Conversation about Blogs with a customer

I usually don't like mentioning specific facts that happened to me at work. But work is part of life, so even if this is mostly a personal blog, I cannot help myself but write about certain things that make me think when they happen.

When I end up having conversations such as this, I get really sad: I thought we had finally passed the arrogant period where we had to spoon-feed customers, and I thought we were now mature enough to consider them smart people and providing cool, empowering technologies for them to use. I also thought that pretty much everybody liked Microsoft finally opening up and actually talking TO people… not only talking them INTO buying something, something – but having real conversations.

I get sad when I find that people still don't seem to be accepting that, and wanting back the old model, instead. Kinda weird.

 

The conversation goes as follows (words are not exactly those – we were speaking Italian and I sort of reconstructed the conversation – you should get the sense of it anyway):

 

[…]

Me: "The SDK service allows you to do quite a lot of cool stuff. Unfortunately not all of that functionality is completely or always easily exposed in the GUI. That is, for example: it is very EASY to define overrides, but it can get very tricky to find them back once set. That's why you can use this little useful tool that the developer of that SDK service has posted on his blog…"

Cust: "…but we can't just read blogs here and there!"

Me: "Well, I mean, then you may have to wait for the normal release cycle. It might be that those improvements will make it in to the product. That might happen in months, if you are lucky, or maybe never. What's wrong if he publishes that on his blog, bypassing the bureaucracy crap, and makes your life easier with it RIGHT NOW?"

Cust: "It is not official, I want it in the product!"

Me: "I see, and even understand that. But right now that feature just isn't there. But you can use this tool to have it. Don't worry: it is not made by some random guy who wants to trojan your server! It is made by the very same developer who wrote the product itself…"

Cust: "It is not supported, what if it breaks something?"

Me: "So are all resource kit tools, in general. written by some dev guy in his free five minutes, and usually unsupported. Still very useful, though. Most of them. And they usually do work, you know that much, don't you?"

Cust: "But why on a blog?"

Me: "What's wrong with this? People are just trying to make customer's life easier by being transparent and open and direct in their communication, just talking RIGHT to the customers. People talking to people, bypassing the prehistoric bureaucracy structure of companies… the same happens on many other sites, just think isatools.org for example… those are just tools that a support guy like me has written and wants to share because they might be useful…"

Cust: "But I can't follow/read all the blogs out there! I don't have time for it"

Me: "Why not? I have thousands of feeds in my aggregator and…"

Cust: "I don't have time and I don't want to read them, because I pay for support, so I don't expect this stuff to be in blogs"

Me: "Well, I see, since you pay for support, you are paying ME – in fact I am working with you on this product precisely as part of that paid support. That's why I am here to tell you that this tool exists, in case you had not heard of it, so you actually know about it without having to read that yourself on any blog… does that sound like a deal? Where's the issue?"

Cust: "Sgrunt. I want something official, I don't like this blog stuff"

[…]

 

I thought this was particularly interesting, not because I want to make fun of this person. I do respect him and I think he just has a different point of view. But in my opinion this conversation shows (and made me think about) an aspect of that "generation gap" inside Microsoft that Hugh talks about here:

"[…]4.30 Hugh talks about a conversation he had with a few people inside Microsoft- how there’s a generation gap growing within the company, between the Old Guard, and the new generation of Microsofties, who see their company in much more open, organic terms.[…]"

Basically this tells me that the generation gap is not happening only INSIDE Microsoft: it invests our customers too. Which makes it even more difficult to talk to some of them, as we change. Traditions are hard to change.




5 thoughts on “Conversation about Blogs with a customer

  • April 14, 2008 at 2:21 pm
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    Well,

    main point between the collaboration approach and the bundled approach is that before loading anything in a corporate environment, or a production one, I'd like it to be fully tested in a controlled Q&A environment and blessed by a support team in the event something goes wrong, call it job security or what else, but it is not necessarily said that you would be able to trust your tech support to push via a blog some tools that would get you out of trouble, because if they get you into trouble it is your trouble… :-/

  • April 23, 2008 at 9:17 pm
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    In the current state of things, a tool that is provided by a developer on his blog is just as authoritative as something bundled in a Resource Kit.
    Only it takes longer to get it into the ResKit. And it takes ages longer to get it in the product itself, if ever.
    If you don't NEED to use it, you can certainly wait. But it is NICE to have some extra tool – why NOT? Nobody forces you to use it 🙂 that was the whole point!

  • June 15, 2008 at 4:01 am
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    This is one of the reasons why I left M$ (in addition to the terrible weather in seattle). There is an old guard. I'm glad seeing things are moving in the right direction (to some extent) but there are also other factors – you need to get approval to contribute to outside projects or keep a blog. I don't think this is just MS though, I think that it's large companies in general. I agree with the tools on the blog mentality, and think it's the way to go. As long as you are very clear that it's unsupported and "as is" I don't see a downside.

    -nick

  • June 15, 2008 at 6:12 pm
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    Nick, I did not know you before today, and I am sorry to hear you left the company and gave up trying to improve it.
    I had this blog long before I joined the company and I keep using it. I am not going to ask approval about it. It is actually not needed.

    I still think that this is a wonderful company where there is a lot of brilliant people. There is also an old guard, sure. But there's a lot of great great new people bringing a fresh wind inside.

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