Thursday, September 20, 2007

Business Models to Avoid: Hijacking The Customer (Real.com's Rhapsody Example)

The power of disruptive innovation often comes from providing non-users and others with new levels of convenience. A successful disruptive innovation can be "worse" in some ways than other existing products if it excels in the dimensions of convenience, choice, ease of access, portability, or low cost.

On the other hand, there are "innovations" that are "anti-disruptive" in the sense of adding new burdens on the backs of consumers. "Improved" products that are less convenient or take away consumer choice and flexibility are the kind that are just begging for extinction - and often will face extinction when a disruptive innovation comes along with fewer bells and whistles but new dimensions of convenience. It doesn't even have to be much of an innovation when arrogant business models are implemented that ignore the customer experience.

Occasionally, a product "upgrade" comes along that is so inconvenient, so suffocating of customer choice, that it screams out for extinction. This is particularly so when the customer feel hijacked, forced to move forward with an unwanted upgrade the removes valuable features that out-of-touch businesses think can be jettisoned in favor of their new flavor. Customer hijacking is a warning flag that a company is out of touch and headed for the death spiral, or totally vulnerable for competitive disruption.

And that brings me to Real.com, whose music player, Rhapsody 4.0, is a classic example of customer hijacking that takes the customers to it's own version of Cuba where previous freedoms and conveniences are a thing of the past.

After being a loyal customer of Rhapsody for four years, a tool that has been valuable for my musical family, I finally canceled my subscription. But I begged for help, I begged to be allowed to stick with the previous version of Rhapsody which wasn't so buggy and slow as the new version, and which was far more convenient. But attempts to launch Rhapsody immediately forced us into an install of version 4.0 - without an explanation of the changes and new system demands, and without an explanation of how tediously long it would take to install the new software. It was a nightmare install, one that required lengthy waits, strange error messages, multiple restarts, and many calls to a truly out-of-touch foreign help desk that may have been speaking English at times. And after all the steps it took to install the software over a two-hour period, it still didn't work and hung up completely when looking at recordings of J.S. Bach. The clunky software simply can't handle artists with numerous albums, at least on the computer I was using. Tech support was able to reproduce the problem, but could not offer any help and didn't seem interested in helping. Tough luck.

Running Rhapsody 4.0 hijacked my computer in several ways, eventually hijacking the processor and taking 100% of the CPU for over 15 minutes before I gave up and killed it.

After waiting over 20 minutes to talk to someone to cancel my subscription and get a refund for their questionable overcharging (I found they had raised my monthly bill without my knowledge), I told them how frustrating my experience had been with the tech support staff. One person there, for example, refused to transfer me to someone else even though I really could not understand him and asked to be transferred, and then asked to speak to a supervisor. Truly annoying. The English-speaking customer service person told me that Real would value my feedback, and urged me to email real's feedback department (feedback@real.com). I explained my story and how pained I was as a loyal customer to feel forced to abandon Rhapsody after being hijacked with non-functional software. I expected that there would be some effort, some incentive or at least an olive branch offered to retain me as a customer. But no, I got a reply back from another person in India. After a superficial sentence saying he understood and apologized for the trouble, the response then became a form letter (maybe the whole thing was a form letter) regurgitating the alleged benefits of their crummy version 4.0. What ridiculous customer service. Out of touch.

When a company is so out of touch that they can hijack customers, provide tech support that can barely speak English, and ignore the complaints of long-time, loyal customers who are trying to find a way to continue on as customers, that company is begging for competitive disruption.

I don't think Real's Rhapsody offering is viable any more.

1 comment:

ZiaTurtle said...

Wow, I'm having exactly the same experience more than a year later. It's interesting that I stumbled upon this blog while searching for a way to give my feedback to Real.com as to why I am leaving as a customer and will never be back. Apparently they don't care. I'm unable to find any means of making their "powers that be" aware of why they are losing a customer. At least I'm not the only one. I agree, they are destined for extinction and it can't come soon enough. I'm surprised with service this bad they have managed to survive this long!