July 6, 1999 -- Newsletter #35

By Joe Burns

July 6, 1999 -- Newsletter #35
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Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warriors

I received such a response from the newsletter on the Amish being the answer, in some people's eyes, for the Y2K problem, that I thought I'd pass along a story from Sunday's newspaper. It seems young Amish boys are hooking boom boxes up to car batteries and are cruising around in buggies at night blaring Snoop Doggie Dogg. (He's a rapper, for those of you my age and above.) Rural residents are complaining about the noise.

Did you hear...

>On Monday the 28th of June hackers got in and defaced the Army's main Web site It's been repaired, but once again someone has raised the bar and someone else will have to jump higher. It makes me nervous that soon they'll hit something that starts a domino effect that really harms someone -- like hospital records.

>The Federal Trade Commission has put out a warning to consumers to be wary of false medical claims on the Internet. They are very concerned that the new crop of medical-related sites will cause people to diagnose themselves with illnesses they don't have. It's a good point.

>According to ComputerWorld Magazine's poll of business executives, the best thing you can learn this summer is the Oracle Database. That, they say, is the skill most in demand.

And now onto today's topic...

Last week I talked about e-mail. You responded that I was close to the truth. One e-mail really hit me. Dixon, Dave wrote to me from the UK, "maybe nowadays [we're] given access to all this technology too easily, without really understanding how to use it."

Hear, hear! I think he's onto something. We know what e-mail does, obviously, but do we use it correctly and in the most successful manner? I don't know. Some say yes, some say no. But let me get you off of e-mail for a moment and ponder the world of Internet business.

I was sent a great article that made me laugh out loud. It talks about business on the Web and the absolutely brilliant idea that is making it's way into e-commerce. Ready for this?

Real people!

Yes, real people. Real, walking, talking, breathing, thinking, able-to-speak, people. It's being heralded as a real leap forward in Internet technology. Go figure.

I'm not kidding. Bob Tedeschi writes in his article "For a Personal Touch, Some Sites Add Real People" that businesses are ready to jump on this. It's "the cost of entry going forward" says Judy Neuman, vice president for interactive media at Eddie Bauer.

I guess I can see how business people didn't feel that the Web needed real people. They saw it as something that would sit over in a corner, accept e-mail orders, process them, get the order to shipping, and deposit money into a bank account. And all of this could be done with one tech guy performing wizardry when something went bonkers.

If a consumer had questions, they could always search the handy FAQ that would surely not have the answer they were looking for. Or they could always send an e-mail to an address that would be looked at when the wizard had time. But, I'm sure they thought that wouldn't happen. Internet users would be sophisticated computer users who could handle any situation. They could figure it out themselves. Right?

In theory it's a great idea. In theory.

This year, Etoys, CBS Sportsline,, Lands' End, Hewlett-Packard, and, among others, indicated they would be implementing a telephony service that would allow customers to reach a real living person while making an order. This would either be by chat room, or by some form of voice through the computer.

And it ain't cheap, either. Eddie Bauer wants to put 15 to 60 people at the customer's fingertips at a cost of $1500 per person just to get them set up with the equipment needed to be in contact with the users.

But it's needed. Research shows that roughly two-thirds of consumers have bailed out of a transaction before completing it because they felt something was fishy or they simply didn't understand what was going on. You really have to make people feel comfortable if you expect them to write their credit card number to a screen and click "Send it!"

I know the feeling. I purchase things over the Net. I know it's secure. I know how it works. But I still get that little twinge in my stomach when I send the stuff along. Who knows? Maybe if I could hear a voice at the other end I would feel a bit more safe in the transaction.

Allow me to suggest to any business that wants to get into using real people to please train them and pay them to want to do the job. Warm bodies at minimum wage do not knock themselves out to get that sale for the company. It drives me nuts when I talk to a salesperson or an order taker who knows nothing -- and admits it. He or she tells me they're just an order taker and sighs like I just asked them to clean my garage when I ask if the equipment I just bought comes with a carrying case (actual story).

When I call your store, I am ready to spend money. It's a short trip to get me to spend a little more. I'm an American! I love all the extra stuff! Yes! I want the carrying case. Yes! I want the extended warranty. Yes! I want the extra battery.

Sure, you can offer all that same stuff in a checklist one page before completing the transaction, but a person represents it better.

As I've heard said in the hallowed halls of my University, the Web is simply a delivery system. It delivers customers to you. Yes, it offers search functions and other events that make shopping convenient, but all in all, your Web site is a storefront. Once the customer is there, it's up to you to complete the sale. It's no longer novel to buy something over the Web. No one is overly impressed with the process anymore.

It's back to business as usual. That takes people.

I like this idea. I really do.


And that's that. Thanks for reading another one of my rants.

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

And Remember: Did you enjoy Wimbledon? Ever wonder why zero in tennis is called "love"? In France, where tennis got started, a zero on a scoreboard looked like an egg. Egg in French is "l'oeuf." Over time, the French pronunciation of the word was dropped and it became "love." Not quite as romantic as you had expected, right?

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