Cinemas and software : you hate me and I hate you

I’m a sucker. Last night I went to the cinema for the first time in a while. The queue was huge. I was cunning and called the automated booking system from my phone. Its voice recognition system left me standing in the street shouting "I said Cambridge you motherf***ing piece of s**t" into my phone. The popcorn was twice a reasonable price and the place stank. The film wasn’t even that good. But that might have been my foul mood, or because my first choice had started before I could book tickets. Everything about the whole experience sucked, as it always does. I’ll forget and go back again in a couple of months though. Sucker.

It was a Cineworld cinema, by the way. Their share price has halved since they floated on the London stock exchange nine months ago. I can’t think why. I suspect it’s not only their customers they treat like crap either. I overheard a conversation between the manager and a potential employee. The manager was explaining how they’d pay minimum wage and how the employee would need to be on-call, unpaid, in case he was needed.

There’s a parallel with business software. It’s often expensive, unusable and buggy. It’s sold by complacent corporations. You use it only because the salesman let your CEO beat him at golf. You don’t like the software, you resent it. You, the customer, is at best an inconvenience to the profit of the corporation. A post by Robert, one of the Red Gate developers, illustrates the frustration that we all feel at times.

I believe that things will change. Software companies will need to treat their business customers more as consumers; sophisticated individuals who can choose to spend their cash on things other than your software; people who place value on qualities other than features. Design, usability and customer service become more important than features. The visceral, emotional reaction you provoke in your customers is as important as ticking boxes on a feature list.

Your customers will look at the software they use at home and wonder why there’s such a gulf between what they do at home and what they do at work. Why does Microsoft Money rock but your corporate accounting system suck? Why can’t SAP be more like iTunes? Apple, Microsoft (less so) and others are setting your customers’ expectations. If you don’t meet them then somebody else will.

At Red Gate, we’re on the path I describe. We’re not perfect, but every product we release pushes us further. We frequently get e-mails telling us how much people appreciate our approach. We don’t publish them all, but here’s a selection of a couple of a couple of hundred.

Finally, ask yourself this question. If you write business apps then are they as easy to use as flickr? Or Google Maps? Or Microsoft Money? Or even – setting the bar low – facebook? Why not, and what are you going to do to fix it?

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2 responses to “Cinemas and software : you hate me and I hate you”

  1. Evan Meagher says:

    The software industry is ruled by a handful of monopolies (MS, Apple, Adobe, etc), whose products allow us to get what we want done, but not always in the most efficient and easy way. But since we can still manage to work around their various discrepancies to get what we want done, the average person doesn’t feel compelled to actively look for alternative applications, instead opting to finish their work and feel bitter about computing.
    On top of this, the average software alternative (OpenOffice, GIMP, Firefox, etc) generally has to rely on word-of-mouth to proliferate. Sure, Firefox might be exponentially better than IE, but at the end of the day, the only way a “normal” computer user would use it is if they’ve been instructed or otherwise advised to do so by a more tech-savvy friend or colleague.
    So the problem, at least to some extent, boils down to marketing. In order to inject effective competition into the software ecosystem, the little guys have to be able to compete with the giants’ behemoth marketing departments. Products like Firefox have proved that word-of-mouth can work wonders, but it’s not going to be enough to establish a healthy free market.

  2. One word: complacency.
    Once upon a time computers were slow and a good UI was not affordable. Time passed, computers changed but people did not. Engineers got used to creating bad UI and don’t know any better. Users got used to bad UI and do not complain enough.
    This all is well explained in a great book called “Why Software Sucks” ( Upon reading it I have seen the error of my old ways and vowed to do better.