Hall of Fame: Amazon Delights Cultivating Loyalty From This Customer

Amazon claims to be the Earth’s most customer-centric company.  If Amazon were like just about every other company this claim would be just a marketing slogan – deceitful, empty at best. However, Amazon isn’t like just about every other company.  It’s exceptional in that the folks at Amazon get what it takes to cultivate, keep, even grow that particular emotional bond, which I say lies at the heart of loyalty, with customers.  Of what do I speak?  Allow me to share my story with you.

During December 17 I bought presents, some of them from Amazon.  One of the presents was electric toothOralB Smart4 4000Nbrush for my oldest son.  Whilst my son can do with a new toothbrush he doesn’t want this one. He didn’t even open the packaging. He Googled it and found that it’s not the most expensive one.  So the task of returning it fell to me.  And as I have returned stuff to Amazon before I was expecting it to be straight forward: click on order, select item to return, print out return labels, and drop-off at local post office.

To my surprise it didn’t turn out that way.  I found myself annoyed and angry: why isn’t Amazon allowing me to return an item which is within the return period, and which hasn’t even been taken out of its packaging?  What kind of sh**t is this!  That was my emotional state especially as Amazon didn’t tell me why I wasn’t allowed to return it. I was asked to click a link which took me to a return (home) page which I found unusable – as it wasn’t evident which item on that long menu (of items) I should click.

When I know I’m in the right I tend to be dogged in pursuit of my goal. Luckily, Amazon, offered me the ability/opportunity to speak to an agent.  So when option 1 (looking at the Returns page) didn’t work out, I selected option 2 (live chat with an agent).

“Why are you not allowing me to return this given it is well within the return period, never used, not even taken out of its packaging?”  That was the starting point of the chat. Once, I provided order details and specified the item, the agent told me to give her a minute or two to look into the matter.

Have you had the experience of jaw dropping moments?  The first one occurred when Amazon (website) told me that I couldn’t return this item. The second one occurred when the agent came back with “We’ll refund you for the item and you can keep the item – no need to return it. Is that OK?”  My experience?  “Shocked. Delighted. Grateful. Puzzled. What the fork is happening here?”

My response to that agent was along this line: “I’ve been an Amazon customer for a long time. I buy regularly. And Amazon has always been fair to me.  I wish to be fair with Amazon.  Honest, the toothbrush has NOT been used. It’s not even been taken out of its packaging. I am happy to return it so that you can resell it.”

The agent’s response? “We’re happy for you to keep the toothbrush and to give you the refund you have asked for……”  I had another go at returning the toothbrush. She wasn’t having any of it.  I relented. And something was present that I needed to express. What was present?  Gratitude!  How did I express this gratitude?  I asked the agent to give me the refund as an Amazon gift card rather than a refund on my credit card.  She asked “Are you sure?” and I replied something to the effect: “Yes, I’m sure: I was brought up to reciprocate – to repay helpfulness/kindness with helpfulness/kindness.”

Please get that I am fortunate.  The monetary value of this toothbrush is pennies. I will go and spend double-treble this amount taking out an acquaintance (dying of liver cancer) for lunch in an hour or so. And I am so grateful – so grateful!  Grateful for what?  Grateful for the way I was treated.  Think about how I was treated.  How often are you/me treated in this way?  It’s rare isn’t it?  To be able, easily, to get through to someone helpful. For that person to, swiftly, get you/me to our desired outcome. And then on top of that be given a gift.  Wow!

So here I am on my Sunday doing that which occurs to me as the final act of paying Amazon back for its helpfulness / generosity.  That’s the power of cultivating gratitude by treating customers (employees, suppliers, distribution partners…) right.

I leave you with this question:  Is the way that Amazon shows up and behaves towards its customers (decency, fair treatment) rocket science?  No?  Then why is it that other organisations don’t show up in this manner?  Is it because those who lead/direct/manage these organisations lack heart?  Or is it that these folks are self-centred and only focussed on the short-term – this quarter/year’s results?  How the fork is technology (CRM, CX, digital commerce…) going to do the job of the heart – having/putting into play a big heart?

Thanks for your listening to my speaking.  I wish you the very best for this year – may it be the best year, yet, of your existence.  Until the next time….

