Get ahead of the FUD

Screw-ups are inevitable. Sometimes, our screw-ups are behind closed doors, with a small number of people. But sometimes they’re done in public, in front of customers. When public screw-ups happen, it’s important to correct the mistake quickly and publicly. Any delay will hurt you and your product through the fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) created through negative word-of-mouth, news articles, and social media.

Xbox One

I was on the Xbox team when the Xbox One was announced. When you read the press release, there’s a lot to like: new games, new controller, new Kinect. Looking beyond the PR, customers quickly learned the initial product was always-online, restricted support for used games, required a purchase of a Kinect, and cost $100 more than Sony’s PlayStation 4. Customers were surprised at the changes, and took to the Internet to complain, including members of the military.

Articles were written immediately after the announcement adding to the FUD of what the console did and did not support.

The result is that instead of collecting the accolades, and maybe even getting an early leg up on Sony’s PlayStation 4, Microsoft is already on the back foot. It’s come out early, and laid down core “features” of its console that are wildly unpopular with people who you may call vocal forum goers, but who are also the preorder customers, the early adopters and product evangelists.

About a month later, Xbox backtracked. But the damage was done; PlayStation 4 has gone on to beat Xbox in sales.

Revolv and Nest

I was an early adopter of Revolv, a home automation hub. It cost $300 but promised lifetime service and support for dozens of different home automation devices. It worked well, and the company was regularly releasing updates to its software. Then, in October 2014, Nest acquired Revolv and ceased sales of the hub and updates to its software, but support for the hub’s service was continued. However, in February 2016, Revolv announced they were disabling support for the hub’s service, rendering the device useless. Emails to the company were responded to with robotic sympathy and no recourse.

This went largely unnoticed given the small user base of Revolv, until articles appeared referencing first-hand accounts of the situation and shining light on the larger question of products tied to services, and what happens if a company decides to stop those services.

All of those devices have software and hardware that are inextricably linked. When does an expired warranty become a right to disable core device functionality?

Imagine if you bought a Dell computer and Dell then informed you that when your warranty ends your computer will power down.

Imagine if Apple put out a new policy that not only won’t they replace the device for defects, but they will actually be bricking your phone 12 months after purchase.

Is the era of IoT bringing an end to the concept of ownership? Are we just buying intentionally temporary hardware? It feels like it. I own a Commodore 64 that still works.

After two months, Nest backtracked, and offered full refunds to its customers. But the damage to Nest’s reputation, at least for me, was done. Before this, I had pondered buying a Nest thermostat or camera. Now, I am unwilling to buy anything from Nest, out of concern for what their policies are around product support and sunsetting.

Beat the FUD

It took a month for Xbox to change its position on Xbox One. It took two months for Next to change its position on Revolv. This is an eternity, given media like Facebook, Twitter, and Medium and the speed at which they transmit information. In the absence of information during those one or two months, Xbox and Nest customers were given lots of FUD to think about.

If you make a product decision that your customers react negatively to, take steps quickly to fix the decision. Else, FUD may set you in a position that’s hard to overcome.