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This article was originally written in 2001 as Stardock was nearing it’s 10th anniversary but it is as true now as it was then.

Companies often give lip service on customer support.  But in my experience, few companies really understand that supporting customers isn’t just a moral issue, it’s also good business.

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The New NEW Technology Economy: The Customer Is God

If one good thing is going to come out of this recession, it’s that the dot-com’s will not just have simply died, but their roots will have been destroyed as well. Most people had their own reasons to despise the whole dot-com thing, but there was one universally bad trait about them that has not been discussed until now: dot-com’s were bad for consumers in the long run.

Why? Because most of their strategies involved building the largest customer base possible, with far less emphasis put on treating those customers well. And if that ploy had succeeded, it would have been very bad indeed for consumers.

Consumers. What a terrible name. I’ve used it three times in this article already. What a belittling term. Yet we take it for granted now. Each of these so-called consumers are individuals who work hard to earn the money they spend on a given product or service. And yet technology companies seem to forget that.

Our company, Stardock, was lucky. It was lucky because it nearly went out of business in 1998. How is that lucky? Because we discovered a secret. A vital secret:

Treating customers as gods matters.

You see, back in 1994 our company was an OS/2 Independent Software Vendor, or ISV. We made software for IBM’s OS/2 operating system. None of us had business backgrounds. We were engineers and techies. We brought our own attitudes and opinions to the company, and one of those attitudes was that we hated the way many tech companies treated us. And so when we set out on OS/2, we wanted to make sure we treated our customers as more than just customers, but as part of the team.

Our customers are our friends in a very literal sense. When we blew a beta date on one of our games, we sent our pre-paying beta testers a free copy of another game as a surprise, and then a few weeks later we released the beta. There was no PR calculation, no scientific thought put into it. We just felt bad and wanted to send them something so that they had a new game to play for Christmas. These were the kinds of things we did. We made sure our customers understood that we cared about them.

And then in 1997 the OS/2 market collapsed. Windows NT 4.0 happened, and the exodus from OS/2 was massive. With a year our revenue from OS/2 software dwindled to almost nothing.

This was actually the best thing that ever happened to us, because we discovered a business reality that apparently escaped the dot-com’s—that customer loyalty is just as important as customer quantity.

You see, in 1998 we had to switch gears and move into the Windows market. But we couldn’t get any venture capital. We couldn’t even get bank loans. We were finished. It was over. We were getting our resumes out. What’s more, we knew that once we jumped into the Windows market with Object Desktop for Windows, our desktop enhancements could very well fall prey to Microsoft when it developed new versions of Windows. That is, the ideas we would come up with and implement for Object Desktop for Windows might end up as “features” in future Windows editions.

So we decided to do something new—sell our product as a subscription. For $50, users would be able to buy a one-year subscription for Object Desktop that included all current features, plus everything we made for it in the following year. And they could keep the product even if they didn’t re-subscribe (something I’ll talk more about later).

Now there’s a little drawback to this. The first year Object Desktop for Windows was on the market, we had zip. Object Desktop was just a bunch of promises and partially functioning code in a lab. It required users to pay $50 for a bunch of software sight unseen. And it would require a lot of them to do it, because creating all this software was going to be expensive and time consuming.

But our customers, formerly on OS/2 but now on Windows, purchased it by the thousands. They remembered us and how we treated them. They trusted us. They thought of us in the same way we thought of them—as friends. Stardock wasn’t just another software company to them; we were friends, and if we said we were going to create these things, then they accepted the fact that we would.

And we did. By the end of 1999, we had produced ControlCenter, WindowBlinds, Tab LaunchPad, ObjectEdit, and a bunch of other things. Their trust paid off. We were able to create a product without any venture capital.

Customer loyalty really matters. If you treat people fairly, with respect, as individuals instead of “consumers,” you will earn their respect and trust in return.

Which brings us back to those dot-com’s. They really screwed things up. They often treated their customers with contempt. What we learned isn’t that the customer is always right—they’re not, and I have argued plenty of times online with them when I felt they were wrong. But we always treated them as individuals whose voices needed to be listened to if not agreed with.

The dot-com’s, on the other hand, came in and wanted to show results fast, and that meant grabbing as many bodies as possible without a care as to how they’d be treated. Even worse, the dot-com’s came up with get-rich-quick schemes that have since required an extraordinary amount of damage control by the rest of us.

Take subscription software, for example. In 1998, we were doing this electronically. Arguably, we were the first ones to provide such an electronic .NET mechanism. (In fact in 1999 we launched Stardock.NET – a year before Microsoft’s .NET initiative.) But the dot-com’s, not wanting to earn their customers’ loyalty but instead to simply tie their hands, came up with subscription systems that would require ongoing patronage or else their software or service would be useless.

