Brake for Geeks

August 22nd, 2007 12 Comments

will-not-fix.jpgWow, I read this blog post (via FSJ, with whom I have yet to break up) about a woman’s iPhone-Genius Bar experience and found myself experiencing wide range of emoticons. I mean emotions. It’s off-topic, but then again, what topic do I usually follow?

Read the summary FSJ gives or the full post, then come back and share your thoughts. I’m torn.

Geek Side
Early in my career at Oracle, during my first tour, I worked in PC/Server support. This was in the early days of the Interweb, and most of the PC support involved Windows 95 and NT. So, I feel the pain of anyone who has ever had to support users. I ran into so many seemingly obvious problems that I quickly developed a theory:

Assume people know nothing about computers, and you will be able to fix problems much faster by eliminating easy stuff.

For the most part, people admit they know nothing, which is why they call for help, and generally, it’s the somewhat savvy people that have the challenging problems. Anyway, supporting computers is a very stressful and mostly thankless job. When people want support, they are stressed and frustrated, and the support person becomes the human object of these negative feelings.

The takeaway here is that computers are hard. People are hard on support people. From the account given, it sounds like the Genius tried all the tricks he had in his (limited) bag to help. He failed to follow the cardinal rule: Assume people know nothing about computers.

Throw out the snarky commentary, and essentially, this woman was treated well. She had to wait, and they didn’t fix her issue. But the guy tried, so why dump on him?

lg-rtfm-tshirt.jpgUser Side
Computers and technology in general should be easier. As more people use technology, it should get easier, not harder. From what I can see, people are savvier than they were when I was in support, but it’s a chicken/egg problem. Did people get savvy because the technology was easier, or did they just use it enough to figure out how to work around the issues?

Being that this is my business, I understand user frustration. After my tour in support, I went into the field in consulting and sat with users. The things people do with your technology are amazing. Is that your fault for bad design, or their fault for being noobs?

Anyway, I don’t feel like I can totally flame this woman, despite her blatant inability to RTFM and failure to use spell check (maybe she has the lolcat dictonary installed), or even be a little initiated with her device. In a perfect world, technology wouldn’t need a manual at all.

And don’t get me started on support. Because support is such a tough job, it’s hard to get good, experienced advice. I’ve taken to asking for a Level 2 tech at the beginning of calls, to ensure that I am not forced to reboot or power cycle while the support person scrolls through the decision tree, asking me leading questions about other vendor’s products, i.e. the time-honored, this isn’t our problem excuse. So, anytime you need to get support, you’re frustrated from the get-go.

Frustration will lead people to do crazy things. Her frustration led the Genius to try everything he could think of, and he probably went home and cried. Or he’s crying now after her online flame-fest.

What do you think? Her comments are out of control with a mix of hate mail and support. Weird polarizing story. I’m leaning toward the geek side, not surprisingly.


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12 Responses to “Brake for Geeks”

  1. Mark Bennett Says:

    Short answer: both the genius and the user are only marginally culpable.
    Long answer: There is a third party involved – management. While it’s an oversimplification, much of the problem here can be traced back to management, beginning with whether enough time was invested in usability design to make it so that either 1 – it was almost impossible to accidentally flick that switch, or 2 – it is very clear to someone giving the phone a cursory examination that the switch was indeed, flicked. Given that hadn’t happened, the user had some very constructive ideas on how to improve the throughput of user issues, and someone else had posted that staff recruitment, training, etc. were likely suffering. If true, these would also be on management’s plate.

  2. Mark Bennett Says:

    Short answer: both the genius and the user are only marginally culpable.
    Long answer: There is a third party involved – management. While it’s an oversimplification, much of the problem here can be traced back to management, beginning with whether enough time was invested in usability design to make it so that either 1 – it was almost impossible to accidentally flick that switch, or 2 – it is very clear to someone giving the phone a cursory examination that the switch was indeed, flicked. Given that hadn’t happened, the user had some very constructive ideas on how to improve the throughput of user issues, and someone else had posted that staff recruitment, training, etc. were likely suffering. If true, these would also be on management’s plate.

  3. Floyd Says:

    You left out the quote from my favorite ThinkGeek t-shirt:

    > SELECT * FROM users WHERE clue > 0
    > 0 rows returned

    I don’t mean to sound bitter about my own user support experiences (both as a customer and a provider), but I am, so that’s the way it comes out. As you pointed out, this is hard stuff – most users don’t have a clue about the inner workings or the complexity of the technology they’re using. Until we change that, the frustration is likely to continue.

  4. Floyd Says:

    You left out the quote from my favorite ThinkGeek t-shirt:

    > SELECT * FROM users WHERE clue > 0
    > 0 rows returned

    I don’t mean to sound bitter about my own user support experiences (both as a customer and a provider), but I am, so that’s the way it comes out. As you pointed out, this is hard stuff – most users don’t have a clue about the inner workings or the complexity of the technology they’re using. Until we change that, the frustration is likely to continue.

