Originally Published: Sunday, 22 October 2000 Author: Emmett Plant
Published to: daily_feature/Linux.com Feature Story Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Linux: It's The Real Thing

This is going to sound a little strange, but this week's editorial stems from a renegade can of Coca-Cola. I don't want to give away too much here on the front page, but this is a story you won't want to miss, and if you're a Linux fan, you might learn a few things.

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This week, a friend of mine picked up two cases of Coca-Cola for me. She actually stocked them up in the refrigerator, too. She rocks. I've been a Coca-Cola fan since I was a kid in the eighties. I don't know if it was the cool, refreshing taste, or the Max Headroom ads, but I was hooked. A few years ago, I even made a pilgrimage to Atlanta and visited The World of Coke museum.

But something was strange. On Thursday night, I was working late as usual. It was about 2:30 in the morning, and I had gotten to the mid-way point through a can of Coke. Everything was still normal. Another sip, everything's okay. One more sip, and that's where our troubles began.

It tasted weird. I don't want to say 'bad,' because it didn't taste 'bad,' it just didn't taste like Coke. It just didn't taste right. I peered inside the can, and I didn't see anything strange. I poured some of the remaining liquid into a clear container. The color was normal. I opened up another can of Coke, and tasted that can, and there was a definite difference. I've got a little bit of a 'mad scientist' streak in me, so I recorded all of my data and called the Coca-Cola consumer information line. There was no one there; it was after business hours. I called the next morning, instead.

I was on hold for about four minutes, and then a sweetly-voiced woman came on the line. She sounded like that one high-school guidance counselor that understood your computer obsession. Anyway, we spoke for a little bit about the weirdness in my can, and she told me that there could have been problems in the shipping process, where that can may have been exposed to extreme heat or direct sunlight, and that may have caused the strange taste I discovered. She took the dating number off of the can, and some other strange code (right below the UPC) that I didn't understand, and offered to replace the 12-pack I pulled the can from. I told her it wasn't necessary. After thanking me profusely, we ended our call.

Linux companies could learn a lot from Coke.

In the Open Source market, companies that produce and sell Open Source software need to make their money in support and value-added services. Since they can't fall back on selling copies of software as their primary focus, they need to find their money elsewhere.

When I got off the phone with Coke, I was sure that my call was taken seriously, and that they would actually track that can down to the bottler (shouldn't it be a cannery?) and see if there was anything wrong. Barring any results there, they would track down the delivery service and see if anything strange happened that would cause Emmett's Weird Coke.

More importantly, I felt that I was treated as a valued customer. Ignore the fact that millions of cans of Coke are sold everyday. Ignore the fact that Coke is one of the world's top-selling beverages, sold in most countries on the planet. Put all of that aside and wonder at the miracle that Emmett actually had a good experience with one of the largest mega-corporations in the world.

Have you ever called Microsoft for support? It's horrible. It's frightening. You're treated with contempt until you've coughed up some cash to get 'real' support. Even then, if they can't figure out your problem, you're rushed off the phone with a lame excuse about it being a hardware problem or an unsupported something-or-other. It's sad.

Okay, there's a big difference between computers and soda (just ask John Sculley), but the concept remains the same. Treat your customers with respect. Make them feel wanted. Make them want to call you for support. Make them feel that you are the best people in the world to call about Linux.

Linux companies have a vested interest in making sure their support is the world's best support for operating systems. Coke taught me something important on Friday; every single call to consumer information is a chance to fire up the public relations engines of their company. They didn't tell me about their new line of colas or the advantages of Dasani over other bottled waters on the market, they made me feel better about all of their products by treating me well when I called.

This goes far beyond the Linux companies, too. All of the people answering questions about Linux on IRC and in E-mail have the ability to make the 'customer' feel good about Linux. Isn't it interesting that the words 'customer' and 'end-user' have entirely separate meanings and spellings, but are the same in spirit?

Help people out. Make them feel like they really matter. Make them feel important and worthy of your time and interest. Make them feel like you're there for them, not the other way around. In the end, Linux is about community and technology, and community and technology are about people. We're here for them.

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