Think about the best thing you’ve ever bought. What makes it so satisfying? My guess is – if you thought really hard about it, you’d say something that you use every day. So much so, that it’s become intuitive. Something with which you were able to achieve lightning-speed mastery over.

In short: it was a product that just worked.

For me – it’s my iPad.

I’ve always hated the clunkiness of a laptop (a supposedly portable computer). I still love my laptop – but damned if I wasn’t enthralled by Netbooks and then those hand-held nanocomputers running XP… But my Netbook was not as satisfying a work platform as I’d hoped… just a miniaturized version of something that, in all honesty, did the job much better. Clunkiness was still a problem.

Then I broke down and bought an iPad. Suddenly, I was reading more books, catching up on my blogs, able to maintain inbox zero, had a centralized calendar that I could update on the fly, a mobile word processor and presentation builder with a touch-screen keyboard I could actually hit the keys on, a large-screen portable computer that could surf the web from anywhere – without a clunky card or power concerns. Simple to use, intuitive interface, I had mastered it in a day.

It just freakin worked.

This sort of thinking isn’t limited to products, though – I loved the now-defunct Google 411. You could call it up, say a business name and city and state, and it connected you to a set of listings. You could ask for a text message – and it’d send you a text message with the phone number and a link to the map. It just worked.

I love calling my doctor’s office. No stupid phone tree automated “our menu options have recently changed” bullshit (have you noticed – EVERY automated phone system’s menu options have recently changed?). A real person. Every time. The receptionist knew my voice after one call and one visit. The Doctor is friendly and doesn’t make me wait and lets me ask as many questions or raise as many problems as I have on my mind that day. They worked really hard to make sure their service just freaking works.

On the other hand – my Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance… that’s another story. Insanely friendly customer service reps, but they can’t do anything for you. Need an x-ray? Better hope you didn’t break your ankle without telling them you were planning to break your ankle. They’ve even asked for another copy of medical records that THEY ALREADY HAVE. Worse: I can’t pay online. I can’t change my coverage online. I can’t set up auto-pay without faxing my member ID or social security number. It’s almost like they tried really hard to make sure nothing worked.

Same story at University of Phoenix – a complete ping-pong situation for one student I know – nobody will take responsibility for a HUGE problem there that so negatively affected a student that their career, and their GPA, has been sidelined. Each customer service rep along the line passes them to another department or just gives a flat-out “no” to reasonable requests. “I’m a Phoenix” indeed – you apparently have to go up in flames first and restart somewhere else. If they put as much effort into supporting my friend as they did their ad campaign, maybe they wouldn’t have to spend so much on advertising. It’s pathetic to see an educational institution turn their backs on customer service to a student just to make a few bucks.

Want to try it out for yourself? Try to get contact information for the dean. You’ll be redirected time and time again to the Office of Dispute Management – the highest entity that any student can contact. If the highest point of contact is a department to handle complaints (typically, the lowest point of contact in an organization’s structure) – that should signal something’s wrong with the organization.

And that’s the rub, right? When something just works, you don’t have to convince people to use it.

(Header photo: iPad and Friends by Yutaka Tsutano)