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A. P. Porter

Quality Insider

Progress

The other side of technological advancement

Published: Monday, May 29, 2006 - 22:00

The quality of my telephone experience has deteriorated over the years. As a teenager, I spent hours on the telephone when being on the phone meant being tethered to a wall. High-tech was a 25-foot cord. If I called a friend, he’d only answer if he were at home. If someone was on the telephone when I called, I’d hear the same busy signal we hear now.Telephone services have come a long way. I used to have an answering machine that functioned between the telephone and the wall jack. When I’d come in after work or play, I would know from across the room and in the dark if I had messages because a light on the box would flash. The machine would show me how many messages I had. I could hear my messages by pushing a button.

Now, with voice messaging from AT & T, I have to pick up the phone to know if I have any messages. I have to make a phone call to hear them. If I hear the stutter tone that announces the existence of messages for our number, I have to punch in 17 numbers to listen to them—7 numbers to call voice messaging, 1 more number to tell it I don’t want to leave a message for another AT & T customer, then my 6-digit supersecret personal identification number with a pound sign at the end, then another press 1 to tell it I want to hear my voice messages and finally press 1 again to actually play the messages.

That’s progress, from one button to 17 in less than three years. I’m on a roll.

The telephone experience—Part II
I bought my favorite font from Adobe a couple of years ago, and it soon corrupted itself. It was my favorite, but it wasn’t crucial, so I didn’t try to fix things until recently.

I called the customer service number and pressed 2. I was immediately put on hold with fuzzy, bad music and periodic pitches for Adobe service and stuff—not for too long, though, about four or five minutes.

Then a guy who could have been software, because he had only a couple of things to say to me and no capacity for variance, answered my call. First, he didn’t want to talk to me because I didn’t remember which e-mail address I’d used when I bought the font in question a year and a half before. I knew my address and phone number and the order number, but they weren’t enough. Do you suppose Adobe gets many people trying a font scam? At least nobody gets away with it.

Still, I’m the customer, and I foot the bill for everybody’s salary. If I actually paid them, things might be different. As it is, I put up with a vendor or find an alternative, not a practical proposition in all cases. There are still no fonts at the grocery check-out, and what with copyrights and compatibility issues, I end up with the usual suspects.

After I guessed the right e-mail address, Mr. Software told me I should be talking to a font specialist, so he gave me another number to call, this time not toll-free. Then he thanked me for calling Adobe. Why?

Thanking me in that situation makes no sense. I called Adobe because I had a problem with Adobe, not as a vote of confidence or in tribute to their excellence. If a tribute, it was to Adobe’s marketing, not its high quality, of which it has plenty. Customer service people thank me relentlessly, a clear sign that somebody’s not paying attention. “I hope I helped,” all right. “Thank you for calling,” dumb.

Did you notice how I went back and forth between referring to Adobe as “it” and “them”? I think my vacillation is about the main thing that keeps quality down in most businesses. Adobe and all corporations are legal entities—like people—and the stakeholders, including employees at all levels have limited liability for the corporation’s actions and effects—the corporate veil. AT & T and Adobe have an existence and presence aside from any one person, and still everyone involved contributes moment-by-moment. How each one sees her role or his responsibility has the most effect on the overall quality of the organization and what it does, because those visions and attitudes are full-time. Do the employees identify closely with their function? Are they proud of their contribution? Do they feel they’re doing something worthwhile, even if they aren’t? Are they willing to be held responsible for the corporation?

Mr. Software, who was doing his job if even if he ended up saying something silly—like thanking me for calling the only place that could possibly help me—either hadn’t thought about what he was saying, or he was doing only his job, which obviously didn’t include much thinking. Either way, the quality of my experience as an already mildly disgruntled customer goes down.

I called the font expert and waited on hold with more fuzzy, bland music, for 20 minutes this time. The guy who answered was polite and pointed, and after a little more fuzzy, bland music, he came back and transferred me back to customer service where they’d reauthorize my download and all would be well. Five minutes later I had the swash capitals I longed for. Adobe’s okay. The jury’s still out on AT & T.

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About The Author

A. P. Porter’s default image

A. P. Porter

Anthony Porter is Quality Digest’s editorial director.