Missing Links

To protect the innocent and naïve, I have changed names and business functions so I don’t expose anyone directly to my comments in a negative way. I only write this because I think it needs to be publicized to show how businesses operate these days (i.e. transparency) and its affect on those who try to make successful business decisions so their customers are satisfied and successful. I also copied and pasted the email exactly as it was sent to me, so all typing and errors are what I received from everyone.

Over the last quarter century, I have met people who have had to use personal computers but totally hated them and couldn’t learn how to use them. There have been a few who finally conceded and started training so they could conduct business in an efficient manner. This included a web presence that I was able to manage in concert with their training.

Unfortunately, there are businesses who either don’t train their employees or can’t because their employees refuse to learn computers. This becomes a nightmare for technology providers, especially when these users do not follow instructions and/or advice. The media distribution business has speculators and buyers of multimedia products that they believe a specific product will be successful in their established media channels.

In this case study, a couple of older men, who wrote children’s coloring books, were approached by an older distribution speculator, who was barely able to manage his email.  We’ll call the writers “Fredrick” and “Fihad.” “Fidel” is the name for our media speculator.

When Fidel approached me with this project, it seemed like a very simple job to use a web browser to display a menu or index for the user to select a page to printout. Fredrick and Fihad had already provided a portable document format (PDF) file with the book’s index, how to use the coloring books, and a section of pages from one of the types of pages. These types of pages were grouped under two column headers in the index, Ages 2-3 and 4-5. Each PDF file contained several pages of outlined drawings containing objects like vehicles, birds, playgrounds/gardens, mammals, and such.

To prepare a prototype, I used Dreamweaver on my IBM NetVista server that I purchased in 2000. In the first prototype, I created a very crude web page to show the layout of the menu, some artwork, and a couple of functioning buttons, very basic web browser buttons.

This was my first exposure to the difficulty that eventually doomed the project when I asked for design requirements from the customer. I’d be pointed to the artwork in the PDF files and they wanted to add page numbers. So I spent some time on the phone with Fredrick to explain how I thought the product should be implemented on a CD and used on a computer. I gave a quick-quote of $100, if they used only simple web buttons. However, in my mind, I felt the client would want to use their artwork for buttons, and I told Fidel that would increase the quote cost.

That was the only time I was ever offered the opportunity to talk to the client. After that Fidel was the middle-person sending email to/from the client and me. We actually made great progress and the client appeared to be learning to understand how the final design would look and work using their artwork. I wrote a design spec and quoted $205, if the client supplied the button artwork.

As it turned out, the client had no idea how to create buttons from the PDF artwork. So, Fidel approved 3 additional hours for me to cutout the buttons from the artwork and use them on the main menu.

In the final prototype version, Fidel sent a copy to Fredrick and he responded back with 5 simple cosmetic changes. Once I completed the final version, Fidel took my master and tested it on several PCs in his office. He then sent a copy to the clients and they approved the CD and ordered 500 hundred copies.  Fidel shipped the discs.

Then about 2 weeks later, the clients went nuts.  Below is the first email declaring a problem.

Fihad cannot open the CD successfully.

He is now on a brief vacation, but he is quite concerned because he sees :
Install
Run…

He says it tries to open in Firefox and looks like a webpage. I am not certain what he means.

But thissounds a lot like the problem I had with the prototype you had sent a few weeks ago. Fihad has tried to open the CD on 2 different computers.

If people cannot open these CDs successfully, we CANNOT sell them.

WHat’s rthe problem?

Have we just wasted an awful lot of money on a product that cannot be marketed?

WHy do they not open to show the “opening page”?

We are quite frustrated right now.

My first surprise was that they had already approved the final design as fully operational to mass-produce CDs and now report a problem.  My second surprise was that Fidel forwarded this to me because the product was finished.  Regardless, I decided to help fix the problem asking for more information from the client. After testing everything on different computers in my home, I responded with the following:

I tested the CD on both my Windows XP and mac laptop. It works with the auto run and mac instructions like it did last time I checked. I also tested Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari by using the File Open option, navigating to the CD and running either the Startup.html for mac and Startup-w.html for Windows. These worked fine on the mac but on Windows XP, the page couldn’t find the buttons and banners when I used the wrong version (Startup.html for Windows). That’s why we have the auto run and Readme.txt files on the disc. So, I have no idea what their problem is.

Maybe they can send us some screen shots to show what they are doing. They need to remember to let the CD program run the auto run after they see the warning message.

Also, have them read the Readme.txt file and see if that answers any of their questions.