  5. Karen Says:

    Hey,

    I’m the dumb blonde housewife (in reality, none of the above) who didn’t know there was a switch on my phone to silence it. My husband used to work for Oracle, so I’d heard all the stories. For the record, my husband’s comment was “For $600, you shouldn’t have to read the manual.” But you can take that up with him.

    In retrospect, I wouldn’t have bothered the genius if I’d realized what a zoo the Genius Bar is these days. I had not given it a lot of thought (as we now know, that’s my speciality) and I had assumed the problem was that I’d switched something in the software and that it would only take the genius two seconds to tell me how to get to whatever setting I had changed.

    None of it was a huge incident in my life (or the genius’ life) and my main purpose in blogging was that I wondered if anyone else thought the Genius Bar was an idea whose time to be re-thunk had come.

    Anyway… I liked your post.

  6. Karen Says:

    Hey,

    I’m the dumb blonde housewife (in reality, none of the above) who didn’t know there was a switch on my phone to silence it. My husband used to work for Oracle, so I’d heard all the stories. For the record, my husband’s comment was “For $600, you shouldn’t have to read the manual.” But you can take that up with him.

    In retrospect, I wouldn’t have bothered the genius if I’d realized what a zoo the Genius Bar is these days. I had not given it a lot of thought (as we now know, that’s my speciality) and I had assumed the problem was that I’d switched something in the software and that it would only take the genius two seconds to tell me how to get to whatever setting I had changed.

    None of it was a huge incident in my life (or the genius’ life) and my main purpose in blogging was that I wondered if anyone else thought the Genius Bar was an idea whose time to be re-thunk had come.

    Anyway… I liked your post.

  7. Jake Says:

    Yeah, I forgot that one. I also like “There are 10 kinds of people in the world”
    Have you seen the switch she flicked accidentally? It’s pretty subtle, and I see that it might have happened in a purse or something. It does show a little orange dot when vibrate is enabled, so I’m not buying into the not obvious enough defense.
    At the end of the day: 1) Genius should know better, 2) User shouldn’t be so hard on support , 3) Management is always at fault, 4) I like tacos.
    Jake

  8. Jake Says:

    Yeah, I forgot that one. I also like “There are 10 kinds of people in the world”
    Have you seen the switch she flicked accidentally? It’s pretty subtle, and I see that it might have happened in a purse or something. It does show a little orange dot when vibrate is enabled, so I’m not buying into the not obvious enough defense.
    At the end of the day: 1) Genius should know better, 2) User shouldn’t be so hard on support , 3) Management is always at fault, 4) I like tacos.
    Jake

  9. Jake Says:

    Karen,
    You must be very busy lately. I couldn’t get through all the comments on your original post, and now, you’ve opened a new post for more comments?

    I’m still conflicted here. Stuff I use everyday needs to work. My satellite wasn’t working recently, and that’s so annoying. Turned out to be minor, much to my relief.

    Think about cars. My car is in the shop b/c some doodad stopped working. Parts = $46, labor = $250, time spent = 2 hours max. Um, what?

    To Mark’s point, management needs to pony up to give people better service. As I mentioned in the post, support jobs are full of noobs b/c 1) SUPPORT R HARD and 2) Support doesn’t pay enough to make up for the crap factor.

    Customer-facing, support people should get paid to maintain the relationship. That didn’t feel like a rant.

    Jake

  10. Jake Says:

    Karen,
    You must be very busy lately. I couldn’t get through all the comments on your original post, and now, you’ve opened a new post for more comments?

    I’m still conflicted here. Stuff I use everyday needs to work. My satellite wasn’t working recently, and that’s so annoying. Turned out to be minor, much to my relief.

    Think about cars. My car is in the shop b/c some doodad stopped working. Parts = $46, labor = $250, time spent = 2 hours max. Um, what?

    To Mark’s point, management needs to pony up to give people better service. As I mentioned in the post, support jobs are full of noobs b/c 1) SUPPORT R HARD and 2) Support doesn’t pay enough to make up for the crap factor.

    Customer-facing, support people should get paid to maintain the relationship. That didn’t feel like a rant.

    Jake

  11. Beau Says:

    I have been the customer, the support, and the management. Each has a responsibility.

    The customer should not need to understand the technology or read the manual to use the product.

    The support should be expensive/slow enough to encourage the user to check the manual first if a problem occurs.

    The management should be responsive enough to be aware of the problem and have it fixed in a future update.

    Apple is 8 weeks into providing iPhones. It’s a product made by, supported by, and used by humans. The question is not “are there flaws?”, but rather “are we ready to respond when problems occur?”

  12. Beau Says:

    I have been the customer, the support, and the management. Each has a responsibility.

    The customer should not need to understand the technology or read the manual to use the product.

    The support should be expensive/slow enough to encourage the user to check the manual first if a problem occurs.

    The management should be responsive enough to be aware of the problem and have it fixed in a future update.

    Apple is 8 weeks into providing iPhones. It’s a product made by, supported by, and used by humans. The question is not “are there flaws?”, but rather “are we ready to respond when problems occur?”

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