Loyalty, foolish consistency or whatever you wish to call it

I am an incredibly loyal person. When I find a product, person or service I like, I will stick with it/them for as long as I can. Although I haven’t lived in Florida for two years, I still get my hair cut by the same woman in Delray Beach as I had for many years before. Maybe I’m just a stick-in-the-mud who likes consistency, but so are most people.They like to go with what the know works. That’s why, in spite of the fact that all the cool kids seem to have Macs, I have stuck with my Sony VAIO and with Windows. Sure, it’s had problems coming out of sleep mode and I’ve gotten the blue screen of death a few times when clicking on totally benign links, but on the whole, it has worked. I wrote my book on this baby and it gave me no major troubles. I even figured that my next computer would be a PC, because I’ve had annoyances with Windows, but never catastrophic problems. No problem has ever been bad enough to make me feel compelled to get a Mac. That all changed about 11 days ago.

The Microsoft Debacle

Adam had turned Windows Automatic Updates off on my computer about a month before because I was having trouble with Firefox freezing up and he thought that might be the cause. I totally forgot about it until about 2 weeks ago when I asked Adam if I should turn it back on. He said “sure” so I did. About two days later, my computer started acting funny. It would all of a sudden freeze up completely; not just Firefox but everything. I couldn’t click on anything from the taskbar at all, not even to shut down the computer. If I was able to get task manager up before it got to that point, it would show me that svchost was taking up 100% of my CPU resources. I’d reboot and it would happen again. Maybe it would take 20 minutes, maybe 5 minutes, but it would always end up with svchost freezing up everything else. At this point, my computer was totally unusable.

Adam’s first thought was that I had a virus or spyware. I did a search with Ad-Aware and a deep virus scan and found nothing. When we looked at where this svchost was being spawned from, we found that it was Windows Update. We then did some searching and found that I was not the only person having this problem. And Microsoft knew about it. And they had a fix for it. But they weren’t about to just give it away. Apparently, my problem was that I was using Windows Update and also had Microsoft Office installed on my computer. Silly me! Every time Windows Update would try to run, it would spawn svchost which would take up 100% of the CPU. Adam tried to disable Automatic Updates, but each time he would reboot, it would be turned on again. We finally were able to get it off, but that’s not exactly a terrific solution for the long-run.

So yes, Microsoft knows about and has a “HotFix” for this problem, but they don’t want to give it to just anyone. You actually have to call Windows support. And my favorite part of this is their note that “in special cases, charges that are ordinarily incurred for support calls may be canceled if a Microsoft Support Professional determines that a specific update will resolve your problem. The usual support costs will apply to additional support questions and issues that do not qualify for the specific update in question.” So they might be nice enough not to charge me to send me the download I need to install to fix something they broke. But the support site says that if Service Pack 2 came installed on my computer, I have to call the hardware manufacturer. Ok, let me just picture how this will turn out. I will call Sony support and they will tell me there’s nothing they can do and I have to call Windows support. I’ll call Windows support and they’ll tell me that it’s not their problem. Another guy got a similar runaround, being routed between Windows and Office support and no one actually helping him.

It’s not a surprise that Microsoft could cause a problem like this. They have too many hands in their products who don’t realize how the changes they make might affect other things. They send out half-assed fixes for problems that end up making other things worse. I get it. But to realize that you have caused a serious problem for people and not to just give them the fix — to actually make them jump through hoops or pay money to get the fix — is unconscionable to me. I am just disgusted. I’m going to actually try calling Windows support tomorrow, but if they ask me to pay a dime or if they won’t give me the fix without a hassle, that’s all I will need to switch to Mac ASAP. I’ve already decided that my next computer will be a Mac, but if I can get Windows Update working again, I can certainly wait a while before getting a new computer. If it weren’t for this, my next computer almost certainly would have been a PC.

We should never make our users jump through hoops to get their problems solved. We should offer as much information online as possible and many ways for patrons to easily contact us if they don’t want to read documentation. And we should always think about how any change we make to our services, systems, etc. will affect each and every one of our stakeholders.

