Nokia USA: How to turn talk into action

Brymo, via Flickr (CC license)
Talk is a good start, and it need not be cheap, but by itself it generally doesn’t get much done.

Earlier today Nokia’s Charlie Schick posted a thoughtful comment about how Nokia and its current and would-be customers might, through talking openly together, improve the situation in the high-end US phone market. (Also, Nokia director of corporate communications Mark Squires also just left a comment on this theme.)

Here’s my response to the excellent points Charlie raised…

Hi, Charlie

Thanks for commenting. This conversation is getting very interesting, and I’m glad to see that Nokia seems willing to engage in a non-superficial way.

Thanks also for starting to raise these issues on Nokia’s Conversations blog. I posted some thoughts today on why discussing problems publicly is so important.

Despite vast time-zone differences, I think this could be a quite interesting and possibly constructive conversation.

To respond to your points:

1. “PLEASE, let’s together make sure that this isn’t a one-off ‘help Amy’ thing.”

I TOTALLY agree with you on this. My main concern here is that I want US journalists and mobloggers to be able to get ASAP the kind of pro-quality tool that will enable them to do their best work from anywhere, anytime — while staying connected to what’s happening elsewhere.

So far, Nokia’s N-Series tools (especially the N95 and N82) seem to offer the best shot at that. But with mobile tools, service is at least as important as product. If Nokia USA can get its service act together, I think we’d have a winner that ultimately would enhance the quality and diversity of news, information, and perspective available from the US.

Furthermore, until Nokia USA gets its service act together, I personally couldn’t bring myself to commit to owning another N95 — no matter how much I want one. By itself, a great product isn’t enough. So the only way to “help Amy” here is to improve how Nokia USA works, starting with short-term fixes and moving up to more substantive improvements (like widespread local distribution and service in the US).

2. “My comment on ‘intermediaries’ wasn’t to shift the blame. Tut tut. It was saying that your category of problem (service) was a complicated beast.”

I understand that your comment on intermediaries wasn’t intended to shift blame. However, I hope you understand that from the *consumer’s perspective* it could easily appear that way.

Nokia has pulled together a complex network of connections to bring its N Series products to the US market. This involves sales, fulfillment, distribution, support, service, and more. When you look out at that network, you see intermediaries. But consumers see Nokia. As far as we’re concerned, we’re dealing with *your brand*. So we expect Nokia to be accountable for our experience with your products and service.

I understand that building a coherent brand vs. managing necessary intermediaries is a tough balancing act for any consumer products company.

One thing I hope this discussion will do is help consumer’s peek behind the curtain of your brand to understand more about how Nokia really works — and who you work with. The goal of this is to reality-check consumers and Nokia alike so we can focus on getting to market the product-service package consumers really need, in a way that’s lucrative enough for Nokia to keep it up over the long haul.

3. “Wow. This was a great article. It has many aspects and I think it’s pivoting around your krappy experience with the FW update. I think you could make a deeper post in each of these items you list.”

Thanks, I’m glad my efforts are appreciated, because I am putting more energy into this than I expected. I’m surprised how much this matters to me — but if you saw the half-assed tools most journalists have to do their job, and how that hobbles their work, then my passion for this topic might make more sense.

To be clear — the firmware update that bricked my N95 was *only the trigger.* Don’t mistake that for the core problem.

The core problem here is that, through this technical snafu, I realized how woefully deficient Nokia USA’s service is (at this point) for N-Series users. I realized that Nokia USA was forcing consumers to assume an unacceptable level of risk, and I was relieved that by quickly deciding to ditch on the N95 for now I escaped that morass with minimal financial harm (but not without heartbreak)

And yes, if this discussion continues constructively I’m sure I’ll have much more to say on my suggestions for action.

4. “What pains me most is that you CARE and you have to suffer such an experience. But, it’s sad to think of all the people who don’t care that we turned off.”

Yeah, I know, that is a major bummer. Be glad that Nokia has developed a line of products that can instill such passion and also be so very useful to people in a position to do important work (journalists and bloggers).

The tricky thing about instilling passion is that it can quickly turn against you in a harsh way if you frustrate those passionate people. That’s one thing that concerns me here: Nokia has created a situation to engender passion, but Nokia USA has created a situation to engender frustration. Not good. I don’t envy you having to manage that conflict.

