Musings on Design, Entrepreneurship, and the Creative Economy

Why IE6 isn’t dead yet, and how you can twist the knife.

07/18/2009

The web is abuzz lately with mounting campaigns against IE6. Web designers and producers have been moaning about it for years, but the reality has been that 20%+ of internet users have still used the old browser, avoiding the upgrade to 7 for whatever reason. There’s a reason it’s stuck around so long, even now, 8 years later, and a twitter campaign is not going to kill it. I do have a suggestion for easing development pain, though, and ultimately ending the bane of IE6.

IE6 Must Die

"IE6 Must Die"

Before we can kill IE6, we need to understand why it’s still alive. Your mother already upgraded, she’s not the problem anymore. The problem is IT managers at really big companies. For the sake of personification, we’ll call them ‘Chet.’ Many years ago when IE6 was released, Microsoft added a lot of proprietary features that turned the browser into a development platform. Netscape had been defeated, and IE had over 90% browsershare. A lot of IT departments took great advantage of this, building custom software for their companies, intranets, and so on. But then we had a bit of a revolution on the internet – a huge shift toward open source and standards based development practices that would work across all browsers. The rise of alternative browsers like Firefox and Safari has fueled this trend, forcing developers to take other browsers into consideration. Even Microsoft has joined the game, abandoning their proprietary code in favor of standards.

The remaining IE6 users are not voluntary IE6 users, but shackled IE6 users. Thanks, Chet.

Unfortunately, Chet has been a bit oblivious to this trend. Chet is old-school, and he expects the software that his team developed to last a long time. It’s expensive to rebuild these things, especially after they have years of additional code stacked on top of them. Chet wasn’t really forward looking, and didn’t expect the browser world to leave him behind. No problem though – as long as we mandate IE6 for all users in the company and never upgrade, nothing breaks. Nice thinking, Chet.

I have first hand experience with these companies, and there’s more of them than you think. And they’re really big ones,  with tens of thousands of employees, all using outdated legacy software built on top of archaic software, virtualized and VPN’d. The remaining IE6 users are not voluntary IE6 users, but shackled IE6 users (as Digg recently discovered). Thanks, Chet.

So what can we do about it?

At Mural, we would love to drop support for IE6, but when your clients are companies where Chet works, you can’t build a site for them that nobody at their office can use. I was working on a proposal today in fact for a certain giant internet retailer, and of course we get to estimating production and have to start thinking about how much time we expect we’ll need for IE6 debugging. We had been toying with the idea of leaving IE6 out of our SOW, thinking that the main audience for this site probably would be on IE7 or greater. But instead of just leaving it out and having the inevitable conversation about it later when they insist they need it, we decided to take another approach: make it a line item.

Instead of a line item for all development/production, make another line item for ‘legacy IE6 compatibility.’… For clients, it forces them to consider exactly how much that 5-10% is worth.

The reason most clients insist they want their sites to cater to the remaining 5-10% of users using IE6 is that they don’t really know how much development time that adds to their project. So make it real for them. Instead of a line item for all development/production, make another line item for ‘legacy IE6 compatibility.’ If you’re anything like us, that line item probably adds 30% or more to the cost. For clients, it forces them to consider exactly how much that 5-10% is worth. More importantly, it creates awareness inside those companies that Chet is costing them money, and is going to continue to cost them money as long as his systems are dependent on IE6. It helps build an ROI case for updating their systems.

So complain all you want on blogs. Add an anti-IE icon to  your twitter avatar. But if you really want to help make a difference in the campaign against IE6, it’s up to you (agencies, designers, developers) to make the case to your clients to move forward, and it’s up to you (clients and employees at large companies) to go tell Chet how much he’s costing you.

Update: TechCrunch points out a new campaign pointed at IT managers, Hey IT!

Is Microsoft kinda cool now?

07/17/2009

Windows 7 pre-orders are flying off virtual shelves. Sony’s PlayStation 3 has lost the market to the Xbox 360. Some Microsoft commercials are being pulled because they’re too racy, and Apple is demanding they pull others. The ZuneHD actually looks cool. Natal is hailed as revolutionary. What the hell is going on?

Is Microsoft cool all of a sudden?

It’s been good sport for years to pick on M$ for being incompetent, for failing to be innovative, for being the makers of software that we didn’t really want, but reluctantly were forced to use for one reason or another. Apple wins creatives, Linux wins nerds, and Microsoft wins those that don’t know any better.

A designer on my team who has always been a Mac user installed Windows 7 on his PC this week, and conceded that it “blew him away” and had him considering a switch to Windows.

But there’s mounting evidence that that’s changed. Microsoft has had a string of wins lately. It’s been a long fight – for example, only recently has it become socially acceptable to have a Zune. But we have at least two years without any Bob-level catastrophes (those who would argue Vista qualifies probably have never used it). I had a chance to visit the Microsoft Technology Center in Las Colinas recently, where they had a Surface computer among other toys, and it drew lots of positive attention. People really loved playing with it. A designer on my team who has always been a Mac user installed Windows 7 on his PC this week, and conceded that it “blew him away” and had him considering a switch to Windows. That is a big time shift.