This email generated a response from Fidel that essentially said he wanted a bullet list of the steps the users were supposed to do for both mac and PC users.  I replied:

Yes, I can write something up but we need to know what they are doing before I can show the right direction.  I’ve pasted the Readme.txt content below.

[ReadMe text file removed for brevity – see full email at the end of this story]

A suggestion:  If they’re going to sell a product, they should spend some time figuring out how it works and know what’s on the disc. I would be glad to walk them through some of the technical issues but there is TONS of information on the internet that should help them. I can try to find examples should you think that would help.

My response generated the following email:

I put the CD into the drive and it launched with a window which said “run” and “open with” or something like that. When I clicked I got a black screen with a DOS like message on it. Otherwise, nothing happened. When I went to “computer” and selected DVD drive, it opened in Firefox with about 7 rows of toolbars and the document in the middle of the “webpage” The only way I could navigate through it was to go BACK to the beginning (which I discovered was in a toolbar marked “index” or something like that and it returned me to the opening index page. I could not scroll through pages using the arrow keys, and I could only view one section at a time. I had to start over in opening the sections to view them separately. In other words, I could not browse through the document as one “book” And even though it looked like a webpage, the “back button” was not active.

Honestly, if I was at a trade show and saw a sample of this CD, I would not buy it. The toolbars were very distracting and the [home] page itself was displayed in only about half of the “webpage”

Again, this user was attempting to document a problem with vague terminology and no illustrations to show what he was trying to communicate. Obviously, things were working because he said it launched: “black screen.” Then when he tried using the browser to directly open the CD drive, it too worked. After that, there was no way of knowing what the words button, toolbar, or index meant.

Of course, when I asked for specific screen results, I didn’t expect “or something like that.” No customer service person can support a user if he or she doesn’t provide exactly what is displayed and when.  My response was to take each salient sentence and ask specifically what he was talking about.  Again, my full response is at the end of this story.

Yes, this does sound like a mess: on their computer. I don’t know why it doesn’t work past the black screen (which is required to run the auto run and worked on both your and my computers). We need to know more information about this issue. I’ve pulled some sentences out below to get more clarification about the other issues mentioned. Obviously this person doesn’t use the correct terminology, so I’m not exactly sure what s/he is talking about. As I asked for before, it would be better to see screen shots instead of trying to interpret vague words.

[specific questions removed from this section for brevity – see full section at the end of this story]

I think this associate and Fihad need to talk about what they want the product to look like and do. It also seems to me like this user is fighting the new technology, not embracing and learning it. Maybe we need to go back to the original simple buttons that look like buttons. I believe we’ve delivered exactly what Fihad asked for.  If there’s a user having problem running the auto run, that’s why there’s a Readme.txt on the disc. If that needs to be written somewhere else on the disc or case, we should get requirements from the client.

The response I got from Fidel to all of my specific questions was as follows:

How does he take the screen shots you have requested?
He has asked how to take them and how to mail them

At this point, I was losing patience and becoming suspicious that these users were trying to bamboozle their supplier.  Since I had no connection with the client and relied on a middle-person to send email back-and-forth, I responded as follows (full text):

I would like to request you have someone in your office to help your client. It is not a good method to train people using email. Maybe Joan [in your office] can help your client by talking him through the process. Joan might even be able to resolve this problem by just talking with your client. I also thought I had sent enough questions in my last email to get a better understanding of what the rep is reporting. What we need are step-by-step explanations of what he’s doing and seeing. I don’t care about the black window. I don’t think that’s a problem. It may be his computer is slow opening the initial window “or something like that.” If he just blurts out a bunch of words that don’t make sense (even if he includes pictures), I can’t evaluate the problem.

Then I received a Word document with 14 pages of screen captures. From what I saw in most of the pictures was that the user was not following the ReadMe instructions. There was the auto run window on the first page followed by the menu page opened in the Firefox browser, just like it was supposed to be. Then the rest of the screen captures showed the user going into the My Computer Explore window and showing the files on the CD, including the content of the ReadMe text file. My response was a full page of questions and responses explaining how they were not following the ReadMe instructions. In the middle of my email, I wrote:

What I see in this attachment is exactly what I expect to see, based upon what they are doing, which is wrong. When they opened a mac page on their Windows PC, there are things missing and appear different than they should. Same thing in reverse, Windows pages on mac. That’s why there are two different versions on the CD. The instructions (Readme) we included tell the users how they are supposed to startup the product. They did not follow those instructions, and this would be what they would tell customers who behave like they are doing.

At this point, I was tired of these users not trying to solve or get outside help. I hoped this last email would be enough for them to make progress.  Instead, I received an email asking where to find the ReadMe text file and another email with a Word doc attached with the following text written across the top of the page, above a single creen capture:

ON this screen there is no working button. This is the best I can get.

