This

From TUAW:

Last week I wrote an article criticizing Apple’s new Maps capability explaining why it was a deal-breaker for me and why I was leaving the iPhone. That article generated hundreds of comments (in agreement and disagreement), tweets, and emails to me and TUAW, some going so far as calling for me to be fired. Since that article was published, the criticisms of Maps have exploded, so much so that Tim Cook released a rare public apology from Apple and pointed users to mapping apps from competitors. While that may help stem the bleeding until Apple can figure out how to fix its Maps mess, there are two things about Tim Cook’s statement I want to address.

The first is that Cook’s apology shows that Apple truly cares about its users. You know those times you mess up and realize how hard it is to apologize for your mistake? It’s usually pride or embarrassment that gets in the way of apologizing. Either way, it’s still incredibly hard to admit you were wrong. Now multiply that feeling by a million, knowing that your apology — the admission that you were wrong — will be reported by every major newspaper and tech blog in the world.

On top of that, when your company is almost always right in its business choices, admitting a mistake is a huge mark against it. Add to that the suggestion that some third-party companies products — some of them from your major competitors — might do the job of your mobile OS’s primary new feature better than your product does. Put those all together and you might have an idea of how monumental and significant Tim Cook’s apology was.

That shows just how mature Apple is and exactly how much the company cares about the user experience its customers enjoy. I’ve written in depth about Tim Cook before and this just solidifies my opinion about him. He is the best CEO on the planet and the person to lead Apple into the future.

But here’s the second thing: As much as I believe in Tim Cook and appreciate his acknowledgment of the Maps fiasco, his suggestions that users check out other mapping or web apps aren’t a real solution to the problem. Most of the mapping apps highlighted by Apple are really navigation apps. They get you from point A to point B. They can get you from St. Louis to Chicago. That’s not the problem with Maps. The real issue is the lack of extensive localized and accurate POIs and the ability to search thoroughly for them. A POI is a point-of-interest, which can be something major like a monument or a park, or something smaller like the corner drug store.

None of the apps suggested by Cook have the POI database that Google does and obviously, neither does Apple Maps. Also, none of the apps have the search capability for POIs that Google does. And if you’re one of the iPhone’s tens of millions of users living in a major city like New York or London or Singapore and don’t own a car, you don’t care about driving between cities — you care about being able to find any of the four dozen businesses that could be located on the single city block you’re on.

Another suggestion from Cook was to add the Google Maps web app to your home screen. The reason this isn’t a real fix is because a web app doesn’t have the fluidity, interactivity, or ease of use that a dedicated maps app does. If you think I’m wrong, I challenge you to use nothing but the Google Maps web app on your iPhone for a week. You’ll soon agree with me as to how much it hampers your iPhone experience.

Apple’s only solution—and I think they know this—is to return to Google. They need Google’s extensive POI database and its search capabilities. Whether that Google solution is getting a standalone app in the App Store or integrating Google Maps back into iOS while offering Apple Maps as a secondary option is something Apple needs to decide. But Apple needs to decide quickly, because it is not going to be able to build a POI database and map search capabilities that can compete with Google in just a few months, or even a few years.

I’ll close by saying that it’s a shame that the Maps mess overshadowed the iPhone 5 launch. From an engineering and design perspective, the iPhone 5 is the best smartphone ever made. It’s a work of art. It just needs for all of its core, built-in services to work, accurately and completely.

Quote of the Day

“This isn’t a case of measuring a response to an unforeseeable situation twice and cutting it loose to the press and public once. This is a case of risk assessment and mitigation gone wrong, and of brand currency expended. Apple doesn’t only have to fix maps, they have to fix the process that resulted in Tim Cook having to write this letter.” ~ Rene Ritchie, Editor-in-Chief of iMore, responding to Tim Cook’s very public apology for the huge fail that is Apple Maps on iOS6.

Smell

The human sense of smell is a wondrous thing, especially when it comes to memories.

A couple months ago I was driving home through one of the less-urban, more heavily wooded residential areas of Denver right after a freak thunderstorm. It smelled exactly like walking through the meadows on my grandparents’ old property in western Massachusetts.

My new garage smells like my grandfather’s workshop on that same property.

As I got in the elevator to leave work this afternoon, I was greeted with the sweet, flowery smell of my great aunt’s attic, something I hadn’t consciously thought of in decades.

 

 

Keep Talking Mitt. PLEASE Keep Talking.

Not only is he a sociopath, he’s a fucking moronic sociopath.

As you may have heard, Ann Romney’s airplane had to make an emergency landing on Friday due to an electrical fire. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. But, via Wonkette, it did give Mitt this great idea:

“When you have a fire in an aircraft, there’s no place to go, exactly, there’s no — and you can’t find any oxygen from outside the aircraft to get in the aircraft, because the windows don’t open. I don’t know why they don’t do that. It’s a real problem. So it’s very dangerous. And she was choking and rubbing her eyes. Fortunately, there was enough oxygen for the pilot and copilot to make a safe landing in Denver. But she’s safe and sound.”

