Eat Your Own Lunch

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I love some of the old technology deployment phrases. According to legend, most of these - eat your own lunch, boil the ocean, etc. - came out of the heyday of IBM.

As an example, I know of one company that moved from customer support software to customer support software as a service (SaaS)... and their first customer was their own customer support department. While I like some things about how this company and runs its SaaS business and disagree with others, their willingness to take the plunge themselves has two benefits:

  1. It telegraphs confidence to the market. Nothing says, "I believe in my product" better than your willingness to use it. Conversely, a company unwilling to use its own platform tells customers, "do what I say, not what I do." Would you buy a Ford when the dealer drives to work in a Toyota?
  2. It forces good behaviour. Both the software and the infrastructure departments actually use it, creating a close and quick feedback loop, and improving the software at a higher rate.

On the other hand, smart companies also have a "plan B," or a fallback. After all, if you are running a cloud service, and customers call/chat/email in to complain because of performance or availability or bug issues on that platform, you will be hard-pressed to support them while the very same platform has those very same issues.

One company I worked with that was in a similar position had a non-platform-dependent fallback for just such a scenario. They hardly advertised it, because of the confidence issues raised above, but it was a very smart move. They received all of the benefits of market confidence and positive feedback loops, while ensuring that when it was needed most - when there was a fail - they could support their customers.

Interestingly, here is a company that doesn't eat its own lunch: Skype.

Since the Microsoft takeover of Skype almost 2 years ago, I have noticed more and more issues with Skype. If Google Hangouts weren't so difficult, and so dependent on email address (personal vs. work), I would think of moving over. Originally, I assumed these were just typical Microsoft underinvestment or lack of knowledge of the Mac platform, but searching the Skype community showed it to be an issue on Mac and Windows; it is equal opportunity bad engineering.

There are several ways to get support from Skype, and often the community forum is the best. But if you really need support, you can "live chat" with them from their Website. To their credit, their live chat agents respond quickly, and appear to have access to the correct systems. These are not sophisticated engineers, but when have you ever found one at first-level support?

Here's the irony. First and foremost, Skype is a two-way real-time communications system, chat and voice/video. Why does a customer need to launch a Web-based live chat, which has far fewer features and capabilities than Skype, to converse with... Skype support? Should one not be able to chat with Skype over Skype? Even more ironically, Skype touts using their platform for exactly this purpose with their "Skype Buttons"!

Understandably, someone might want to talk to Skype support about a problem with Skype, and may not be able to use it at the moment, which is why, for that smaller percentage of cases, there should be a fallback; Web live chat makes a lot of sense.

But what does it say about Skype that they are unwilling - or, worse, unable - to use their own live chat product for support... live chat? Time for them to eat their own lunch.