Three Paths – The UX of Bugs & Support

Consider the three paths illustrated below.

Path A represents perfect software.  It takes a long time to build and a long time to debug.  However, it is a mature product with zero defects.  (Is this a real product??)  Anyway, the point is that the user has no issues as he travels from his need to his solution.  He is happy at the end of the journey.  Studies show that this user will give the software a general rating of 8/10.  (I will explain in a moment)

Path B represents most software in the world.  It goes to market quickly.  It does cool stuff.  It solves problems.  Unfortunately, there are bugs.  And the user falls into one hole after another and eventually gives up.  They are battered and bruised and generally unhappy.  This user gives the software a rating of 6/10.  You are lucky to get the 6 because they blame themselves, not you for the bug.

Path C is just like path B.  The only difference is that the company invested heavily in a great support team.  Plus, the culture of the company makes customer success the #1 priority.  That means dropping feature development regularly to solve customer problems.  The product goes to market quickly with bugs, but the support mentality makes it so that the user always feels that there is someone who will catch them if they fall.  This user will become a fanatic of the product and rate it 10/10.

The UX of Bugs and Support
The UX of Bugs and Support

Why does this happen?  Why should a buggy product with good support be rated better than a perfect product that doesn’t need support?  The reason is, like most UX, buried in the human psyche.  People who have a perfect experience do not know what it will be like if something went wrong.  They trust the experience once, but they aren’t willing to assume that you will be there for them when the shit hits the fan.

All software has issues.  All people make mistakes.  Consider an analogous situation:

You buy something from a store.  Turns out you don’t like it.  You return it to the store and get a refund.  Happy experience and you will likely go back to that store generally.  Now try buying the same thing from eBay.  You don’t like it?  Tough.  You are stuck with it.  Unless you want your rating dinged by someone or go through hassle.  Although some people are willing to deal with this for the price breaks and the selection, most people feel anxiety over these kinds of situations.

Lesson:  A clear safety net is more important than a perfect tightrope.

Invest in support and you can get away with all kinds of bugs.  You could mess up alot.  It’s about creating an atmosphere of trust where the user knows that they will not be left alone, stranded with no way to reach the goal.  Rethink your support priorities and make sure they the customer always comes first.  It pays off.

5 Replies to “Three Paths – The UX of Bugs & Support”

  1. Excellent, cogent analysis (as always) and very close to my heart. After reading the post some people will say that it was obvious but if so why do many companies not operate in this manner? Sometimes one person needs to say a thing out loud in a clear concise manner, which is a skill you’ve mastered.

  2. I think your Path A model is missing something. A product does not get to the “mature product with zero defects” stage of the lifecycle in a vacuum. Generally there’ll be support, either from the company or the community, helping get the software to that point.

  3. Path A doesn’t exist in reality. It only exists in the minds of executives who think that it should. It’s really a question of culture and priorities.

    Imagine a spectrum from “Ignore customer complaints and problems” to “Drop everything and help the customer from head to toe right away”. Now pick 10 random pieces of software. (For example: MS Powerpoint, WordPress, Salesforce.com, Picasa, SAP, Trillian Astra, Gotomeeting, Gmail, Oracle DB, eBay). Each of these companies is on a different point in the spectrum. Some are more consumer and some are more enterprise. All of these products hit bugs. Some THINK they are on Path A so the support priorities and culture is lax.

    The post is a categorization of different zones in the spectrum. Too many companies leave users feeling like they are on their own. This is especially true for consumer apps, but you would be surprised (or not) how many enterprise apps do not support their users enough.

    I hope this helps clarify?

  4. Also, (just to look at it a different way) is to describe human beings and how they perceive quality. A flawless product will not get higher ratings than a flawed one with great support. Its a comment on human psychology.

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