I had a post a couple of weeks back entitled Bad Design on a UPS, describing what I see as a problem with the UPS I bought last year. One of the readers posted an excerpt and a link to my article on the APC-forums. A couple of days later a response was posted by APC.
I have to say, I can’t imagine a worse response that could have been given. While I’m sure the response was well intentioned, it clearly was written by someone who didn’t understand the broader context of the issue and the implications of writing what they wrote on a public internet forum.
Let me make a few points clear:
- I am a customer of APC. I bought their product and currently use it in my house
- In general the UPC addresses my needs for my home office
- I gave the product credit for the things it does well
- My main issue with the product is the very prominent and easy to depress power button on the front of the unit that, when depressed, virtually instantly shuts the unit down along with all devices connected to it
Now, let’s look at the communication from APC and what we can learn from it.
The response from APC was posted by Kevin AKA “The Notorious K.M.P.” If you click on the link, you’ll notice that Kevin has a status of Silver Platinum Medalist. I’m assuming this means he’s a relatively experienced employee at APC. But there are a number of mistakes in his response. Here’s how NOT to communicate with customers.
NOTE: The original response that Kevin posted, and which I quote from below, was altered on or around July 30, 2008 (i.e. 9 days after I originally posted this article). Thus some of the sentences below, may not read exactly like what is currently posted on the APC forum. Click here for a screenshot of the original response – thanks Google cache!
1. Misquote the customer
Kevin starts out his response with this statement:
I had a discussion with a couple of APC Escalation folks yesterday, and in no way shape or form can this be defined as a “fatal design flaw.”
Kevin uses quotes around the words “fatal design flaw”, implying that is what I said. I did not use the word “design”. I actually said:
Now, this is a great device except for one fatal flaw.
This may be a small point, but when quoting customers, it’s important to actually quote exactly what they said in the response. And if you have the full text of what the customer said — in this case my blog post — then misquoting it is simply unacceptable and diminishes the credibility of the rest of the response.
2. Use faulty logic when trying to support arguments
In the second sentence Kevin states:
If it were, obviously OTHER UPS companies wouldn’t use this design and try something different to give them an upper hand. But since they do – that becomes negated.
Here, Kevin uses a logical fallacy to support the design of the power button. i.e. because other UPS vendors do it, it can’t be a bad thing.
Let me say that bad design is everywhere, and just because a number of companies use a certain design, it doesn’t make the design a good one. How many cars have cup holders that when holding a tall cup, either end up blocking the central console in the car (e.g. block access to car stereo controls) or aren’t deep enough to hold the tall cup properly? I’ve seen this in several models of cars, but no one could claim that because many companies do it, the cupholders are well designed.
Additionally, this argument, that because others do it, it must be OK, is a sign of stagnation in a market, and an opportunity for someone to change the situation and either innovate or change the game. This certainly happened in the MP3 player market, when Apple changed the rules in that market with the iPod and iTunes music store.
3. Use irrelevant examples to support your position
Kevin then continues with the following paragraph:
The other side of this is that a 2-year old can also turn off your TV or other electrical equipment that requires a push of a button to turn off. If you have a $2000 LCD HDTV on a surge protector with a DVR and Blu-ray player and the 2-year old turns that off, and blows the HDTV because it doesn’t have the time to cool down, now what’re you more frustrated about? The fact that your PC shut down because your 2-Year old turned it off and you have to do work over again (that raises the question of why autosave wouldn’t be enabled), or that you now have to spend over $500 to fix your HDTV because well, your 2 year old saw a light and wanted to turn it off.
So let me see if I understand what he’s saying. First, states that a 2-year old can also turn off other electric devices such as televisions. Yes, that is true. Then he uses the example of a $2000 LCD HDTV that could be turned off by a 2 year old, and possibly damaged because it doesn’t have have time to cool down. Then he asks what’s worse, a damaged TV or some lost files.
First of all, the issue here is about the APC unit and not random electrical devices. And the fact that a TV could sustain damage simply by being turned off would be a “fatal design flaw” by any standard. So the example is weak at best and basically irrelevant to the point of the original post.
4. Insult the customer and/or his/her family
Kevin continues in his post, referring to my son as “a menacing child that tampers with things“. Now I don’t think he meant it directly personally, but there is no place in his response for that kind of assertion or language. It does show a lack of professionalism and understanding when that is the kind of language that is used in a customer response.
5. Offer pointless solutions that don’t address the problem
Kevin finishes his response with the following suggested solution:
…put electrical or duct tape over the button and the child won’t wonder what’s behind the tape.
Honestly, I had to chuckle when I read this last line. Ah yes, electrical tape, the solution to almost everything. So, let’s see….if I put electrical tape over the power button what will happen? Does Kevin think that somehow the tape will be less interesting to my son than the button? Would a 2-year old not wonder what happened to the button? Is this really the best solution APC can provide?
As a Product Manager, I can’t help but look at this response and think, “What a missed opportunity!”
Instead of responding the way he did, Kevin should have either escalated this to a Product Manager or Product Marketing manager, or had the insight to understand that for a customer, the most important letter in UPS is U for UNINTERRUPTIBLE. And whether due to a power failure or a lightning strike or a curious 2-year old, APC should be making sure that their product only cuts power to the devices attached to it, if and only if it is absolutely necessary.
The soft, single touch power button, with an almost instantaneous shutdown on the UPS may not be a problem for office use, but is a clear problem for home use. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has experienced this. If there is a Product Manager or Product Marketing Manager at APC reading this, I’d appreciate a response. Everyone else, what are your thoughts?
See the next part of this sage:
How to LOSE customers!