As the hourglass on my laptop continues to slowly tick away, I am forced to revert to pen and paper to start this article. It seems like I experience at least one time-sink a week, whereby something that should take five minutes lasts five hours. The bad news is that I am not alone in my frustration with technology. In the last few weeks, in separate conversations, one friend of mine lamented how a one-hour website project consumed twelve hours, while another friend explained how he spent eight hours in an attempt to burn a second copy of a DVD he had created.
Despite these anecdotes and many others, technology clearly appears to be providing incredible productivity gains. A lone person working from their home in rural America can now do the work of many and give the appearance of a large corporation located in an urban hub. As the chicken scratch before me attests, the real power of computers, electronic interfaces, and the web is the ability to quickly edit and communicate changes. Of course, the multimedia wizardry that this generation is dependent upon would not be possible without the incredible technology at our disposal.
The fear or, maybe the opportunity, is that the countless hours that people waste speeding down a path only to find an unforeseen roadblock will result in a technology backlash. A backlash could slow down the adoption of new technologies and new features. Fewer new features will make it more difficult for providers to differentiate and could lead to pricing that is pushed to commodity levels (e.g., price wars).
The opportunity from a technology backlash is for those companies who can truly simplify customers’ adoption and regular use of the technology – to make the technology invisible – will be a powerful differentiator. Scott Sandall, Vice President of Marketing for mid-sized Pennsylvania-based telco D & E Communications, characterized the challenge carriers face when he stated that D & E has two kinds of customers, [those who] “appreciate value” and [those who] “appreciate price.” A backlash against technology might actually move some of the price-sensitive customers into the “value” camp, as a reduction of time-consuming technology hurdles will have value to even a tightwad like yours truly.
The companies that successfully integrate technology will be those that are able to remove the dead ends and, more importantly, make sure their customers do not head down those paths in the first place. Ultimately, a service provider will be judged more by simple things, such as how long it takes for the TV to turn on and channel change speed versus new features such as a fancy user interface or the number of camera angles. At the Telecommunications Association of Michigan’s Annual Conference, Mike Osborn, General Manager of Allendale Communications, echoed the idea that getting the fundamentals right are the key when he pointed out that their customers are more concerned about video service reliability than they are with telephone reliability.
After eliminating the technology quicksand, the challenge for operators is to communicate and educate their customers that they are truly different from their competitors. Cox Communications has the right idea with their recently introduced brand icon, “Digital Max.” Their tagline, “Your Friend in the Digital Age,” sums up their approach to making the technology invisible to the customer. Their intent is for this digitally animated character, Max, to be, “always in the know about new digital products and services and loves to tell his friends and neighbors how easy it is to get connected.”
Similarly, D & E has already implemented a, “high-tech, high touch,” approach by having a real person named, “Bob Fox”, follow up with customers to make sure they understand how to use the features that are part of the service. This has helped them differentiate their product from that of their competition and, as a result, reduce churn.
I am positive that independent telcos are going to be the ones that continue to set an example for the bigger tech companies by providing new technology that works better for the end user. Now, can anyone help remove the Aurora spyware from my laptop?
[Note: it took the author three computer crashes to complete this article.]
[Note: Added 6/3/2016 – 11 years later, and this post is no longer visible via its original HTML post, so I had to repost it in WordPress. Technology overhead (the amount of time we are working for technology, instead of it working for us) continues. Although we are much more able to take orders from the technology (e.g., voice directions) than when the above was written. Still, technology continues to make me feel stupid!