Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Expectations Gap

Over at Pajamas Media, Michael S. Malone comments on T-Mobile losing all their customer's Sidekick data October 1st:

The vehemence and paranoia of some of these rumors only underscored what was the single unassailable truth about this episode: that the Sidekick’s one million users had a deep emotional (and often financial) investment in the device . . .and that loyalty had been betrayed.

[...] we have a dangerous gap between consumers’ expectations and what the supplier believes it is obliged to deliver. In this case, Sidekick users expected the data they put on their devices to send to some safe place in the computing cloud where it would always be protected as part of the contract with Microsoft and T-Mobile. Apparently, those two companies thought differently; that their job was to provide the highest quality product and service possible, and to make a good effort to keep customer data secure – and effort that, it seems, did not include creating redundancies and back-up files.

For new products and services, customer expectations are often driven by marketing hype, not the fine print in the contracts. This happens in defense contracting too, when program managers (both government and contractor) tout the benefits to the sponsors, Congress, and the warfighters while glossing over the limitations or technical challenges in the way.

Customers, of course, can always make assumptions about how a product should operate that were never imagined by the marketers or engineers in their wildest dreams. But the Sidekick episode would seem to be a case where the T-Mobile and Microsoft professionals should have been able to put themselves in their customer's shoes.

Systems engineers and their testing brethren need to work with the marketers throughout the development project to understand the end-users' expectations about the product's capabilities. And then work to ensure those expectations will be met -- or the marketing approach modified.

Customer trust and loyalty, once lost, is very hard to regain. Windows 7, anyone?