Speaking With One Voice

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by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

My essay last week in InformationWeek about my difficulties getting a single answer from the companies partnered behind my iPhone generated one basic response from readers of my post:


OK, the actual responses were a bit different, but were more like three variations on a theme:

  1. I’m dumb, and I should do a better job of solving my own technology issues
  2. The iPhone is dumb, so I should pick a different product (see first response)
  3. Such a situation is dumb and all too common (see first and second responses)

It was that third conclusion that compelled me to write the post in the first place. My problem — a quirky inability to send emails a second time after having done so quite easily the first — had proved insolvable by the three technology partners responsible for my iPhone experience. Apple, AT&T, and GoDaddy had each been very pleasantly unhelpful on the phone, and their various forums (and third-party resources) had given me no useful answers. 

What they’d each done is confirm that their parts of the integrated whole were functioning just fine. 

So I’d written that this was downright silly. It was as if I had a medical problem, but my options were only to visit a series of specialists without having access to a general practitioner. 

From a branding perspective, wasn’t this a significant liability for each of the participants in the partnership (or so I mused), as consumers expect products and services to work, irrespective of who is responsible for what aspect of that performance? 

I felt that this might be a major stumbling block for technology brands facing a future wherein more of what they sell will be integrated with things that other brands are selling. As a consumer, I don’t want to know that Apple’s hardware was working fine, per se, any more than I would want confirmation from the coolant manufacturer that my fridge freon was charged even though my milk was turning to cottage cheese. 

Thinking as a marketer, I wanted to know why there wasn’t more time/money spent up front on providing truly integrated, component-agnostic support, and whether that was a smart go-forward branding premise.


Here I was thinking that a major branding threshold for technology providers was to offer seamlessly integrated stuff, like appliances, and two-thirds of my responders felt the exact opposite: it was my responsibility to be the integrator, and there’s nothing wrong with that (just something wrong with me). I got a fair number of very well-intentioned suggestions on what specifically I might try. A chunk of them were unimpressed with my branding conclusions, and said I should pick another product.

Now granted, InformationWeek readers are a technology-savvy, insider group, and their reactions weren’t illustrative of how the general consumer might feel. 

So I ask you:

  • Shouldn’t there be unified, one-stop destinations for support for services or devices that involve multiple partners? At a minimum, shouldn’t customer support quantify and qualify the "top ten" problems that each partner encounters, and cross-reference them in a formal, thoughtful way, so you can find solutions more easily?
  • Would this help or hurt the participating brands (or have no impact either way)?
  • Is such an offering something that you’d pay for, on top of the normal service that comes with the purchase (or lack thereof)?

I should add that my essay prompted contact from high-level people at both AT&T and GoDaddy, and that they have been very thoughtful and earnest in trying to fix my specific problem. I’m thankful for it. 

Thinking again as a marketer, though, it’s intriguing that I got said calls as a result of my posting (one of the folks actually monitors Twitter), and not simply as a regular customer. My problem wasn’t a social media issue, but simply a service problem. And I wasn’t fishing for help, but rather using my woes to suggest a business strategy opportunity. 

If those brands spoke with one voice the first time I encountered a problem with my iPhone, I would have been a far happier customer…and written a post illustrating a business success case history, not a still-undelivered promise.

Original Post: http://dimbulb.typepad.com/my_weblog/2008/11/speaking-with-one-voice.html