Clif Notes: Telling Us We're Stupid Is Not A Sales Closing Technique

For years I have avoided anything resembling a smart phone. I just never saw the use in them. I have always preferred applications that did one thing and did them well, as opposed to a single application that tried to do everything and did them all miserably. I saw no reason at the time why my approach to appliances should be any different. So I was quite content to muddle along with my cell phone, my Palm PDA, my desktop computer, and my notebook.

After a while I started to streamline. First, after talking with a couple of colleagues, I dumped my desktop. It occurred to me that if it was acceptable to me to sit in a cubicle at a client site using a 13 inch notebook as my primary workstation (I had gone small to make travel easier), or was working with the notebook from a desk in a hotel room, why couldn't I just use that same notebook as my primary workstation when I was working from my office? This simplified things quite a bit. I no longer had to keep the desktop and the laptop in sync. This doesn't sound like a very onerous task until you are traveling on a weekly basis, trying to keep the two in sync, and spend all night the night before a flight piecing things back together when the synchronization software decided to go wacko on you.

The next thing to go was the PDA. I had switched notebook platforms to the Mac. The Palm desktop software that they had for it was, quite frankly, inferior to both the software that Palm had published for Windows and the equivalent native software that was included with the Mac. I did go down the path of getting some third-party software and synchronizing the Mac calendar and address book with the PDA. That kind of worked. But then, we're back to all that synchronization stuff. I then decided that it was silly for me to be carrying a PDA with me in the first place. I had a small notebook that I had with me all the time. So I dumped the PDA.

Ah! The bliss of simplicity. One platform to keep track of, keep up to date, and backup. The only thing it didn't do was make phone calls. Yes, I did experiment with some of the VoIP applications, but at the time they were certainly nothing with the quality or reliability to run your business on. Besides, WiFi access was nowhere near as ubiquitous as it seems to be today. So for several years I got along quite happily with my cell phone for talking and my notebook for everything else.

I will admit that the cell phone I got a couple of years ago did have a web browser, calendar, and address book. But I ignored them due to the entire synchronization issue again. I called it my not-so-smart-phone.

Then last year, just before the International Spectrum Conference I found out that Nathan Rector was going to be announcing that the conference schedule, along with some other content, was now available for mobile phones. I called to find out what was going on. During that conversation, I learned that he had upgraded to an iPhone. I was doomed. I was caught in full geek toy envy business need re-evaluation.

You see, as an Apple user, I had wanted an iPhone for quite some time. But contrary to popular belief, we self-employed consultants can't just go out and buy whatever new equipment we want to just because we're our own boss. At least not if you want to stay in business as an independent consultant for over 25 years. Like any other business, you have to have a good, solid business justification for new software or equipment purchases.

With the conference only four weeks away, I had a decision to make. You see, while I am only a part-time participant with International Spectrum as a company, as the Editor of the magazine, when I am at the conference, I am Staff. I thought it would look funny if Spectrum made this announcement that content was going mobile and I, as a staff member, could not access it in a modern fashion. So I decided it was time for me to bite the bullet and buy an iPhone, in support of my business activities. (That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.)

Now why did I go with an iPhone instead of an Android or some other smart phone platform? Quite simply, because I am a happy Mac user (for reasons that are irrelevant to this discussion). And through the use of Apple's MobileMe service, most of those hated synchronization problems went away. For the most part, it has worked as advertised. I love it, and I have recommended the combination not only to family and friends but also to business colleagues and clients. In the several years since switching to the Mac platform, and a year and a half of switching to the iPhone, I have never had any second thoughts.

Until recently…

By now I'm sure most of you have heard about the problems with the new iPhone 4. There are several, including the usual software glitches, an overly sensitive proximity detector that can cause the phone to make a random phone call in the middle of one of your conversations (dubbed "cheek dialing"), etc. But the one that has received the most attention is what we might refer to as Antenna-gate.

The iPhone 4 has an innovative new antenna system that runs the antenna in a band around the edge of the phone. Sexy. It makes the phone one of the slimmest ever released. Unfortunately it has what in retrospect appears to be a rather glaring design flaw. There is a spot on the edge on the lower left-hand side of the phone that if your fingers close a gap in the antenna, you lose most of your signal and disconnect. This was widely reported and documented independently, not only by bloggers, but credentialed technical publications, news organizations, and the like. Apple's response?

No it doesn't.

The user base has been stunned. The last thing you expect from a respected company in response to a clearly documented product flaw is to be told that you are full of it. And then when the CEO of said company personally posts e-mails that tell people, you're holding it wrong, it exacerbates the outrage.

Oh and the story just gets "gooder." Somebody then got hold of some Applecare documents that showed Support had been given scripted responses to users calling to complain about the problem. Among those instructions was to tell the user that Apple would not be providing what had been discovered to be a relatively easy solution — a plastic case for the phone to prevent your hand from touching that area of the antenna. (Fortunately they stopped short of telling Applecare to recommend the other common solution — a piece of duct tape on the edge of the phone.)

Then, they issued a press release stating that they have found a software bug that, since the release of the original iPhone, has been improperly calculating the number of bars of signal strength that you have. So if you have four bars of signal, and you move your hand to that spot on the phone and it hangs up, it's not an antenna problem. You didn't really have as much signal as you were told that you had.

Hm. You're under oath. Yes or No. Have you stopped beating your wife?

Guys? Are you stupid enough to think that we're stupid enough to believe that you're stupid enough to think that that's the real problem?

I won't take you through any more the details of this fiasco. Suffice it to say that Apple has received an extremely well-deserved black eye in customer service from the shenanigans, and possibly outright lies. This should be a lesson to everyone. There is only one thing worse than being caught lying to your customers — lying to your customers in the first place. With the communications of the Internet through e-mail, blogs, mainstream media, YouTube, and all the other forms, you will be caught. If you are wrong, admit you're wrong, and say what you are going to do about the problem. And then do it.

And to Steve Jobs I would just like to say, "Steve, Steve, Steve. You might get away with it with some of the fan boys. But when you start to lose the trust of the people who use and recommend your products because they actually do think that they perform better than your competition, you have got a real problem. Stop acting like the other Steve at the other company. At the moment, Apple has about as much credibility as a British Petroleum flow rate estimate."

Always remember, in customer service the best damage control is honesty.

Clif Oliver

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Jul/Aug 2010