Maz Signature

What Does a Customer-Centred Orientation Look Like Through The Customer’s Eyes?

Are you customer-centred?  That is a sloppy question as there is no agreement on what is being talked about when talking about customer-centricity.  So, let me ask that question in a more precise way: when the customer interacts with you/your organisation, through any touchpoint or combination thereof, does the customer experience the feeling of being cared for by you?

I take statins every day. It just so happens the daily dose of 60mg requires me to take two tablets: 40mg tablet, and a 20 mg tablet.  Take a look at the pictures:

Do you see that the 40mg tablets come in packaging that merely states what the product is (Arvostatin) and the dosage (40mg)?  Now look at the packaging in which the 20mg tablets come – do you notice the difference? I found myself noticing the difference.  How exactly did I experience this difference?  I heard myself saying to myself “These folks care! They get that the product is for a human being. How useful it is to have the days of week on the packaging next to the tablets!” I found myself in a state (mood) of gratitude. AND I had a smile on my face – I found myself to be feeling happy.

I draw your attention to the following:

  • The product is an essential touchpoint – one which is almost always ignored by the Customer Experience folks whose focus is limited to interaction channels (web, mobile app, telephone, email….);
  • The packaging is a touchpoint – one which is ignored for the most part by many – exception is Apple, the folks at Apple get the importance of packaging and ensure that their packaging is a feast to the eyes and easy on the hands; and
  • Information whilst not a touchpoint can deeply touch a customer – useful information provided at the right time through the right channel / touchpoint occurs (through the eyes of the customer) as a blessing/gift and generates gratitude like that which Amazon.com provides in allowing me to track gifts (start to finish) sent to friends/family.

Enough for today. I thank you for your listening.  If you are celebrating Christmas then I hope that your Christmas is one of giving/sharing/loving and being loved.  Until the next time….

 

 

 

Argos Good, AO.com Bad Bad Bad: Why I’ll Never Buy From AO.com Again

I’ll never buy from AO.com and recommend that you do your homework before you do business with this online retailer. Why?  Let me take you through my experience.

Good Experience: Buying Online

I placed the order for a Windows laptop with AO.com as my wife is unwilling to switch from Windows to MacOS.  My experience of buying from AO.com was good to great:

  • process of selecting the laptop and checking out was easy/quick;
  • next day delivery was offered without any extra charge;
  • email confirmation was order arrived immediately as promised.

Ugly Experience: Salesman Calls to Sell Extended Warranty

In between buying the laptop and it turning up on my door I got an unexpected phone call from a fellow from AO.com.  He started by checking with me that I was the person who had placed the order. Then he started his cross-selling pitch: extended warranty.

This conversation occurred as ugly. Why? One, I placed an order for the laptop a couple of hours ago. I’m looking forward to it arriving. I am hoping/expecting will be OK as I wish to provide my wife with a pleasant surprise. This call changes my emotional state: the extended warranty (cross sell) call is a fear based sell – raising the fear that the laptop will breakdown and all the cost/hassle that goes with getting it repaired.  Two, the guy making the call pretended he was doing this as he cared for me – as a customer. My experience was that he was simply doing that which he needed to do to make his sales target irrespective of whether I needed or wanted the which he was selling.

Good Experience: Delivery

I had ordered the laptop on Saturday.  The delivery was due on Sunday and it arrived on Sunday.  The driver who dropped it off was friendly.  The packaging was intact – not damaged.  I opened up the computer and switched it on.  It switched on, the operating system had to configure itself and to do that it asked me questions and I had to supply then like wifi network details….

Another good experience – another expectation fulfilled.  I felt good about doing business with AO.com.  To date, my experience of doing business with AO.com was consistent with my experience of buying a smart TV from AO.com some years ago.

Bad Bad Bad Experience:  Returning The Laptop / Asking For A Refund

During the course of the week my wife used the computer once for about 20 minutes. She found it was ok for surfing the internet. And not fast enough when it came to what she really wanted it for: productivity – writing letters, working with spreadsheets….. She didn’t want it – she wants a faster computer.

