Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What Lies Beneath Microsoft's Surface?

Microsoft made a big splash in the muddy waters of tablets and personal computing devices yesterday with the announcement of its new Windows 8 tablet called Surface. Surface will come in two models, "RT" and "Pro". So far, most of the reaction among the technopundits is about the hardware and the competition for the consumer infotainment dollar. How good is the screen? Is the external keyboard any good?  Is it really a threat to the iPad? What about Android?

The most important part of this news, obscured by all of the chatter about the gadget itself, is the operating system, Windows 8. When we talk about Surface, we have to talk about what makes it run.  We have to talk about Surface and Windows 8 at the same time, as though they were one product.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer answered the most important question that corporate IT people should be asking. Will it run my corporate applications? In broad terms, the answer appears to be yes. The introduction of Surface and Windows 8 appears to be exactly what a lot of business technology people have been waiting for - the ability to run things like the SAP GUI thick client or other Windows-based business applications on a truly full-featured, portable device. Imagine being able to scan bar codes, take pictures of damaged goods, work directly in the Windows-based ERP application, make a VOIP call, send and receive corporate email, edit Office documents, access web apps, and whatever else you do, all on one device, with a familiar operating system. Imagine not having to use three devices and a pocket full of flash drives to get through the day. You won't have to email files to yourself and wait until you get back to your PC in another building, or another city, to finish that important report. Imagine administrators managing these devices with all of the familiar tools in their existing Windows infrastructure. This could be the technological convergence that IT Directors have been waiting for.  It could be a game changer.

What might prevent the the few sample machines and a lot of hype from becoming widely deployed reality?  If Windows 8 and this hardware cannot truly support most legacy Windows applications, the game will not change. But if Microsoft gets this right, the game will change. People will stop sneering when they hear "PC", because Microsoft will have delivered everything that a truly personal computer can be.

If the first devices and first release of Windows 8 come are delivered in Microsoft's usual style, they won't be perfect.  They'll be pretty good, with enormous potential. Look for Service Pack 1 (SP1) within six months of the initial release of Windows 8 and Surface 2 hardware before 2015. Look for a constant stream of patches for Windows 8. At the same time, look for Surface & Windows 8 to eat a lot of the Android tablet market share. Android is just not sufficiently established in the enterprise environment to stand up to a well-executed tablet and OS from Microsoft.  Also look for Surface / Win 8 to take a few bites out of the Apple too. People want one computing experience for work and play. For many, Surface / Win 8 has the potential to give them what they want. All of this is possible if Microsoft gets it right and what's lies beneath the Surface rises above the hype.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Perennial Proactive Customer Service @AmericanAir

These last two days are starting to look like a marketing campaign for American Airlines.  It isn't.  I have no connection to the company apart from being a loyal customer and fan.  

Yesterday I wrote about the customer service tweeps at American, Delta, and United based on just a couple of personal interactions with @AmericanAir and a fun little experiment. More comprehensively, my total experience with the company across several decades and a very positive story told by my cousin, Anna Darden, prompt the following observation.

American Airlines exhibits a deep and long-lasting culture of proactive customer service. They understand customer needs, based on information they already have, and take the initiative to provide service  without waiting to be asked.  Individual employees do things for their customers that can only happen because the company has systems and processes in place that grow out of this culture.

In the late 80's, I was travelling from Newark (EWR) to Los Angeles (LAX) with a change in Dallas (DFW).  It was true then and is still true that operations at EWR, with its problematic runway configuration and congested airspace can get sticky in even the least of inclement weather.

That night, a winter storm was pouring snow and ice on the airport for hours.  We left well over an hour late, after multiple false starts and two deicings of our DC-10.  My connection time at DFW was 40 minutes. In those days, information was a lot harder to come by.  With a current pocket edition of the Official Airline Guide (remember the OAG?), I figured out that there was a way to grab a later flight from DFW to Las Vegas (LAS) and then from LAS to LAX.  It would take most of the night, but I would be able to appear for my 9:00 AM meeting the next day.

