Friday, August 21, 2009

Customer service ... or lack of it

I am always amazed by how large companies easily and repeatedly drop the ball in customer service in very obvious ways! They spend huge efforts and money on trying to polish their image, then they ruin all that with stupid ways they behave with their customers!

I recently had such experiences with two companies, UPS and Showtime. On the first I will save your time and just say UPS sucks! They are willing to lose a customer in order not to admit their mistakes. They did lose me and now I avoid dealing with them even if they were the only available service. If I had time I would've ran a campaign against them!

More recently, it was Showtime. The kids saw Animal Planet at a hotel room in a recent trip, and they wanted to have the channel at home badly. Showtime has been trying to get me as a client for years. I am finally ready to be a client. I log on their website hoping I can sign up to their service online. That's not available. Fine, will call them. I call, I press the button that says I would like to be a new customer. This is the core of their business. This is the peak of their attempts for years to get me as a client. It is their lucky moment. A big red light should turn on at their call center and agents should be racing to pick up my call. Right. I am put on hold and their annoying message describing their lineup keeps repeating and repeating and no one picks up! So I hang up. No Animal Planet for the kids. They already forgot that they asked for it. I save a few hundred bucks a year, Showtime loses my business. Case closed.

This is just too hard to believe! It is a very simple equation but they don't get it. They pick up or I hang up. They invest millions in setting up their call centers, build their brand, go after clients, then when the client comes they don't pick up. How stupid can they be?

Now, I have a business, and I hope our clients don't think that our customer service sucks, and that we don't drop the ball frequently. But if you are a client of iHorizons and you are not happy with our customer service, please add a comment here and let me know. You will be doing me a favor and I would appreciate that.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Stephen Covey, live

I am at a seminar by Stephen Covey titled "Managing Change in the Face of Crisis". I have been reading Covey for more than 20 years, but this is my first time to attend Covey in person. This also happens to be Covey's first time in Qatar.

Like millions of people, I benefited from Covey and his thinking and philosophy influenced me in many ways. And I still highly respect Covey and believe that his books and teachings are very valuable, and it feels good to be with him in the same room. Nevertheless, I am not sure if he was coming up with anything new in the past many years. This is the case today. He is presenting a nice collection of ideas, but they are all in the Seven Habit and a couple of his later book.

To be honest it looked a little like show business with the workers on the stage banging and unrolling a banner that says "Coffee Break"! And the title for the seminar was apparently meant to indicate that there is something specific on how weather the current crisis and some of the lessons learned that can prevent repeating them. But so far, a couple of hours into the seminar, there is nothing of that. It is more on paradigm shift, industrial vs. information economies, leadership vs management, natural laws, values and principles, abundance thinking, etc.

A line he said today summarizes this: "nothing fails like success", and I feel this somewhat applies to to him.

I also noticed that his delivery style is not very engaging as well. But this doesn't come as a surprise since I heard a number of his audio books and seminars.

But don't get me wrong, for the younger generation who haven't read his works, and for those who started late in giving attention to these topics, today's seminar would be of tremendous benefit, even life changing to some, and that's more than worth.

I have to take off early, and based on the above, I don't think I will miss much. But for those who didn't read Covey, please do. You will learn a lot, and hopefully change a lot!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Challenging Google

I have special interest in web search, as I strongly believe that they have and will continue to have a major and increasing impact on our life and work. Google, of course, continues to lead and have the lion's share of the market. But like any industry, it would be healthy if strong competition emerges and contributes to innovation in search. This is not the case now, although you hear on an almost daily basis about a challenger coming into the picture and claiming to be doing what Google can't, and that it would become the new search standard. But that fizzles out fairly quickly and Google remains unshakable.

The last serious contender I remember was Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, when declared that "the search is broken", and the he is about to fix it with his Wikia Search project. That was bout two years ago and we are yet to see anything serious coming out of that.

