Archive for the ‘tech support’ Category

Bad Updates and Bad PR

Posted: August 6, 2013 in software, tech support

I have a particular app on a mobile device that I use heavily in the course of my daily work, and I’ve used a version of this app for over a decade. I originally discovered it when I was using Palm-based devices, and it has worked well for me over the years. In fact, I like the app so well that I didn’t switch over to my current mobile platform until this specific app was available.

Unfortunately, the developers are suffering the effects of a buggy update that has had a number of obviously unexpected side effects:
1) Some users have lost data.
2) For some users the app simply stops working after the update.
3) After updating, some users are being prompted to make in-app purchases for functionality they’ve already paid for.

All in all it seems to be a pretty bad update. From the numbers of people who are having problems, questions are coming up about how thoroughly this update was tested before it was rolled out. If you can believe the flamers on the company’s support forums and in app store reviews, the company will likely have no customers left after this debacle. Of course many of those reviews are highly over-reactive and unfair, but in a way the company is inviting such vehement criticism due to a simple lack of communication.

Perhaps the most tragic thing about this whole problem is that the company is doing nothing publicly to reassure their customers. No damage control. Nothing.

Many of the forum posts are simply going unanswered. The ones that are answered get a stock reply inquiring about OS versions and suggesting that the customers open a support ticket.

I actually tried that approach. Shortly after discovering update-related problems, I opened a support ticket. Over 24 hours later, I’ve received nothing but an autoreply. I’ve done a lot of fiddling with the app, and I’ve added some information that I think might be helpful, but as far as I can tell, no one from the company has even looked at this ticket.

To add insult to injury, I wrote a forum post that could have helped at least some of the people struggling with update problems, but it disappeared into the ether. I submitted it on the company’s website, and it simply never showed up. It was almost as if someone didn’t want to see any solutions showing up on the website.

The developers are probably struggling to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it, but in the meantime their customers are left in the dark. A simple post on their forum outlining the known issues and what they are doing to rectify them would at least let people know that SOMETHING is happening. But the company is strangely silent. Surely they must realize that this whole experience is damaging their brand. At the very least, the extremely critical reviews are likely costing them sales.

At the moment I’m fairly calm. My app is working, albeit with problems. I haven’t lost data. I can carry on with my work. And I still have time to move to a new solution if that proves necessary.

For my fellow fans of this app, you have my complete sympathy. It could easily have been my device that lost data.

For the company who has yet to acknowledge a widespread problem, we, your customers, are still out here. We’d like to hear from you. Good or bad, at least talk to us and let us know what’s going on.

No one wants to have a project blow up like this, but you can tell a lot about an organization by the way they take ownership of problems (or not) and how quickly and clearly communicate a repair strategy.


Where did my tech support go?

Posted: January 31, 2012 in software, tech support
Tags: ,

With the incredible growth of the iOS app store, I’ve occasionally had a need for tech support for some of the apps I use. Increasingly though, I’m finding that the quality of tech support for some iOS apps falls between ineffective and non-existent. When you stop to think about it, this can be interesting, disconcerting, annoying, and understandable – take your pick.


Interesting – I find it interesting, because if people want to roll out a new software product, I’d think that they also want to provide support. Good products with good support usually translate into happy users. Happy users recommend the product to their friends, and that translates into even more happy users. So when companies have bad or no tech support, it sends the message that they want to make the initial sale, and they don’t care if it breaks after you buy it.


Disconcerting – It’s disconcerting as well, because when I find a product I really like, I tend to use it a lot. I want to know that the company is going to be able to take the product successfully through future OS upgrades. I’d also like to know that they’re still working on the thing. After all, if they’re just going to abandon the product (and ultimately me), I want to know that as well so I can find another product that does have some support.


Annoying – When you find a “good” or even “okay” product, it can take a little time to get it to do what you want, integrate it into your workflow, and find the little ways to get the most out of it. When you can’t figure something out or when something just plain doesn’t work, you want to be able to get an answer from someone.


Understandable – Finally, the lack of good tech support is understandable. A lot of apps are free. Many cost only 99 cents. If you’re not see much (or any) return on your work, there isn’t a lot of incentive to provide support beyond that of personal satisfaction and knowing that you’ve done a good job. Additionally, many apps are rolled out by individuals rather than companies. Often software development could be just a hobby or a sideline. With other responsibilities, perhaps tech support just isn’t one of them.


If my bad experience with tech support had just been a one-off, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to write about it, but increasingly I’m finding this to be the rule rather than the exception. I’ve found bad tech support on apps ranging from free to $15, from almost unknown developers to well-known companies with far greater resources.


As I said, the quality really varies. At worst, an e-mail to technical support just floats off into the ether never to be heard from again. The next step up comes from companies who helpfully provide an immediate auto reply but never actually follow up on the problem. Then there are those who actually reply, solicit a lot of technical details from you, and then do nothing with your feedback. There are developer who do painstaking testing, replicate the problem, but tell you that unfortunately there is nothing they can do about it. And then there are those who promise that it will be fixed in the next release.


And somewhere out there at the far end of the spectrum, there are those developers who see the problem and either help you fix it or roll out a timely update that addresses the issue.


Unfortunately, those developers are few and far between – at least in my experience. When I first started working with software, there was a lot more tech support. It wasn’t always good, but – given enough time – they usually got the problem solved. And at least they knew how to return a phone call or an e-mail message.

I saw a great article on PCWorld the other day: 30 Skills Every IT Person Needs. I enjoy reading through lists like these, because it’s interesting to see what various people view as critical skills. There are a couple of these that particularly resonate with me.

2. Work the help desk.

As IT people (particularly managers) specialize in their given areas, there can be a gradual and often unintentional gravitation away from core, front-line support responsibilities. Certainly specialization tends to whittle away at some of the broad-based support skills as techies focus more on a particular area of interest. With specialization there can also be a loss of contact with the widest possible user base in an organization. Because of this I find it extremely valuable to keep working at some of the standard front-line issues. Whether it’s a printer problem or a permissions issue, this serves an important dual role. It helps me maintain an awareness of front line issues, and it keeps me in touch with the end-users, their needs and concerns. Of course this isn’t always possible, but I firmly believe that IT personnel should never allow themselves to become too far removed from the front lines. That first-hand knowledge and experience is just too valuable.

15. Work all night on a team project.

This is another item I believe to be particularly important for managers. We occasionally have projects (or situations) that I refer to as “all hands on deck” events. In these cases all department members – including student workers- pitch in with ideas, suggestions, planning, and hands-on work. As the PCWorld article mentions, these kinds of projects help build camaraderie among department members. Beyond that though, it reinforces the idea that managers should be personally involved in large, complicated projects. Rather than just adopting a “hold down the fort” or a Picard-esque “make it so” attitude as they walk out the door, the manager should set the expectation that late-night hours can be anyone’s responsibility. No one likes pulling an all-nighter, but the all-nighter CAN be a shared experience of success and accomplishment.