As it turned out, there was no need for all of that speculation and worry.  American had a plan and used the information they already had to serve their customers.  They knew that more than a dozen passengers on that flight from Newark were in the same situation.  At DFW agents met the flight with signs and golf carts to take all of us as quickly as possible to the flight to LAX that they were holding for us!  They got us and our baggage transferred quickly, closed the doors and took to the air.  We arrived in LA only about ten minutes behind schedule, in plenty of time to get a good night's sleep and do more than simply appear at my meeting the next day.

You say they never do things like that any more?  That airline employees don't care like they used to?  Of course they do!  Last week, my cousin Anna traveled from Cleveland, Ohio to Manchester, England, with a change of planes AND AIRPORTS in New York.  Here is her story:

We flew AA from Cleveland to England and I was very pleased. We did have the change of airports and all, but the flight attendant came to us about 20 minutes before landing and confirmed our itinerary for us and even gave us directions.
The transfer from LGA to JFK was pretty smooth. When Adam went to purchase the shuttle tickets, the attendant informed him that for 3 people we would be better off taking a cab. It ended up being about $7 cheaper. Upon arrival at JFK the cab driver tried to tell us we were going to the wrong gate but luckily we knew better. Paid for curb side check-in (very good choice considering the line inside). At the gate I was called to the desk where they changed our seats to allow a designated attendant "bunk". Again, that was fine by me as we were all still together. It ended up being a double edged dagger though as we were the last row LOL. Nobody behind us to kick our seats but of course the bathrooms were in high demand on a 7 hour flight. The attendants were great with [my son] Dewey and were constantly complimenting him and us for his good behavior and amazingly good looks. He also got a signed flight diary from the pilot. Ultimately, we were VERY pleased with the service. I will be using AA in the future.
That's perennial proactive customer service, consistent for decades!  I too will be using AA in the future.

It's true.  Air travel isn't what it used to be, even when you're flying with the best.  The broader lesson here is not just about American Airlines or even the airline industry. It is about how to do relationship marketing.  Take care of your customer.  Put systems and process in place that enable proactive customer service.  Create a culture of caring for the people you serve.  That's how you create loyalty and get your customers coming back for more, for decades.

Friday, June 15, 2012

@AmericanAir - Best Corporate Tweep!

I've read several articles lately about the customer service folks at major airlines who respond to passenger messages via Twitter. Last week, I had my first Twitter exchange with the people at American Airlines.  They were quick, friendly, and helpful.

This morning I tried a little experiment.  I posted something silly mentioning American, Delta, and United, just to see how they would handle it.  Do they have a sense of humor?  Are they willing to just say "Hi" or maybe even "LOL"?

Here's what I posted at exactly 6:00 AM, Central Time:
Excuse me    May I please go very, very far on a very, very big plane? Thank you. Have a very, very nice day.
American come back with this at 6:53 AM.
doug_picirillo Please let us know if we can help you in any way, Doug. Have a great day!
They were not super quick.  In fairness, they didn't need to be.  Maybe my message caught them a little off-guard.  I imagine a Customer Service Twagent (I just made that up! ) calling a supervisor over and asking, "What do we do with something like this? Ignore it?  Answer it?  Answer it how?"  However it happened, somebody on the other end was willing to represent their company and say something friendly and kind to somebody who poked them, in fun, at six o'clock in the morning.  Maybe they checked a list and found that  I've been an AAdvantage member for thirty years, almost since the program's inception.  Who knows?  At the end of the day, they responded as a human being to another human being who wanted nothing more than a response.

Neither Delta nor United responded at all.  Either they have no sense of humor, they are terribly understaffed (which can be the cause of no sense of humor), or they have a policy that prohibits small talk with current or potential customers.

The envelope, please....

Doug Picirillo's irregular and completely unscientific
Best Corporate Tweep Award
goes to American Airlines!

Customer Service Dodo Awards
go to Delta Airlines

and United Airlines

Better luck next time!

For a more serious look at airline customer service Twitter trends, check out this guest post on SimpliFlying, A Tweet by Tweet Analysis of US Airlines