The TiVo Way – How Not To Do Business

If you’ve read some of my old posts, you may have noticed me mentioning TiVo several times. I’m a big fan. They created the PVR market back in 2000 and quickly developed a very loyal and, some would say, cult-like following. They have what I would consider to be the definition of Customer Evangelists. This is where their problems start.

TiVo’s fans organized completely on their own without any help from the company. The TiVo Community Forum, a very active message board with over 80,000 registered members, is one great example. Some are so fanatical about TiVo that they own two or three. Others buy extra units and give them to friends for a month or two with the knowledge that they probably can’t or won’t go back to regular TV after that long.

So, what’s the problem? TiVo is letting this huge asset just waste away. Rumor has it that a lot of TiVo employees lurk in the TiVo Community Form, but they rarely participate. Instead of continuing to bring latest and greatest to their customers (HDTV comes to mind), they spent a year trying to create lame partnerships with cable companies. Last November, the company announced that they’re going to start showing banner ads while fast forwarding through commercials (isn’t one of the reasons we spend $13 per month for TiVo service so that we don’t have to see commercials?). And last but not least, they’ve severely botched the release of their latest software update, TiVoToGo, turning it into one of the worst product rollouts ever (Hint: if you announce that something as being available on January 3rd, why are you forcing customers who want it waiting for almost a month?).

TiVo, I like you, I really do. But that doesn’t mean that you’ve got us for life. Microsoft’s Media Center software has come a long way in the few years it’s been out and Apple’s new Mac mini might just make a good media center within the year. A lot of your customers are already looking for alternatives, especially after the banner ad fiasco. So, you should be worried.

The thing that gets me is that your customers aren’t asking you for a whole lot. We just want a conversation (see The Cluetrain Manifesto). Are you having technical problems rolling out TiVoToGo? Just tell us. We’ll understand, trust me. We know you’re not perfect. After all, people make mistakes (unless TiVo is actually alien technology and you don’t have any people working for you…). What we don’t want is…silence.

The current textbook example of what happens to a company when they ignore their customers is Kryptonite Locks. It was just last September when someone discovered that a Kryptonite Evolution 2000 lock could be unlocked with just a Bic pen. A message was first posted to a message board, then someone posted a video of them unlocking the bike lock in just a few seconds. Everyone was waiting for a response from Kryptonite, but they didn’t do a thing. Within days, the videos spread throughout the internet, mostly due to the Blogosphere. Several days later, the mainstream media picked up on it. After that, it was all over. Now, Kryptonite’s reputation is badly damaged. It will likely take a very long time to repair it, if ever. All because they didn’t have their hears to the ground (or eyes on the internet) and let their silence incriminate them.

Companies need to realize that conversations are taking place, with our without them (again, see The Cluetrain Manifesto). It’s not even that hard. Set up a blog for your company. Better yet, set up a bunch for your employees. Get a copy of Hugh Hewitt’s Blog : Understanding the Information Reformation That’s Changing Your World and read it. Study it. Apply it.

Yes TiVo, I’m directing that advice to you. I don’t want to see you go down in flames like Kryptonite, but I think that’s the way you’re headed. It’s not too late though. Engage us. You just might like it.