Yeah, great question Mitt. I mean, wouldn’t it be awesome to be able to crack the window when you’re at 35,000 feet? You know, get a taste of that 500+ mile per hour breeze?

It’d be like the mile-high club for Seamus, with the added benefit of asphyxiation induced by the low oxygen levels at cruising altitude—assuming that you manage to avoid having the plane rip apart due to the sudden loss of cabin pressure.

Brilliant, Mitt. Just brilliant.

Rant

Signs of I.T. Burnout

  • You wake up in the morning and think of 50 different excuses to call in sick because you just can’t face another day of it.
  • You no longer even feel the need to pretend to be cheerful and nice when talking to end users. You answer them with the fewest amount of words possible and possibly a grunt thrown in for good measure.
  • When you sit at your desk and stare through your monitor thinking of all the other things you would rather be doing, and one of them is having a urinary catheter put in.
  • You stop hearing what people are saying to you and just think about how much you would enjoy smashing them in the face with your keyboard—repeatedly—just so you can go back to staring through your monitor.
  • It feels funny when you smile.

I’m so there.

Having been on both sides of the Tech Support fence, I can pretty safely say that the state of technical support from most major vendors these days is so abysmal that an actual good support experience is almost shockingly noteworthy. I try to do my best, but there are days where I simply don’t give a fuck. I’ve already been called out for having an attitude, but thankfully the number of “You ROCK!” nominations that keep coming in for me from my end users offsets any stray comment my boss receives.  And on the other side of the fence, businesses in general have begun to recognize that the grand support-offshoring experiment that started in the late 1990s has well and truly failed. But even before the trend really got underway, tech support was hardly a glamorous experience, either for the customer or the poor phone monkey stuffed into minuscule cube, earning a hair above minimum wage.

The story is the same for customer-facing and internal help desks alike: no one likes calling them, and no one likes working them. It’s a common bit of conventional wisdom that the average time it takes for a newly hired tech support worker to go from bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to suicidal and burnt-out is about 18 months; the job can be notoriously hard on the psyche and the soul. It’s the very definition of Sysiphean—no matter how many times you answer the customers’ questions, there will always be more customers with the exact same questions.

Repetitive tasks with no relief can be psychologically stressful. This leads to a feeling of resentment on the part of a lot of support staff, who can come to regard customers as unendingly, unerringly stupid; conversely, when confronted with a sighing, obviously annoyed Nick Burns-ish creature groaning at them, the immediate response of most customers is mistrust, reticence to comply with directions, and sometimes outright anger.

Non-IT users need to learn their computer/device better. I see too many people who still don’t know the difference between Windows and Office. Granted computers etc. are getting easier to use, but end users need to at least try to learn some basic terminology besides “The Internet isn’t working.”

How to do this? First, make the technology easier. Apple does this the best. (And my experience with Apple Tech Support has been, without fail, exemplary.) Facebook is right behind them. Google has some good consumer offerings as well and is catching up rapidly while still keeping higher end functionality. I’ve personally had to deal with software that requires a process that has no documentation, takes 2 hours to install and required manual intervention by a person for most of that time. Only one question… WHY? If you can’t answer that succinctly in a few words, or it sounds like “we don’t have the resources to invest in that yet,” you are doing it wrong. I’m talking to you, McKesson.

Second, pay tech support people more and give them some respect! Customer service is hard. Programmers can’t do it and neither can engineers. They think they can, but it requires training just like any other position. We have to stop treating customer service like sweat shop labor. That’s how we got the support outsourcing started because some bozo thought we could just put warm bodies on the phone to do what a computer could not. Tech Support staff are the E.R. physicians of the 21st century, yet they’re still treated like janitors. Even after your system crashes and we’re called upon to get it working again, we’re never given the respect that little bit of saving-your-ass deserves; more often than not, we’re blamed for the calamity. I’m all for putting the right person in the position, be they Indian or American, but pick people who have skills, respect them and pay them, and eventually you’ll have good people wanting to go into these positions.

Finally, the best tech support has people who can think critically and logically. It’s sad, but we are losing our ability to do that in the United States. Increase investment in public schools and increase time spent on logical problem solving in general. Customer service is about solving someone’s problem, not just smiling and making the customer feel good about themselves. Yeah, I want the person to be friendly and personable, but if they can’t take two seconds to think about my problem and make a decision… any decision, then the first two points aren’t going to help at all.

After the 6,437,193rd time I’ve worked through your exact problem, I have an idea or two about what might be wrong. When I ask you to reboot, check a setting, or rename a backup file and restart the program, it’s because these steps fix the problem most of the time. You may be honest, but approximately 56% of the callers will lie about trying a simple reboot, and the other 44% won’t even have considered doing that before calling in the problem.

