Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Learning to muzzle the legal attack dogs

Good to see that our legal department is fairly quick to move and apologize for a oversight. This incident saw one of our most passionate blog sites receive a legal threat to shut down for posting pics of a future phone (that escaped from a factory).

Some in the company have remarked that this new found agility and humbleness (we're not known for that, apparently) is proof that some of the "2.0" messages have been getting through. Either way, good to see. Cluetrain, come on in, your time is up...

Friday, May 25, 2007

Get the service right first, and figure out the techology later

Am going out for dinner tonight in London, and two savoury tastes have been swirling round my palate, competing for primacy. First was Indian (our national dish), exemplified by the excellent Bombay Bicycle Club. Second was Italian, and my sister recommended Numero Uno.

So, as a good considerate brother, I naturally prefer my own idea, and try and book a table at Bombay Bicyle Club. No such luck. Their website (kicking off with a flash movie, yuck), talks a lot about their "story", but when you go to "contact us" you get a web form. Forgedaboudit. I do find the phone number of the Balham branch under their restaurants section, but get a recorded message saying they're closed til 6:30pm. Nobody around to take orders by phone, really? Must be because they have such a sophisticated and effective online system then.

So, I try and use their whizzo online ordering capability. This is provided by Livebookings and creates a java popup to identify the slot you want which is quite cute. Unfortunately, it then requires you to register your name, ADDRESS and phone number. I already have far too many social networks requiring me to register with them, now I have to register at some obscure service (ok, used by other restaurants too) with username and password etc. They then reject my proposal because my password suggestion is not 7 characters long. Look!, I cry, this is a bloody restaurant booking service, not my bank.

After cursing and muttering about the excess of information, I get to the final submit screen, only to decide that I need to have the table half an hour earlier. OK, my bad, but these things happen. I click on Back, and everything is wiped out. As my blood pressure rockets I throw my long suffering Nokia across the room (it survives, always does) and curse loudly at the screen. And at Bombay Bicycle Club. Do they realize that they've just turned me, a long time fan of their product, into an annoyed non-customer, through the use of too much technology.

I then Google the Italian, find its phone number, call them up and book a slot. That takes me 15 seconds, and has delivered my evening's business to them, whereas all that Bombay Bicycle Club have got from me is frustration. If I had wanted to change the time, I could have done it verbally, and he'd have said - perfecto.

Underlying this is the fact that still have a long way to go before we can provide a "very human technology" experience for the management of customer service, with a big sticking point being identity and authentication. The reality is that the phone still does that job far easier and quicker than overly complicated web services. There is tremendous scope to get both of these working better by working together, and we've got some ideas for how this could happen, but if any of them involve sacrificing the experience in favour of some misguided technology vision, they deserve to fail.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The evolution of the web, according to Fido

So, according to my cerebral canine companion, my tinpot evolution of the web theory can be equally applied to dogs as well as people.

Pets.com came - and went - first. This iconic dot.bomb went from IPO to liquidition in nine months. Here your PC-savvy pooch could find information about petfood - information ruled the day.

Second, came online social networking for dogs: dogster. Here Fido can start yapping enthusiastically at other gorgeous german shepherds or touch nose to screen to nose with a winsome wippet. His vocal chords and floppy ears are given full reign, even though he may need a little help from his friends to press the buttons on the video camera to record his chat up lines.

And so now, proof of the arrival of three point oh, we have SNIFLabs - Social Networking in Fur - (no joke). This company makes cute collar attachments (and has an inspired logo) that the dogs can use as digital scent - marking their territory and people they amble into. MIT Tech Review picked them up again recently since they're launching soon (doggy cliches have been flying for the past couple of years.

It's fitting that the perenially walkie-obsessed dogs are able to break free from the tyranny of the wired PC and take social networking out to the real world before us (though don't forget Imity is already there). Perhaps it's not surprising - it's easier to be an overt networker about somebody or something else (dogs, music, hamster fanciers) rather than just yourself.

I was asked by a relative last week when are we bringing out a tracking system for people, so that she can check up where her kids are, or so people can find her if she is kidnapped while out horseriding (Hampshire being the new Gaza). This system does not use GPS, but sounds sophisticated enough to do most of what she wants. I wonder if they'll be used as kid trackers?

It used to be that on the Internet, no one would know if you were a dog. Now that the third generation of the web is cutting the chord, the dogs can prove that they are indeed dogs, and no longer need to hide behind the mice.