The High Cost of Screwups

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2002-03-11 Print this article Print

An aggrieved eWeek reader wants to know why hardware vendors waste their money—not to mention their customers' time—by merely going through the motions of trying to solve a product problem.

An aggrieved eWeek reader wants to know why hardware vendors waste their money—not to mention their customers time—by merely going through the motions of trying to solve a product problem.

"I sent in an e-mail request for a fix to a printer driver last week," his e-mail began. "The first three solutions Ive rejected, since the first one gives up a feature that I need to get the job done, and the next two Id already tried before contacting them. This morning I get the same e-mail that has been getting longer and longer as they dont solve my problem. Once again it includes the same first solution, the one that I rejected over a week ago, which is still on the bottom of the e-mail." Even if he never gets a bill, he wont consider this "free" support. His time is too valuable to waste.

I had a similar experience when I tried to track down an optional video cable for my new laptop. The cable was pictured in the manual, but the options list failed to provide a part number—nor could I locate the item on the manufacturers Web site, despite several searches. When I sent the manufacturers support desk an e-mail, noting that I had searched the companys site, the reply—you guessed it—consisted of a referral to that site. It took several more e-mail messages to achieve what a decent search engine could have done—free—in seconds.

As Moores Law trends continue to elevate IT buyers price/performance expectations, the cost of even one post-sale interaction with a customer is going to offset a growing fraction of the profit on the sale—and is going to start looking like a significant cost component to the buyer as well.

The pursuit of perfection has taken many "buzzword du jour" labels over the decades, but "zero defects" and "six sigma" and their ilk all represent a core truth: Doing it right the first time is cheaper than fixing things one at a time—and maybe losing a customer.

When I spoke with eWeek Corporate Partners late last year about their criteria for choosing technology providers, no one mentioned performance or even initial purchase price; everyone talked about lowering their post-sale cost of deploying and supporting the gear. If IT suppliers simply gave away their stuff, theyd still find that some of them were perceived as "high-cost" suppliers.

If youre a seller, is this you? If youre a buyer, do your choices reflect these costs?

Tell me how you cut post-sale costs at

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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