The Volkswagen Experience: Things Fall Apart

In 2000, I bought one of those zippy new VW Jettas. My old Volvo was getting a bit long in the tooth and wasn’t really up to the task of climbing Tallahassee’s many hills. It was a great car; served me well without any problems for many years. But when I test drove the Jetta I quickly fell in love with its zippy-ness, its turn-on-a-dime handling, and its adorable styling (it didn’t hurt that they were using Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” to advertise the car at the time — Nick Drake was an amazing musician). Yes, I was young and a bit impulsive, but, at the time, the Jetta was getting really great notices from the press and even consumer interest groups. And I did think the car was terrific for a while. Then some little things started happening. My passenger-side power window died while it was halfway down (and at the time I had to park my car outside). When I brought it in, I found out that this was a common problem. After about 10 months, my oil light came on about 3000 miles after getting my oil changed at the dealer. Turns out, my car was completely out of oil. I thought maybe the dealer hadn’t refilled it, but started regularly checking my oil. I found that it was burning about a quart of oil every 1,000 miles and that there was no leak. I took it to the dealer and they told me that was within normal specifications. Well, I guess you can write a document to say that anything is “within normal specifications” right? So I began keeping oil in my trunk just in case. Around that same time (when I was living in steamy hot South Florida) I noticed that my car smelled like melted crayons. It was so strong that some people refused to ride in my car. In 2002, that smell attracted a colony of crazy ants, which I first discovered when they came pouring out of the A/C vents on an extremely hot day while I was driving on the highway. I ended up having to use a variety of chemical means to get rid of them. It was horrific.

In February of 2003, my check-engine light came on. I took it to the dealer and was told that I needed to replace my oxygen sensor (which had been replaced once under recall already) and my Mass Airflow sensor, which was not under warranty and would cost about a thousand dollars to fix. During the check, I was told that my A/C needed repair. This was barely a three-year-old car that I’ve taken to the dealer for every scheduled maintenance issue and it had all these problems?!?!? I started doing research online and that’s when I found MyVWLemon.com, a community for others who have had really awful problems with their VWs. I discovered that there was a very large number of people who had to have their Mass Airflow sensors replaced and that people who had this problem also had defective engine coils and piston rings (which cause the oil consumption) that VW refused to admit to or do anything about. Even after I got the MAF sensor replaced, I would likely continue to have engine problems that would get worse and worse as the car aged. A lot of people on the board were involved in pricey litigation with VW to get VW to buy back their car. I made the necessary repairs and traded in the car for a Subaru that has given me no problems since I bought it (knock wood). I’ll take boring and reliable over zippy and a nightmare any day. VW has since increased the warranty on the Mass Airflow sensor and will replace the engine coil after it has failed (which could be after countless trips to the mechanic for related problems or complete engine failure while on a highway). It’s frightening to see the way these companies treat their customers, especially when it comes to problems that they know exist and that they know they caused.

VW focused more on style than on what a car should be; something that gets you from Point A to Point B. It’s like a library Website that is visually beautiful but doesn’t offer users what they need; easy access to the library’s online resources. Where should our primary focus be?

Dyson: It sucks… ’nuff said

We recently retired our old vacuum cleaner and got a Dyson Ball Vacuum. Like Macs Dysons are very much a hyped product… and they’re pricey. They’re like trendy vacuum cleaners. But you know what? I totally get it. They work like nothing I’ve ever seen before. First of all, it took me two minutes to get it put together and working. And the amount of dirt and junk it got out of our carpets was amazing (and a bit frightening). It gets closer to the wall than any vac I’ve had before. It was obvious to me that it was designed with the concerns of the typical consumer in mind. It maneuvers beautifully, has insane suction and comes with really cool attachments. It also has a 5 year warranty. Adam and I have a lot of allergies, so we’re willing to pay a premium for something that works well. More important than working well, it just works. You turn it on and it sucks up the dirt. That’s all I’m really asking for.

