New Users be Damned!

Two unrelated incidents got me thinking how common is our apathy towards new users or those users who use a product in the way it is expected to be used…

The first one was about my local bank branch’s faulty ATM machine. The machine had been faulty for the past one year. I say faulty because, to do a transaction in that machine, it requires the user to insert the card in a peculiar way, like slowly pulling it out after inserting it or some kind of deft sleight-of-hand action that seems to me only the guard stationed there has mastered. Despite my repeated complaints, first, to the guard, then to any of the poor soul coming out of the bank, who I remotely identified as the bank’s employee, the machine was not fixed. Later it struck me that despite multiple complaints from me and perhaps some other new user, no action was taken, because a) the employee and the other more skilful customers seemed to have mastered that art of using the ATM in that peculiar way, or b) this was the advice that came from the branch manager herself, was to skip the faulty machine and use the other one. So their indirect message was that, as long as you are able to get their work done, why to bother to fix it.

The second incident happened at home. I was having difficulty for quite some time to put the latch on our bathroom door, because it misaligned with the metal loop, into which it was supposed to hook on to. I asked my mother why she didn’t call the carpenter to fix it. Her curt reply was no one in the family is having a problem with it, so why should it be fixed. Out of frustration, I took her to the bathroom to show her why it was a problem. She said let me show you how to use it… Instead of closing the door entirely shut like how it is supposed to, she kept it slightly ajar before putting the latch. Lo and behold, it latched on perfectly. Again here, it had seemed like the since the rest of the family, but I also had found a workaround, so they never bothered to fix it too.

Well, you can say, that in both the cases I should have just figured out the workaround and moved on. That’s where the problem lies. Most of us are just too engaged with our daily lives that the moment we find a workaround to a problem we just don’t try to fix it once and for all so that other new users don’t face that same issue also. This leads to all the new user facing the same issue at least once, and God helps them if they are not able to find that secret fix. This attitude also permeates to our other areas of life. The moment we find a workaround to the bug in the application we are using, we don’t file a complaint with the company that developed the application or when we narrowly avert a pothole or some obstacle that lie in the middle of the road, we just make a mental note to ourselves, to keep it in mind the next time we crossed the same road, let the other riders or driver figure it out themselves too, why to bother? How many of us would stop and remove the obstacle or at least stop by a police booth, should that be on the way and register a complaint? Again this is because we by nature lack empathy for strangers or users even if they are on the same difficulty as us.

If we do need to make products or services better, we should make an effort to fix or at least complain about the products or services we are using when it doesn’t work as expected, even if we did manage to find the secret key to make it work. That way each of us can play a small part in making users and people around us happier.