If magazines worked under their system, Newsweek would take all your existing issues back if you didn’t renew your subscription. That’s BS. You paid for those magazines. They’re yours. If a magazine wants you to re-subscribe, then it better treat you well. That means it better keep providing value. It means the people who work there better listen to you. Put simply, they better earn your loyalty.

Unfortunately for the dot-com’s, they didn’t learn that in time. I can think of one remaining dot-com which has done a good job retaining customers: Amazon.com. But they’re an exception to the rule for the most part. The successful dot-com’s caught on that individual customers matter. Ten thousand very loyal customers are better than 100,000 indifferent customers, because the loyal ones will be there for you at crunch time. And many a dead company mistakenly believed they’d never experience a crunch time.

Probably the worst thing dot-com’s did was to make customers cynical. Many a new Stardock customer is quite wary of the things we do at first, because they think it’s a marketing or PR ploy. The dot-com’s really did a job on “consumers.” Think about it—when your barber or hair stylist asks how your wife or husband is doing, you don’t think it’s a ploy. That’s because the barbers and hair stylists of the world know something that the dot-com execs never learned—that people are individuals, not “consumers” to be harvested.

I predict that the NEW new economy will be built on the premise that, while the customer isn’t always right, he or she is an individual who always deserves respect. Customers should be treated as good friends, not simply as passing acquaintances. If they have a problem, find out what it is. Talk to them. It doesn’t mean kissing up to them; respect is a two way street, and you can’t build loyalty and friendship without respect. But if you want respect, you have to give it. That means treating those people with high regard, not as cattle.

The successful technology companies have always learned to treat customers as individuals, as lifelong partners. This means looking at the long term. It means building a long-term relationship with them and earning their trust and respect.

The NEW new economy won’t be good for “consumers.” But it’ll be great for people.

Brad Wardell

Brad Wardell is the President and CEO of Stardock (www.stardock.com). He’s known to hang out on Usenet and various on-line communities talking directly to customers to find out what they want improved.

5 Replies Reply 21 Referrals

Every few months I write something that incites a twitter mob.  There are people out there are compelled to right the smallest of wrongs by hurling days of abuse at the villain.

As the said villain, I’ve developed many different strategies for dealing with these mobs.

This week’s outrage: A pronoun joke (someone demanding to be referred to as "they" instead of "he" or "she" while referring to the other person as "honey" and siccing her (sorry their) followers on him in which he sub-tweeted the exchange which is where it came onto my timeline where I always enjoy tweaking rude people who are conversely easily offended. 

But there is always something for the outrage miners to whip themselves into hurling abuse at someone.

Here are a few examples.

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(me and Nikki discussing the bravery of SJWs)

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It’s not that I intentionally try to offend.  I just don’t put in any effort not to offend.  Maybe I should.  But as I wrote 10 years ago: I’m going to do what I’m going to do.

 

"More" to come.

12 Replies Reply 127 Referrals

Jan 18, 2018 1:33 AM by Discussion: Everything Else

In honor of the new forum feature that lets us drag and drop photos into the editor I present you with: The dog thread.

Post a picture of your dog!

14 Replies Reply 102 Referrals

Jan 10, 2018 10:35 PM by Discussion: Personal Computing

I just got my new PC set up.  First new one in 3 years and it's a monster.

I mostly got it for the Core i9 which has 18 cores.  The reason for this is, basically, I compile a lot.  Most of my programming involves AI coding and that means doing lots of recompiling and running.  I highly recommend 18 cores for most people as it's wasted.

The other reason I wanted so many cores is for Nitrous/Cider work which is Stardock's new engine.  I want to make sure that Ashes of the Singularity and Star Control and Game X are all scaling up as you add more cores as this is a major part of our ongoing effort here.

 

17 Replies Reply 140 Referrals

Dec 27, 2017 5:07 PM by Discussion: Community

Hi everyone!

Stardock is looking for Community Managers who can help provide technical assistance on the forums.

One of the changes in the market is that software pricing has changed from (for example) $19.99 down to $4.99.  This is good news for most consumers but on the other hand, it has largely eliminated our ability to provide individualized technical support (you can't really afford to have a staff of full-time dedicated tech support staff providing one-on-one help on a $5 program).

