WebEx Totally Blew the New Customer Experience for Me

I signed up for a new WebEx account today for a client. Got onto the WebEx website, clicked through the sign up forms, gave them my credit card for the $468 annual plan, thinking I can immediately scheduled a web conference with a new sales lead. But No... 11:21 am: The last screen in the sign-up process tells me that it will take up to 30 minutes for them to setup my account. In the age of 5 seconds attention span, "do it now" mentality, I am already unhappy. In this specific instance, I actually need to schedule a conference with a customer *now*. Not happy.

11:28 am: "Receipt for you WebEx order" email arrived. Which tells me please allow for 30 minutes for my account to be setup.

12:12 pm: "Welcome to WebEx" email arrived. (that's 34 minutes later) saying I can start using WebEx.

12:13 pm: Trying to log into WebEx using my email address as the user id, which was *repeatedly" mentioned in all the emails so far, no luck.

12:14 pm: Trying to reset / retrieve my password, no luck. At this point it is cleared that something else is wrong. Signed on to their online chat to ask for help.

12:15 pm: Oh you are an existing customer? Please call our 800 number.

12:16 pm: Called 800 number, someone picked up, determined that "something is wrong, your account is invalid", and transferred me to another department.

12:21 pm: after waiting for a few minutes, the call dropped. (We will *not* blame WebEx for this one, it could be just the cell service).

12:21 pm: Call back, since it was "something to do with my account", I navigated to billing and not tech support. Waited and waited.

12:29 pm: Agent picked up, "oh you need to talk to "service" and transferred me again. More waiting.

12:40 pm: Can't wait anymore. Hung up. Went to get lunch downstairs.

12:50 pm: Eating lunch at my desk, called back to 800 number, navigated to "tech support", and, yes you guessed it, waiting in the queue.

12:57 pm: Someone picked up. "Oh you don't have a user name" he says. "Funny I thought it was my email address" I replied. He asked me to pick a user name, (not in the form of an email address), created my "account" and away I go. I asked why did the system from the first sign-up screen keep telling me that my email address is my user name?

He couldn't explain. Seems like perhaps there is a truly manual step involved in the WebEx account setup process, and someone is suppose to type in a user name for me.

Wait -- this is not over !!!

10:35 am THE NEXT DAY: I got an email: "Your meeting center user name and password" is created. That is about 19 hours later. And that it seems is in response to the customer service rep's setting up of my user name when I was on the phone with them.


If I had simply waited, perhaps 19 hours later I would have received my actual user name? What is the actual rules for user name? Email? or username? What exactly is the sign-up process? I really would like to know.

By the way, I tweeted my dissatisfaction on twitter to @webex. Someone responded several times, but nothing actually happened.


The irony is that I was a very early user of WebEx back in 2000 when they were starting out. I have used it extensively in a global start-up. Everything was first rate. This experience makes me want to go run to dimdim or gotomeeting.

Consultant's Nightmare

True story, metaphorically speaking: Client: Our customers expect us to meet them in San Francisco to run a in person workshop with all of us in a week.

Me: Great. I looked and found a great cheap flight for all of us. Let's work on what gear to bring and get there one day before to setup.

Their Developer: Wait, I have never been on an airplane.

Me: Really? It will be fun to fly for the first time. I can pick you up at your house and show you around the airport.

Developer: No. I do not want to fly.

Me: Ok. I'll rent a big SUV and let's do a road trip. We can work on the presentation on the way.

Developer: No. I am riding my bicycle.

Me: Bicycling from Boston to San Francisco in one week? I don't think we are that fit.

Developer: I haven't ridden a bike since I was a kid. But I see people riding bicycles all the time to work.

Me: Yes. Commuting to work is great, exercise and good for the environment.

Developer: See? Let's go buy some bikes.

Me: Do you really want to tell your customers that you will be there in one week by riding your bike from Boston to San Francisco?

Developer: ...silience...

Me: Ok. I'll rent a SUV. I'll make sure it as a GPS. Let's pack up and leave first thing tomorrow.

Developer: No. We need to buy maps.

Me: GPS is easier.

Developer: I have never seen a GPS. Can you explain how they work?

Me: Sure. There are satellites in the sky, and the GPS receiver takes multiple signals.... Wait. We don't have time for this. You can google it and read about it on the way.

Developer: I don't trust GPS if I don't know how it works.

Me: GPS has been around for a long time. I'll let you play with it once we get started.

Developer: I want to get a GPS for my bicycle first to try. Maybe we can just mail them a picture of us on our bicycles instead?


OpenID is a great implementation of a great idea. Vendor agnostic single sign-on with multiple persona may finally happen. For a good intro, watch Django's Simon Wilson's presentation here:


I am planning to add openID support to all my projects, and soon. Currently there are few sites that support it. But today I had a nice surpise:

I uses 37signals basecamp. This week I started with someone that also uses basecamp. So now I am a "owner" and a "client" so to speak. That means two different user IDs at two different basecamp URL. While I have been complaining about 37signals's apparent lack of progress in new features in the products, they have been secretly working on openID. Now you can use openID to log into their services, and everything is available with one URL! See for more info.

User Interface Architect vs Graphics Artists

Hiring a web designer is difficult. Hiring a good one is down right near impossible. What exactly is a good "web designer"? A lot of companies incorrectly lump several very different roles together and pin it on the "web guy/gal". What kind of work do you expect this "web person" to do?

  1. redesign the web site/web application's look and feel
  2. make the web application accessible on PDAs and cellphones
  3. make a new set of icons
  4. design the printed brochure for the trade shows
  5. ...etc...

