Could a bit of cultural sensitivity help make better tech products?

A post from a person I follow on twitter got me thinking about tech product development…

Dear Word for Mac 2011: No.

This was on a Mac in the UK. With a UK keyboard. With the system locale set to UK. With the system language set to British English.

Yet the software offered an autocomplete using the American styling of “Mom”, seemingly ignoring the locale settings on the machine!

Okay, it’s not escaped me that Word for Mac is a MSFT product. So maybe this is about cultural insensitivity in tech (or maybe all) companies in general, but as this was on a Mac, I’m going to use Apple as an example of what could be done better.

Everyone remembers the Apple Maps launch debacle, right?

So many of the faux-pas could have been avoided if there was a bit of cultural sensitivity and local knowledge applied when sanity checking the mapping data, especially the place-mark data.

Firstly, there’s a GIGO problem at work here. Apple took in some seriously old source data.

For instance, the data was so out-of-date it contained companies long since closed down, gone bust, or merged with competitors. Yet, if there had been a bit of local clue applied, these could have been caught in the sanity checking of the data.

Here’s a few examples still there, which could have been eliminated this way, all in the locality in which I live:

Benjys - a sandwich chain - gone in 2007
Benjys – a sandwich chain – gone bust in 2007
Dewhurst Butchers - into administration in 2005
Dewhurst Butchers – into administration in 2005
Safeway. Might still exist in US. Taken over in UK by Morrisons in 2004l
Safeway. Yes, still exists in US, but this is Petts Wood, Kent. Still a supermarket here, taken over in UK by Morrisons in 2004

I understand that Apple did conduct a beta of Maps, but if they did, they either didn’t have many beta testers in the UK, or the ability to let them correct bad data wasn’t great, or the feedback simply didn’t make it to the released version.

But, that’s okay, now it’s released, it can be corrected by crowd-sourcing – i.e. getting our paying customers to do our jobs for us – right?

Well, there is a “report a problem” option, but that doesn’t seem to be working well, either it’s too hard to report an inaccurate place-mark, there’s a colossal backlog of reports, or they are going straight to the bitbucket.

If only they had bothered to actually get some local knowledge, obvious clangers like these could have been sifted out early in the process.

What is it with the Virgin Brand?

Or “Why it’s easy to pick fault with Virgin Group companies“.

You may have noticed that I’ve recently been airing my opinion – or is it pent-up frustration – on the service that Virgin Trains provides on the UK’s West Coast Mainline out of Euston station in London. I long ago gave up trying to interact with their customer relations department about their failure to deliver either a promised element of their product, or sometimes what should be just their basic service – a comfortable journey from A to B.

It got me thinking about the wider point of why people seem easily dissatisfied with a service, and specifically Virgin Group as a whole, trains, planes, phones, tv, internet access, etc. A couple of quick searches, especially on social media, and it’s easy to find people going full tilt hating on Virgin Trains, dishing out brickbats to Virgin Media about busted broadband, or flying off the handle about the run-down (thankfully soon to be updated) Gatwick fleet on Virgin Atlantic.

The crux I’ve arrived at is that the Virgin brand tends to overpromise through it’s marketing and brand image and therefore sets itself up to underdeliver and disappoint.

Let’s look at the key connotations of the Virgin brand: Continue reading “What is it with the Virgin Brand?”

How to reset a broken culture?

I’d recently read “Rework“, the book that 37signals’ founders wrote about what they learned along the way while growing their business, and why they think the mould about setting up a small business (or growing into a larger business) shouldn’t just be broken, but thrown away too.

It made me think about the things I’ve done right – being myself, being open and honest, feeling my customers’ pain, and the things I’ve done wrong – being overkeen to delegate, defer, insist, be grouchy, and allow myself be pushed into creating policy to deal with a corner case instead of dealing with it properly, falling into the various terrible management traps that lie in wait, trying to catch you out when you least expect it.

One recurring theme throughout the book, though in many different shapes and sizes, is the simple and old-fashioned adage of “treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself”, and that’s something I really identified with. It’s something we should live our life by more often.

Continue reading “How to reset a broken culture?”