DaveNet: Friday, August 29, 1997; by Dave Winer.
Dave Bakin on Apple Direct Sales
From Dave Bakin, email@example.com...
On one hand, the Macintouch site reports on customer experiences of the act of simply ordering a CD from an Apple fulfillment program.
On the other hand, check out TechWeb article where Apple says it wants to get into build-to-order, just like Dell.
I fear that Apple's build-to-order plans aren't realistic: They need to get their customer service setup working a lot better before they move in this direction, don't you think?
It is one thing for a customer to send a check for $10 for a $100 product and then get the 'we never got it' runaround for a few weeks, it is another to let your credit card get charged for $1500-3500 and get a 'your order never arrived, please send it again', or 'can't access your order, our system is down', or 'we're 2 weeks behind in order entry', or 'sorry, you couldn't have talked to anyone who said your machine would have the xxx card built-in, nobody would have said anything like that' or any of two dozen other excuses that people have been writing in about to MacInTouch and other Apple fan sites lately.
Gateway and Dell didn't build their billion-dollar direct revenue streams overnight, it took them a long time and they each had episodes of poor customer service (esp. Gateway) which were widely reported in the trade press and the business newspapers like the Wall Street Journal, which cost them reputation and customers and took time and greatly improved execution to recover from. The performance and quality bar for purchasing expensive computers by the phone to be delivered by shipping companies is very very high now and the tolerance of customers for even minor screwups when you're talking this kind of money has always been very very low.
Also, I think Apple has always been shielded by its dealers from this kind of thing; certainly there was a period where Compaq deliberately used its dealers for quite some time to deflect criticism of its poor to non-existent customer service and that's what directly led to Dell's major successes. Think of how angry a customer is going to be when a new monitor goes flakey after a couple of weeks or a new machine's power supply turns out to be a fire hazard if that customer doesn't even have a dealer to drive to in order to bang a shoe on the counter and get in the face of so that he can get some immediate action. Compaq finally wised up and fixed things (it wasn't until they had new management, as I recall) but by then Dell had moved up in scope and reputation from being a computer company for cheapskates willing to risk mail order to a major and reliable source of good machines. There are a lot more choices for people now then there were then, but unfortunately for Apple most of those choices are Wintel.
By the way, I'm not trying to pick on Apple here or go nyahh nyahh nyahh or tweak the noses of any Apple loyalists. I feel there's an important issue for Apple shareholders and Mac fans here: Apple is certainly right now testing its customer's famous loyalty (which has always been considered a major asset to the company), a blow to their customer's confidence at this time could be very serious, and I think Apple should be careful when determining and implementing business strategies that they take care of their customers.
I realize this is nothing new: You and Don Crabb and Henry Norr and other Mac columnists have hit on this issue for quite awhile. But for some reason I felt the juxtaposition of the above two URLs on the same page at MacSurfer's headline news was a sign of some sort, or perhaps an omen.