vs The Customer and Themselves
Companies like Verizon, Comcast and Microsoft are finding it difficult to come to terms with our increased ability to do things ourselves. Rather than being more accommodating they seem to be putting themselves in the position of treating their customers as their primary competition.08-Aug-2005

I'm watching a program on my TV, Understanding: Widgets and I heard the observations that it was difficult for manufacturers to adjust to the concept that the customer is king. Increased manufacturing capacity forced the issue. If you ignored your customers you lost out.

Today the companies like Comcast, Verizon and Microsoft are doing very well. Yet my recent experience has shown these companies are becoming increasingly indifferent to their customers. Comcast and Verizon seem to be ā€œcircling the wagonsā€. This is the term used for the defense strategy employed by wagon trains crossing the continent. In response to an attack they would maneuver their wagons into a circle to form a defensive perimeter with the FCC cheering them on.

In my recent dealings with Comcast and Verizon, I'm reminded how hard they work to fend off the outside world. Their own customer support people seem to be there more to prevent communications than to solve problems. Based on my experience they aren't allowed to speak to technical people let alone permit let customers do so. Not only are they treating me as the enemy, they don't even seem to have the ability to accumulate and take advantage of institutional knowledge.

Microsoft seems intent on imposing a command and control philosophy on its products even when such a strategy is at odds with the fundamental nature of computers as general purpose devices. It shows a lack of understanding of why the Internet has scaled so well. Requiring that every wire and device conform to ā€œDigital Rights Managementā€ policies is an explicit attempt to create a defensive perimeter. As a result of such human and technical defense perimeters, these companies erecting more than just barriers to competition. They're raising them to problem solving when things don't work the officially sanctioned way and ultimately, to innovation. I could have said ā€œunanticipated innovationā€ but that would be redundant.

Too bad so many people think innovation can be managed as a well-ordered process. Innovation is, by nature, annoying. It's only after we've had some experience that we recognize the value in some of the innovations. For the most part, innovations are annoying and are properly discarded. But the few that survive can change the world or at least our individual lives.

The customer need not be king; the customer is a participant or user and creator of services. Companies that must view the customer as the enemy in order to maintain obsolescent business models cannot hold off competition forever. The more these companies put their effort into thwarting change, the less prepared they will be when it happens despite them.