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When CRM Is Used Properly

CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is a fairly generic term which is generally applied to the technology, normally software, used to manage a relationship a company has with a specific customer.  Big vendors include salesforce.com, SAP & Oracle.

Traditionally it is largely used by companies in the lead up to a sale; but I argue that this is wrong and isn’t using it properly.  A relationship with a customer doesn’t stop once they have purchased an item, it get’s more complicated and more important.  Although a business may use a CRM system to get the customer to purchase more items this is usually the start of the relationship, particularly where the products being sold are physical rather than service based.

Once a customer has one of your products if you then “manage the relationship” through after-sales, technical support and warranty it’s far more likely that they will remain a customer.  Using your CRM wisely will help you with this.

Apple’s CRM.

The prompt for this post was the experience I recently had in The Apple Store in Solihull.  My iPhone was playing up, and I booked an appointment with a “genius” (I hate this term) to see what we could do.  It turned out my phone was water damaged (yes, ok, I may have dropped it); and this was causing it to behave erratically.  In honesty I expected this was the case.

The genius said that obviously this wasn’t covered by warranty.  I asked if I could pay to have it repaired and was told they could exchange it for a refurbished, as good as new, unit for circa £150.  As I was weighing up the pros and cons of this offer the chap said, “just hold on one minute, let me check the warranty.”

He looked up the serial number on Apple’s CRM system and said:  “You’ve not had one replaced before have you; ohh, and I can see you bought a new Mac Book Pro 3 months ago, an iPad about 5 months before that, and a new Apple TV this year too….  it would seem a bit unfair of us to charge a loyal customer for a refurb unit.”

And as a gesture of good will they replaced my damaged and out of warranty phone with a new one; there and then.  Clearly I was very very happy with this.

The Cost Of A Customer.

What this shows is that Apple have adopted a good CRM technology solution which shows the relationship they have with an individual customer instantly in a concise form.  More importantly, they have given their customer facing staff the authority to use that data wisely.  It’s technology + process which equals good CRM.

The employee could see that within the last 12 months I’d spent a considerable amount of money with Apple and that I was a loyal customer; so used this to make a judgement call.  Was it worth £150 to Apple to keep me happy?  Yes, because the likelihood is that I’ll buy more in the future.  I will.

Of course some people will argue that Apple can afford to do this because of the high margin it makes on its hardware; while others will argue that it didn’t cost them £150 as that was the retail price of the refurbed unit, not the cost of it.  But it isn’t about the money, it’s about the acknowledgement of a relationship with Apple.

Like all relationships it’s about give and take.  I’ll pay their higher hardware prices, live in their walled garden of apps etc, but in return I get cheap OS upgrades and a little bit of love when it comes to my mistakes.

If you’ve got a CRM then make sure you are using it fully, and your staff are allowed to use it properly.  If you don’t have one, then get one (don’t be put off by high prices from big boys – small business rarely need all their complexity).

iOS 4.3, Personal Hotspots & O2

Those of you that follow Apple will have noticed this week that they released iOS 4.3 to developers – iOS being the operating system which runs the iPhone, iPad and AppleTV.  While there are a number of tweaks in the latest beta release there are two main features which have been widely publicised:  AirPlay for Video and Personal Hotspots.  I want to discuss the personal Hot Spots, because I was excited enough about this to go and download the new version of iOS straight away…

What is Personal Hotspot.

MiFi Hotspot
MiFi Hotspot – You’ll still need one.

Personal Hotspot will allow you to turn your phone into a wireless network, and connect up to 5 devices to it to share it’s 3G data connection.  It will become a sort of MiFi.  I am interested in it because I currently carry around (and pay for) a 3G mobile broadband dongle so I can use my laptop if I am away from WiFi, and this would do away with this as I could just connect my laptop to my iPhone’s Wireless Network.

This is a feature which the iPhone needs to keep up with a number of Android handsets which already have the WiFi hotspot capability.

I currently pay 3 £15 a month for 15Gb of data through my dongle, although I rarely use that much.  I am allowed 500Mb of Data on my O2 iPhone tarriff, so I expected to pay a bit more to allow more data using the hotspot feature.

Tethering & O2 Bolt On.

Sure enough, to use the Hotspot feature your iPhone has to be enabled for tethering – which requires a bolt on from O2.  Further research though suggests it is a terrible value bolt on.  O2 want £7.50 for 500Mb a month.   So to get the same allowance I have from 3 I would have to pay £225 a month.    A complete and utter rip-off – now I remember why I never had it in the first place.

