Problem? What problem? (And why that’s not an answer.)

I’m having to swallow a bitter pill. And it’s all because of my tablet. My Nexus 7 tablet, which has been my constant companion since I grabbed one of the first off the production line in summer 2012. It was priced at a very affordable £199 (which we all know is really £200, but somehow our brain is short-circuited by that perennial sales ploy). It had the sort of high-end specification you’d expect in a tablet twice that price. It really was a no-brainer. How could I lose? And for a long time, I didn’t. Video was fast and fluid. The 16gb of storage was enough for my modest needs. It was light and portable, and kitted it out with a nifty case, it felt just like a paperback when I used it as an e-reader. Technology heaven. And then last summer, it started slowing down. And down. And eventually it was running at a crawl. It was unresponsive and lagged horribly. Apps took ages to load, and boot-up and shut-down were painfully slow.

Sweet success

Meanwhile, Google was trumpeting Kit Kat (aka Android 4.4) from the rooftops. This was a game-changer: it would be faster, leaner and more responsive. The minimum spec would be lowered, to allow it to run on more devices. OK, I thought, this sounds like the solution to my problem. So I waited. And waited. And waited. Google missed two (rumoured, but with the status of semi-official) launch dates for Kit Kat. And then, eventually, it rolled out. Late but hugely anticipated, the answer to everybody’s Android woes. And mine too. Except it wasn’t. If anything, my tablet ran more slowly than before. So with nothing left to lose, I went for the nuclear option: a factory reset. Radical, I hear you say? Well, yes, you lose all personal data (so back up first) but overall, the process is pretty smooth. Apps are automatically reinstalled, and it’s really not that radical if you’ve planned it properly. A couple of hours later, I was up and running. And not just running. I was motoring, with my ‘fondle slab’ running faster than ever before. It was like greased lightning, and I was as happy as a sandboy. For two weeks, at least. For then came a minor Android update (4.4.2) that killed the charge rate (down to a quarter of previous levels) and for some, though not me, battery life. I spoke to Google product support, and they suggested you-know-what. Yes, another factory reset. But I had my FR checklist, and it was even quicker and easier than first time round. Except it made not a jot of difference. And I wasn’t alone: lots of tablet owners had problems, as I soon discovered in the Google product forums.

Triumph over adversity

But enough of my woes. One of my resolutions for 2014 (apart from the one about not making any more resolutions, which I’ve obviously broken) is to try to take something positive away from mistakes – mine and others’. So what have I learned from my interaction with Google so far? What useful marketing lessons could be drawn from my ongoing saga?
  • Under-promise and over-deliver. If your product is fabulous, say it’s great. If it’s great, say it’s good. Don’t build up expectations unless you’re absolutely sure they’re justified. A promise broken is worse than none made at all.
  • Don’t commit to a launch date if you aren’t sure you can meet it. OK, it wasn’t official, but as good as. By staying silent when rumoured dates were aired, Google simply added to the expectation that the they were correct.
  • Always acknowledge a problem. When I phoned up support, they told me they’d never heard of the ‘issue’. Other users were told a similar story. And yet support people had only to do a simple search (using Google, for example) to bring up the product-forum discussions.
  • If you’ve got nothing to say, don’t say anything. Google staff have posted links in product forums to ‘solutions’ that address a different problem to the one people are having. Even worse, they reposted it despite earlier comments that it was not relevant.
  • Each customer counts. Obvious, I know, but they count in more ways than one. You can probably multiply each disgruntled one by 10, and that’s the number of potential sales you’ve lost. Many Nexus 7 owners have expressed disappointment, and even embarrassment (having recommended the tablet to friends). Advocates have become naysayers, and that’s a dangerous situation for any company.
All very basic stuff, but Google seems to have forgotten it. Customers are hard to win, and easy to lose. The same goes for trust and confidence, not to mention reputation. And the true test of character is not what you do when things go right, but how you respond when things go wrong. As I write, the situation is still unresolved. Google are thanking Nexus 7 owners for their patience, but I’m sure they realise that it has limits. In the meantime, inserting and removing the USB cable several times seems to trick the hardware into boosting the charge rate to near-normal levels. But it’s a clunky, hit-and-miss workaround. In the spirit of 2014, I’m seeing every problem as a potential learning experience. So I’m relatively positive. Now if only my charger was.