I go the AO.com order confirmation email and look for information on how I return the laptop.  There is no information for returns, there is a phone number for cancelling orders.  So I call that number and get through to automated IVR.  I listen, I select the relevant options, I provide the order number.  Then I wait, and wait, and wait.  Eventually, I hang up.  Later that day, I go through the same process and experience that which I experienced first time: frustration, annoyance and contempt.  Why? Time is ticking by and nobody is picking up my call.

Later, it occurs to me why not do that which I do on Amazon.co.uk: find the order, select the relevant item on that order, and choose the returns option on the menu. So I hit the AO.com website, log into my account, find the order, and find myself stopped: AO.com doesn’t have that functionality.  So I go to the home page and hit the “Free 30 day returns” icon.  The is what shows up:

AO.com returns page

I find myself thinking “Great, I have 30 days to get this product back to AO.com instead of the legal 14 days.”

And I want to get this thing over with. So I search for option to contact AO.com without having to call.  I do not come across live chat.  I do come across a customer services email address. The problem: AO.com is still living in the dark ages – 48 hours to respond to an email.  I don’t want to wait 48 hours!  I want to getting this forking business over with right now!

Next day, I ring AO.com again, this time a human being does respond to my call.  I say that I wish to return the laptop. She asks if it is faulty.  I say that it is not faulty, I wish to return it as my wife says it is too slow.  She responds by saying something like “So you have used it.”  I say something like “Of course I’ve used it – how else would I try out the laptop and see if works, meets my expectations?” She tells me that as I have used the laptop AO.com’s policy is to charge 45% of the laptop price to cancel order / return the laptop.

I’m not happy. Actually, I find myself annoyed.  I point out that under the distance selling regulations, the customer can order a product online, try it out, and return it (without giving a reason) and get a full refund except for paying costs of shipping product back to the supplier.  I also say that as I know something about computers, I have reset the laptop back to factory settings – so it is in the same condition that it was shipped out to me.  She tells me to hold whilst she talks with someone.  I wait.

She comes back with an offer. She’s talked to the supervisor and out of the goodness of AO.com’s heart these folks are only going to charge me 10% of the laptop price to exercise my legal right to return this laptop.  I say “No!”  No, I am not going to pay anything except what the law says: return shipping costs.”

She consults with someone and comes back again with something like “OK, as you have reset the computer to factory default settings, we will not charge you for returning it. Is that Ok?”  I say “No! No it’s not ok. You are breaking the law and I want to speak to your manager. I want to know why you are breaking the law.”  She refuses.  We conclude by agreeing the date when the laptop will get picked up from my home.

I have yet to get my refund so we will see if this is the end of this bad experience or if there is more to come.

Is AO.com Complying With The Law?

Put bluntly it occurs to me that AO.com is not trustworthy – not playing fair nor being reasonable with customers. I also happen to think that AO.com is not complying with the law.  Why?

Common sense dictates that it is only reasonable that the person who buys an electrical appliance online has to use it in order to see if a) it works; and b) if the performance is in line with expectations.  Further, consumer rights & protection (e.g. Consumer Contracts Regulations – came into force in June 2014) allow for reasonable use to try out a product.

Here’s what Which? (consumer rights organisation) says:

Consumer Rights 2013

I bring your attention to the following:  “The extent to which you can handle the goods is the same as it would be if you were assessing them in the shop.” And if you do that then you are entitled to a full refund if you let the supplier know within 14 days that you wish to return the goods.

The AO.com Experience Is So Bad In Comparison With My Argos.co.uk Experience 

At about the same time I ordered a laptop for my wife (via AO.com) I ordered a laptop for my daughter (online via argos.co.uk).  My daughter used the laptop from Argos and said “Papa, it’s ok and it’s not as fast as your MacBook Air.  I want to use the MacBook Air. Please send it back.”

I went to the Argos website, hit live chat, explained the situation, and the return was agreed there and then (for the next day) at no cost.  Zero hassle.  I wasn’t even asked if I had reset the laptop to factory settings.

My advice to those of you shopping online: do business with reputable retailers rather than AO.com.  And if you choose to do business with AO.com then you might want to check it out these online reviews: a mixed bag.

What Does It Take To Delight This Customer?

Story: The Customer Experiences Sadness & Delight

Last week, Friday, it’s 10:00 and I am working from home.  Andy’s not arrived yet.  I’m wondering if he is OK or if he has forgotten. Neither of these thoughts occurs as a pleasant experience. Then I hear myself speaking: “It’s Andy, most likely he’s simply running late – its who he is. Relax. He’ll probably be here in the next 30 minutes.” I relax, and get back to work.

