Killing the messenger – not a smart move

By Subraya Mallya - February 2010 | Topics - Technology

As companies continue to make great efforts to connect with their customers, partners through their social media efforts including executive blogging, twitter, wikis and videos, Oracle pulled a switcheroo by yanking a popular employee blog that augmented Oracle Support.

The blogger’s crime, apparently, was that he provided an avenue for community users to interact and as is their wont they vented their frustrations around the paid support site. Knowingly or not, that employee was doing what customers are always asking for – “communication through uncertainties”. It is a given that there will be technical issues with any/all technologies. Only thing customers ask for is to keep them informed or provide an alternative channel of communication. The  whole issue stemmed from repeated snafus of their newly designed support site.

For those not familiar with the Oracle Support, it used to be called Metalink for the longest time. It is a site developed and managed by a small team within Oracle IT. While doing a great job of using its own product to run its business, this was definitely one area where Oracle did not believe in eating its own dog food.If you ever wondered, Oracle CRM (before Siebel) did have a product called iSupport. Using it was like subjecting yourself to punishment by itself – forget getting support for your real problems. It was so bad that I don’t think even Oracle had it on its price list. There are some really funny quotes on what Larry thought about that product.

Oracle in the recent years had done a good job of engaging with the community by encouraging many executives to blog and the user community had really embraced it. Case in point – Steven Chan’s blog on Application Technology or the AIA blog. It had replaced its me-too stale Q&A forum on OTN by a more vibrant social community Mix and has a thriving community going. Combine that some really good work of user-community outreach around the acquired products gave the impression that Oracle was becoming more open and becoming more customer-friendly.

The timing of this “pulling-the-plug” could not have come at a more stickier time, when bitter rival SAP is going through its travails following a recent customer/user-group backlash on support structure changes. It’s CEO is said to have lost his job partly due to that. With all the business pressures upon, customers are getting increasingly agitated with the bad customer service and using all the mediums to express them. As Frank Scavo points out to a customer RNM did not spare a lot of time expressing their dissatisfaction about this abrupt shutdown of this blog.

It is amazing that stalwart technology companies don’t realize that with all the social outlets available for people now, no matter how much you try to stop the information exchange, spread it will. The smarter strategy is to embrace it and get ahead of it and manage the impact. The internet is littered with episodes like this where companies still fostering a  “walled garden” approach and not being inclusive and open in dealing with customers. This is one of key reasons (besides cost, agility) that SaaS is having a great success.

It will be interesting to see what Oracle does with some of the initiatives Sun had going. Sun being a very community centric company had a lot of involved blogs, communities through which it connected with the customer/partner community. Hopefully Oracle does not take a similar stance on those.

  • Supreeth Kini

    Large corporations usually ride the low tide. They adopt to “new” technology only after everyone else. It will take them a while to fully understand the implications of social media (rather the implications of not understanding the potential of social media).

    • Thanks Supreeth. Agreed large corporations are elephants that don’t dance nimble. But with social media, it would be a big mistake if it is considered purely another new technology and dismiss it. It is much more than that. It has become the way people interact with people and the large community they surround themselves with. Technologies like Facebook, Twitter are merely mediums of accomplishing those very conversations. Corporate life is no longer a walled garden. No matter how much companies try to control, the floodgates are open. People will interact and share their knowledge, one way or the other.

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