It’s the same thing with cars, computers and anything we pay a lot of money for and depend on greatly. You want to turn it on and have it work. My Subaru isn’t zippy or particularly sexy. But it works. It always works (knock wood). My husband has had his Subaru for 11 years and it works as well as mine does. He said “when I read about all the problems with new cars and then look at my old Subaru, I think, why bother getting anything new?” I’m willing to pay a little more for piece of mind, and that’s what I thought I was doing with both the Jetta and the VAIO. Consumers are often willing to put up with a lot so long as the problems don’t take up too much of their time and they don’t keep them from doing their daily activities. When I have to miss work to sit at the car dealership or I have to reboot my computer every 10 minutes, the problems become more than annoyances or distractions. Are there barriers are our libraries that are so big that we actually alienate patrons?

User Experience

We often talk about user experience design in terms of creating a positive and streamlined experience for users of our libraries and our Websites. What we don’t talk about is how much people are willing to put up with before abandoning us completely; not that we want to do the minimum amount to keep people loyal, but we certainly don’t want to do less. People are often willing to put up with a lot and jump through hoops to make things work. Some people have a lower tolerance for frustration and will give up on something at the first sign of difficulty. But most people are just so used to dealing with annoyances from their cars, computers and other appliances that they are willing to jump through a few hoops to use the library resources. But there is a breaking point. I was talking with the Head of Academic Computing the other day and she said she thinks that students will give the library resources two chances before giving up on them. If they have trouble using them the first time (be it that they can’t get access or that they just don’t understand what to do next) they will probably think they’re missing something and will give it another try. The second time they can’t use the library resources they will give up. Some will contact us, but most won’t. And I’ve found that documentation doesn’t help. I have tons of information for the distance learners on how to troubleshoot access problems, how to order stuff from Interlibrary Loan, etc. When I do get e-mails from the students, it is almost always apparent that the students have not read any of the documentation. It used to bother me, but I realize that it’s my own fault. There is a reason students aren’t reading it. Things should just be more intuitive. No one wants to read FAQs. I need to find a way to integrate this into their workflow, not to expect them to hunt on the library pages for this information.

What barriers are we putting up that prevent our users from doing the things they want to do? One of our applicants for the Five Weeks to a Social Library course works at a library where administration won’t allow people to tell students that they can renew books online. They have to physically bring them in for them to be renewed. What a pain! I remember the crappy catalog we had at one place I worked where if you hit the back button it would take you back to the front page and you’d have to start all over again. How many times does that happen before a person gives up in disgust? We make people jump through a lot of hoops, most of them unnecessary. What can we do to bring the barriers down?

I don’t think students necessarily don’t want to use library resources when doing their research; they’re just really hard to use. I am constantly in a state of embarrassment when students can’t access library resources for one reason or another. They should just work. Our proxy server is set up in such a way that firewalls block the proxy server from authenticating the user. All we need to do is route the traffic through Port 80. There are even instructions for how to do this on the EZ Proxy Website. But the IT folks have no done it and I’ve never gotten an explanation why. I have plead my case to everyone in any position of power and nothing has happened. What’s the point of doing information literacy instruction when we’re not providing basic access? When I read the library portion of student surveys from the distance learners I see two themes over and over again: they are having problems accessing library resources from off-campus and they are sick of searching 10 different database interfaces for their research. Yet I’ve seen no progress on the proxy server issue and a federated search tool is not likely to happen.

I feel a bit like Microsoft; thinking we know better than the user what they need. And maybe Microsoft too wants to create good usable products, but they’re just focusing on the wrong things and can’t seem to get anything right. Their technologies don’t work well together and they don’t work at all for some people. They’re not focused on what their users want and need. And they’re putting up too many barriers because they don’t trust their users. Do you know any libraries like that?

I want to try to be more like Dyson. Find out what our patrons want and give them that. Make it as easy as possible for them to do the things they want to do in our library and on our Website. Focus on their needs; don’t think we know better and don’t make assumptions. What company do you want to be more like?