The doorbell rings. I open the door and see Andy standing there with his smile. I notice that I am happy to see him. I tell him that I am pleased/happy to see him. And invite him into my home whilst asking if he wants a drink. Andy says “A tea would be nice!” I ask him how he likes it and get busy making that tea.  The tea is brewing as Andy likes his tea strong; both of us are standing up in the kitchen.

Andy says “Sorry about contacting you amidst your cancer. What’s the news?”  I thank him for the discreet ways (email, SMS) that he kept in touch and reminded me that the vents had arrived and he was ready to install them when it worked for me.  I tell him that sorting out the condensation problem in the loft (the job to be done from my perspective) continues to be something matters and I am happy that he is here to do that for me. Then I answer his question around my cancer.

After listening patiently Andy shares his (relevant) experiences. His health, the blood tests he has to undergo, the medicines he has to take, and the way this has impacted his existence.  He also talks about his late mother and her cancer journey. We talk a while. Then I excuse myself as nature calls.  Andy gets busy with that which needs doing in the loft.

A little while later Andy comes down and finds me working on my laptop. And says something like “Sorry for disturbing you and I’ve finished”.  We get talking again. In the process he tells me that he noticed that the insulation in the loft is minimal. He tells me that his house had been in a similar situation and that he had managed to get a grant for extra insulation. He gives me the name of a website.  I thank him.

We move into the kitchen and he sets about writing me an invoice. I notice that the labour charge is a fraction of that which Andy had quoted. I point this out.

Andrew Laney Carpentry

Andy says in a matter of fact “It was a lot easier than I thought. It only took half an hour. So that’s the labour charge.”

I say let me pay you now and set about logging into my mobile banking app. Turns out that I no longer have Andrew Laney Carpentry and Maintenance set up. So I ask for Andy’s bank details. He gives me his bank card and make the attempt to pay him. Problem: there is fault in the mobile banking app that does not allow me enter his full name (somebody has not done good enough UX testing on the banking app).

I say, “Let me take a photo of your bank card. That way I’ll have your details and can punch them into the website using the laptop.  I will text you once I make the payment. Please text me back to confirm that you have received the payment.”

The outside door is open and Andy is in the midst of stepping out.  I say “Thank you Andy. Give my regards to John when you next see him. And remember that I work from home on Fridays. If you’re in the area then come around for a tea. You’re welcome.”  Andy tells me that is in the area from time to time, on a Friday, and will take me up on my offer.  I shake his hand and we part company.

I get present to my state of being  – noticing that I find myself experiencing both sadness and delight.

Who/What Is The Cause of Customer Sadness & Delight?

I look into my sadness and delight.  What is going on here?  Why the sadness?  What is the cause of delight?

Sadness. I notice it is the kind of sadness I experience when parting company with a friend. Interesting, at some deeper level than my conscious/rational mind, Andy is showing up for me as a friend.  Makes sense, he is friendly and we do have history together in the sense that some months back he did some work on my home. He was recommended by the fitter that i was using for a major refurbishment – I wrote a conversation on that here.

The delight. Why am I delighted? What is the source of the delight?  I notice that there are several dimensions:

  1. The job to be done (fix condensation problem in loft) occurs as done and is no longer on my mind – I had been carrying this problem for over a year;
  2. I enjoyed my interactions/conversations with Andy – genuine human to human relating had occurred where I found myself with a richer picture of Andy including knowing stuff that I would never have guessed unless he had shared it with me e.g. his military service, his mother’s cancer etc;
  3. The whole thing had turned out to be less troublesome and less costly than I had thought it would be; and
  4. Andy had done right by me all along validating my decision to put my problem (job to be done) in Andy’s hands and trust him.

Which might explain why it is that immediately after Andy left I logged into my Mac, paid him electronically, and texted him to tell him that I had done so, and asked him to confirm that he had got the payment. Doing otherwise, did not occur as an option – not even delaying it to the afternoon.

How Has Andy Laney Done Right By Me?