To make things worse Android users can already use their inclusive 500Mb allowance through their WiFi hotspot without having to pay anything extra.  Oh, and 3 offer “all you can eat data” on their iPhone tarriffs (although it does make reference to not using phone as a modem)…

… are O2 trying to cripple the iPhone? They need new tariffs before this feature goes public (estimated March), or it is an expensive feature which Android users get free!!

NTFS on a Mac

Seagate 500Gb USB Hard Drive
Seagate 500Gb USB Hard Drive

I recently bought a 500Gb external hard disc drive for the purpose of backing up my iTunes collection, which isn’t covered by TimeMachine.  I also hoped to use it with my Windows 7 laptop so I could take it away with me and have all my films to watch (albeit not in iTunes).

That being the case I opted for a mobile disc which doesn’t require power.  It’s been a long time since I bought one of these, and the last time I did the biggest you could get was 160Gb – now you can get 1Tb +.  I paid a little over the odds by shopping locally rather than ordering on line, because I wanted it quickly before I went away for a week skiing – I was hoping to take my films with me.

Without thinking I just plugged the disc into the Mac and started copying across everything from the disc which my iTunes is on, and downloaded an app to keep these two volumes in sync whenever I plugged the portable external disc in.  Super!

File System

What I had totally forgotten to consider was the file system which the disc would use.  MacOSX formatted the drive as HFS+ which is a system which isn’t readable in Windows 7.  So all the files I had copied (about 300Gb) were useless on my PC.

As most of the machines I encounter are generally PCs I decided I’d rather have the disk as NTFS.  However this is only readable on a Mac, you can’t write to it as standard.  A bit of research revealed various blogs (here & here) which suggested installing something called MacFUSE and then NTFS-3g.  However it seemed these were a bit of an “effort” by a Google employee and weren’t supported anymore and a little hard to get hold of.  Not really ideal to trust your data to.

The websites where NTFS-3G should have been in turn pointed me to Tuxera – a commercial offering. It is priced at a very reasonable €25 per person (IE if you have 3 macs you can install it on 3), but had a trial offering which was fully featured but time limited.  This is surely the best approach to trialware, as I like to check something really does work before paying for.  It does!

All I can see is that after a reboot (which the installer suggested might not actually be needed) this software works a treat and is very quick.  Can’t recommend it enough…  Tuxera NTFS For Mac.

Pound – Dollar Parity

Apparently it has finally happened – at least in the technology space.  For a long time Adobe has been criticised for its UK and EU pricing policy, but Apple has finally admitted that £1 equals $1.

New AppleTV
New AppleTV - Comes with 52% Sales Tax.

Yesterday Apple announced a revamped AppleTV at its keynote speech session.  It matched almost exactly what I wanted for a second television at home – the ability to stream content from both online and importantly from my iTunes collection; and at a price I liked too.  I already own an original AppleTV for my main television, but couldn’t justify the expense for a second television, but at $99 it sounded perfect; I just wondered how long I might have to wait.

Parity.

Imagine my surprise then when I checked this morning to find that while the international currency markets currently believe that $1 is worth £0.649 Apple think they are equal.  The $99 AppleTV is £99 in the UK. It should be around £65.

A colleague (who is normally an Apple detractor) suggested that it might be because the US price excludes sales tax whereas the UK one includes VAT.  VAT would need to be 52% for that to account for it.  VAT is currently 17.5%, meaning it should be around £76 in the UK.    How do you account for the other 34.5%:  Greed is the only explanation I can come up with, and my local Apple store also couldn’t explain it.  I would have emailed Apple customer service to ask why, but they don’t publish an email address that I could find.

Oh, and our friends in Europe don’t fair much better either.  $99 should be about €78; it’s €119 on Apples German web store (it is not available in all countries).

I refer you to my earlier post about Apple becoming Microsoft. The trend continues.

Not Buying.

I was initially excited about the AppleTV, but it turns out some of the HD films wont be available in the UK because Apple hasn’t (yet) done a deal with the rights holders.  TechRadar details the shortcomings here. That wouldn’t have stopped me buying one normally, but when combined with such blatent greed I won’t be buying one.

I am instead looking at the more expensive, but more featured,  solution of using a Acer Revo Nettop PC, which will also allow to me watch iPlayer, 4OD, as well as do pretty much anything else!  If you have any exeprience of using one, let me know, or if you can explain Apple’s pricing!

Apple: A modern day Microsoft?

Is there a fanbois rebellion brewing?

