Oct 13, 2010

Kindle vs iBooks: User Experience Comparison

I would have bet a three figure sum of money that I would not wind up being a fan of e-books. An avid reader with fairly quirky tastes, I really liked the feel of the pages, the sense of getting to the end of a book, etc.

Or so I thought.

I got my first e-book as a freebie - it was something I'd planned on buying anyway, so I figured nothing ventured, nothing lost.

I was hooked. The advantage of being able to read anytime, anyplace (I was using Kindle on my iPhone) trumped the small pages and lack of physical product. Plus the whole opening-the-book-up-to-where-you-left-off thing was a huge plus to an inveterate bookmark loser  like myself.

Having recently had the chance to experience Apple's iBook service (on both an iPad and iPhone) I'm finding myself partial to the Kindle, with one major reservation.

The Kindle does synching much, much better, especially between the iPhone and iPad. iBooks was always messing up or not synching at all, which is a huge hassle since you can't really thumb through an ebook. Not sure what "Whispersync" (Kindle's name for its service) is supposed to refer to -- is synching particularly noisy?-- but it works.

As does Kindle's tap'n'turn functionality. The iBook's page turn thing is visually great, but it's sort of a pain in the butt after a while - pages don't turn immediately on the iPhone and even on the iPad it's too easy to move ahead an extra page or two by accident.

Kindle recently introduced two column reading on the iPad, so when you have it sideways it looks like an open book (a feature iBooks already had) and that's a big plus - it's easier to prop the iPad case open on my lap sideways and it makes me feel like I'm making more progress;)

The one area where iBooks is way ahead though is the in-app screen dimming feature. When I read at night, I keep the lights off so as not to wake up my wife, but in order to do so, I keep the screen dimmed as far as it will go. (It also makes reading in the dark easier-- a bright screen is really bright in a dark room.)

iBooks have a button that lets you dim the screen right from the app and only for the app. With Kindle, I have to open up the iPad or iPhone Settings and manually adjust the brightness (and then re-adjust it in the AM) which is definitely a bother.

That said, Kindle's superior synching ability is putting it ahead for me right now. The interface may not be as cute as iBooks, with its page turns and bookshelf, but for now, I'll take being on the right page.

Oct 3, 2010

Creating A Two-Tier System of Customer Service

One of the things that often gets overlooked in the debate over whether companies should use Twitter for customer service and whether it’s just catering to the loudest whiners, is the difference between the types of people likely to be manning the corporate Twitter accounts and the corporate phone banks

The former are likely to be college graduates with an interest in marketing and social media who have a direct line to the powers that be. DItto the people tweeting them: they are likely to be more educated, more prominent and more savvy than your average consumer.

So is it fair to compare the relative value of the two until they’re more balanced? Right now, Twitter is a toy that marketers get to play with. Complaints that come in through Twitter are infrequent enough that the clever marketer makes a big deal about them, playing up what a great job they’re doing with customer service via Twitter, while ignoring the other 99% of their complainants, who are being sent to a call center in Bangalore.

It’s not a foolish move short-term: the company gets a lot of buzz for their excellent and caring responsiveness, people are impressed with their web-savvy, and points are scored all around.

The problem is when there’s no action taken as a result of the Twitter-based customer service. When what happens on the web turns out to be a Potemkin village, and the average customer is still treated to an inferior experience with no attempt made to improve it. That’s admittedly a cynical view of how many companies are using Twitter, but it’s likely an accurate one: too many companies are too busy listening to the people telling them to use Twitter and other social media to “listen” to their customers, but they are too busy or too distracted to actually take any action about what they're hearing

And that’s the thing: all the well-intentioned listening in the world won’t make a difference unless you fundamentally change the way your company does business and start respecting your customers and giving all of them a voice and a chance at a satisfactory experience. Creating a two-tier system, wherein well-connected social media mavens have their complaints treated by well-trained representatives with the power to take concrete action, while the hoi polloi deal with unempowered overseas phone voices with the power to do nothing more than apologize profusely is not the best way to take advantage of this new medium.