Data Domain keynote at SNW – Slootman’s surprising response

I attended multiple keynote and breakout sessions at SNW last week, but my busy meeting schedule conflicted with many of the morning sessions. I was able to attend to Data Domain’s talk given by Frank Slootman and wanted to provide some commentary.

The bulk of the session was boring and included what appeared to be a standard corporate slide deck which I am sure any salesperson could present in their sleep.  The presentation could be summarized with Data Domain’s usual message: inline deduplication is good and everything else is bad, and, of course, Data Domain’s deduplication is the best.  I was definitely hoping for something more interesting and was sorely disappointed; however, things changed when it came to the Q&A.

Just to provide a bit of background, my experience with SNW is described here.  There were a large number of end users in attendance both at the expo and the keynote sessions and I estimate that many of the show’s 900 end users were in attendance for this talk.  At the end of the planned remarks, Slootman opened the floor to questions.

The first question came from a Data Domain end user who was familiar with Slootman.  The customer started by saying “Frank, we met when you visited our company.”  Slootman acknowledged the statement although it was not clear that he knew the person and things went downhill from there.

The customer was a Data Domain user and expressed frustration about the lack of basic capacity planning tools.  He was annoyed about his systems’ limited advanced warning when space was running low.  The result was that he had to fight with procurement to expedite the purchase of new shelves to ensure that he did not violate business SLAs.  His seemingly simple request was a tool that would allow him to forecast storage requirements for his Data Domain systems so he could plan purchases in advance.  Seems like a reasonable request, right?  Well, not according to Slootman.

First Slootman suggested that the end user pay attention to the automated capacity warnings.  The end user replied “Yes, but when those arrive it is too late.”  (I wonder if this can be adjusted.)  The customer pressed the point and said “I really need this and you promised it!” At this point Slootman became agitated and you would think that he would put on his “the customer is always right” hat and say something vague like “I will look into it and see if I can get it prioritized” or perhaps “I understand your frustration, let’s meet after the show and discuss it.”  Nope, none of the niceties from Slootman, he went straight for the jugular.  His answer was “Look, I have 50 other priorities just like this on the list and yours is on the bottom!”  Ouch!  How is that for customer service?  At this point, the end user’s microphone was disabled and questioning moved elsewhere.

The entire discussion was surprising.  My table comprised a mix of vendors and end users and everyone was looking at each other in wonder.  I even heard a couple of people say “can you believe he said that?”  I was equally surprised especially since everything Slootman had previously said was boring corporate fluff and I would never imagined that he would respond so aggressively to a customer.

In summary, the question about capacity planning was the highlight of the Slootman’s talk.  As the head of EMC’s Backup and Recovery division, you would think that Slootman would take a customer-centric approach to the situation.  Sure the end user was frustrated and perhaps even a bit aggressive, but I would have expected Slootman to take the high road and avoid alienating a customer in a public forum.  Clearly he did not.  Being the head of the division, it makes you wonder what values he is instilling in his own organization.  Is he suggesting that this is an appropriate way to treat customers?  Would it be acceptable for his reps to say the same thing to an agitated end user?  Clearly the answer should be no, but is it?

What do you think?  Is this an appropriate response to a question in a public forum?  Have you seen a similar attitude from others in his group?

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