When I looked closely at the title bar in the screen capture, I could see that the html page had been loaded into Microsoft Word.  At this point, I was done with this ridiculous process.

First off, this was approved by the customer. It doesn’t matter if they changed their mind and are now pretending to “not get it.” Second, no one should have mass produced any disc that hadn’t been quality tested, which it was by you, me, and him, supposedly the latter. Thirdly, he’s not even trying very hard if he’s just now seeing the Readme.txt file: it was in the pictures he sent us.

To answer his question: No, no other customer has had any problems like his. You have [two other customers in your office] as example customers who “get it.” Tell him to go to a PC repair shop and get his PC fixed.

You are absolutely right, “it should be easy street to use this simple CD.” That’s why I’m getting suspicious that he’s lying. It’s getting too stupid to be reasonable.

I’m pretty much over this myself. You and I provided the customer what he asked for. If he’s not happy with it, then it is sunk cost of his.

I had spent hours examining and questioning about them not following the directions. In a phone call with Fidel during these back-and-forth email, I told him that if someone buys a chainsaw and cuts off his leg, it’s not the manufacturer’s problem. It is user not following directions. My final response:

This is a screen capture of the web page in Word. Look at the top of the window where it says “Microsoft Word.”  Of course the buttons don’t work in Word. He’s lying and wasting our time. No more support now. Please have him consult a PC repair shop.

The next day, I received an email from Fidel who forwarded an email from his client explaining that he had gone to Office Depot and his tech rep reported that the file (no specific filenames provided) was “temperamental or unstable,” files would sometimes open then wouldn’t subsequent times, and that the files might damage the computer. He “could not sell a product like that.” I certainly agree with that conclusion but I do not believe he even went to a store. This story sounded made up, fictional. Below is what Fidel wrote above the client’s forwarded email about going to Office Depot:

I have come to the conclusion that what you authored for this project is NOT an easy to use CD. It has created lots of stress for my clients and myself.

Your attitude has been unprofessional. Neither of these clients are “lying”. The are looking for what we promised and have been more than patient with this whole mess.

Working with you on this project has been embarrassing especially your attitude which has been condescending and moved toward nasty. I wish I had not gotten involved with you on this. It has cost me and them a lot of time and will now cost me a lot of money.

You really should refund the money we paid you for this, but you probably won’t.

To address each sentence in the above email, I have written a bullet response in the list below.

  1. “NOT an easy to use CD.” Fidel tested the final CD and approved that it worked before the client received a copy, tested it, and approved it. This CD was the same thing that two other customers in his office had no problems with when using my software. Was it possible that the CD duplication process failed, as it had in previous burns at this company?
  2. My “attitude has been unprofessional.” I can only associate this with my last email where I refused to support these “unprofessionals.” Fidel turns out to be the most obviously unprofessional because he could not 1.) manage his client’s expectations, 2.) recognize that the client was not solving any problems – just creating chaos and confusion – i.e. unprofessional, 3.) read or understand my email, 4.) get the client to answer my specific questions about the problems, and 5.) be resourceful enough to get the client to understand the product.
  3. “Working with me on this project has been embarrassing,” I totally agree with this statement because Fidel 1.) has a low-level of basic PC knowledge, 2.) doesn’t understand the product he’s trying to sell, 3.) lacks basic people skills to get the parties together on the phone to discuss simple steps the user is doing wrong, and 4.) lost the design spec email from me. Later, I found it in his inbox when we met in his office to review one of the prototypes. As for “moved toward nasty,” that is the interpretation from someone unprofessional and embarrassing then appraising someone who has been certified patient, professional (as in Project Management Professional®), and technology savvy.
  4. “Refund the money,” this one made me laugh. I probably spent as much time learning how to support both mac and Windows PCs, responding to the “stupid user” email, and writing up this case study than I worked on the whole product. I even completed the project an hour and a half sooner than I predicted, thus charging less than quoted. All this time and effort for $310.

Conclusion

I started working with this company because I thought they had fine products, were close to home, and I like the people who work there. Until the end, I liked Fidel. In the future, I will be less interested in working with people who lack basic skills unless they allow me to work directly with the client.

I may also create forms that must be completed before the next step in the process occurs and that it is clearly documented at each step. At this client’s request, I created a prototype to confirm the design met the customer expectations (because they were inept and couldn’t describe their requirements), provided tested CD prototypes for the customer to review and approve, then provided a master copy of the final version.