In the past few days, a new search engine named Cuil was launched, again to the tunes of grandiose claims that it is bigger, faster, and better than Google. The founding husband-and-wife team of former Google search architect Anna Patterson and Stanford professor Tom Costello, however, served better to show us how not to launch a search engine!

As it is, Cuil still have ways to go. I believe it was fairly self destructive to launch it the way they did. There should have been a soft launch, many months of low-profile alpha, a slow move to beta, and so forth, in a careful, gradual manner.

Challenging Google shouldn't be taken that lightly! Everybody knows that web search is a very serious undertaking, otherwise everybody would have done it. Serious in all aspects, including infrastructure scalability, robust ranking algorithms (no excuse that the server in charge of sports shut down!), and mostly results that make sense, plain and simple.

I am surprised that Cuil didn't approach it this way, as it sounds like a very common sense approach!

One example of a basic expectation not fulfilled is when I searched for my company, iHorizons. For years, when I search Google for iHorizons, not only it places our website at the first place in its results, it also suggests to auto-complete the name correctly while I type it. And the rest of the results are mostly meaningful and diversified. Cuil, on the other hand, didn't have our website in the first few pages of their results, and the rest of entries found are not so useful; mostly news for a small number of sources.

So we still have ways to go to have a serious competitor to Google. And again, if Google remains the absolutely dominant search portal the way it is today, I expect innovation to slow down, at a time when we really need a lot of advancement to make search easier and more useful.

Having said that, it is important to remember that Google is not the dominant search portal in all countries. Far from it. Google takes a back seat to local search engines in some of the world's most-wired countries, like Korea, where Google has a mere 1.7 percent share of Korean Web searches, while the local search engine Naver handles more than 77 percent of Korean search. People there 'Naver' information rather than 'Googling' it. Same situation in China, where Baidu has the top spot, owning 64% of the market, compared with Google's 26%. In Russia people "Yandex" for information. I will elaborate on this in a future blog, with particular focus on Arabic search, and why we don't have a regional engine that has the lead in Arabic search. Arabic search is very broken, but who is going to fix it?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Peer to peer patent review

A yearlong pilot project, endorsed by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in partnership with the New York Law School, the Peer to Patent Project, officially launched last Friday. It aims to allow anyone who's interested to weigh in on 250 pending patent applications belonging to one of the more difficult categories to decipher: that including computer architecture, software and information security.

Interesting to see how that works!

From CNET.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Wireless Electricity?ً

Yesterday, I was thinking, what if we invent wireless electricity, where you don't to plug any power chords. You just come to the vicinity of a wireless electricity source, and all the devices you are carrying get charged. We won't need any power sockets in the home or office, and we won't need to plug in our phones, computers or PSPs. We won't even need to replace the batteries on the remotes or wall clocks! I say to myself: I don't believe this hasn't been done yet. Nice Dreaming.

Well, voilà! About an hour later, my RSS reader gives me this: MIT Wirelessly Powers a Lightbulb, and my dream comes true. What a coincidence!

They call it WiTricity. "The MIT researchers successfully demonstrated the ability to power a 60 watt light bulb from a power source that was about 2 meters away. The setup powered the bulb on even when the coils were not in line of sight. The researchers plan to miniaturize the setup enough for commercial use in three to five years." I'll wait.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

For technology to really be useful

I expect information and communication technologies to serve me better: faster, easier, more intuitive. Whoever does it first will win my mind and heart.
  • I'd rather not wait for something to download, or wait for search to finish, or wait for my CPU to process some tasks.
  • I'd rather have all (ALL) my data available all (ALL) the time from anywhere. I don't want to say to myself or to someone else "I don't have it with me now" or "I can't access it from here"
  • I am reading an article on my mobile phone in a cafe. When I leave the cafe I want to continue to hear it in my car, starting where I stopped reading. I will call this: 'cross-format cross-media continuous access' for now. I heard that Motorola is doing some 'same-format cross-media' work (listening to something in your home, then continue listening to it in you car then your office).

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

iHorizons in the Press

Here's a developing list of recent press articles, and websites, mentioning iHorizons:

First published: 12/12/06