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Don’t Oversell the Promise

September 25, 2013

customer_issuesI don’t normally do product reviews on this site, but I felt compelled to do one when expectation failed to live up to marketing’s promise.

First, I should say that the product itself is actually OK; however, the failure is a great example as to why your product’s marketing messages need to be a close approximation of reality.

So what’s the product? It’s the online transcription service TranscribeMe – currently in beta (a key point, which I’ll cover later).

As a marketing communications professional, one of the banes of my existence is transcribing interviews or writing up my meeting notes. At a basic level, anything that can take away the pain of transcription simply and cost-effectively is worth a try – so when I read that TranscribeMe had teamed up with Evernote and Livescribe, having just completed an hour-long interview, I jumped at the opportunity.

I’ve been a Livescribe convert for a few years now – I love the connection between my (mostly cryptic) notes and the original audio recording, but the missing link to complete the chain has long been an automated transcription service.

The TranscribeMe announcement promised an automated process linking up the Livescribe recording via Evernote to TranscribeMe, with the added advantage that Livescribe users would receive the first 5 minutes of audio free. The service promised a 98 percent accuracy, and the ability to take both Pencast PDF and straight .m4a audio files from Livescribe. Great , I thought, I can live with that accuracy rate and I’m sure that’s improved by the transcribers having access to the original Livescribe notes if they need to confirm any words or terminology.

So I registered on the TranscribeMe site and connected Evernote with my TranscribeMe account, moved my Pencast PDF file across to Evernote, tagged it with “TranscribeMe”, as per instructions, then waited for my transcription to come back. After a few days nothing, and no sign of the file appearing up on the “My Recordings” section of the TranscribeMe website. I contacted the company via the online help form and was sent a “Ticket Received” email in response.

A few days later, I was finally contacted by email:

“I am really sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Are you still having issues with the portal?”

My response:

“Not exactly – I’ve now managed to logon, and also to set up the connection from Livescribe to Evernote to TranscribeMe.

However – I’ve submitted a file for transcription, following the steps through Evernote – but have not received any confirmation or indication that the file has been received and is being processed.”

It turns out that the service doesn’t support Pencast PDFs, despite the instructions on the TranscribeMe site – it only supports .m4a files. Which is a shame really, because the ultimate power of the connection between Livescribe and TranscribeMe rests on the ability to see the notes that were taken during the recording, otherwise I may have well just used a standard audio recording device.

So, I finally managed to upload my .m4a file and then had to complete the order and payment form. Remember that Livescribe discount? Well, that’s not automatic – you have to put in a discount code for it to apply. Where was that discount code? Not on any emails I received when I signed up for the service, and not on any blog posts (“All Livescribe customers will get their first five minutes of transcription free. Our pricing model is simple and affordable”:

Another day passed as I waited for a response to my email asking for the promo code, only to have my email misread, so I had to send a second email …

OK, everything was now in place. My audio file had been received, I’d paid for the transcription, and I waited for a notification that my transcription had been completed. Three days passed and not a word, so I went online to see what was happening – and there it was, finished. It would have been nice to have been notified and, having used the service again more recently, that’s what should have happened.

And the transcription itself? I like the format options (Word, PDF and HTML) and I like the layout, clearly distinguishing the different speakers and timestamping each piece of content. However, while it’s probably at the 98 percent accuracy rate, the problem is that a lot of the important words are mistaken – and often quite badly. Here’s a couple of examples:

I’m the Major of Information Services” and

“to keep of it networked and layer a three-switch network with power over internet” which should have read to a gigabit network and layer three-switched network with power over ethernet”

This is absolutely where a Pencast PDF file would have made all the difference – when you are taking notes, it tends to be the important words you jot down.

I do have to say that all things considered, I’m quite happy with the final product. It has taken away a lot of the pain of transcription for me and when I compare the time it would have taken me to transcribe to the cost of the service, it is definitely more efficient.

However, my expectations were severely let down by the promise made to me in all the marketing material I had read. And TranscribeMe had the perfect excuse – the little “BETA” it has included with its logo. Given the product is in beta, don’t oversell your capabilities with your marketing. Ask for a little patience from your customers, and give them the expectation that there may still be some rough edges in the service.

At the end of the day, am I still going to use TranscribeMe? Yes – but if there was a competitor out there offering a similar product, TranscribeMe would have lost me. Two and a half stars.

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