Customer Loyalty Cuts Both Ways
One of the greatest speakers I ever heard was the peripatetic business guru Tom Peters. In one hour, he raced around the room throwing out myriad ideas, management techniques, secrets and rules. He persuaded me that Air Force Lt. Col. John Boyd changed war and was the greatest strategist in 1,000 years. The fighter pilot invented the OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act—and then repeat the process). The OODA concept is just as applicable to business as it is to war.
After hearing Peters, I bought Robert Coram’s biography, “Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War." Boyd’s shtick was developing lightweight fighters at the Pentagon; the lighter the fighter, the more maneuverable it is, which gives it the advantage in a dogfight.
When Boyd got clearance to send out RFPs on his new, lightweight F-16 fighter, various Pentagon higher-ups insisted the plans be revised to include a bunch of high-tech gizmos. These meant more weight, less performance, more money and a delay getting started. Boyd spent much of his time shooting down these ideas.
If the alterations had been added, the beautiful, efficient fighting machine Boyd envisioned would've been born a dinosaur.
Science fiction writer Robert Heinlein (1907-1988) once opined that the dinosaur became extinct because its body was so huge and its head so small that even though it ate all the time, it starved to death.
Unlike Boyd’s F-16, the F-22 [see IN THE NEWS at right] became so unwieldy and expensive that Congress was persuaded it was a dinosaur and said the hell with it.
Same thing with the new fleet of 28 presidential helicopters, which were loaded with so many do-dads and tchotchkes that the final cost was to be $400 million a copy—more money (adjusted for inflation) than the 747 that is Air Force One. Candidates Obama and McCain agreed that the iconic Marine One helicopter would work just fine, and the program was scrapped.
K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple, stupid) can be just fine, thank you very much.
The Now Software Conundrum
When my wife, Peggy, and I moved to Philadelphia in 1992, we dumped the primitive IBM computers we used to produce our WHO’S MAILING WHAT! newsletter and got Macs. We liked the user-friendly software and the graphics.
One of the software bundles I bought was a contact management and calendar system by Now Software out of Portland, Ore. It was (and is) simply terrific:
- It’s easy to enter new names and addresses into the system—and equally easy to delete the deceased.
- Avery labels (or Staples generic labels) work just fine. So do #10 envelopes.
- Data can be sliced and diced all sorts of ways.
- The calendar is easy to use with notes and banners and colors and icons.
- You can enter a phone number any old, sloppy way and it automatically corrects—e.g., 2156279105 automatically changes to (215) 627-9107.
- It's easy to change fonts and sizes on labels and envelopes to match the font being used in a letter, making them look personally typed.
The only disadvantage is that it has no places to enter e-mail addresses, cell phone numbers or URLs, which weren't widely used when we bought the software. I work around the problem by entering these listings elsewhere in the system.
Every once in a while I used to contact the Now people with a question, and they were quick to respond. At one point I ordered a newer version and had no problems installing it. Good folks.
Curiously, Now Software never contacted me. As a marketer, it was inconceivable to me that Now didn't keep in touch with its customers. I loved this system. I was prepared to be a customer for life and would have been happy to buy other stuff from it.
Now Goes Under the Radar
On Nov. 10, 1997, Qualcomm Inc.—a NYSE company—bought Now. Two years later, it ditched the two programs I'd become dependent upon, TouchBase and DateBook Pro, licensing them to something called Power On that was run by John Wallace and his wife Sheila.
When the new millennium hit, I could no longer print out the calendar. But I could “Print Screen,” which was the same thing.
I tried to contact Power On once or twice but couldn't find it anywhere.
No problem. The programs worked fine on my desktop Mac and traveling laptop.
Then a year or two ago, I upgraded to a new Mac G4 desktop that wouldn't support the OS 9 operating system, which means my Now software is Now dead. Mercifully, it still works on my laptop.
The other day I decided to enter the 21st century and get my creaky, old system up to speed. Surfing the Web, I found Now Software in Columbus, Ohio. The CEO is Power On’s John Wallace. I sent the following e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org on a Saturday:
I have been using TouchBase & DateBook Pro for maybe 15 years. My new Mac OSX will not support it. Tell me what to do. Thank you.
I received the following reply that day, Saturday:
You should be able to. Here's some help.
Toll Free Direct: 866-527-0533
Enclosed was a March 2003 document titled: “Importing TouchBase Pro 4.x Contacts Into Now Contact 4.x.”
Just one problem: Now software is selling Contact 5.
Further, this complex set of outdated instructions came on blank paper—no letterhead, no address, no phone number to call for help, no Web address.
In terms of marketing, this was the original amateur hour—a company rep spending the least possible amount of time to brush off a once and future customer.
Like the Pentagon-Industrial Complex, Now Software and Apple care far more about adding bells and whistles to their products than caring for the needs and wants of long-term end users—sometimes referred to as "customers."
The Pentagon’s end users are the incredibly brave men and women who put their lives on the line with inferior equipment to protect John Wallace's and Steve Jobs' nerdy end-users like me.
Who Is John Wallace?
I went back to the new Now Web site and found the following:
As Chief Executive Officer of Now Software, John manages the development and design of all company products, including Now Up-to-Date & Contact, the #1 best-selling cross-platform Personal Information Management software.
John and Sheila Wallace are 1985 graduates of The Ohio State University (B.S. Computer and Information Science). Prior to forming Now Software, John and Sheila founded the Inc. 500-winning Power On Software, Inc. Both of the Wallaces have long careers in the IT industry: John spent his early years developing large-scale software systems, including ground systems for the Hubble Space Telescope; Sheila spent most of her early career implementing optimizing compilers for VLIW processors. In the early '90s, John and Sheila were also among the first third-party developers to work on the NeXT Computer, precursor to today's Mac OS X. John has a storied career in the Macintosh industry, developing such classics as WunderBar, TabMania, and DragonDrop for Ziff-Davis' ZDNet, SpeedCopy for Connectix' SpeedDoubler, and portions of the original Now Utilities product. At Power On, John developed the On Guard and ACTION WYSIWYG products. At Now Software, John and Sheila managed and participated in the development of the Now Up-to-Date & Contact 5 product.
John and Sheila are the parents of three young daughters. John is an avid fencer and travels across the U.S. to compete in tournaments. John serves on the advisory board of a college in the Columbus, Ohio area, and is a member of Entrepreneurs Organization and IEEE professional society. The Wallaces are also classroom volunteers.
Hey, John and Sheila, I don’t care a rap about John’s swordsmanship and Errol Flynn fantasies, your education, your memberships, or your three young daughters.
“The customer doesn’t give a damn about you, your company or your product. All that matters is, ‘What’s in it for me?’”