Originally Published: Sunday, 5 November 2000 Author: Emmett Plant
Published to: daily_feature/Linux.com Feature Story Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Linux: It's The Real Thing, Part II

The saga continues! The original 'It's The Real Thing' editorial was just the beginning. I got a letter from Coca-Cola after last week's LUGFest adventure, and I wanted to share a key message with anyone who works for or with a Linux company. It's all about the follow-through.

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My editorial two weeks ago was called 'Linux: It's The Real Thing,' and it chronicled my adventures with Linux support and a can of questionable Coca-Cola. This week, I wanted to share the aftermath of my Coca-Cola experience.

This week, I received a letter from The Coca-Cola Company:

October 23, 2000

Mr. Emmett Plant
834 Chestnut St., Apt. 1428
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Dear Mr. Plant:

Thank you for taking the time to contact our Consumer Information Center. We are grateful you let us know about Coca-Cola classic with an unsatisfactory taste. Please accept our apology for any inconvenience.

Mr. Plant, the quality of our products is the cornerstone of our company. For this reason, we work closely with every Coca-Cola bottling company to provide you with products that meet the highest standards.

Immediately after receiving your contact, we notified the Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Company, your local producer of our products. They have shared the details with their quality control professionals.

If you still have the unsatisfactory package, please recycle it at this time. The information you provided is sufficient for quality control purposes, so the bottler does not need to obtain the actual package from you.

We appreciate your confidence that this situation will be addressed and that every one of the Coca-Cola products you drink will be the perfect refreshment. Please accept the enclosed with our compliments!

(handwritten 'Dawn')
Dawn C. Gholston
Consumer Affairs Services


Enclosure: Coupon 12-pack

And what an enclosure it is. It's a big shiny coupon with a red 'Dynamic Ribbon Device' logo on a silver-foil background. It's gorgeous. It looks like a prop from 'Back To The Future II.' It's beautiful.

'But Emmett,' I hear you cry, 'What does this have to do with the way we support Linux products?'

It's got everything to do with the way we support Linux and its products. Last time, we learned how our manner on the phone could not only help our customers, but make them feel great about the product and the company. This week, we learn another important lesson about how we deal with customers.

Students of Kung Fu, house-builders and most any sports veteran would already understand. It's all about the follow-through. It's about following the phone call with results and action. In my case, it's a nice letter on beautiful 'The Coca-Cola Company' stationery with a great coupon.

I know that these letters are most likely form letters from a huge machine, but I know that it cost Coke about thirty cents to send it in the mail. It probably cost them a few pennies in stationery and envelope. It cost them a few cents in pay and benefits to have someone (probably Dawn herself) to sign it. It probably cost them about five cents to produce the fantastic coupon enclosed, and I'm guessing it would cost them about a quarter should I 'cash in' my coupon for the free 12-pack.

On the whole, I bet it cost them less than five dollars to handle me, from my phone call to the letter. Five bucks. Do you run a Linux company wallowing in IPO cash? Then you've got five bucks. That's seven dollars and 66 cents in Toronto. 3.46 pounds in London. 541.75 yen in Kyoto. 38.23 francs in Lyon. Linux is international, and five bucks is cheap anywhere.

But it's all about follow-through. The can of Coke to the call to the letter. The box of Linux to the phone call to the letter. I have a letter, something tangible in my hands that says, 'Coca-Cola actually gives a damn about my business.' What are you giving your customers? Are you calling them back in a few days to see if their technical support solution is still working? Are you sending them a letter? Are you following through on their concerns? If you're not, you're making a big mistake.

'But Emmett,' you say, 'They're a huge company with an unbelievable market capitalization! We can't compete with that!'

Oh, really? You can't compete with Coke on a customer service level? Then get out of the industry. I'm serious. Get out now. If you don't care about your customers, get out. I don't care if your software is the greatest thing since the microchip. I don't care if you write software that makes millions of lives easier. Get out.

It shouldn't take some hack writer from Philly to tell you that whether you're selling operating systems or sugar water, people are important. Where do you think your money comes from? People spend it on your products. Even if you've had a great IPO, that money was spent by people who have faith in your direction as a company, so they've invested. People have given you their money.

Toys. Bananas. Televisions. Computer software. Ashtrays. Basketballs. Compact discs. Comic books. Digital watches. All of them are products that people buy. All of them produced by corporations that have a vested interest in making their customers happy. Sometimes the proof of your worth is in the quality of your product, but sometimes the proof of your worth is in the way you treat your customers. If you're giving away your software for free, isn't the most important thing in the world to keep people happy with your product?

Treat technical support with the same style and grace you give to software design. If you have a crack team of developers writing code for your operating system or package, you should have a crack squad of technical support and community relations people, too. Technical support isn't just a good idea, it's a product, just like everything else you send out the door.

How much did you spend on that developer with the great resume? A hundred thousand dollars a year on salary alone? How much are the people answering the phones making? Thirty thousand dollars a year? Fantastic. You've proven that software design more than three times as important as dealing with your customers. Mister I-code-all-day-and-code-all-night might be worth the cash. He probably is. The better he works, the better the product. The better the product, the less of a need you have for technical support. But don't forget your other product.

'But Emmett,' I hear you speak, 'We're in software development!'

No, you're not. You're in the business of making things work for people. As much as you'd love to bury yourself in systems and software design, the end goal is making the lives of real people easier. The people that buy your software. The people that support your company. Support them in return, or get out of the pool.

See you in seven.

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