Thursday, January 17, 2008

MacWorld and the Death of the American Work Ethic

First of all, there seems to be some confusion regarding the governance of the MacWorld Expo. Apple Computer does NOT run the conference. They are a paying vendor, just like all others. Therefore, if your badge was not ready or you waited 3 hours to get into Steve Jobs' keynote without the line moving an inch, it is NOT Apple's fault. Blame IDG, the company that produces MacWorld.

A wise person once said, "No matter what it says on your business card, you're in sales."

If this is the case, then my two days at MacWorld Expo generate reason for concern about the future of our economy.

Sure there were plenty of iPod doo-dads, screen protectors and USB drives shaped like Yul Brenner, but it was remarkably difficult, at times impossible, to actually make a purchase. Worse yet, receiving an intelligible response to a question asked of a vendor was excruciating and frustrating.

I am not talking about the companies who hire attractive women to dispense booth-side beer. I don't expect them to provide technical support.

I do expect companies to employ folks for booth demos with communication skills, properly installed software and some knowledge of how the product works.

When I take out my credit card to purchase an item being sold to me I expect:
1) They have stock of the actual product they are selling me
2) They can work a credit card machine
3) They can make change when I agree to take a less desirable color and not use a credit card
4) I am not asked to come back in a little while, if the corporate representative cannot define "while"
5) They don't wait on 174 other people before completing my transaction

On several occasions I wished to purchase an exciting new product and the booth representative told me to go to a vendor selling that item on the show floor. Upon reaching that reseller, I was informed that the product isn't even shipping yet.

One representative of LaCie told me that I could buy one of their drives immediately while the colleague next to them told me that the product was not shipping yet. Can you folks please have a meeting before the show?

One of my favorite companies, Griffin Technology, sent me on a similar wild goose chase in which I failed to surrender moolah. Incidentally, Griffin's new Evolve Wireless Sound System for iPod, was one of the most impressive products I saw at MacWorld.

I attempted to purchase two sets of RAM and two internal hard drives from OtherWorld Computing. This required an elaborate process involving:

1) Go to one counter, complete order form and receive claim check from one employee
2) Wait on line at cash register
3) An employee gathers and bags your order
4) You pay for the order

After navigating this consumer obstacle course, I realized that they did not charge me for the two drives. I then had to wait several minutes for two people in line ahead of me telling their life stories to another employee before I was granted the privilege of surrendering another $300. That earns me good karma, correct?

Well, not so fast. Upon returning home, I realized that they only sold me one order of RAM in two packages. Therefore, I now have to call the company back and do even more business with them.

I suppose that one of the first tenets of sales technique is "Don't make the customer feel stupid." Well HP, you failed. I have been severely inconvenienced by my HP scanner inoperability since Mac OS Leopard came out in October. I check the HP web site every week or so looking for the necessary driver updates. I check other web sites as well for news of drivers.

When I went by the HP booth, I first had to find someone who "worked scanners." I asked, "When will there be Leopard drivers for the J5780?" and was told first that they don't produce such a model and then taken to two different computers to look for the drivers he was confident I just hadn't found.

The HP driver page for my scanner indicated that a software update did exist, but my suspicion was aroused by the fact that it was dated October 2007. I know that there have not been drivers available for that long. Eventually I stumbled upon an HP engineer who said that the drivers had just recently been made available. I'm not a crazy liar after all. Thanks HP!

Since I praised Apple earlier, I will now share an annual pet peeve. Apple's paranoia regarding secrecy means that their employees frequently know less about the new Apple products than the customers who attended Steve Jobs' keynote. This is a great disservice to customers and journalists, like myself who are on deadline and have questions that go beyond the name of the new product.

Hey Apple, how about having a meeting on the show floor with your employees before the hall doors open? This way you can answer our questions in an intelligent fashion.

The following questions put to Apple representatives were met with bewilderment, "I don't know," "talk to that person over there," and half-hearted attempts to make up something.

• Does the USB port on the back of Time Capsule allow for external drives to be connected and accessed?

• Is there any way to connect Apple TV to a composite (regular) TV so it may be used in hundreds of thousands of classrooms without them purchasing HD televisions?

• Does the $1,000 solid state drive upgrade for the MacBook Air increase the performance speed of the laptop?

The last question was answered with responses like, "I imagine that it should."

I spoke to a person who was introduced as an iPhone expert and asked, "When can we expect copy/paste and searchable contacts?" The answer I received was, "We receive a lot of suggestions from customers." Being able to copy and paste is hardly a cure for cancer. If they can make GPS work on the iPhone, surely making apps behave as they have for 20 years should not be too difficult.

It would also be great if you could design the booth in such a way that customers can actually see the products. It would also be helpful if you had help desks where a few representatives could answer sophisticated questions, rather than making me play 20 questions with dozens of Apple reps. By the 2nd day of MacWorld, Apple personnel had a look of defeat in their eyes and they were of even less assistance than when the show began on day one. Perhaps they're being overworked, uninformed or under-motivated.

The best customer service I received at MacWorld came from the following companies.

Xtrememac where a mechanical engineer not only did an enthusiastic and expert job of demonstrating new products, he seemed generally interested in our thoughts. They need to hear from educators who need the superb MicroMemo recording peripheral to continue being produced. Incidentally, their new Luna X2 iPod clock radio is a brilliant piece of engineering and design.

VMWare, maker of Fusion - software that allows you to run Windows and other operating systems on your Mac with full drag-and-drop functionality.

Prosoft Engineering
whose data protection and recovery products save my life with all-too-frequent regularity.

Solio - makers of solar-powered recharging devices. I bought one!

Boombags - the one piece of hardware I could not live without. I have used their luggage with integrated speakers, mixer, amplifier and subwoofer for three years all over the world. They keep making the product better too!

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