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On one hand, it's a refreshing departure from the usual graphics-and-Flash-laden corporate website. On the other, it's just about as usable.



AskTog: The High Price of Not Listening

Bruce Tognazzini is an interaction designer and a principal with The Nielsen Norman Group. He has a monthly column called Ask Tog in which he addresses various interaction concerns—often human-computer interaction (aka user interface), but not always—much like Alertbox from Jakob Nielsen (yes, as in Nielsen Norman Group). His latest column is called The High Price of Not Listening, and it's about why it's important for companies to make it easy to receive feedback from their customers, and return feedback to their customers that they've been heard.

I can't take issue with the bulk of this column; I think he's spot on. It's mostly common sense, but as a friend of mine used to say, "common sense isn't". Unfortunately, if Tog falls short, it's in that he addresses only part of the conversation between customer and company, and appears to place the bulk of responsibility on the company without addressing the customer's responsibility.

He even provides what I think is a near-perfect example in his column, in the form of a letter from a frustrated Mac OS X user from Canada who is having trouble getting valuable feedback to receptive ears at Apple:

There are three Canadian options in the International System Preference: Canadian CSA, Canadian ISO, and French Canadian. All three are French. Why is there no Canadian English option? Why are there three French options? HELLO!!! Over 90 percent of the Population of Canada speaks English as their first language.

HELLO!!! Only 10 percent of the population of Canada speaks French. It is like having all US Macintoshes default to Spanish because 10 percent of the US population speaks Spanish.

Virtually every new Mac user in Canada chooses the Canadian CSA option (the preselected default option with the Canadian flag) on their first startup in OS 10, unaware that this is French Canadian. How much effort would it take to change the text from “Canadian CSA” to “French Canadian”, so people would at least know what they are selecting? FIX THIS!!!

And it goes on like that, in similar vein.

I agree that the problems he describes should be fixed. I understand the writer's frustration at not being able to get this message to someone who can do something about it. And I get Tog's point that a company can't afford to ignore this kind of feedback if they want to keep their customers happy. But while I was reading this letter, agreeing in the front of my brain, in the back of my brain one phrase kept bouncing around: "petulant whiner".

In twelve paragraphs, the writer types phrases in all caps eleven times. Six of them are "FIX THIS!!!"; two are "HELLO!!!". Nine end with three exclamation points. He uses the word "idiotic" twice, and even writes

…and giving Apple computers a bad name for no reason at all, except that somebody at Apple is too lazy to FIX THIS!!!

To recap: he yells (in text); he uses inflammatory language; and he accuses the entity he's addressing of being lazy.

I used to work customer service in the circulation department for a local newspaper. We were the paper's "first line of defense"—most complaints about the newspaper ended up in our department, whether or not they had anything to do with the customer not getting his or her paper. I like to think we handled every complaint professionally, and didn't intentionally give preferential treatment to the ones who were calm and reasonable over those who were abrasive. However, I'm sure that it happened unintentionally. If nothing else, when you hang up the phone after taking a complaint from a calm, reasonable customer, you feel pretty good about yourself and your job; here's a person who needs help, and by golly you're the person who can help them.

I understand being frustrated when something's not taken care of in a timely fashion. I agree that there's a time and a place to raise your voice. I had to do this recently with a billing clerk who told us three times that she'd taken care of something when she hadn't, and as a result we were getting thinly-veiled threats from a collection agency. The fourth time we spoke to her, I raised my voice—I honestly hope I didn't actually yell—and not only did she finally take care of it, she sent hard-copy confirmation with a handwritten note of apology.

My point? Companies have a responsibility to their customers to make it easy to submit feedback, to receive that feedback and act on it in a timely fashion, and to let the customer know that he or she has been heard. At the same time, while customers don't have a similar responsibility to the company, there are things they can do to make the process more pleasant (and thereby more efficient) for everyone. In a way, customer service representatives are customers, too.