Why Marketing Doesn’t Deliver

October 26, 2016

Every organisation in the world spends a fortune on marketing, to the extent the DeliveryDemon would have to go entirely off the grid to avoid the deluge. With that volume, it’s not surprising that it’s easy to find examples of stupidity. One of the commonest marketing fails is when an organisation is so busy preening its corporate ego that it completely loses site of the real customer experience. Microsoft’s latest idiocy provides a classic example.

For most people, email is a utility – boring stuff but it needs to be there and usable, low key but reliable. It doesn’t have to look pretty or to keep coming up with new bells and whistles when a typical user ignores most of the facilities already in existence. Hotmail used to be a good utilitarian email. It popped up quickly on the screen. It was easy to skim through emails and get rid of the trash. Emails could be sorted. There were reasonable filters. It was pretty good at identifying spam. And, having been around for so long, a hotmail address was reasonably memorable.

For a good while after taking it over, Microsoft let Hotmail be. Then came the change to Outlook. Now Outlook on a business network has been a pretty reasonable utility too, but that wasn’t carried forward when Hotmail became Outlook. Loading became painfully slow. Months later it hasn’t improved. On an iPad it’s still totally unreliable, verging on unusable. First it displays a smug little picture showing how the floppy disc supersedes snail mail. Below that appears what the DeliveryDemon at first assumed to be a progress bar. Actually it’s a throwback to the 1980s, when time and again users would watch the blue bar inch painfully slowly across the screen, only to freeze when it reached a fraction from the end. Time and again it does this, with refresh and URL reentry making not the slightest bit of difference. The DeliveryDemon has left the progress bar for 40 minutes and it still didn’t display any emails, hit refresh over 100 times without anything useful happening. Sometimes there is a complete access fail because the site has failed entirely. And of course there are no updates from Microsoft to let users know what is happening.

That’s the user experience. How does Microsoft marketing handle it? With a classic demonstration of being blinded by focus on the big fat corporate ego, that’s how.

Several times during this (ongoing) fiasco, the DeliveryDemon has had emails from Microsoft marketeers. ‘Now that you’ve been using Outlook.com and some of its features for a while, we hope you’ll try one free month of Office 365 to see how much more you can do.’ Lets translate that into user experience.

Now that you’ve been using Outlook.com and some of its features for a while…. –
Now you have endured for a while the primitively slow response times and clunky user interface……

….we hope you’ll try one free month of Office 365…. – A free month is nothing but a cynical attempt to entice users into locking themselves into something which is barely usable and certainly not worth paying for when that month runs out….

….to see how much more you can do – If it can’t even do the basics at a barely competent level, it sure as hell isn’t going to do anything more useful.

In other words, Microsoft has made crap out of something useful and its marketing department are so enamoured of their own verbiage that they expect the world to be equally blind and shell out hard cash in response to that slimy marketing-speak.

Of course there may be another agenda behind this. Maybe the end of free Hotmail is in sight. Maybe Microsoft hopes that enough users will transfer to the paid for product so that any furore following the withdrawal of Hotmail will be minimal. If that’s the case, the marketing needs to be a damn sight more intelligent than the current efforts. And if that does happen, the DeliveryDemon will follow the oft-tested prudent advice. If something which works well is withdrawn, don’t blindly accept the offered replacement. Treat that replacement as just another product and evaluate it against whatever else is available. And of course, that replacement offering starts with an immediate handicap – it comes from a supplier which values its corporate ego over the customer’s need for continuity and reliability.


Delivering Spurious Accuracy, Demanding Constant Attention

November 10, 2009

The DeliveryDemon did a double-take. The hospital receptionist had actually offered a follow-up appointment time of 8.48 a.m. Not 8.45, not 8.50, 8.48 precisely!

Great efforts were made to get the patient to hospital for the prescribed minute. As the seconds clicked by, the DeliveryDemon gazed at the white blocks on the bilious yellow screen, idly wondering whether the developers were aware that the inability to distinguish between yellow and white is a common form of colour blindness. The clock ticked over to 8.48…… Nothing happened! At 8.55 the appointment pinged up for its allotted 3 seconds then disappeared into the ether, never to re-appear.

There is a huge disconnect between the design of this system and practical reality. The underlying driver may well be a target of fitting 5 x 12 minute appointments into the hour, but that 12 minutes is an average. Pinning appointments to an exact minute means that overruns delay subsequent appointment, but nothing is gained if an appointment finishes early – an approach which increases the likelihood of targets being missed. It also invites mockery.

The mechanism for summoning patients is equally poorly conceived. It relies on the assumption that patients gaze non-stop at the single screen, waiting for their numbers to flash up for those 3 short seconds. In reality, pillars obscure the screen from some seats, and passers-by may obscure it from any position. The area, lacking sound absorption, is noisy, so any audio cue is lost. A patient with poor eyesight may need to move closer to the high-mounted screen to read it, and age or infirmity would make those 3 seconds of visibility completely inadequate. And of course real patients are chatting, reading newpapers, watching the world go by, as the clock edges beyond the allotted minutes of their appointments. That sickly yellow screen is by no means the cynosure of all eyes.

Part of the DeliveryDemon wanted to laugh at the absence of basic common sense in the design. The reason she is not still in giggling thrall to those ridiculous flaws is the context. This was an NHS hospital. Huge sums of taxpayers’ hard-earned money went into the creation of the system. The appalling design is unlikely to result in patient fatality, but the blatant absence of commonsense in a patient-facing system must call into question the quality of other systems which are life-critical.