Lets face it, Apple seems to be unstoppable at the moment.  Since Jobs returned to the Cupertino company it has produced many products which have taken the world by storm – think iPod (various flavours), iPhone & iPad; granted not all of these were original – they just did it best.  The same could be said of their OS and the iMac / MacBook lines – although the whole debate around MacOS -vs- Windows is complicated, and not for here.

Think Different.

When Jobs came back to Apple it was widely regarded as a small niche player, for the geeks out there; and even some of them were tiring of the company’s products.  Jobs went on a product, project and personnel cull and scaled things back… then came the genius “think different” marketing campaign.

The idea was to appeal to people who were tired with the then shortcomings of the Microsoft / IBM space, and the slogan may have even been a play on the old “IBM think” slogan.  It worked – it appealed to creative people who did want to think different… and when coupled with the subsequent branding efforts of the iPod (white headphones, you knew who had one!), and the all-in-one colourful iMac,  Apple won a lot of people over.

Think Different Campaign
Think Different Campaign

Of course the one thing Apple did do well is that they gave their products the perception, and a largely true one, that they just worked.  The iPod just worked, iTunes just worked – I remember a friend waxing lyrical about his first Mac and how when he plugged it in it just worked, he didn’t need to finish setting things up, or play with control panel!

This one them a lot of fans.  To the point where some people would buy almost any product Apple made, regardless of how it functioned.  Alongside this Apple created the impression they cared about their customers, they wanted to know them and help them get things done.  The Apple Retail stores and their genius sessions are a perfect example of it.  At the time Microsoft was a faceless giant generating bucket loads of cash. People grew loyal to Apple.

Changing Tide.

Of late though, things are changing.  Apple seems to have lost its “cutesy” image and is now acting ever more like the big corporate monolith that Microsoft was accused of.  Steve Jobs now even has a reputation for terse one line replies to customer complaints / enquiries.  Worse though, to my mind at least, the quality of their products is dropping too.  The latest iPhone has numerous hardware faults which are well publicised – and Apple’s reply is staggering.

And that’s just the product related behaviour that has changed.  Then there is the veil of corporate secrecy forced on employees, the suicides of workers making Apple products, the Google fall out and many many more.  Oh, and did I mention Flash?

Reminds me of Microsoft.

It all just reminds me of Microsoft in late 90’s.  As a developer I bought a copy of Visual Studio (VB before it) and that was that.  You had help files, and maybe what you could find on the very primitive web.  Hence User Groups sprung up, but Microsoft weren’t anywhere to be seen.  They had your money and it was your problem now.  They allowed 2 support incidents during install, but no help using their products.   That was it.  There was certainly never anything wrong with their products either.  If it didn’t work, you were using it wrong or just trying to do something it didn’t do.  Ring any bells?

Fast forward to today and Microsoft love their developer community, and many other segments of their customer base too.  They spend large amounts of money to embrace what their customers want – they have “evangelists” who are out in the field, who’ll help you.  They’ll take thoughts back to Redmond, find things out on your behalf.  I’ve even sat with the VP of Developer Tools, Scott Guthrie, not once but twice in the last year.  And I’m a nobody in developer terms – he came to the UK and wanted to talk to us… he even took on constructive criticism.  I’ve certainly not seen Mr. Ive, Mr. Jobs or Mr. Serlot in the UK lately, have you?

Apple:  Be warned… “how the mighty have fallen.”

Technology Arms Race.

You may have missed it, but it’s iPad launch day today here in the UK (and the rest of the world outside the USA) – and despite being something of an unashamed Apple fan I am not buying one.  At least not yet, and thought I might explain why.

Apple Fan

The statement above about being an Apple fan is in many ways a misnomer in my case.  It would be more accurate to say that I like some of Apple’s current products because they do what I need to do with technology and they do it in a way which appears to sensible to me.  Thats not to say that they are better than an equivalent PC / Microsoft / HTC or Google solution – they just worked best for me at the time I bought them.  They fitted my needs closest then, and largely they still do.

Apple have a large base of “followers” who genuinely believe that Apple can do no wrong.  They also have a large group of detractors who believe they can do no right.  Both groups are entirely entitled to their opinions based on their understanding of Apple – however I am in neither.    I use an iPhone because it works for me, and have a 24″ iMac at home and an AppleTV, but I also have a (ageing) Dell Latitude laptop which I use every day to earn my living; and I run Windows XP & Windows 7 in VMWare Fusion on my Mac.  Its about the right tools for the right job for me…

The iPad

Apple iPad
Apple iPad

A friend of mine bought an iPad this morning, and I have used it briefly.  It truly is a very impressive piece of technology; and indeed when it was announced even I thought of a number of good uses for it.  The problem is, that at the moment I just can’t see where it will fit in with what I do and what I need.  Setting aside the approx £500 price tag!  Yep, it’d be nice to have it to browse the internet and use Facebook & Twitter from the sofa – but I have a laptop which can do that and it does much more too!

