Dealing with an iPad User: A Customer Service Perspective

Right now, the iPad won’t be able to experience some Flash-based sites as intended.

I’ve seen some of the debate on this. If you’re an Apple > Adobe fan the idea is that Flash is dangerous and makes computers not work right and Apple is a glorious savior who will wipe it from the Internet once and for all. HTML5 will save everything, and no one will have to worry about Flash ever again. Plus Flash users should quit whining because there’s a way people can make Flash apps that will get sold in the Apps store.

If you’re an Adobe > Apple fan, Apple has excluded Flash from the iPhone and iPad to remove the competition of Hulu/Netflix for iTunes dollars. You can buy Flash apps in the Apps store? Whoop-dee-freakin’-do! They get to be gatekeepers of what runs on their devices, and they’re doing it on purpose because if you jailbreak an iPhone it runs Flash just fine.

If you’re an Adobe = Apple person, you look at your site with all of its Flash and say: Awwwww hell. Do I have to redo all of this AGAIN if I want to support my customers who use iPads?

The answer, as of now, is pretty much, “Yes.”

The most obvious thing is that some companies won’t. At least, not right away. Having been at least tangentially associated with the technical customer service industry for ten years, there have always been folks who are using some device or service that can’t deal with your site or procedures.

I’ll put the juicy bit out there first, and then get into why.

Many customer service agents are going to hate iPad users, to the order of magnitude of AOL in the early 90s. If you ever call customer service of a company other than Apple because their site doesn’t work on your iPad, get ready to be ridiculed as soon as you get off the phone.

You won’t deserve it, really. It’ll be the combination of two things:

1) The defense mechanism of customer service agents who can’t help people: blame the user.

2) Your fellow iPad users who don’t have the same knowledge and expertise as you.

First, the defense mechanism. Customer service is sometimes put in the position of helping a customer that the management of the company has decided the company either can’t or won’t support. Let’s take a look at the list that springs to my mind from customer’s I’ve dealt with over the years:

  • AOL Users
  • Web TV Users
  • Satellite Internet Users
  • Users Behind a Company Firewall
  • Mobile Device Users
  • Linux Users

Now these are going to be bold strokes and aren’t always true, but basically a call/email from one of these customers is hated (even if the customer is not.)

The reason is this:

If the company for whom you are working does not support their device/service/browser/operating system, there is nothing you can do to help them. While the prevailing image of a customer service agent may not be that high, especially ones in high-volume call centers, most of them do want to help.

Instead, they gear themselves up for a huge back-and-forth about why their particular device/service doesn’t work and offering suggestions that they know the user either can’t or won’t use.

Now, the dirty not-so-secret thing about this is that most customer service workers make themselves feel better about this situation by making it the customer’s fault in their own minds. For example:

AOL users and Web TV users were normally put into the box of, “If you don’t understand it, get off the Internet.” The basic idea was that the user wasn’t skilled enough to use a “regular” computer, and therefore deserved all the hassle they were getting. Web TV dropped off in use eventually as the capabilities surpassed their devices, whereas AOL has been trying to get their services up to speed. Still, in general these users were vilified and ridiculed because their services didn’t support “the whole Internet” as it were.

Satellite Internet users and users behind a company firewall sometimes have issues with certain pieces of software, such as chat programs. The issue is that they won’t think to tell you that they’re on satellite or behind a firewall they can’t control before you start troubleshooting their problem. You have to learn to ask. Then, lots of times they won’t know. They’ll just insist that it’s YOUR problem, and you’ll have to try a whole bunch of things, and then *eventually* one of two things will happen. The first, most common is that they just get frustrated and never contact you again. Or, they’ll find out that yes, it’s a problem on their end, at which point they have to either move or change jobs to use your service. Either way, it becomes their problem for living too far away from a decent ISP or for working for an overly-cautious company.

I brought that one up because the customers have absolutely no control over these factors, and are still vilified by customer service reps, normally because of their argumentative nature when trying to solve the problem.

Mobile device users were laughed off as lunatics for a bit. “The guy was like, ‘Why can’t I use your order form on my phone?’ Because it’s your PHONE, sir!” (Quote from someone else, not me. I totally got where they were coming from.) Obviously, the iPhone changed that perception, but for a long time these users were seen as a bit ignorant. Smart enough folks, but expecting too much out of their device.

Linux users were added here because they’ve been dealing with Flash issues for a long time. The Linux user stands out from the AOL/Web TV user because the operating system attracts someone who normally is a bit more tech savvy than the person with whom they are dealing on the other end of the phone. The person the Linux user *should* be talking to are the developers of the product, but that’s not how the business works. So the customer service rep has to deal with a lot of information they don’t understand, and, to make matters worse, may suggest switching to a non-Linux operating system. The Linux users I spoke with who were having Flash issues ended up doing a two-pronged attack. They would write to the company to try and convince them to drop Flash, while simultaneously writing Adobe to get them to put out an updated version of Flash for Linux.

I suspect that this is the tact most Apple=Adobe tech-savvy folks will take. They’ll write their favorite web sites asking them to drop Flash, while simultaneously writing Apple to get them to include Flash support.

Now here’s the thing. That’s what most *tech savvy* folks will do.

Much like a Canadian abroad constantly explaining they’re not from the United States, the tech savvy iPad user will find themselves mistaken for a “regular iPad user” quite often.

If it goes how they want, Apple will be leveling the playing field with their device. The web will become more and more accessible to people of all skill levels. Those folks won’t necessarily know what Flash is, or why the site they keep hearing about isn’t accessible on their iPad.

So they’ll call. They’ll email. Because that’s what normal non-tech folks do when they have a problem. They ask for help.

Pretty soon, anyone with an iPad problem will be seen as a combination of the folks I listed above. The tech savvy iPad user will have to learn some sort of dance where they can prove to the rep that they know what they’re talking about first, just to be moved to the stage of, “Sorry, I can’t help you but I’ll pass your suggestion on.”

The iPad is going to be hugely successful, I think. Its simplicity of use will make it ideal for so many people. As long as you’re willing to check your ego and have someone who makes way less money than you and probably isn’t as smart as you assume that you’re stupid for a few seconds until they realize that you know what you’re talking about, this won’t be too much of an issue.

For some folks, though, it may sour the experience.


About paulgude

Paul Gude writes small books, makes stupid music, draws silly pictures, and does weird things on stage.
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