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21/May/2005 | 11:57

Understanding Why Your Users Matter

I was all prepared to write an article that kicked and spat on this guy for writing a STUPID WEBLOG POST on how Apple's customer support is SO TERRIBLE. The article was going to take his argument apart sentence by sentence, reducing him to a mere Interweb troll at the foot of My Awesome Knowledge of Everything.

I was going to do the same thing I was prepared to accuse him of doing: I was about to see only what I could see right at that moment.

Remember the Alamo

Eric's article asserts that because the logic board on his iBook has failed no fewer than five times, and Apple has not replaced his iBook for the headaches it's caused him, Apple's customer support sucks.

Do I agree with Eric that Apple's support sucks because they won't replace his computer? While it's unfortunate that he's had to suffer as a result of the iBook logic board REA, it might not be realistic to replace his computer instead of continuing to repair it. This problem affects a massive amount of people who are out of warranty, and if his computer is replaced because of it, Apple would have to replace all of the out-of-warranty computers affected by the defect. Replacement costs to Apple for in-warranty are offset by AppleCare Protection Plan purchases, but there may simply be too many out-of-warranty computers to justify whole unit replacement instead of repair.

Apple keeps fixing his computer, for free, while he complains. At first, that bothered me, so I started to write that crabby article I mentioned. But then something else happened:

I read the rest of his site.

Users Are People, Too

Your users have, and always will have, certain expectations. Sometimes, they're expectations of disposability—buying kitchen utensils or a garden rake. Other times, they spend twenty grand on a new car and expect it to last for several years.

Well, what happens when those expectations are perceived—and this is the key—as not having been met? It happens. You're going to design that piece of software or build that product, it'll get into the hands of users, and something will go wrong. I'll be a logic board failure, a bad UI redesign, or a random font corruption bug, and it'll land just at the wrong time for a handful of people. You're going to have angry, frustrated, annoyed users looking for resolution.

And you're not going to care.

You're smarter than your users, right? You know what they should think instead of what they're yelling to the Interweb about. Nothing's perfect, and you're fixing the problem for free, so they should stop whining about dead computers. They just don't understand the UI. Font files are easily corrupted, and you can only be but so tolerable of them, so the users should just keep good backups of the typefaces they paid for anyway. Right?

Wrong. Dead damn wrong.

Just as much as your feelings might be hurt by Mary User bitching about your mistake, Mary User is the one who actually has to deal with your mistake. Guess where the responsibility lies.

You see, I browsed the rest of Eric's site and realized that he wasn't just some gimme-gimme-gimme user with a computer problem. Users are people, evident from their frustrations alone, and your product is useless without them. Paperweights just don't sell, and even if you're right about the situation, you still have to understand that you are having an impact on this person's life, whether you like it or not.

So, do I agree with Eric? That's a tough call. Perhaps it isn't financially reasonable on Apple's end. Perhaps it shouldn't matter at this point. I do think that repair should almost always be attempted before replacement, but to paraphrase Merv on the matter, five repairs is too many—the number should be closer to N-2 repairs.

Your users have emotions because they're people, and it's often very difficult to understand their frustrations because intrinsically, you're not one of them. Sometimes it takes a great deal of effort to appreciate their individual cumulative experiences.

Thank you for making me think about that for a moment, Eric.


Hhm. Very interesting. I do definitely agree - replacing a logic board makes much more sense than sending out full units, but in this case, it seems to be an overall product failure. After 3 boards I better be getting a powerbook or I'm going apeshit. Thankfully I never had any problems with my iBook and I sold it to Rachel's mom. I hope it explodes in her face.

posted by jkarnes on May 21, 2005 at 12:02

WTF is an Interweb?!?!

posted by Dogger on May 21, 2005 at 12:40

It's commonly found on one of the Internets.

posted by mikey-san on May 21, 2005 at 12:45

BTW, five replacements is extremely fishy. You can be pretty much assured that one of those other components is messing with the logic board. At this point, the overwhelmingly reasonable conclusion is that you could replace the logic board 1000 times and it would fail 1000 times. This isn't an issue of user satisfaction, it's an issue of just plain unthinking bang-your-head-against-the-wall service-script-following tech support density. Einstein's definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and over and expecting a different result. Hello! It's not the logic board. Get a clue. The customer is not inferior, the customer is superior, because the customer knows this as a matter of common sense, whereas Apple tech support is apparently institutionally insane.

posted by Dogger on May 21, 2005 at 12:48

teh Intarweb is for tool bars!


posted by mt on May 21, 2005 at 12:52

Bad power supply likely as anything. Thing is Apple will specifically fix only qhat they are instructed with Powerbook or iBook repair. Best to sit down at a Genius Bar stool and get into it with a Mac Genius and have him direct repairs from there.

posted by Christopher J Smith on May 22, 2005 at 10:02

Does Eric shoot electronic pulses or work in a magnet factory/fine silt factory? I have purchased over 200 Macs (for myself & the companies I worked for) and have had some minor issues but never on the same machine - 5 times? I think you hafve to ask what this guy is doing to his machines? Maybe not intentionally but maybe there's oem electrical problem coming in his house or office ...

posted by jbelkin on May 22, 2005 at 18:18

5 DOA Logic Boards, inconceivable!!!!!

posted by ToneyMarconi on May 22, 2005 at 21:07

As far as it not being possible for his iBook to fail five times without having done something wrong: There's a reason Apple keeps extending the program.

I just wanted to use Eric's blog post as a backdrop for the core idea of the article. What do you guys think about user expectations? That's what I'm really interested in knowing.

posted by mikey-san on May 23, 2005 at 01:47

My Ibook UV314.....has been in three times for logic board repair/replacement, and has failed once again. My headphone jack is damaged (you DO need to take off your headphones before walking away from the machine), and Apple is trying to void my extended care, saying this may be the cause of the logic board failure. Does this seem reasonable, or fair? Any suggestions on how to approach them to fix the board under warranty? I am current until next year. Many thanks...

posted by bmckalson on July 21, 2005 at 18:09