Don’t cry over bad software

| Thursday, August 14, 2003

It’s a common tale among computer users – sitting hours on the phone waiting for software support and ending up no better off than you were before you dialed.

What’s not so well known is what nearly a third of people did when it happened – they cried.

That’s according to a recent Consumer Reports Magazine survey of more than 10,000 users. In the survey, software makers fell short in satisfying needs, scoring 63 out of 100 on a customer satisfaction scale, among the lower scores for services Consumer Reports rated during the past 10 years. And 30 percent of consumers, when tech support didn’t fix their software problem, were left crying.

It’s an issue that’s important to plenty of truckers. John Siebert, project manager for the OOIDA Foundation, said that among drivers who took part in the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association’s 2001 Cost of Operation Survey, 57 percent own a computer and 14 percent have a computer in their truck. Half of the truckers in the survey use a personal computer for business records – which means plenty of software packages, and the potential headaches that go with them.

Whether or not any truckers cried isn’t known.

Consumer Reports said in its September issue that consumers serve as conscripts in an unpaid army of testers who identify and report product flaws to software companies. In the process of calling for support, consumers help companies fix their own problems.

Consumer Reports’ article “When good software goes bad,” points to two reasons software support so underwhelming – an industry culture that turns out flawed software coupled with cutbacks in the very mechanism that’s supposed to help consumers cope with those problems. Product flaws are so common that software companies routinely post downloadable remedies for them, known as patches or updates, on the Web sites.

What can you do when the software company doesn’t fix the problem? The magazine offers this advice:

  • Check online communities. There are title-specific online forums and discussion groups run by consumers. You can post a problem and other users can post replies on how to resolve it. Search the Google groups box at www.google.com or Yahoo groups at http://groups.yahoo.com.
  • Pay for independent support. As manufacturers have begun charging for support, independent fee-based tech service companies have emerged.
  • Ask a tech-smart friend. Based on our survey results, each year more than 3 million computer users with a software problem turn to a friend, relative or co-worker.

--by René Tankersley, feature editor

René Tankersley can be reached at renet@landlinemag.com.

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