Loyalty you just cant buy

What must be the corporate Holy Grail is having a customer base so loyal to your product that it doesn’t matter what you do to them, they will just suck it up, keep paying you and ask for more. Before the Internet, I am not sure I ever encountered any examples of this loyalty, I am not even sure it existed.

As with much of life, the Internet changed everything.

We, consumers, are often subjected to watchdog type programs saying we should stand up and complain about bad service more – and I agree. For too long people have sat in quiet anger while companies have taken advantage of them.

With this in mind, it is ironic how some internet “companies” (for want of a better word) have managed to develop an almost slavish fan base who will defend them from even the slightest criticism.

Take Flickr as an example. Today it is having some massive database problems. It has been playing up for at least the last three hours, maybe longer. This is not the first time it has happened, and every few weeks it has has a few little “hiccups.” For most people, on free accounts, this is just something you would expect to live with – you get what you pay for some might argue (not me but that is another rant).

However, for people who have paid US$25 per year for a pro account things are, I think, quite different. The amount of money paid is not the issue. The fact is Flickr have taken a payment for a service. If they are unable to provide that service then they should be held accountable in the same manner as if it was a US$25,000 a year account. For some people in the world, US$25 is a monstrous amount of money so there is no argument to say it is “cheap” so we should expect a poor service.

Now in the flickr help thread, there is quite a mixed bag of comments (and hundreds of them). Basically though, they fall into some clearly defined camps:

  1. People who are outraged and annoyed with flickr for failing to provide them with a service they have paid for.
  2. People who, for whatever reason, feel the need to defend flickr no matter what.

There are some people who appear “neutral” but they generally make comments that fall into the latter camp, such as:

Get a life [aimed at complaining comments]. And learn that in that life nothing is perfect. Suck it up and be patient. (link)

What a day for this to happen! The day after I signed up , but I must add to the chorus saying, ‘Thank you Kevin for letting us know what’s going on’, there are many many sites out there who would simply leave their users in the dark. (link)

No problem Sir. Thanks for informing us… fail in the system is very normal, because it is created and made by man… very human. Dont worry. Thank you… and take your time (link)

These are not neutral posts – the are basically people who are happy with bad service. I am all for having some tolerance over problems but tolerance is not the same as cheerful acceptance. “Take your time” was too annoying for words. The idea that flickr is great simply because other people wouldn’t tell anyone is nonsense as well.

On the side of the slavish Flickr Fans there is one commenter who really stood out- SF Lights. This person has made dozens of posts basically flaming anyone who complains about the service and then, when people make the inevitable threat to go elsewhere he points out there is no where else to go. Some examples:

Guide [a commenter], you can feel free to leave and go to a more mediocre photo sharing website. (link)

Seriously, learn your facts before posting ignorant crap here. (link)

Byebye Panos, Be sure to upload a video on whichever other great photosharing website you….oh wait, there aren’t any. (link)

He really does come across as annoying. One commenter (Panos) seems to think SF LIghts is flickr staff and I have to say I agree – It is weird to think of a paying customer making authoritative comments like this.

All in all, you have to read the thread to get a full feel for how much the flickr supporters are willing to bend over for this. The idea that their wonderful flickr could ever be at fault seems alien to them. The idea that you should be able to expect a service you have paid for to be fit for purpose seems alien to them.

Just to finish, I actually think this is a trivial fault – it takes about two minutes longer to upload pictures and sometimes you have to refresh a few times to get a page. However, imagine you were in a restaurant and had to order each item of food three of four times… Would you complain? Would you say it was the best restaurant ever?

11 thoughts on “Loyalty you just cant buy

  1. This is a commenter after my own heart:

    I don’t think it matters what you pay and I don’t think it is an issue of perspective. Frankly I’m not terribly bothered by this anyway as I have nothing to upload, etc. Nonetheless, it still bothers me how frequent the problems are becoming on flickr.

    But what bothers me more is that there are always ass kissers here who chime in and say “great work” and “thank you, can I have another” and those people degrade the quality of service that we receive because they let flickr off the hook too easily. I’m not really saying there is much else we can do, but to thank them just seems to be backwards to me.

    I fully agree. Sadly this response was predictable:

    Don’t you have better things to do than complaining?
    I was not happy with the problems either but do I cry?
    I admit I don’t pay for flickr to work – this might be why I see this differently. But just be a bit more relaxed next time.

    I hope the problems will be fixed in my next break from work…

    Why should people be relaxed?

  2. Figures today was the one day all month I need to use Flickr. I am not outraged and probably fall into the “Suck it up and be patient” camp.

    Worse things could happen, it’s only Flickr…

  3. I also find it funny that Flickr has hardcore members that defend whatever Flickr does.

    Reminds me of Apple and their cult following. (yes the little icon above shows I’m on a Mac, too…)

  4. I used to love Flickr, but I haven’t renewed my subscription ever since Yahoo! took over, killing my account and making me sign up for their god-awful crap. One of the worst ever web takeovers IMO.