For now, I intend to keep the £500 and put it in a fund to replace the ageing Dell (it actually belongs to the company I contract to, but I can’t see them replacing it anytime soon) and at the moment I am erring toward a MacBook Pro on which I can run Windows in a VM if need be.  Call it the Swiss Army Knife of computing!

Arms Race

My larger point though, and the main reason for this blog post is that there will be a whole pile of people today and over the forthcoming bank holiday weekend who will go out and buy an iPad because its the latest and greatest offering from Apple, or because their friend / neighbour / colleague has one. In my opinion, and I’m open to suggestion, I would suggest this is the wrong reason to get any piece of new technology, and will result in disappointment and probably buyers remorse.  If you don’t know what you want from a piece of technology, or don’t have a need for it, or it doesn’t solve a problem you have – then how can you measure how good it is or how satisfied you are with it?   You’re just engaging in a technology arms race!!

iPhone Development in Visual Studio?

Thanks to @StuartDavies on twitter for posting a link to a MacRumours article which suggests that Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft, will appear as part of Steve Jobs’ keynote address to the Apple World Wide Developers Conference on June 7th.

iPhone 4 ?
iPhone 4 ?

The WWDC is usually used by Apple for major announcements of new products and features – and it seems this year will be no exception.  Its widely rumoured, following a series of high profile leaks /gaffes, that the new iPhone 4 will be formally announced at WWDC.

Leaks & Secrecy.

Normally Apple keep the exact contents of the WWDC keynote address (usually from Mr Jobs himself) veiled in secrecy, something they have become famed for.  With what is widely believed to be the iPhone 4 having been splashed all over the web, and the new features of iPhone OS4 publicly stated and a Beta available to developers – its been suggested that this years WWDC might be something of a let down with no real new products to announce.

Could this be it?

The rumoured announcement that Ballmer might appear at WWDC would certainly give the event back its “surprise” value, but I personally think even his appearance is very unlikely – let alone Apple announcing that iPhone Development is going to be permitted from Visual Studio.  The arguments forwarded against this on the web are largely that Apple and Microsoft have historically been very competitive.  While this holds some merit I believe Apple’s loyalty is very quickly changed… just look at how Apple and Adobe & Apple and Google have fallen out of love of late having previously been bed fellows.  Apple could just as easily decide Microsoft could now be a friend; so I don’t think previous grudges would prevent this.

Technology / Licencing.

I think the bigger reason it won’t work is that the .NET framework and the Cocoa classes are fundamentally different.  It would need changes to both to present developers with a usable development environment; and Microsoft have only just released VS2010.   There is a product called MonoTouch, from Novell (remember them?), which allows development in C# and using some of the .NET assemblies on the Mac and cross compile this into applications which work on the iPhone / iPad.

Historically apps made with Mono have been approved and allowed to be distributed on the App Store; but the latest licensing agreement from Apple expressly prohibits the use of non ObjectiveC and non documented API’s.  In my opinion this makes MonoTouch, and also most likely VS2010 unusable in compliance with the agreement.  That said, Apple have been very selective in the past about how they choose to enforce agreements; and it could be argued this is a clause to further their ongoing spat with Adobe over Flash.

Distribution.

Another big headache which would need to be overcome before VS2010 could be used to develop apps for iPhone OS is that of distribution.  Microsoft would need to write code to allow for the packing of applications in a different way so they could be distributed via the App Store.  Perhaps this could be done with a Visual Studio add in…

The Big Problem.

Develop For Both?
Develop For Both?

Microsoft have been spending vast amounts of time, money and effort of late coming up with Windows Mobile 7, and the requiste development tool kits.  Have they really had time to also develop the tools needed to code for iPhone OS too?  I doubt it.

At the same time Apple have been spending vast amounts of time, money and effort developing iPhone 4 and iPhone OS4.  They won’t have had time to develop plugins for Visual Studio 2010 to allow iPhone development either.  Oh, and the two products directly compete – where would the advantage be for either party?

All that said, I am prepared to eat my hat on June 7th if need be.

Interesting Links for May 27th.

These are my interesting links for May 27th:

Interesting Links for May 17th.

These are my interesting links for May 17th:

Interesting Links for April 27th.

These are my interesting links for April 27th: