This time last year, we at CIO—like many people on the planet—were occupied with millennium madness. For the most part, our obsession with the new year revolved around the Y2K issue. Would the date change result in worldwide chaos if everything containing a computer chip went screwy? More important, would I personally pay a price for not stockpiling canned goods, bottled water and clean underwear? Happily, everything turned out OK.
But there was another Y2K issue, one that aroused considerable passion, and one that persists.
Last year, we heard from several readers who pointed out (rather vehemently) that we were guilty—along with the rest of the media—of propagating a pernicious prevarication. The millennium, these people maintained, did not come last year when the calendar changed from 1999 to 2000; the new century would actually begin this year, when 2000 gave way to 2001. Their reasons were mathematical, multifaceted and far too complicated to go into here. (In short, they needed to get lives.)
The roar of the hype drowned out the protests of those millennium deniers, but some of them are stoutly sticking to plans to celebrate their millennium this Jan. 1. In lieu of attending one of their parties (and what blasts they will assuredly be), I will offer a few humble millennial hopes for 2001 and beyond. While world peace may be beyond us, most of these fall solidly into the realm of the possible.
Wishin’ and Hopin’
Wish No. 1: Companies that do well in the next century will do so by practicing good old-fashioned customer service. While price is a consideration for some customers, many others (myself among them) would gladly pay more for a product or service that arrives when promised. And if the goods don’t arrive as promised, customers should have the comfort of knowing that their complaints will be dealt with in a polite, up-front and timely manner. No paying customer should ever have to fend off a surly sales clerk or wrangle with a customer service representative, yet these are staples of the new economy.
Good customer service is a simple concept that continues to elude businesses of all stripes. May success in the new millennium be garnered by those companies that treat their customers with the respect, courtesy and honesty they deserve. For all others, here’s hoping for a future filled with Securities and Exchange Commission investigations, management scandals, bankruptcy filings and class action suits.
Wish No. 2: The scourge of telemarketing will go the way of the telex machine. I can deal with the reams of spam e-mails I get at the office. For starters, they’re easy to delete, I don’t have to speak to another human, and sometimes they can be quite amusing. (“Fire the creep you call your boss!” was worth a couple laughs.) But there’s absolutely no redeeming social value to calls placed when I’m eating dinner or—worse yet—when I’m home sick trying to get some rest. The only way to make this annoying practice go away is to make it a complete waste of time. Consumers, let’s unite in the 21st century and refuse to switch phone companies, sign up for cable service or buy that magazine subscription over the phone! Please, help stop the insanity of telemarketing before I go crazy.
Wish No. 3: The end of the 20th century saw the dawning of the Internet age; here’s to the 21st century witnessing its perfection. As with any emerging phenomenon, miscues and inconveniences occurred with e-commerce operations, most notably falling into the categories of fulfillment problems, ill-conceived business plans and revenue models that bordered on the ludicrous. As shaky dotcoms shut down faster than Teamsters on strike and consolidation continues in the B2B space, the foundation for a healthy e-commerce industry is now taking shape. What has to come next are actual profits—which up to now have been elusive largely because e-commerce companies have spent way too much on marketing and sacrificed way too much on discounting prices. As a way to prod e-commerce companies into profitability, I propose a modern twist on the old practice of throwing debtors into prison. Instead of a small cell, the CEOs of indebted dotcoms should be confined to their corner offices. They can keep their Internet connections, cappuccino machines, handheld computers and Herman Miller furniture. But before they are ever allowed to see the light of day again, they must study the complete writings of Adam Smith and get tattoos emblazoned with the legend: “I love shareholder value.”
Wish No. 4: IT, which has proved its mettle helping businesses become more productive, will finally prove its worth in my day-to-day life. As the 20th century comes to a close, I still have to file tax returns on paper, pay big bills through the mail and fill out medical forms in triplicate (for the doctor, the hospital and the insurance company, respectively). If a company like Dell can take an order, build a computer and ship it out with little or no human intervention, I want my life to be similarly streamlined by technology.
Wish No. 5: I never again receive a press release from an IT vendor I’ve never heard of claiming to be “a leading provider” in its market. Whatever happened to truth in advertising? If these companies are leading the world in anything, it’s hyperbole, because not only have I never heard of them when their press releases jingle into my e-mail, I never hear from them again after their dog-and-pony shows leave town. Just once, I’d like to get a press release that tells it like it is: “Although Acme Inc. currently has no products shipping, no customers and no real prospects for any customers in any foreseeable future, we’re hoping to garner some positive press so that Microsoft will buy us for millions of dollars and we can all retire to Tahiti.”
And Another Thing…
I have other, less lofty hopes for the new millennium. It would be nice if software documentation no longer read like it was written in a lost Aramaic dialect. That way, maybe I could actually install software by myself.
I’d be considerably less frustrated if my Internet connection made it through a single week without crashing.
I’d love it if I could log in to the office computer system from home with anything resembling reliability.
I’d shop online with more confidence if I had faith that my package would actually arrive in seven to 10 business days.
And I’d thank the gods if online real estate sites relegated real estate agents to history’s dustbin once and for all.
World peace? Maybe that’s not so ambitious after all.