• United States

Tattletale WebEx

Sep 27, 20043 mins
Enterprise Applications

I admit it. When I’m on the phone with a sales ‘droid I don’t devote my full attention to his or her exhortations of product greatness. Instead, I tend to read e-mail, surf the Web or maybe even do a little work. Now WebEx wants to make that harder. To me, this is just another reason not to use its service.

The economy must be picking up – at least to judge by the number of unsolicited calls I’ve been getting from salespeople. (Aside: I still can’t figure out why the do-not-call list doesn’t apply to business as well as residential phones. How is it less disrupting to intrude on my business day to tell me about something that I have no interest in than interrupting me watching the evening news?)

Each of these salespeople seems to think, or at least is trained to pretend to think, that whatever they are selling is indispensable to me or Harvard. Most of them have little idea of the details of the product they have been hired to sell. This is made clear the first time I ask any substantive question.

One example from last week was:

“Just where do you install this magic box in the network?” The salesperson did not know, but wanted to set me up with an evaluation system anyway and was miffed when I said 10 minutes into the first call seemed to be a bit early in the process to be talking about evaluation systems.

I try to be nice, even though that is frequently very hard, as trying to talk about things like network security appliances with a sales ‘droid who probably has to be reminded to plug in his computer can be frustrating. From time to time I admit that I get rather direct about the lack of information transfer. In the 10% of the cases in which the salesperson seems to have a clue, or something on the company Web site overrides the clue-deflector shields protecting the salesperson, I agree to have a follow-up call with one or more people who are supposed to know the product.

Most of these are conference calls, the regular kind where slides are sent to me beforehand and the conferencing equipment locks everyone out when someone is talking.

But some of the time, the company wants to use WebEx instead.

I’ve tried WebEx a few times but generally have had problems running it on my Macs, even though the company claims to support them. So I use that as an excuse not to try again. In reality, even if WebEx worked perfectly every time I’d still be reluctant to use it because of all the software it installs on my machine. I don’t like systems that do stealth installs of software over which I have no control.

Now WebEx has announced that its new software will tell the meeting operator when the WebEx software on the client is not in the foreground, for example when you are checking your e-mail. That seals it – no more WebEx for me.

I wonder if WebEx ever thought about the psychological impact of its new feature. I can’t see how people at the company would not have unless they are somehow used to their activities being monitored by people they don’t know.

Disclaimer: I used to work in Harvard’s Psychology Department, whose undergraduate concentrators would understand the issues here better than WebEx seems to. But I didn’t consult any of them for this column.