  5. Stephanie – I agree 100%!

    Ted – In some respects being patient is fine, there isn’t really much else to do. The thing that confuses me (and you are right, it is a LOT like Apple fans.. 🙂 ) is how when people quite rightly complained that a service they had paid for wasn’t doing what they paid for, there were the hardcore aficionados who churned out volumes of ad hominems to try and defend the Great Flickr.

    Null – Yahoo takeover was a real bummer. Flickr has gone down hill (IMHO video is insane) but, sadly, it is still better than the dross competition.

  6. However, imagine you were in a restaurant and had to order each item of food three of four times…

    More to the point, if you signed up for 24/7 food delivery for a whole year for $25, would you really complain ALL that loudly if 3 or 4 times a year they took a little longer to get your food? One of the issues that net companies face that others don’t is that they are expected to be up and available 24/7/365 with 0% downtime. I’ve been on flickr for a couple of years now, and while I have seen some of the “problems” you talk about, overall, flickr has easily been available and efficient for me well over 99% of the time. I am not “cheerleading” but I think that 99 % uptime is a pretty reasonable record of service, even if I do have to refresh a couple of times once in awhile …

  7. More to the point, if you signed up for 24/7 food delivery for a whole year for $25, would you really complain ALL that loudly if 3 or 4 times a year they took a little longer to get your food?

    Well, if $25 was a months income to me I certainly would. If it was an hours income, probably not. Lots of people who use flickr are well paid citizens of the western world. Not all are though. Even amongst the westerners, what about school children who save up six months pocket money so they can have a service, then the service lets them down for a week? Should they remain quiet?

    Equally, because most people are well off, should the poorer members of Flickr suffer a bum service, simply because the rich dont want to complain?

    The point I was trying to make is that the relative cost should not be the driving force. Flickr claims to provide a service and when that service fails they should be taken to task over it. It amazes me that people will, in the face of a borked service, clamour about how great it is.

    Pretty much every day this week I have had problems with it – uploads fail, groups vanish and reappear, the API fails (so you can do things like add pictures to groups). Not a major problem for me, but then I am never going to go round saying how great Flickr is. Unless people complain about poor service, why should Flickr ever bother to improve?

    Flickr is not a “good service” as such – it has lots of flaws and huge room for improvement. However, as it pretty much owns a monopoly (is there any real competition?) people are stuck with it. Even Flickr’s rabid adherents know there is no alternative – they just think this is a good thing.

  8. I’ll disagree with you (a bit) on this one TW. For most people there are alternatives. I’m supposed be setting up a Plogger installation for someone over this weekend. They thought Flickr was ok, but I persuaded them that for what they wanted to do local hosting was better. Similarly I’m using it for storage, but don’t really care about being seen. I could just as easily use another site if I wanted. The chief reason I pay is that I pull a lot of photos from Flickr into my weblog, but it’s with the storage space on WordPress,com I don’t even need to do that anymore. If I start using Picnik much I’ll pay for that too. But I don’t upload or browse Flickr on a regular basis and I’d think that most people are the same.

    At the other end of the scale professional photographers would be slumming it if they were on Flickr.

    It’s really only the talented amateurs, who make Flickr look special rather than the photo equivalent of Geocities, that are being irritated. They’re the only ones who don’t have a viable alternative and really stand to lose from moving from Flickr. They take their hobby seriously and that’s why it’s the faults rather than actual cost that’s annoying them.

    As for Ted’s comments on Apple, it’s complete and utter nonsense to say it’s a cult. I and the rest of the Mac re-education cadre will explain this to him in more detail once we’ve finished putting on our ceremonial Steve Jobs replica polo-necks. 🙂

  9. @TW …

    My point was more about the uptime of the service … I use it regularly (I have over 2000 pics online in my account) and I’ve never seen the problems you describe except in very isolated situations. Unlike others on the net, I have experience in system administration, so I know that 100% uptime is simply impossible. Over the 2-ish years I’ve been on Flickr, I’ve had access to my account with no errors well over 99% of the time. Whatever I am paying for the service, thats a good record of uptime by any standards, IMO. Given that I haven’t seen the level of problems you describe, is it possible that its your internet connection, and not Flickr, thats causing you the problems?

    I am not trying to cheer lead in any way … I simply think that Flickr has a pretty solid record of availability and uptime, especially given that its a “free” service if you choose not to pay. My experience with Flickr is amazing availability … I don’t deny others might have a different experience, but I wonder why I see such a solid uptime, when others seem not to. I’m simply saying that whenever I’ve wanted or needed Flickr, its been there for me … what more can I ask of a free service?

  10. Another problem could be time zones. I worked with a project who had a habit of once a week taking their server offline for maintenance in the evening and putting it back online around noon the next day – or five in the evening UK time.

Comments are closed.