Nowadays, you can tell when a company is headed towards the scrap heap when they start treating their customers like garbage.
Maybe it was always that way, but now it’s ultra-true because competition is just a nano-click away online — especially when your product is a free email account. Yet somehow, the management and IT teams over at Excite didn’t get this unwritten business memo.
I had an Excite email address for more than 10 years. Intially, I was an Excite power user — I set it as my homepage, customized the page when they finally rolled out the functionality (well after Yahoo, Google and others, mind you), and kept the email address active out of nostalgia since it was my first email account. Hell, I even created a new account in my name about three years ago that I started using for just job-related emails, since my original one became a magnet for spam. I actively used both until two days ago.
More than a month ago, the crack IT team over at Excite launched an all-new email client. First of all, they did a lousy job telling their users this product modification was coming. And here lies the first moral for marketers: if you’re drastically changing your product, you should let your customers know ahead of time why you are doing it. More importantly, you may want to even get their input on it, so they feel involved, loyal and positive about the change.
Now, last time I checked, it was 2008. So how you could possibly launch an email client in 2008 that is slow and offers less features is beyond me. Moral #2 for marketers right here: if you modify your product, you want to make sure it’s actually an improvement. This new email client is unbelievably slow — I’ve accessed it on all kind of connections, from cable modem to T3 to super-broadband, and it’s the same slow load times. It also doesn’t load messages in the browser window, it launches new windows — and those windows battle with the basic pop-up blocker built into Internet Explorer and other browsers.
So I decided to email my long-term email provider and let them know I was unhappy. I found their feedback form and sent in a comment. This is the auto-response that popped up on-screen:
Due to increased volume, we may be unable to provide a prompt response to your question. We are currently upgrading our email service, and during this transition period, users may experience technical difficulties with their email. Please rest assured we are working hard to minimize any down time or technical issues.
The only format for Excite Email going forward will be the current one. While we have no plans to offer a Classic Excite version of our interface, we will forward your suggestions and comments to the appropriate department here at Excite for further consideration.
We are working with our partner provider to offer an alternate color scheme, as well as a “Lite” version that will ease the resource strain on older computers and/or slower connections.
Translation: “We don’t care how unhappy you are, you are stuck with this lousy interface forever.” C’mon, Excite. “Ease the resource strain” on my broadband connection?
Anyway, I read further into the message and found a feedback form that is dedicated to feedback on their new email interface. Eureka! My eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. I sent in a comment, and this screen popped up:
Translation: “Thanks for wasting your time. Do you really believe we’ll read those comments?” Moral #3 for marketers: You owe it to your customers to act like you care, and if you ask for and receive customer feedback, you owe it to them to proactively respond and tell them how you care. And let’s slip in a fourth moral too: if you’re new product is lousy, do something quick to fix it (ever hear of New Coke?)
If you don’t infuse your business with these morals, you’re going to lose your customers (I cleaned out years worth of saved files, turned on the auto-respond message, and moved over to Gmail) and then have to deal with the really irate ones writing blogs and telling basically everyone they know how lousy your company is (and in this case, your IT team, too). And you know how fast that stuff spreads online.
Turns out Excite is owned by IAC, who owns a bunch of prominent online brands (eVite, CitySearch, Match.com, a bunch more…and you can’t “match” them with a good email client?). When you visit their site, the first big heading you see is “About IAC.” Well, looks like that’s all it’s about when you deal with them.