past week, I have seen the Twitter "Fail Whale" swimming across my screen 50% of the time (with a smile on its face and with happy little birds lifting it up from the sea), meaning that my spontaneous moments of brilliance were forced to stay bottled up within me. Just think of all the profound thoughts that you all missed as a result. While the whale seemed to be tranquil, I certainly was not -- and I doubt you were as well. But, then we moved on with a collective shrug of the shoulders and muttered "oh well" to ourselves ...

And, how about Pandora? I know it is a critic's darling. But, c'mon. How many songs are in its library? 20? I keep hearing the same songs time and time and time again in an endless loop. Look, I like repetition as much as the next guy (especially with my favorite music -- I get obsessive really), but Pandora takes it a bit too far. Those wonderful algorithms -- and the service's much ballyhooed "human" factor -- are in need of a face-lift in my humble opinion.

Yet, despite these significant foibles, I continue to use all of these services ...

... and there's the rub.

I came to realize late yesterday that I have come to expect mediocrity from most of the services I use ... that mediocrity is to be simply, well, accepted. All of us are in the same boat really in this regard ... we put up with services that frequently not only fail to satisfy -- they simply frequently fail!

And, that's plain wrong.

Now, don't get me wrong, first, I highly respect each one of these services -- all 3 are kings in their respective spaces and all 3 have had great successes (Pandora is not quite in the same league of course). And, second, I hold myself accountable for continuing to use these services even with their persistent problems.

But, the problem is that we all are faced with these kinds of issues on a continuing basis from a number of the services we use (case in point -- how about our wireless services? We still pay our wireless providers for their spotty service and for frequently ridiculously bad customer support ... borderline comical really). Why do we put up with this? Put simply, it is because this problem is so pervasive -- so many services simply do not work that we accept that as being "just the way it is" (in a very stoic-like Cronkite fashion).

Where oh where is excellence? Where oh where is pride in business and customer commitment (I know this is a bit harsh particularly for Twitter, because its whale is a victim of its own success). And, when the service does not work, where oh where is the old edict that taking care of customers is the best way to take care of your business?

But, occasionally, there are glimmers of hope out there. Beacons of light pointing us to where the world should be and how things should be done.

Shutterfly is one such beacon. I have been a long-time loyal -- and frequently heavy spending -- customer precisely because they have elevated customer service and excellence to an art! There is no doubt that they actually really care about their customer experience. Yes, of course it is for commerce sake. But, so what? I want them to make money precisely because they do things right -- they should make money! I happily give them my money because if I ever have an issue, they address it right away. Picture books too dark? Simply return them -- we will re-print them!

That's the way to be.

Customers will remember that -- and they will tell their friends ... and so on ... and so on ... and voila -- business success!

We at Sorenson Media are obsessed with excellence. We are obsessed with doing everything ... even the little things ... absolutely perfectly. We may not always succeed, but we will not accept mediocrity in our services. And, if a customer has an issue (let's face it, every service will have issues at one time or another), we have a great support team that gives the personal touch -- personal attention. Many of those issues go all the way to the top, because I want our senior staff to know about the issues our customers are experiencing. And, we try to address them all. Literally all of them.

Excellence is out there ... it just frequently is lost in the din of the white noise of mediocrity ...

We are personally responsible to support those services that are committed to absolutely getting it right.

Okay, that is my diatribe for the day ...