The main problem is, some of these are tasks for an artist -- a visual artist while some are for a programmer, and some are for an information architect. Designing a logo, or a set of icons, are (mostly) a art, creative task. Analysing a web application's content and fit it into a CSS driven site is a task for an informatio architect. Implementing a good set of CSS I say is a task for a programmer-type analytical person. Can a person be good at all three? Unlikely.

The industrial trend is then to lean towards the self-taught artist who learned CSS on her own. Artistics people sometimes make good programmer because they should be creative, and appreciate of beauty, hence elegance. This is still a compromise. I believe a company should hire two different person. First is what I called a "User Interface Architect" that is fully aware of current web presentation technology (CSS, DOM) and whose job is analysis/design/implement of web interface. She should NOT be insulted when the graphics jobs is given to a separate "Graphics Artist" whose job is to "draw" and give the company's output (application, print, office, etc) style. If you cannot afford a good artist (I thought artists don't make too much money !!? ) outsource that function.


I use basecamp. I like basecamp. I like the 37Signal designs. I read their blog. They are certainly pioneer in the newly revitalized ASP + Web2.0 biz. But I also find basecamp inadequate, as a paid user. Specifically:

  • While it is nice that the include their writeboard function in basecamp, it is not integrated. If you want to email a writeboard, the basecamp user list is not available for email selection.
  • Their todo list is too simple. To manage a big project, the lack of any type of hierarchy, tagging, or even just TOC makes it hard to use. This is ironic since one of the great thing about 37 signals is their simplicity in design.
  • Example: I need to be able to move entries between to-do lists, as we use them to classifying tasks, and sometimes tasks get mis-classified.
  • The login URL is NOT and
  • there is no login button on their website.


Inc. Magazine has an article on Time Management. It talks about corporate rythm(s). Some companies are monochronic, 9-5 M-F, some are polychronic. My company is very much a polychronic company. There are multiple rhythms in different periodicies. Time zones differences between our international offices dictates the daily rhythm. Different holiday schedules between countries dictates the annual or monthly rhythm. In the local office, some of our key developers have different work at home days for family support. That dictates our weekly rhythm. We have flexible hours during the day and it affects our daily rhythm. Is polychrony a good thing? It should encourage flexibility in work and thinking, promotes creative thinking and innovation. However we need to have polychron's working for us, people who are adaptive or thrive in a polychronic environment.

Read more from a Rutgers University study: TIME MANAGEMENT AND POLYCHRONICITY...

Business Use of wiki

Wiki is open source information. That is my definition. When applied to the business world, I say wiki is open source documentation. Wiki is invented at the Portland Pattern Repository, a website and database for software design patterns. You can read its full history there. In general wiki is a web site for simple, open and unrestricted collaboration. One of the main characteristics of a Wiki is that there is no page ownership. Anyone can change anything, including deleting things. My first encounter with wiki was at the Zope site. I did not like it. It was confusing, the quality of the content was not always good. Sometime in October 2002, my sysAdmin showed me that he was using a Python wiki clone, MoinMoin, for his own documentation. MoinMoin was written in Python, my favorite scripting and text manipulation language. Because it is web based, it is always there and it makes writing documentation simple. I played with it for a little bit, and decided to roll it out for the entire company to see if it will help us document our knowledge.

A side note, two technology that I love, Python and Wiki, were both introduced to me via Unix SysAdmins. Python was introduced to me many years ago by another SysAdmin that was working with me. What does this mean? Unix Sys Admin have good taste? and/or Unix SysAdmin has too much time to surf the web and find interesting stuff? (Sorry Ben).

Enviornment Before

First, some background: We currently have two internal web sites. One was maintained mostly by our internal web master. Mostly because we don't have a full time web master anymore. The content has slowly gone out of date. The content was for the general corporation.

The other site is a simple user directoried web site on a Apache server. Each person has their own directories. There are reasonable content on these sites, and the information is almost all technical, maintained by developers themselves. The problem is that you have to either edit HTML directly on Linux, or use a PC tool and manage with FTP. Even our developer finds that a little tedious. Therefore there is little incentive to maintain the data on that site. And besides one or two brave and technically savy product manager, there are little business level content on that site.

Wiki deployment I deploy a wiki site (powered by MoinMoin) in our Boston office. This office house primarily developers and product development people. At the beginning a few of the techies jumped on it, of course. First interesting observation -- some of the HTML savy developers started to try to format their pages nicely -- which is hard to do with the limited MoinMoin text mark up language. Hence the first advantage of using a wiki instead of a full scale CMS driven website. Once the writers decided that they cannot spend too much time on making things look good,they started to spend time on the actual content.

Looking at just the techie group first, there are two types of people up to the pre-wiki time. Those who like to document their work somewhere (usually on our old internal website), and those who do not want to but do so reluctantly, and those who just don't want to write anything. The group that were writers took to the wiki quickly. The non-writer group remains off line. The relunctant writers are the one that changed most. They started to create more pages.

As times go by the non writers started to contribute also. Part of this is social and process pressure. Since more discussions and documentations are on the wiki now, sometimes one do not have a choice but to participate. It gets really interesting when ''wiki'' becomes a word in our normal business discussion.

Technical Hurdle At least with MoinMoin, the wiki that we use, there are some technical difficulties that prevent even the technical people from using it effectively. The number one problem is attachment or file sharing. Often, part of the information shared is in the form of a PDF or a spreadsheet. Unfortunately MoinMoin's way of attaching files and referencing them is difficult.

Social Impact First, "wiki" becomes a commonly used term in meetings. "It's on the wiki, go read it", or "please put it up on the wiki", or "it's NOT on the wiki !" are the common phrase.

Some Links