It has been truly fascinating to follow the debate on Twitter regarding Goggle’s acquisition of the Sparrow team. Because it seems that even developers can’t agree if what happened was right or wrong. Which has also been a but scary, especially the arrogance of some regarding customers.
Sparrow doesn’t owe you anything. You paid, you got software. They can sell and/or kill it if they want. No right to complain. Sad, true.—
Matt Gemmell (@mattgemmell) July 20, 2012
If developers can’t agree it was good thing that the Sparrow team said yes to Google, how can they demand users to stop complaining and move on?
After reading through different articles and opinionated blog posts regarding Google’s acquisition of the Sparrow team, I’ve decided to go through a short list of things to show why it might not be so much about Google acquiring Sparrow, but more about how it is to be a customer or a company that one day decides to close shop and leave you hanging – why customers have a right to voice their concerns about how they feel they are being treated as a customer.
Sparrow + Saab
Looking at how customers of Sparrow has reacted reminded me of how Saab customers reacted when they learned their beloved car company was on the brink of bankruptcy. It has not so much really to do with feeling betrayed by the Sparrow team, but more the frustration of seeing a product with a lot of potential freezing production. It was the same reaction by Saab owners; sure, some blamed Saab, but end of the day they were sad not to see new models by Saab.
Thanks for the cash
It didn’t help that for almost two months Sparrow has been on sale, tempting more users to switch to Sparrow and then receive and email that feature development has ended. Probably making those who bought Sparrow a week or so ago like they’ve been part of some kind of Ponzi scheme.
The success of a product can and will have a huge impact on what is called brand loyalty. Creating a lot of hype and expectations around a product and then kind of pulling the plug on it will have a negative impact on brand loyalty. Because brand loyalty is not only about providing an amazing product to the customer, but making the customer feel special ad taken care off.
A negative impact on a brand can also affect the consumer’s confidence in that certain market. Which has already been discussed on Twitter. Where developers are asking, how can they expect users have any confidence in indie developers when this happens? An amazing product is created by a small indie company, then bought up by a larger company which either changes the path of the product or just closes down production for the sake of stopping competition.
However this has also given OSS company a good argument to why open-source can often be better than closed-source; because if Sparrow were OSS, someone would for sure have created a fork by now.
Customers has the right to complain
The most shocking attitudes I’ve come across so far regarding the Sparrow teams decision to be bought by Google, coming from other developers, is that customers have no right at all to complain about what happened. I can’t honestly think of any market where this type of attitude can still exist and where you can also be so open about it.
This aggressive and disrespecting attitude towards customers is what has often been the source of criticism directed at Microsoft, Apple and Sony when users jailbreak their devices.
Again it boils down brand loyalty and customer confidence. Customers are like children; once burned, twice shy.
As a business, to become successful, you must make your customers dependent on you. However you can’t forget that you are dependent on your customers. Without their cash you would not have that business.
Monopoly + Anti-trust
It is of course easy to tell Sparrow users to not blame Google, because the Sparrow team could’ve said no. Yet as it has been mentioned online, Google has a really horrible track record when acquiring other companies. They either absorb the technology into their own products, changing it completely, or shut it down.
For Google it seems to be OK, but Microsoft is often the one that has been in trouble for that and Apple has also been accused of hindering development.
Which is often been the argument to support indie developers. They are their own boss, no big company behind them telling them what to do and not what to do. As mentioned on Twitter, if Google just rebrands and keeps Sparrow alive, will they allow Dropbox integration?
It is also important to note that Sparrow wasn’t used only by Gmail users. It is honestly shocking to see how ignorant some intelligent people are, assuming that if you don’t use Gmail you use Hotmail, and that Sparrow was only used by Gmail users. There are many other major email services on the market these days. Sparrow provided not only a beautiful front-end for Gmail, but all other email services, on Mac and iOS.
To exclusively blame Google for acquiring Sparrow is wrong, but it’s also wrong not to congratulate the Sparrow team to be successful with their product.
However it is very dangerous for developers to act as if they support the Sparrow team by claiming customers are not allowed to voice their disappointment of feeling left out in the cold. Yes, end of the day a business has the last say in which direction they want to go, but that doesn’t mean they are immune to criticism and that customers are not allowed to complain.
Again, the Sparrow team had a sale to attract more users, they had promised to release an iPad version, there are rumours they were discussing a Windows version and suddenly out of the blue, customers are told feature development has been ended.
All you have to do is to look back in history and you will find a few companies making customers so displeased with them they almost went bust or had to spend a crazy amount of money on PR to save their reputation.
As an economical business decision the Sparrow team made a good decision. From a PR and customer care point-of-view, it was an absolutely dick move. To rectify the damage they have caused to their brand would be an absolute nightmare for a possible PR department. And I won’t be shocked if what the Sparrow team did will be used as an example at university to show how to avoid a PR disaster – because not all PR is good PR.
I worked at a company with the following motto regarding customers: “Customers are always wrong, but make them believe they are right.” Because the last thing you want to do is to tell a customer, as a company, that you don’t care about them.
The Sparrow team had the right to do what they did, but Sparrow customers has the right to voice their opinion if they feel abandoned by the Sparrow team’s decision.