TCS Daily

Got to Admit It's Getting Better?

By Glenn Harlan Reynolds - May 31, 2006 12:00 AM

I've written in the past about bad design and bad customer service. So I think it's only fair to devote a little bit of space to things that don't suck. There are more of them than you might imagine.

Of course, to anyone who's actually run a business or managed employees, it sometimes seems like a miracle that anything ever goes right. But it's my impression that, overall, things are going better than they used to. Regardless, here are a couple of good things that deserve attention.

First, an answer to a long-time annoyance: the restroom hand-dryer. These gadgets, with their wimpy currents of warm air, never really dry your hands. (Hence the inevitable graffiti addition to the instructions: "5. Wipe hands on pants.") When I see one of those things on the restroom wall, I immediately assume that the establishment's proprietor doesn't really care about me, and is too cheap to spring for paper towels.

But my gym -- where I've often bemoaned the lack of paper towels -- has now replaced its lame old-fashioned electric hand dryers with the F-22 of hand dryers; something called the "Sloan XLerator." Instead of a weak stream of warm air, it blasts a knife-edge-narrow blade of high-speed air that basically squeegees the water off your hands. I'm not sure what the air velocity is, but it makes the skin on your hands ripple like it does when you're skydiving, and within a few seconds your hands are dry. There's no need for the "wipe hands on pants" bit, because, well, you don't need to. They're as dry as you can get them with a paper towel.

Looking it up for this column, I discovered that it's not only better, but also more energy-efficient:

"The XLerator clearly outperforms conventional electric hand dryers, but how does it compare to paper towels? At our request, LCA experts Greg Norris of Sylvatica, Inc. and Bev Sauer of Franklin Associates, Ltd. consulted data from Franklin Associates as used in the SimaPro LCA software. The results, as shown in the table above, show that just on the basis of energy use electric hand dryers are far better, without even considering the many other environmental impacts of the manufacture and disposal of paper, including resource depletion, water pollution, and solid waste. A recent study commissioned by Airdri in the U.K and performed by Environmental Resources Management reached the same conclusion."

And the XLerator -- because it actually dries your hands in just a few seconds, and has a motion sensor to turn it on and off -- uses less energy than the old-fashioned and ineffective electric dryers. Somebody tell Al Gore!

I've had some other good experiences, too. People complain a lot about outsourcing, but when I had a BellSouth problem recently, I called their DSL support line, and got a friendly and knowledgeable woman in Manila who solved my problem in a jiffy, even though it was actually a firmware issue with my router.

Likewise, my HP computer blew a hard drive while still pretty new (bad) but the HP people were quite good about fixing it even though the warranty had just expired (good). And another PC I own, sold through Sweetwater Sound, works fine and when I've called their customer support people about a few minor setup issues they've been very helpful and knowledgeable.

Do these good experiences prove that the world is getting better? Nope. (And here's a story of one guy's "Kafkaesque" experience with Adaptec customer support.) But they at least illustrate that there's good stuff happening out there too, as well as the stuff that people are always complaining about. And that's worth noting now and then, along with the complaints.

Glenn Reynolds is a TCS contributing editor.


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