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Posts Tagged ‘customer experience’

Where we last left off, it was Christmas 2010 and I had just been given a Kindle by my mom.

My first Kindle book was East of Eden, on my mom’s recommendation (and on her credit card). I have to admit, reading on a Kindle is very cool. The text is so crisp that it looks like an actual printed book. And once you get used to pressing the “Next Page” button instead of turning a physical page, one-handed reading is far easier in places like a crowded subway.

Based on my last eight months using my own Kindle, here are a few points worth exploring before you decide to bite the bullet and enter The Wonderful World of E-Readers:

Buying Books

Mostly every book title is available on the Kindle through Amazon.com, and Kindle titles are often a couple bucks cheaper on Amazon than their print counterparts—plus an e-book comes with free, instant delivery.

The second best feature of Kindle is book sampling. (The #1 feature is the Dictionary; see below.) This is the digital version of leafing through a book at a bookstore; I can have a sample of a book sent to my Kindle to try free of charge. If I like what I’ve read, I have the option to buy the full book and my Amazon account will be charged.

Free Books

On Amazon’s website, there’s a list of e-libraries where free e-books are available. I’ve attempted to navigate these libraries on several occasions and found it not worth the trouble. Amazon has a few free titles as well, which are mostly classics whose copyrights have expired. I got about halfway through Bram Stoker’s Dracula before cutting my losses—the best perk of a free book is there’s no guilt about not finishing!

I’m also currently reading an e-book I “bought” for free on Amazon called Stealing Jake (published June 2011), which averages 4 ½ stars on Amazon. I’m getting the sense that users factored the bang for their buck into their ratings.

My biggest disappointment about the device is that the New York Public Library doesn’t currently support Kindle. Nook owners can download select e-book titles from NYPL, but Kindle owners are out of luck, at least for now. I tweeted @NYPL to ask them whether there’s a timeline for supporting Kindle through their digital content solutions provider, Overdrive. Their response was “unfortunately not yet…but stay tuned…” According to Amazon’s website, “You’ll be able to borrow Kindle library books from any of the more than 11,000 libraries that work with OverDrive, the leading provider of digital content solutions for libraries.” We’ll see.

Dictionary

In my opinion, this is easily the best feature of the Kindle. In the past if I was reading a book that was full of SAT-level vocabulary, I might carry a dictionary with me or mark pages that contained a word I wanted to look up later. Often, I’d just forget to look them up and when I did, I almost never retained the definition.

Kindle allows me to quickly and easily access its dictionary and look up a word without distracting me from enjoying the book I’m reading. This feature is so good that when I come across an unfamiliar word in a print book, newspaper, magazine, or an online article, I find myself wishing I was reading it on the Kindle.

Lending Policy

Amazon’s Kindle lending policy says that the owner of an e-book, if that title is deemed “lendable” by its publishing house, may lend it one time to one other Kindle user for a period of 14 days.

I was able to borrow the entire Hunger Games Trilogy at no cost from a co-worker. This worked perfectly because the books were quick reads and the 14-day policy never came into play. However, the policy is largely impractical for longer books like The Pillars of the Earth, which might take months to read.

As Kindles become more mainstream and publishing houses (hopefully) become more malleable about the “lendability” of their titles—though I don’t see why they would—the lending feature may become a legitimate selling point for the device. But for now, it’s a non-factor.

Vacation Reading

Another theoretical selling point for the Kindle is that if you went on vacation for a week and planned on reading at the beach, you wouldn’t need to lug around a bunch of heavy books.

I’ve traveled fairly often since I got my Kindle and I have run into a few cases where I finished a book and wanted to download another title and start reading right way. (If I didn’t have a Kindle, I simply would have packed more than one book and complained about the extra two pounds.) Having a thin, light reading device might have made my life a little easier during my two-week trip to China, but is that convenience alone worth the $180 price tag for a Kindle?

Percentage Reading

If you’re a Kindle owner, chances are you’ve said some variation of this sentence: “Oh yeah I’m reading that right now…I’m 63% through it.” Many Kindle owners I’ve spoken to find the percentages, as opposed to page numbers, a little odd. The lack of page numbers becomes particularly inconvenient if you’re in a book club or a classroom where not everyone has a Kindle. (For that problem, Amazon has a solution.)

I’ve gotten used to the percentage thing for the most part but in some cases it really gets on my nerves. The Kindle factors in acknowledgments and “also from this author” pages into the total, so most books end around 90 to 95%. Fine. But I was reading the nonfiction book Little Bets, which is full of footnotes, and when I finished the last chapter I was at just 70%. What??? Turns out, the remaining 30% was academic sourcing, which of course I didn’t plan to read.

Technical Difficulties and Customer Service

I’ve already had my Kindle replaced twice. One was due to my own carelessness, leading to a cracked screen; the other died on me while I was on vacation (which, by the way, never would have happened with a print book). Customer service in both cases was extremely accommodating and sent me a new Kindle right away at no cost.

Recommendation

For me, I’ve found the cost of buying books once a week or more often to be a little expensive. To cut costs, I’ve actually read my last four books “off-Kindle”—which prompted me to explore my feelings towards my Kindle in this very blog post.

My recommendation is that if you already buy lots of books, the Kindle probably makes sense for you–provided you have $180 to spend on it. Sure, you won’t have an impressive book collection to show off to guests, but if you’re living in a cramped NYC apartment, you’ll be happy to have some of your shelf space back.

