Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Provide Instructions, Please!

I have several folders in a file cabinet in my office. They include guides and other instructional materials for products I own. These include electronics, office and kitchen supplies, and miscellaneous others. Yes, I’m the kind of person who saves, files, and refers to these hard copy materials. I inevitably will need to do so at some time while I own a product. 

That’s when manufacturers provide these instructions. You think that it should be mandatory that all products come with user manuals, but they don’t. Let me offer a recent example.

I was recently in the market for a selfie stick. I wanted to use it to take photos with students and other clients. The popular ones on the market did not appeal to me given their obtrusiveness (i.e., look at me! I’m taking a selfie!!) so I continued looking for what I hoped would be a less intrusive option. I found one online and ordered it. The product was relatively new. I read positive reviews about it in several respectable online publications. It seemed to offer a solution to my problem. The low price point ($50) appealed to me. The bottom line is that this product promised to fill a need I had been aching to fix. 

I eagerly awaited the product’s arrival. It arrived when I was out. I returned to my office to find a three-foot long box. I began to enthusiastically peel back the packing tape to reveal its contents. I carefully removed them. They included a tripod and a mélange of metal and plastic parts. I removed each of the parts from their packaging and laid them out on a table.   

I look in the box one last time to make sure I had removed everything. I had, and here’s where my problems began. 

First, a list of the parts wasn’t included. I didn’t know exactly what I had received, much less what to do with each piece. Some I could make an educated guess about; others, well, I didn’t have a clue.

Second, assembly instructions were absent. 

Lacking any guidance, I tried to put together the product based on what I thought would work. I’m not what you’d call mechanically inclined, so I only made so much progress. Frustrated, but not defeated, I investigated further. I figured the company must provide additional information to help people like me. I just needed to find it.

I visited the company’s Web site. There I had initially been wowed by the product in a short video depicting its various uses. I found a list of packaging contents! I was hopeful, but as the list didn’t associate part names with pictures I still didn’t know what I had. I comforted myself by knowing at least I had a list.

My quest to find help continued. I read further on the company’s web site. I noted they referred to YouTube videos which explained how to set up the product and use it. My enthusiasm bubbled up as I turned to YouTube to find the videos.

Except they weren’t there. There weren’t links to videos from the company’s web site. And my search on the video titles and the product name yielded nothing. 

I remained empty handed. Frustrated. Perplexed. 

I emailed tech support. I waited.

Then I emailed the company’s founder (and creator of the product). He had sent me a personal email upon receipt of my initial order. I shared with him my frustration.  I inquired about the availability of materials I needed. Here’s the response I received:

*******Hey Mitchell,

Thanks for your support. I’m sorry you had a bad experience. The truth is the (name of product) is a one man shop and we are still working on designing an easy to use instruction manual and videos. If you have any specific questions let me know and I can walk you through set up.********

What a nice guy, I thought. He’s willing to take time on the phone to help me set up the product. 

But what about if (and when) I needed help in the future? Would he be so willing to spend time on the phone with me?

The more I thought about his offer the less comfortable I felt about the entire experience. I didn’t want to wait for materials to use the product. So, I asked for (and ultimately received) a refund. 

My decision was based on what I consider a simple request: Tell me how I can use your product when I buy it. I don’t care that you’re a one-man operation. I don’t care if you’ve been busy developing the product. In short, I don’t care about any of your problems. I just want to solve my problem. I want to learn how to use your product. That’s it.  

Even the best products need quality support materials to help consumers understand and enjoy them. Starting now let’s demand them when we weigh purchasing decisions. Let’s not let organizations off the hook when they promise to develop materials later if we buy now. Let’s reject poorly made videos and/or vague written instructions. Product designers, if you want to succeed help us succeed. Guide us to use your product as you intended. Provide instructions, please!

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