Looking into my experience of delight, it struck me that the defining factor in my experiencing delight is the thought-feeling “Andy’s done right by me; I made the right decision to trust this man!”  So I got busy looking into that – to see finer detail of doing right by me is made up of in this instance.  Here’s what shows up for me:

  1. I shared the problem with Andy and I proposed the solution – that of replacing some of the roof tiles with vented roof tiles;
  2. Andy looked into the matter and came up with a much cheaper/easier solution that of using internal vented tiles;
  3. My focus/priority to switched from this job to be done to dealing with cancer – and in the process I neglected this job to be done;
  4. Andy had kept in touch discreetly and minimally via non-intrusive means – mostly email about the job e.g. “The vents have arrived,” and SMS to ask about my cancer;
  5. Andy had seen the job through and been honest/straight all the way to the end – he could easily have played around for 2 to 3 hours, made the job look more complex, and charged me that which he quoted or more as I would have paid; and
  6. Andy had also been on my side (helpful) to the end – by pointing out that I do need to improve the insulation in the loft (work that he does not do) and telling me where I could get a government funded grant to cover all/most of the cost.

What Was The Real Gift That Andy Laney Left Me With?

Looking deeper still it hits me that Andy Laney gave me a gift. What gift? A gift that really matters to me!  What gift?  Evidence/experience of folks (in the world of business) who are decent/good.  Folks for whom money is not the measure of all things. Folks who embody a certain kind of old fashioned human dignity. And show up/operate with a sense of dignity/honour.  Folks for whom cheating customers does not occur as an option – even to consider this seriously would be to sully one’s self-esteem.  Thank you Andy for this gift.

I thank you for the listening. I wish you the very best.  Until the next time…

Maz Signature

CX: Using Intelligent Generosity To Cultivate Customer Delight

Certain businesses deal with products that perish or become useless if not used by a certain date/time.  This is often seen as a problem – a problem of generating demand to drive sales, and a problem of inventory management. I have yet to see this viewed, by Tops, as an opportunity to delight customers, and cultivate gratitude / loyalty between the customer and the business.

What am I talking about? Allow me to illustrate using a recent experience.

Recently, I booked a double room at the local Hilton (St. Annes Manor) hotel via Hotels.com.  I made a mistake – I booked it in my name, and for only one adult. So when time came for my wife and daughter to go to the hotel I rang the hotel. The voice on the other hand was professional and warm. The young lady didn’t just change the booking. Once she learnt that the room was for two adults, she took charge, and without me asking, found a room with two beds. I found myself pleased and grateful.  Later that evening my wife sent me a photo of the room – it was a room with two double beds.  Delight – my wife was delighted, my daughter was delighted, and I was delighted.  Along with this kind of room came four towels – ideal for those of us who needed access to that room merely to shower – until the major renovation work is finished in our home.

Think about it. What did the hotel lose by giving us that bigger (deluxe) room?  Nothing!  It was late in the day, the room was free, and if it had not been used it would have created no value for anyone.  Through intelligent generosity the lady on the front desk did create value: for us (the customers) and also for that hotel. How so for the hotel? I am writing about the hotel right now am I not?  Also, it was the first time any member of the family stayed there – those that got to experience it (wife and daughter) love it and have been talking about it – recommending it to others: the room, the peaceful / beautiful location, the spa…..  I also suspect that sooner or later my wife will check us in there for a quiet weekend away from the children.

It occurs to me that every business that deals with ‘perishable’ inventory has an opportunity to exercise intelligent generosity:

If you are an airline then you can offer seats (that your analytical models show will go unfilled) to some of your customers for free – as a thank you;

If you are a hotel you can do as our local Hilton did and/or offer some / all of the rooms likely to go unfilled to some of your customers for free – as a thank you or as taster;

If you are a supermarket, you have an opportunity to give food that is reaching its sell by date to certain customers (you choose which ones) or to local community organisation / charity that supports those in need…..

I know that some organisations do something this  e.g. airlines which offer free upgrades to certain customers.  I know that some hotels do this also. What I am talking about here is this and more than this – in some instances giving perishable product away to customers for free – free flight, free hotel stay, free train ticket, free concert ticket……

The question I am posing is this one: what opportunities does your business have to exercise intelligent generosity – the kind of generosity that causes customer surprise / delight / gratitude, holds the promise of increased revenue and/or brand reputation over the longer term, yet costs you little or nothing today?