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The following is the first of a two-part post about my customer experience as a Kindle owner. It’ll be half personal essay, half product review—a format that has become par for the course here at BCSAB. I’d guess this is not quite how they do things over at Consumer Reports.

When my brother and I were younger, my mom was adamant about passing on her love of reading onto us. We were typical book resistant boys, preferring to do anything else in the world other than sitting down with a good book.

As a compromise, my mom set aside a half hour of reading time every few days for us to finish before we could go outside and play basketball or stay in and play hours of NBA Jam on Genesis.

There was nothing sweeter than the sound of the egg timer dinging, signifying that our prison sentence was over. We’d stop reading mid-paragraph, mid-sentence, perhaps even mid-word, and throw our books across the room to rush to the next activity, eager to wash the taste of reading out of our mouths. Often we wouldn’t even bother to bookmark our pages.

Our reading lists were typical for two young boys. I read a lot of the Hardy Boys series, Matt Christopher’s YA sports books, Where The Red Fern Grows, The Crazy Horse Electric Game, or articles in Sports Illustrated; my brother, four years younger than me, read classics like Goosebumps and the novelization of the movie Rookie of the Year. (After reading ROTY, my brother, then maybe 9 years old, expressed some confusion about the Chet Steadman character, played by Gary Busey in the movie. Apparently, each time he read Chet’s name he thought it referred to the New York Mets’ former ballpark, Shea Stadium.)

By the time I got to high school, required reading was no longer enforced by just egg timers and “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed” looks from Mom. There were pop quizzes and please-please-please-don’t-call-on-me mini panic attacks to encourage us to stay up on our reading. And by college, not only was there syllabi telling me what textbooks to read, but I also had to pay through the nose for them at the college bookstore.

I couldn’t remember reading a book just because I felt like it. It was only after reading was no longer required that I realized I had, in fact, inherited my mom’s bibliophilia. (To some degree, it was like figuring out that I didn’t want to eat cookies for dinner simply because no one was telling me I couldn’t.)

I attacked my newfound love of reading with fervor. I took book recommendations from coworkers, and shared my own suggestions with friends. I signed up for a new library card for the first time in ten years. I’d peruse giant shelves of fiction titles the Sachem Public Library—often judging books exclusively by their covers—wondering if some obscure novelist would get really excited when she found out I checked out her book.

After I moved from Long Island, whose library sharing system is phenomenal, I had far less luck with the Hoboken Library. The tiny facility almost never had my desired titles in house and the transit process to get it from another library, usually a couple of weeks, was too long for me to wait. The waits only got longer, much longer, when I moved into Queens and later Manhattan, where there are simply too many readers for the city libraries to adequately service. I found myself buying books when I couldn’t borrow them—and doing a lot of Sudoku in between.

At least once a year, I knew I could count on a free book from my mom, who started a Christmas tradition of buying me my own copy of her own favorite books. A few years back, it was Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead (still one of my favorite books to this day, which led me to Atlas Shrugged), and the next year J.R. Moehringer’s outstanding memoir, The Tender Bar.

I never make it easy on my mom when it comes to Christmas shopping because I never ask for anything specific, with no exception this past Christmas. But I knew I could trust her to pick another great book for me, so I was happily anticipating that as I opened my first few presents from her. I still didn’t find the book after a few minutes of unwrapping when she handed me my next present.

It was the Kindle!

(To be continued in next week’s “A Complicated Relationship With My Kindle, Part II.)

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Anyone who’s ever taken a six-hour defensive driving course knows that this is arguably the most boring six hours a human can endure. You don’t want to be there. The instructor doesn’t want to be there. And after the six hours (hopefully less if the instructor is merciful) you have not improved at all as a driver, but your insurance rates will have gone down slightly so it’s just barely worth it.

With that in mind, my friends Sean and Gil decided to try something a little different this past weekend: an online defensive driving course. The plan was to watch TV and drink beers while they breezed through it—the irony of a careless, distracted, and possibly drunk defensive driving course is not lost on me—but as it turns out, the online version is actually fairly complicated.

According to Sean, the online course is programmed with little pauses so users can’t skip through the whole thing as quickly as possible. If you do finish a section early, the program keeps you there for a predetermined amount of time to make sure you’re actually doing the required reading. It also asks you choose a password at the beginning of the course and every so often re-enter it to prove you’re still there (and awake).

The biggest issue Sean and Gil faced was re-entering their passwords. The program wasn’t recognizing them even though they were typing it in carefully and correctly as they had at the start. This snafu stalled their progress for the weekend, and they were forced to wait until Monday morning when they could get a live person from the company on the phone to explain the situation and troubleshoot.

When Sean called the company today, they were able to reset his password, only to have it still not work when he tried it again. He called a second time and they explained that the password not only needs to be correctly typed, but also typed at the same speed that it was originally entered when he started the course. Sean’s initial reaction in his head, as mine would have been: “How the f*** do I know what speed I typed it???” To his credit, he kept his cool and convinced the customer service guy to disable that feature so he could finish the course.

But forcing users to match the speed of their original password? Talk about overthinking it. At this writing, it will have been a two full days, or 48 hours, since Sean and Gil started the online defensive driving course, and they still haven’t completed it.

Instead of creating a more efficient defensive driving course that saves time and money (the online course was $30 versus the $45 in-person course), this company, Empire Safety Council, created one that takes much longer, is far more aggravating, and will still teach its users next to nothing about defensive driving—and possibly induce new strains of road rage.

Have you had similar issues with online defensive driving courses? Are there any in the marketplace that aren’t as poorly designed? Let me know in the comments section.

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