A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.

30 August 2012

Creating x2 Fans

With product on the shelves (and in many places flying off them), and upgrade kits stocked up in Salt Lake, it was time to do the work of getting people going on x2.

The upgrade process, as you might expect, often did not go smoothly.  I remember in particular one gentleman whose scathing, furious email was forwarded to me for emergency service.  He had posted in an internet forum (this is in 1996, when there are about ten internet forums total) that the x2 upgrade was a scam, x2 wasn't real, and he was never going to buy another U.S. Robotics product.

I wrote a very careful reply, asking him if he could please tell me what happened.  He wrote back and explained how he had tried to upgrade his modem and had no success getting the upgrade to work.  His criticisms were fair, although his extrapolation that the entire technology was a fraud was a bit over the top.  I replied to him immediately, saying "if you will email me your shipping address, we'll get a new modem out to you right away and then see if we can figure out what's wrong with the old one."

Well, long story short, by the end of our interaction, he had posted an update to that same internet forum, singing the praises of the company generally, and of me in particular, taking back all the awful things he had said and happily pronouncing that his faith in USR had been fully restored.

For those of you following along from work, here's the lesson -- your cost on a replacement product is almost nothing compared to the cost of an angry customer.  A raving fan is worth, at a minimum, thousands of dollars to your company.  Treat your customers right.

Among the many things I loved about working at USR was that I was empowered to fix problems as I saw fit.  I was given a stock of about half a dozen brand-new modems specifically for these kinds of situations.  When, in my judgment, a "free" modem was going to fix a bad situation and net us a gain, I was allowed to give it away.  The thing about that particular guy was, it was obvious that he was angry because he was crushed.  He was expecting the same great experience, great product and great performance he had always gotten in the past from USR, and when it all went horribly wrong, he felt like we had personally betrayed him.  That was clear from his tone, and from the fact that he turned around and purred like a kitten the minute he believed someone really cared about fixing his problem.  It's amazing what a little bit of genuine empathy will do.

That particular person's story was one of maybe five to ten that I dealt with during the upgrade frenzy.  Once we had the kinks worked out, the process went pretty well, and it positioned us very well to do smooth upgrades to the V.90 and V.92 modem standards when they were implemented a couple of years later.

But that gets us ahead of ourselves.  Right now, in the course of this history, we need to sign up some ISPs to provide x2 service to our growing ranks of consumer modem buyers.  And to spread the x2 love from "end to end" of the call connection, we needed a clear goal and a way to motivate our sales force.

Next up:  Connect NOW!

Delivering the Dream

(After a long hiatus, we return you to the x2 saga, already in progress....)

Now that the announcement was made, we had two parallel challenges we needed to scramble on.  One was getting the actual product into the market on the consumer side, and the other was getting internet service providers (ISPs) to adopt our proprietary technology so that consumers with our super fast modems would actually be able to enjoy those speeds.

The consumer product took two forms -- upgrades to existing modems, and new modems that had x2 right out of the box.  Each of these posed its challenges.  The upgrades came in several flavors depending on the type of 33.6Kbps modem you already had.  The newest models were flash upgradable -- pay your $60, download your firmware update, have a nice day.  Slightly older models needed a chip swap -- pay your $60, we mail you a chip and a set of instructions.  There were also a handful of modems out there that qualified for the upgrade but couldn't accomplish it by flash or chip, and those got replaced completely.

The upgrade program was handled by a fulfillment house in Salt Lake City, and I was one of the people who went out to train their reps on how to handle the calls.  That also meant that when extreme customer service recovery "situations" came up, they sometimes got sent over to me.  More on that in the next post.

Of course, nothing could happen until we actually had working product, and that kept us all on the edges of our seats, and of our nerves, for several weeks after the announcement.  The engineers and product managers were working long into the night most days, and looking pretty strung out.  Just about the time the media was starting to lose patience and the customers were losing all faith in us, finally, finally, they were ready to ship.

Something you have to understand about the UState building, where I worked, is that although the building had a PA system, it was almost never used.  A few times a week, maybe, only to alert someone to an incoming call when that someone couldn't be found anywhere, or perhaps to mention that the place was on fire.  So when the receptionist made an announcement over the PA, she had everyone's attention.  And on that day, what she said was that the trucks had just rolled from U1 with the first shipment of x2 modems.

Everyone in the building -- and probably everyone in the company -- spontaneously stood up and cheered.

Next up: Creating x2 Fans

Shameless Capitalism

I've added a semi-custom Amazon link to the top of my blog page here.  I have done this partly because it is a lovely thing to have one's blog generate revenue.  I've also done this because I am extremely curious what Amazon's terribly clever (just ask them) algorithms will decide is appropriate to advertise at the top of my blog.  This particular widget is all them. I don't choose the products to advertise; they do.  So we'll see what the content of my blog, and my fevered imagination, triggers in the way of automated product offerings.