Speaking of lying, when I go to a PC and see a half dozen toolbars covering 25% of their browser and ask, “How did all this get installed?” the answer will be, “I don’t know. It just showed up.”

When I walk you three three procedures and have you check to see if the problem is fixed after each one, it’s not that I’m an idiot (correlation does not imply causation). Rather, it’s because your particular problem sometimes has multiple causes, and if your system is partially hosed, we can avoid some of the steps. When it’s completely munged, though, we must go through the steps to fix the little problems before the big problem goes away.

I am the entire unofficial “Help Desk” for my company and to be perfectly honest, while I still try to provide good, friendly customer support to my users, I’m rapidly coming to loathe every aspect of my job. I’ve been at this company for a little over a year, but I’ve been doing Tech Support work as my sole source of income since 1997. For the ten years prior to that, it was secondary to my primary job function, so I’m certainly no stranger to the scene. My phone ringing has become like the calling of some satanic beast, here to rip out another chunk of my soul, so I finally reached the point where I turned the ringer off. I figure if it’s a real problem, they’ll (a) leave a message, (b) send me an email, or (c) come to my desk. What I learned early on is that with most problems, if you don’t immediately run to hold the user’s hand, 90% of the time they’ll figure it out on their own or the problem will spontaneously go away on its own.

I’m looking for a way out of here, but I’ve been at this long enough to know that in this field the basic story line and personalities I have to deal with on a daily basis will stay the same no matter where I go; only the faces will change. The only saving grace to this job is that I get here a half hour before most everyone else, which means I get some time in the morning without having to see or hear from anyone and I beat the traffic going home in the afternoon. It’s also insanely easy to get to from our new apartment, regardless of the weather.

A good number of the users at my company admit to being computer illiterate and they have no patience for the time it may take to troubleshoot a problem. They seem to have this idea that my job is simply a matter or pressing a button or tapping a key and everything in their world that breaks will be put back together in a heartbeat. But it’s not like many real problems—problems that might require I invest a few brain cells in solving them—ever come up.

Most of my day is spent:

  • unlocking accounts (Turn OFF your CAPS LOCK KEY,  you MONKEYS!)
  • resetting passwords (You were out for a week and you’ve forgotten it? Is it really THAT hard to remember? You’ve been typing it EVERY day for the last three months!)
  • telling people what the URL is to our web mail system
  • walking them through the steps to get their email to their smartphone. (Most of these people shouldn’t be allowed to have one)
  • Troubleshooting or requesting service for printers (I hate printers. Why are we still printing SO DAMN MUCH?!)
  • showing people how to reduce their mailbox size when they have gone over the limit (they never remember to empty the deleted items folder)
  • creating PST files in Outlook so they can horde every single personal cat-video, inspirational message, and Obama-is-a-communist-Kenyan-ursurper email they have received from the beginning of time

I guess you get the idea.

Terminology is also big problem with my users. They can’t tell the difference between a desktop computer and a laptop that is attached to a docking station. They don’t know the difference between a computer and a monitor (your mean the TV thing?) Before I created a spreadsheet with all the hard information I would ever need to get from my users, if I asked a user for his/her computer name, I can guarantee that I’d either their employee ID, log in name, email address, the computer service tag, the model of the computer or  “It’s a Dell. Does that help?”

When I ask for their Windows password, 9 times of of 10 I’ll get, “Is that the one I use first thing in the morning to log in?”

Seriously.

They refer to their web browser as “The Internet” and Windows as “The Windows.” Try getting a user to tell the difference between Windows XP and Windows 7. It’s like trying to teach a newborn how to drive a dump truck. Same goes for Office; there’s no hope when it comes to that. Hell, most of my users can’t even figure out how to create shortcuts on their desktop or task bar.

And they’re terrified of trying anything on their own!

They don’t know what it means when I ask them for a folder path or drive path to whatever calamity they have gotten themselves into. They only know it as the “R” drive or “P” driver or “I” drive.

The company I work for is in the medical insurance business and therefore rakes in vast amounts of cash. But no matter how much myself, or the two I.T. Directors I’ve now had the pleasure of working for have pleaded with the holders of the purse strings, it’s only very recently that they started providing basic, strictly voluntary Excel training to the staff. Until that point, they just gave these people a computer and said go to work! So whenever someone new gets hired I can almost guarantee at least 3-4 calls a day from this person, just trying to help them navigate the scary magic box on their desk.

In conclusion, Tech Support is Hell. It has been my observation over these past fifteen years that a good majority of the people who work in the field are tortured souls, and very few of us actually like this job after the initial rush wears off. Users are, for the most part, incompetent, and I often wonder how companies manage to stay in business considering this staggering level of willful stupidity. It’s 2012, for chrissake! Personal computers have been a part of corporate life for the last thirty years, and yet there are workers in their 20s who still view them as some sort of incomprehensible technology that landed from another planet. The bottom line is that American businesses need to put more focus on training their employees on how to use the thing they spend 99% of their work day in front of.