For each of these milestones in the future, I will use an online form for the user to complete and submit when the milestone has completed. In cases where the milestone is complete with exceptions, there will be a user feedback input field to indicate what must change for the milestone to be fully completed. I will use this field with the client to get changes in writing and respond back to ask questions or get clarification.

As business relationships go, I am not anything like Mitt Romney who states he “likes being able to fire people.” I prefer to work as a team to resolve problems and satisfy customers. And finally, something I found on facebook today: “Crude personal attacks are often a tactic used by the ignorant and an indicator that they have run out of substantial arguments.”

I have also pasted below some links to recommendation letters from professional co-workers and directors.

Paul Sirmons, Former Florida Film Commissioner

Rob Ranck, President HomePlug

Ken McCabe, Director Dolly Parton’s Pirates Voyage Dinner Theatre

My full (minus identifying individuals) email to Fidel dated 15 August 2012

Yes, I can write something up but we need to know what they are doing before I can show the right direction. I’ve pasted the Readme.txt content below.

Thank you for purchasing the CD. This file is to attempt to help anyone using a Windows PC or an Apple mac computer.

Windows PC

The autorun.inf file should automatically load the CD contents into a browser window. This requires that the user has configured the Windows environment to “install or run” an application from a CD. If this does not work, for some reason, follow the instructions below.

1. Insert CD in optical drive reader.

2. Use Windows Explore to navigate to the CD drive.

3. Open the CD by right mouse clicking on the CD drive and select Open.

4. In the Explore window, Startup.bat should be listed as a file in the root directory.

5. Double-click on Startup.bat and the application should open in a browser window.

Apple Mac

There is no auto-run feature for the Mac.  These instructions are also listed on the CD label.

1. Insert CD in optical drive reader.

2. Use Finder to navigate to the CD drive (sometimes the drive displays on the desktop).

3. Double-click on the CD.

4. In the Finder window, macStart should be listed as a file in the root directory.

5. Double-click on macStart and the application should open in a browser window.

A suggestion: If they’re going to sell a product, they should spend some time figuring out how it works and know what’s on the disc. I would be glad to walk them through some of the technical issues but there is TONS of information on the internet that should help them. I can try to find examples should you think that would help.

My full (minus identifying individuals) email to Fidel dated 16 August 2012

Yes, this does sound like a mess:  on their computer. I don’t know why it doesn’t work past the black screen (which is required to run the auto run and worked on both your and my computers). We need to know more information about this issue. I’ve pulled some sentences out below to get more clarification about the other issues mentioned. Obviously this person doesn’t use the correct terminology, so I’m not exactly sure what s/he is talking about. As I asked for before, it would be better to see screen shots instead of trying to interpret vague words.

1.  “When I went to ‘computer’ and selected DVD drive, it opened in Firefox with about 7 rows of toolbars and the document in the middle of the ‘webpage.'”

Does s/he see this below [copyright – image removed] in the webpage and try to click on the buttons (not toolbars) under the banners?

2.  “The only way I could navigate through it was to go BACK to the beginning (which I discovered was in a toolbar marked ‘index’ or something like that and it returned me to the opening index page.”

I have no idea what this means. I keep seeing reference to “toolbar” which is not a button (toolbars contain buttons). As for “or something like that,” it would help if this person would make sure s/he gets the specific name of what’s displayed or we’re just guessing. Better yet, send screen shots. Is the above image [copyright removed] what s/he calls the “index page?”

3.  “I could not scroll through pages using the arrow keys, and I could only view one section at a time.”

This sounds like s/he is clicking on the buttons and seeing just the “one section at a time.” That’s why I asked if they wanted one page with all of the pages on them but Fredrick said he didn’t want that, right? This sentence from the email contradicts Fredrick’s requirements:  “In other words, I could not browse through the document as one ‘book.'”

4.  “The toolbars were very distracting and the [home] page itself was displayed in only about half of the ‘webpage.'”

I thought Fredrick approved this design (re your email 25 July). If not, we need to get specific requirements and/or artwork that they want. That will be a design change. I’m not sure what “displayed in only about half of the webpage” means.  Is this a reference to the size % again? I’m not sure what difference this makes since they’re supposed to use each [page] in a window to print out the page, not read or look at them on the screen.

I think this associate and Fredrick need to talk about what they want the product to look like and do. It also seems to me like this user is fighting the new technology, not embracing and learning it. Maybe we need to go back to the original simple buttons that look like buttons.

I believe we’ve delivered exactly what Fredrick asked for. If there’s a user having problem running the auto run, that’s why there’s a Readme.txt on the disc. If that needs to be written somewhere else on the disc or case, we should get requirements from the client.

2 thoughts on “Missing Links

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