Before you dismiss the question that I have posed, I ask you to consider that if ‘perishable’ inventory is not used by its sell-by date then it is waste. Is waste a better outcome / way of showing up and traveling in life than intelligent generosity?  All I can say is that the field of intelligent generosity appears large and largely unoccupied.

I thank you for your listening, until the next time…

CX and the Art of Getting & Keeping Customers

The Story: How I Ended Up Moving On From My Favourite Cafe

I walked in to my favourite cafe and greeted the fellow behind the counter by his first name. He was so happy to see me that he smiled a huge smile, welcomed me, and came around the counter to shake hands with me.  Delight – what a welcome!

Then I ordered my usual: fresh orange juice, hot chocolate, a croissant, and a pain au chocolate.  My ‘friend’ behind the counter pointed at his orange juice making machine: no oranges, no fresh orange juice – his supplier hadn’t delivered the oranges on that day.  I find myself disappointed – really disappointed.  That is when something important is unconcealed to me: of the breakfast what really matters is the fresh orange juice.

I eat my breakfast noticing all the time the absence of the fresh orange juice.  I pick up my bag, put on my overcoat, say goodbye and leave for work: the client’s offices.

It’s mid-morning and I’m thirsty. I head down to the ground floor where the cafes and restaurants are.  I notice a small place that I had not noticed before.  Why do I notice it? It seems to be like a fresh juice bar! I head over there and sure enough there are various freshly squeezed juices including orange, orange and banana, orange and mango…. A little later I find myself drinking the orange and banana juice. Delicious!

The next day I find myself at this juice bar for breakfast. I help myself to the fresh juice, a croissant, a pain au chocolat, and pay. Whilst paying I strike up a conversation with the lady serving me. Then I take a seat and enjoy my breakfast.

I do the same the next day, and the next day, and the next day.  I find that despite my intentions to go back to my favourite cafe I do not go back. Yes, I think fondly of the fellow who works there. I wonder how he is doing and I wish him the very best. I even think of popping in after work… Yet, I find that I never go back there for breakfast.  I stick with the fresh juice bar.  Why?

It is convenient – on the ground floor of the client’s offices. It always has the products I am looking for. By being a regular customer and willing to initiate conversation I have gotten to know Anne – and she has gotten to know me. The place is clean and there is always plenty of room to stand or sit down and have my breakfast in peace.

What Might This Unconceal About Winning & Keeping Customers?

1 – What happened happened yet I did not intend it to happen. Neither did the fellow working at my favourite cafe. Indeed, if you had told me that things would have worked out this way  I would have argued against it. I would have found many reasons to back up my position. Which makes me wonder how much you/i can trust what customers/prospects say in surveys.

2 – Great customer service was not enough to keep me as a customer.  I am clear that every time I turned up at my favourite cafe I received great customer service. In part this was because I had established a personal connection with the chap behind the counter who served me.

3 – Great personal relationship with the customer facing front line employee was not enough.  Yes, the fellow behind the counter was, to use Richard Shapiro’s language, a Welcomer.  Yes, the fellow behind the counter and I had cultivated a personal relationship with one another such that both of us were genuinely pleased to see one another.  Yes, it was great to be greeted by my first name, with a smile, and asked about what I had been up to since the last visit.  No, this level of relatedness did not turn out to be enough to keep me as a customer.

4 – As a customer I did not realise what really mattered in my ‘eating breakfast’ experience until what really mattered was not present.  In my case what really mattered was freshly squeezed orange juice – the experience (taste, pleasure) associated with drinking this particular product.

5 – The customer’s experience is holistic and it necessarily involves the ‘product’. Put differently, the customer’s experience is more than how you treat the customer when s/he is ‘dancing’ with your organisation.  It is more than having a Welcomer welcoming.  It necessarily involves the ‘product’ that the customer came in search of.

Further Reflections on The Customer’s Experience and Customer Loyalty

Based on my experience of being a customer, it occurs to me that the customer’s experience can be broken down down into the following components:

A.  Desired Outcome: Did I ‘get’ the outcome I was after?  The answer to this question is binary: yes or no.  There is no in between.  Think pregnancy – you are pregnant or you are not pregnant, you cannot be somewhat pregnant.

