Seek more responsibility for greater profit

The linked article from the WSJ’s technology section by Walt Mossberg talks about the trials involved in setting up a new computer when trying to transfer files, settings, and programs from the old computer to the new one.

  • Windows style: Buy a special new “easy transfer” cable for $40 and only get some of your stuff transferred.
  • Apple style: plug in a standard fire-wire cable and built-in software does the rest.

Now, this isn’t a post about the different MS/Apple mindsets, and we’re not going to discuss whether Apple’s success here is a side-effect of control issues and Microsoft’s is a side-effect of laziness. This is a post about taking responsibility for results. The problem is most evident in the software industry, where every license agreement we’ve reviewed says that the software company is not responsible for anything. The best warranty I’ve seen is that the product will work as described for a set number of days, and you get a free copy if it doesn’t. Wow.

Imagine if you couldn’t return a washing machine if it didn’t work or ruined your clothes because there was a manufacturing defect. We regularly expect compensation for similarly sized purchases. The one realm where software does get serious about taking responsibility for results is with life-threatening situations, such as software that runs medical equipment. But that software doesn’t come cheap and it’s not used by the average consumer (hopefully!).

Should software companies jump into guaranteeing you won’t lose data from a crash? Probably not. One reason they have shied away from such responsibility is that our computers are a crazy mashup of software of varying pedigrees, from blue-ribbon operating systems to tested open-source web browsers to downloaded games to shareware to, yes, spyware and viruses. In that environment, can any publisher be blamed for not wanting to make itself a target? Of course not.

But we believe that responsibility is nevertheless a market opportunity. Hardware manufacturers get it — server downtime is a metric you’ll often see in advertisements, and the same is often discussed for related server operating systems. And responsibility creeps in from the back end as well — most business web hosting providers provide uptime guarantees that are often not underwritten by specific equipment or software guarantees. For example, we have worked with an ultra high-end home automation company that knows its clients expect uninterrupted uptime for their light switches, blinds, heat & AC, and everything else that is managed by these systems. So, this boutique design firm chose specific hardware/software combinations to allow them to make the required promises to customers.

Where can companies begin accepting responsibility? The simplest, yet hardest, step is to promise to deliver what you claim. If a company is willing to “put its money where its mouth is,” that can’t but help customers and, in turn, the company itself.