Instead, Stardock has been moving to a community manager approach where people will be increasingly directed to the forums (and we will be looking for ways to make the forums better for this purpose) as well as beefing up e-Support http://esupport.stardock.com/index.php?/Knowledgebase/List 

If you are very technical and like helping people with the Stardock desktop utilities let us know.  These are part-time (you can do it in your spare time) and can be done from anywhere.

Obviously, WinCustomize and other Stardock community moderators and leads are encouraged as well.

If you are interested, either respond here or you can email jobs@stardock.com with the title "Object Desktop Community Manager".

Cheers!

 

7 Replies Reply 39 Referrals

PLYMOUTH, MI.  December 6, 2017 -- Stardock announced today that nearly 30 year Microsoft veteran Kevin Unangst has joined the company as Vice President to head Stardock's global marketing and partnership group.

Mr. Unangst spent nearly three decades helping to lead Microsoft's Windows and Xbox marketing efforts, including leading Windows XP consumer marketing, head of marketing for Microsoft Studios, and most recently global director of Windows gaming marketing at Microsoft.

"Kevin has a multi-decade track record of recognizing turning points in the technology industry and helping ensure that emerging opportunities are fully realized," said Brad Wardell, CEO Of Stardock.  "We are excited to have someone of his talent and experience lead our efforts to ensure that our new endeavors reach their potential."

Mr. Unangst was part of Microsoft's efforts to become a dominant player in the PC industry, from the transition to graphical computing with the launch of Windows 95, to leading the charge to make Windows and DirectX the definitive gaming platforms for PC gamers.

"I've always had a passion for helping make sure innovative technology is translated into meaningful benefits for consumers," said Unangst. "My time at Microsoft allowed me to help evangelize exciting changes that technology was bringing to the market, whether that be the power of Internet integration into Windows, the transition to 32-bit protected operating systems, and more recently, the potential of DirectX 12 for PC and Xbox gaming.

Stardock has a long track record of technological innovation going back to its invention of ZIP folders, user interface customization, desktop enhancements, digital distribution, 32-bit game development, multithreaded game development, and more recently, its investment in companies creating 64-bit, core-neutral technologies.

It was during the release of the first DirectX 12 game, Ashes of the Singularity, that Mr. Unangst became familiar with Stardock's roadmap.

"Stardock had long been known at Microsoft as an innovative company," said Unangst. "Even back in the 1990’s -  when I was marketing Windows NT - I knew of Stardock from their work with IBM's OS/2 and then with their creation of the Impulse digital distribution platform.  But it wasn't until I saw what they were building during the development of DirectX 12 that I realized I wanted to be a part of what they are creating."

Mr. Unangst will officially start his position on December 11, 2017.

# # #

Stardock is a leading developer and publisher of software and games including Object Desktop, Sins of a Solar Empire, Fences, Star Control, Galactic Civilizations and much more.  Its home page is www.stardock.com.

6 Replies Reply 114 Referrals

Sunday’s are strange.

  1. Do I have enough time to start a new book?
  2. Is the dog getting enough attention? She doesn’t seem to think so.
  3. i really want to play game X but shouldn’t I be working on Star Control? Or GalCiv? Or Ashes of the Singularity?
  4. My son has math homework. Shouldn’t I be helping? How much?
  5. People are mad at the Democrats/Republicans. Should I care? I don’t really care.
  6. its cold outside but the solar array inverter needs to be checked
  7. YouTube Let’s plays are addictive. Damn you Quil18
  8. The wife unit is putting up Christmas decorations with our daughter. Should I help? It looks boring.
  9. What the hell are freeze dried strawberries?
  10. Why hasn’t CGPGrey made a new video?

 

4 Replies Reply 83 Referrals

Nov 20, 2017 6:00 PM by Discussion: Forum Issues

I have requested the new changes you now see on the site that make the forums cleaner visually.

The next step is to have a lot more data presented when you mouse over an item.

I know some people won't like the changes, but as someone who lives on these forums, I really need the site to be cleaner and quicker to navigate through.

 

41 Replies Reply 288 Referrals

Nov 20, 2017 3:39 AM by Discussion: Life, the Universe and Everything

I have 3 children. I love them to pieces.

But dogs? Obviously not in the same league but holy cow there is just something so touching in their unconditional devotion.

Sometimes, especially with the smarter ones, their similarities to small children can be uncanny. For instance, my 6 year old Entlevucher brings her stuffed dinosaur to bed every night, she just sleeps with it.

Who else here feels the same?

29 Replies Reply 204 Referrals

Oct 6, 2017 2:51 PM by Discussion: Forum Issues

What features do you think the forums need to make them more compelling for you and for others to use?

13 Replies Reply 151 Referrals

 
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