B.  Treatment: Was I treated the way I desire/expect to be treated whilst in the pursuit of my desired outcome?  The answer to this question is not binary when treatment is taken as a whole across my ‘customer journey’.  There may be elements of the journey where I was treated well. Other elements where I was not treated well.

C.  Effort-Time: How much effort-time did it take for me in working with you/your organisation to generate my desired outcome? I am clear that if you are the supplier that is the least effort-time consuming one to deal with then you have an advantage when it comes to winning my business and keeping me as a customer.

When I look at my transition from using my favourite cafe to using the on-site juice bar I notice that the juice bar won because:

  • It generated my desired outcome – every time without fail;
  • I was not treated as well as I was treated at my favourite cafe bar yet I was treated well enough. And I was able to cause improvements in my treatment by cultivating a more human / intimate relationship with Anne who usually staffed the juice bar; and
  • Doing business with the juice bar saved me time-effort because it was on my path-route to work. Whereas my favourite cafe was a 5-10 minute detour.  So it ended occurring up as convenient.

I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best in your living.  Until the next time….

On Technology In Experience Design: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Brussels Airport: Human Beings and Technology Complement One Another to Deliver A Good Experience

It’s Monday morning, early, as we are about to land at Brussels airport I decide to take the train rather than the taxi.  On landing I look for and follow the signs for the train. I arrive at level -1. Now I am presented with choice: to get my ticket from the ticket machines (many of them, all of them available for use) or queue up at the ticket office and be served by a human being.  I choose to queue up and be served by the human being.

To the lovers of technology and its promise to reduce friction and bring about nirvana my decision does not make sense. Surely it would be faster and easier.  So why did I not use the machines? I lacked prior experience with these machines. I lacked the kind of contextual knowledge needed to figure what ticket I needed. And importantly, previous bad experiences – like the refusal to accept my credit card, or being told by the inspector that I had purchased the wrong ticket….

Further, and please make a note of this, I knew that the automated ticket machines do not have the same kind of being as a human being.  What am I getting at? I am talking about flexibility, intuitive contextual understanding born from a shared humanity, and a natural inclination towards helpfulness.  How best to illustrate?  Follow my story and you will see.

Within 2 to 3 minutes of queuing up I am face to face with middle aged man behind a glass screen. Do I speak French or English?  I notice that this man had been speaking in Flemish to his colleagues. So I speak English and ask him for a ticket to Bruxelles-Nord.  He flexes: he switches to speaking English fluently. He flexes: he asks me if I want a single or a return. I tell him that I need a return. He tells me the price and issues the ticket.

Time to pay. I get out my credit credit and look at the card processing machine. I haven’t come across this type before. I cannot figure out where the card goes and which way it goes. So I ask the man. He flexes to meet my need: he shows/tells me the correct place and way of inserting the card. I am grateful as I had not seen that slot in the machine.  I think bad design! Great that there is a human being to make up for the poor design of the credit card machine.  I pay. I thank the man and make my way through automated barriers to the train.

When I arrive at Bruxelles-Nord I find myself happy.  I took the road less travelled – I normally take the taxi – there were challenges. And the right combination of humanity and technology allowed me to overcome this challenges, easily, and left me feeling good.  Good!

London Heathrow: Getting Technology and Humanity All Wrong

Same day. It has been a long day. Finally, I am off the aeroplane and making my way to passport control at London Heathrow- later than expected. The taxi driver has just rang me to ask where I am.  So I am keen to get through passport control.

I arrive at passport control along with many others. Two choices – follow the lane for e-passports or the other lane.  Not an easy choice.  There is long queue in the e-passport lane as the demand falling on this lane is greater than the capacity of this lane.  This lane is automated and the technology (the machines) are not keeping up with the human beings.  On the other hand, there are only two lanes open in the other (alternative) lane.

Whilst in the midst of making the decision, I find myself shepherded into the e-passport lane.  I wait. I wait. I wait. Finally, I am near enough to the machines, the technology, to see what is going on.  There are 15 machines, only 10 of them are operational.  Imagine if you ran a call centre and on a busy day one third of your staff were off ill. What kind of an impact would that have on service levels?  OK, that accounts for some of the imbalance between demand and throughput.  What else is going on? I look.