So maybe Microsoft has proved again that you should never bet against them. Despite their size, they have managed to be a real leader in the technology industry, pushing us in directions that hip little startups haven’t been able to.

So what say you?

Customer Service is the new Marketing

07/17/2009

Customer Service is the new Marketing is a mantra at Mural, and something we emphasize with our clients. We always make sure that customer service is a core value of our clients marketing efforts, because we believe that it’s an essential skill set in our new internet driven economy. I was recently contacted by an old client I did some work for about 4 years ago that proves how true this is.

This company is a family owned, but multi-million dollar HVAC company in the North Texas area. It was started by the current owner’s father decades ago, and has always maintained that small, family owned, low tech quality that can be a very endearing trait. They have done a lot of things right in the history of the company that has helped them grow to such a large size. They are extremely picky in who they hire, and hold them to very high standards. There are random drug tests, weeks of training, no cursing, no smoking, and the work day ends when the job is done, and not before. If you’re going to have some strangers in your house all day, you can probably appreciate the standards they enforce. They’re a bit more expensive than the independent guys, but they’ve worked hard to establish a level of trust that’s hard to beat.

The Internet has become a huge megaphone for consumer feedback, and customers who feel slighted or cheated have a really loud voice.

That is, until the last year or so. They’ve serviced over 100,000 homes around DFW just in the last few years, mostly for happy satisfied customers who have trusted their business for years. But as you can imagine, at such scale, screw ups happen. A bad egg tech slips through and pushes unnecessary repairs on customers, people with no A/C in the Texas summer lose patience when it takes hours longer than expected to get a tech out, and sometimes they have been slow to respond to unsatisfied customers who need repeat service. These types of issues have probably been with them forever, and surely plague their competitors as well, but there’s been a shift in power over the last few years. The Internet has become a huge megaphone for consumer feedback, and customers who feel slighted or cheated have a really loud voice.

Customers for this company have started to speak up when things go wrong. Things really came to a head for them when a collection of complaints about the company’s policy of refusing to turn gas lines back on if they detect a crack and possible carbon monoxide leak in a furnace were published in a local paper, and loyal customers started calling to cancel their service. When they called me, they were interested in an agency that could help them with a public relations problem. So I started looking into it – a google search quickly turned up the infamous article, as well as a couple dozen other review sites littered with 1-star reviews from angry customers. Anyone searching for this company online would likely be turned off from them very quickly, and would probably be warning their neighbors. The reviews were scolding. It would not surprise me at all if google is costing this company millions a year in lost revenue.

It quickly occurred to me that the problem was not one that could be covered up with positive PR to compete with the negative press. That would just be a bandaid on a gunshot wound. What was needed was a swift and dramatic shift in the customer service policies of the company to make sure as few customers as possible ever got angry enough to bother writing a bad review.

I made several recommendations to the company to help remedy the situation. I consider these points of sound advice for just about any business today:

  1. The first step is always admitting you have a problem. Make the decision to change what you need to get the problem fixed.
  2. Be immediately responsive to any complaint, and give it priority over new business.
  3. Be proactive – ask customers if they’re satisfied, and if not, what else you can do for them.
  4. Online communication must be two-way. Don’t just shout out into crowds, and don’t leave your unhappy customers to do the same. Connect with them! Monitor the web for new reviews of your business, monitor social networks like twitter. Dedicate a CSR to ‘online customer service’ and empower them to remedy any complaint found online.
  5. Do it publicly – don’t try to counter-review yourself online anonymously, but post a neutral review with your Online CSR’s direct phone number and email so anyone about to write a review sees that there’s a recourse. Don’t avoid problems, embrace them, solve them publicly, and demonstrate your commitment to customer satisfaction.
  6. Get involved with online communities like GetSatisfaction.com. Encourage your customers to visit and post an honest review. You can’t avoid the conversation, so you might as well embrace it.
  7. Commit to the long haul. This isn’t a campaign you run for 3 months and then slack off. This is as important, if not increasingly more important than traditional advertising. Consumers are wary of advertisements, but trusting of honest communication. This needs to be a permanent establishment of the company.

The gears are turning over at the HVAC company, and new policies and strategies are now being drafted. If they play their cards right, in a year they could very well have completely turned the tide, and converted a liability into an asset. The brave new world we find ourselves in requires a new set of strategies for companies to effectively engage with customers online, and companies ignore it at their peril. Google can be your savior, or your executioner – it’s up to you.

The Journey Begins

07/16/2009

Despite being in the web design business for 8+ years, I have never had a personal or business site during that time. I was always too busy, and didn’t have any trouble finding work, so it never happened. For whatever reason, I’ve decided to go ahead and build my personal presence now. I already have a bunch of topics in my drafts folder, so watch this space for content to come!

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