Sharon’s War Story: Broken Windows Theory
By Steve Portigal at 8:34 am, Friday November 16 2012
Part 36 of 69 in the series War Stories

Sharon Cartwright, a consultant with Optimal Experience, shares her story about uncovering context.

We were surprised that Anna wasn’t at home when we arrived at her house. We could see through the lounge windows that the house was empty of furniture and personal belongings, adding further to the intrigue. We had followed our usual protocol of sending an email confirmation clearly stating the time of the research session and Anna had been called the day before to confirm.

We decided to try calling Anna. She picked up our call as she was coming up her driveway. She was running late and seemed a bit agitated, telling us that she had locked herself out an hour earlier. She was just moving into this house and didn’t have a spare key yet. She’d decided, in the interest of proceeding, that she was going to smash a window to get in and had just called around to her brother’s house to pick up the appropriate tools.

Anna seemed like a practical woman, and smashing her front door window didn’t seem to daunt her. I indicated that there was no need to take such drastic action for our sakes. But she was adamant and was soon taking a hammer to the glass panel in the kitchen door.

Once inside, Anna, myself and the client (who’d come along for the ride) began the clean-up. I manned the vacuum cleaner and mused over the start to the session. There is something bonding about a shared clean-up!

We were there to observe Anna set up wireless broadband. On a good day the process wasn’t straightforward; we had already seen several participants struggle through it. Over the next two hours we observed Anna encountering several technical issues with hardware and software. She managed to resolve some issues on her own. Many times she resorted to calling the contact centre, although their advice was mixed – sometimes helping Anna, sometimes complicating matters.

We had scheduled the session for 1.5 hours expecting this to be sufficient, but many sessions – including Anna’s – extended over this. After two hours Anna had not succeeded in setting up her wireless broadband connection. Unable to stay any longer, we were disappointed to leave without seeing Anna ultimately succeed. We wished her luck, as she was clearly going to need it.

During the two hours Anna revealed a few things to us. Her long-term relationship had recently ended, explaining her move to Auckland. She was also looking for work. Her ex-partner’s teenage son had generally taken the lead on the technology front in their home, and it was dawning on her that this was now her role.

With the significant life stresses she was facing it was hard to watch her struggle through a technology set-up that should have been easier, dare I say simple. While we learned that setting up wireless internet often happens during a time of stress, as it’s one task of many when you move house, I felt for Anna and the difficult time she was going through.

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