The adventure with MSN trying to cancel the phone account (http://1-800-magic.blogspot.com/2008/02/msn-support.html) got me thinking - so here we have a company with great online aspirations. It has spent innumerable billions of dollars there, and is prepared to spend tens of billions more.
Yet the simplest things in online customer account management are broken (as in obvious bugs disabling basic functionality), and you have to use the phone (which works) and talk to live person to get simplest things resolved. Contrast it with Amazon, for example, where everything is automated - I have recently returned a $400 video card and it took 5 minutes on their web site.
How can one hope to succeed in online services business if the most basic service underlying them all - the customer service - always requires human intervention? Incidentally, the customer service is probably the first online service that ever existed...
The same story happens in search - Microsoft is trying to compete with Google, but while I worked there, I was never successful trying to search for documents on its own internal network. That search is so broken that it is legendary among Microsoft employees - the most often cited example of a broken IT service at Microsoft. How can you lay a claim to organizing the world's information if you cannot organize your own?
The problems seem to be obvious, but somehow completely escape the leadership. I've seen this before.
8 years ago we have released the first "Palm-size PC" OS (the old one with the "Start" button - the pictures are here: http://www.pdagold.com/hardware/list.asp?c=12). The software was terrible - slow, unstable, and visually unappealing. Palm Pilot, which was the dominant PDA at the time, was polished and nimble. So then I read this interview with Bill Gates where he says that one of the things over which he's "loosing sleep at night" is figuring out why customers prefer Palms, and the first thought that just torn through my mind was - "Well, Bill, have you used it? It would be immediately obvious - no need to lose sleep!"
Eat your own damn dogfood!