As I am looking, for about ten minutes or so, I notice a few things. I notice that the process of getting through the machines is longer – every time – than with a human being checking passports. So even if everything worked like clockwork, it takes longer to get through these machines. But everything isn’t working like clockwork. It is about as far from clockwork as one can imagine.

I notice that most folks simply do not how to use the machines.  I can see the confusion on their faces. I can see their apprehension as they find themselves face to face with the passport (and facial recognition) machines.  There are no easily (intuitively) understandable instructions. For example, folks don’t know whether to put the passport face up or face down in the scanning area.  The machine does not detect wrong procedure and alert folks. It does its processing and when it is finished a big red cross comes up on the screen. But no useful error message or guidance.

At this point I ask you to think back to my situation at Brussels Airport. Remember me turning to and being served – as in helped out – by a human being?  So you may be wondering what happened to the human beings at passport control. This is where it goes from bad to ugly.  Allow me to explain.

I can only see one human being on my side of the machines – a woman in her late twenties. She is standing in front of machine 11 – only machines 1 to 10 are operational.  She is looking at what is going on.  Her contribution? To look down at the people struggling with the machines and provide useless advice.  The looking down is evident in her face and her tone of voice.  She keeps saying “If you put your passport against the machine and push down then it works fine”.  Folks are doing that and for some of them it is not working out. Clearly, they are at fault given her stance.

I notice that every person who cannot get through the automated passport check  – which is at least one in every three – is instructed by this young lady to go and see the man at the end of the line.  I look and see that there is only one man at the end of the line. He is busy – there is long queue.  The price of cost reduction through technology centred automation is being paid by us – the users.  I look at the faces of the people like me waiting patiently to get through this nightmare. I can see the frustration, even contempt, in their faces. Some of them are voicing this frustration – in a very understated English way.

 

Where I Stand In Regard To Technology

1 – It is my experience that the claims made in regards to technology (in business) are puffery. Or, at best, aspirational – what folks would like to believe. Yes, technology can make things better. But it rarely does especially not for the people who actually find themselves face to face with technology – the users. 

Take Heathrow Airport, I am sure that folks selling the vision and benefits talked about: reducing costs by replacing many people with one machine, the throughput – how it would take less time for the machine to do the work of the human being, the improvement in the customer experience – easier, quicker, better, the reduction in risk as machines don’t get tired….  Now you compare my experience with the vision/promise.  Notice the gap.

2 – Making technology work (for users) requires a deep connection with our own humanity (our way of being_in_the_world). And with the humanity of our fellow human beings through empathy.  Yet this is THE quality that is lacking in the people who purchase technology (managers) and those implement technology.  Further, neither party really cares for the users of technology.  The users are pawns who are to be ‘change managed’ in order for the benefits of automation to be harvested. What are those benefits?  As I mentioned in the last conversation they are almost always cost reduction.

3 – In service contexts, great experience design requires the right blend of the human beings and technology. Why?  Technology is great where something can be reduced a technique – a logical sequence of invariant steps – and thus automated.  Yet an intrinsic and persuasive feature of human worlds is unpredictability, novelty, variance.  These are characteristics of living and life – especially intelligent life like ours. Technology sucks at dealing with this. But human beings don’t. Human beings have the capacity even an inclination to be flexible in an instant. Humans can get an intuitive grasp of the context (the background) and the user and her situation (the foreground). And we can flex to address the specific needs of this user in this context.

4 – It is easier to design and implement technology badly – from a user experience standpoint – then it is do it well. To turn around this situation requires a substantial investment in service designers and ux designers.  As well as prioritisation of the user experience. For all the talk of Design Thinking there is little of it actually occurring – perhaps a drop in the ocean.  As someone in an important position said to me recently “I don’t care about their feelings. I have a deadline to meet!” Further, most organisations are not willing to really get into Design Thinking – it requires a different mix of people, it involves getting out of the office and entering new worlds, it takes time, it takes effort, it requires experimenting and iteration.  None of this appeals when the focus is implementing technology ‘out of the box’ this month using agile.  Were speed and efficiency is of the essence the ground/soil necessary for human centred design is simply not there.

I thank you for your listening. Until the next time….