The Continuing Story of HP's Lessons in Business Communication Around Selling Firmware

The Continuing Story of HP's Lessons in Business Communication Around Selling Firmware

When we last left Mary McCoy, Vice President, HP Servers - Support Technology Services, she had taken to the HP blogs to reiterate HP's stance on altering the company's support services for ProLiant servers. The long and tall of it is that HP stopped making firmware updates available for free to ProLiant customers outside of warranty or an extended support agreement. In the original post, Mary used phrases and words like 'intellectual property,' 'commonplace in the industry,' 'customers for life,' and 'you can count on HP.'

A couple days preceding the post, customers were up in arms over the change in policy, many of whom had already decided to source server hardware from a different vendor due HP's changes and outwardly crass attitude. This customer angst carried over into comments on Mary's original blog post, with over 30 customers adding their complaints. And, the crux of the customer message? HP doesn't care.

The comments were enough for Mary to edit the original post, removing some of the verbiage like "intellectual property" which seemed to be more of a legal term than a customer-friendly message. And, then based on the customer comments, Mary plopped together a second post to help clarify any issues that resulted from the first post. But, did the second post change anything? Probably not, considering the use of "intellectual property" is back, and in the first paragraph, further distancing HP from its customers.

In the follow-up post HERE, Mary tries to sway customer commentary.

First, without the ability to charge for firmware through an extended contract, HP wouldn't have the money to invest to create great customer experiences:

It is through the sales of warranty in the product, and sales of support services after the warranty that we are able to invest to create great customer experiences with our products.

Then, she posts that…

… we find that customers appreciate the level of service we provide, including access to firmware updates.

This is an interesting perspective and really highlights the issue that HP has created for themselves. Mary is considering HP's history as the data point instead of realizing that this new policy change has completely altered customer perception of the company and its services. Customers do appreciate a good level of service, until that level of service changes, and the comments lobbied against the first blog post and the second seems to indicate that the natives are restless, the war drums are beating, and customers are still considering storming the camp. It would prove interesting and telling to come back and readdress the situation in 6 months.

Many companies, like HP, stop listening to customers at some point and rely more heavily on stats. As we all know, stats can be misleading and can be spun and construed to make even the worst figures seem positive. Stats are a game and those who are good at gaming the system can literally change how the business is perceived.

"Sales are down? That's OK, this stat shows we're positive in these areas."

"Customers don't understand our marketing? That's OK, the stats show that female customers age 25-30, with 2 kids, divorced, get their coffee from 7-11 every morning, and living in the foothills of Ohio appear to love us. We'll redirect our marketing toward them."

"Customers don't want to pay for firmware? That's OK… we find that customers appreciate the level of service we provide, including access to firmware updates."

What is it about companies that stop listening to customers? They seem to consider customers a needful enemy, putting up walls to deflect complaints. They want the revenue but hate the feedback, when in fact, the two go hand-in-hand to create the "great customer experiences" that Mary proposed in her blog post.

Mary finishes out the blog post by pulling specific items from the Firmware Update Access for HP ProLiant Servers FAQ, reiterating the stance and the scope of the change. But, even in the follow-up post, customers continue to remain confused and upset.

Today, February 19, 2014, is the official day that firmware access changes go into effect. In the end, HP will probably not reverse its decision, and based on all of this it will be much easier for HP to gather new customers than to retain old ones. I'm sure those divorced, coffee-guzzling, women in Ohio will sign-up right away.

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