The good thing is that transparent, frank, public conversation can act like control rods in a nuclear pile. It provides a vital reality check that can keep expectations from spinning out of control, without leading people to lose hope and passion, and while finding solutions to thorny issues.

5. “It’s obvious that sometimes the firmware updater bricks a phone. Indeed, I hold my breath every time. But, it seems to be improving (it actually saved my son’s N81 user data — finally). And it’s been really popular. BUT, yeah the big BUT, maybe we should have been prepared for any of those rare instances when it BRICKS THE PHONE. Sigh.”

Regarding the firmware update process, you’ve got two big problems as far as the US market is concerned: It’s clunky as hell, and it’s Windows-only. Those are technical barriers that *can* be fixed.
Let your US users know what you’re doing to fix them — and involve us in the process. Offer us safety if we agree to be your beta testers as you improve this process. (Like maybe starting a registered beta program where, if the firmware upgrade bricks your phone, Nokia will overnight a new one to you. Just a thought.)

But in the short term (i.e., immediately) three things Nokia could do to improve the situation and gain US consumer confidence are:

  • Post bulletins about what is and is not known about the firmware upgrade problems, and put them in an easily findable place that people can subscribe to by feed and e-mail. For instance, is the problem really due to trying to update non-US phone models with US software, as Nokia’s support reps told Beth Kanter? (Your comment to Beth on that indicates that may not be the reason.) Consumers want clarity on this point. FUD is bad for business.
  • Train Nokia support reps ASAP about this issue, so they’re giving consistent information and advice.
  • Reduce consumer risk. Update your warranty for US N-Series phones to unconditionally and immediately replace any phones bricked by your update process. No questions asked. I’m sure you can confirm though your servers whether a particular phone attempted or completed a firmware update prior to bricking. Since this is a known problem related to crucial Nokia-provided support, consumers need to know that Nokia is really taking responsibility for it, and not leaving them at risk.

6. “Well, yeah, if you pay a lot for a device, there are certain expectations.”

True. That comes down to understanding and respecting the consumer. No one wants to do business with a company that doesn’t show them respect.

Furthermore, US high-end consumers currently are weighing Nokia’s offerings against the iPhone, and the iPhone currently is winning that contest. Apple offers fast, great service for iPhones. You can buy iPhones or get them serviced/replaced at hundreds of US locations (Apple stores and AT&T wireless stores).

But the iPhone’s problem is functionality: It isn’t yet the best tool for a serious journalist or moblogger. It’s not 3G network compatible (slower data transfer), it’s locked into one US carrier, it doesn’t support an external keyboard, it only begrudgingly has begun to support 3rd-party apps in a negligible way, and it doesn’t have real GPS. Nokia currently has the advantage on all those issues. I’d like to see you use it.

One thing’s for sure — either Apple or Nokia will get the product/service mix right for the high-end US market, sooner or later. It’s just a matter of who will get there first.

High-end phone users are willing to pay a premium price for the right product/service mix. But we expect the very best in return for our money and their passion. Don’t let us down.

7. “As for sales price, distribution channels, etc, let’s see if we can split those discussion up instead of all on one place. Also, for me, at least, those are much bigger issues than I can respond to.”

Then maybe it might be best to start an online community focused on improving Nokia USA — something that addresses the technological, support, service, distribution, and pricing issues for this market as a whole.

I’d hate to see this discussion get too fragmented. (It’s already too fragmented, across various blogs and forums.) In order for all this talk to lead to action, we need coherence. And really, since it’s Nokia’s US high-end business at stake here, it makes sense for Nokia to host that discussion.


– Amy Gahran

2 thoughts on Nokia USA: How to turn talk into action

  1. Amy, been following your conversation with Nokia for a few days now and I have to say that its really encouraging to hear you express your thoughts eloquently, yet with the emotion that you (and others) definitely feel. As a person who is a full time blogger/journalist, I am in that boat of needing devices that will just work, and when they don;t that there is a capable solution that the company who made those devices has for me. When that is not there, I cannot press that innovation that I wish to have.

    So I do applaud your opening of the conversation. Its given me a lot of think about, and more to look forward to as mobile pushes past its traditional boundaries. Blessings.

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