% fortune -ae paul murphy

An ecommerce parable

T&T Seeds
Box 1710, Winnipeg, Manitoba
R3C 3P6

Dear Sir:

I've just returned from giving one of your competitors $162.93 -and I haven't got the raspberry canes, Ogallalas, or plum stock I want yet.

I was a loyal customer of yours for 26 years at my previous, Stony Plain, address - but you computerized a few years ago and lost me. Unfortunate, but understandable, this computer stuff is harder than it looks, isn't it?

Last September, however, I used your website to make sure you had my correct address again - but first December and then January came and went, without a T&T catalogue appearing in the mail.

So I phoned; now I know contracting people at the Stony Mountain penitentiary to run a call center is cheap, but petty crime isn't exactly rocket science and if you hired these guys you might want to remember that they're in there because it was too hard for them.

Now here it is March 27th, and your catalogue came on Friday - with my name mis-spelt, the address truncated, and a promised discount for sending in my order before mid February.

Bottom line? about two weeks from now, I'll be giving another couple of hundred bucks to another of your competitors. Too bad, but that's what unmanaged computerisation will do for you every time.

Yours truly,
Paul Murphy

It's getting to be a long list - the list, that is, of companies which fall prey to computer arrogance and allow their efforts to use the internet and related technologies to be handled by people who make no obvious effort to serve the customer - and thus the company.

Air Canada does it on a grand scale - millions of dollars spent on web work, and all of it snotty: you either use Microsoft tools, or you're not qualified to be a customer. T&T Seeds isn't like that - the web siteis pure LAMP and non exclusionary, but what they have in common is management abdication: nobody looking out for the company image, and correspondingly nobody looking after the customer.

Air Canada has a federally funded monopoly on key routes, and T&T has thousands of loyal customers, so neither one is going to go broke over this -but it's a widespread phenonmenon, and something a new business couldn't afford for a minute. So take a good long look first at your own business: should customers be sending you "Dear John" letters? then at the web efforts being made by companies you like: should you be making sure that their management knows what's going on? and, if so, why not just go ahead and do that, right now?

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.