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

Hall of Fame: How Folks At Apple Support Turned Me Into An Apple Advocate!

An Apple Customer Becomes an Advocate Due to Apple Support

apple_support_twitter_logo_smallUntil recently I was merely a customer of Apple. That changed over the last two weeks. How so? I ran into a problem and had to reach out to Apple Support to get that problem addressed.  That problem was addressed in a way that leaves me with a delightful experience – one that calls forth a smile and gratitude.

What Calls Forth Customer Loyalty / Advocacy?

Before, I tell you about my experience I want to address the matter of customer loyalty. How do you turn a mere customer into a loyal customer and advocate?  I don’t know as I suspect that it depends on the concrete (flesh and blood) customer.  I can tell you how the folks at Apple Support turned me into a loyal customer and advocate:

  1. You make it easy for the customer to get through to you when that customer needs you;
  2. You staff the front line with human beings (not bots) who embody the human touch and are technically competent;
  3. You put in policies-practices-tools that encourage/enable your people to sit side by side with your customers and together address the matters that matter to your customer;
  4. You make sure that the customer feels that you have made his problem (job to be done) yours and that s/he is safe in your hands;
  5. You don’t leave your customer’s side until you have gotten him/her to his/her desired destination – which is almost always a desired outcome; and
  6. You convey the impression that it has been a pleasure helping the customer in a way that the customer gets (at an experiential level) your pleasure

How The Folks At Apple Support Turned Me Into An Advocate

I own two Apple products: MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air.  My daughter is the one who is the heavy user of the MacBook Air and so I hadn’t used it for months. When I did use it I noticed that there was an opportunity to update the operating system to the latest version. So I went for it.  Something went wrong and the MacBook Air ‘died’.

When my daughter found out she was not at all happy. Why? Because she had important homework on it. Homework that had to be handed in the following day. Suddenly, it became both important and urgent to get the MacBook Air working again. This is when I noticed fear taking root. Why so? Because I was thinking something like this: “The MacBook is 5 years old. Will Apple help me?  I don’t see any reason why Apple should help me out with a 5 year old product. There is no warranty in place…”

I googled “Apple Support” and after two clicks ended up here: Contact – Apple Support.  What is the statement / promise Apple makes? “We’re here to help”. Is it an empty promise? No.  Look at the webpage! It invites you the customer to “Talk to us” – that is exactly what I did.

Almost immediately I found myself listening to a friendly male voice. He helped me to find the serial number. With the serial number he knew it was a 2012 MacBook Air. Then he told me how to reset it.  I initiated the process and noted that that computer was telling me it was going to take hours downloading operating system over the internet. So I thanked the young man and told him I was ok to take this forward. The Apple Support chap told me that he had logged my case, ‘gave’ me the case number, and asked me to quote that case number just in case I needed to call back.  He showed up as pleasant, knowledgeable, and helpful.  I felt gratitude.

A day later, I found myself on the phone to Apple Support. Why? The laptop had been downloading software for hours and then just hung up when it got to “40% remaining”.  This time I found myself talking with Danae. She detected my concern (given that the laptop had my daughters homework) and responded beautifully: she told me that it was not an issue and that she would help me to get the MacBook Air working. It was the tone of her voice – a combination of human warmth, confidence in what she was asserting, and her commitment to her promise.

Then she set about keeping her promise.  Whilst she was helping me I asked about her and learned that she is Greek. We talked a little about Greece given that I had been reading Adults in the Room by Yanis Varoufakis (ex Finance Minister of Greece), and have positive experience of Greek people. With the reset process in operation again I noticed that the laptop was telling me it was going to take hours. I told Danae of this. It is her response that floored me. Why? She made it plain that she was by my side, continued  to own the problem, and would see it through to the end.  She followed up the verbal promise with this email (I have replaced numbers with *):

Case Number: ********
Dear Mazafer,

Thank you for contacting Apple !

It was pleasure working with you, I will take you in the right path to get your issue resolved!

Should you need anything further regarding this issue, please do not hesitate to contact me personally.

Looking forward to hear from you!

t: 00800 ******* ext.****
I will be in the office this week :
Sunday-Thursday 8.00.-16.00 UK time

Kind Regards,
Danae Panagopoulou
Apple Distribution International

This time the download process completed to the end. The latest operating system was installed and the MacBook Air was operational. A fact that was a great relief to me and a delight to my daughter.  I wrote back to Danae:

Hello Danae

I so enjoyed talking with you this morning – feel blessed that our paths crossed today.

Thank you for being a beautiful person – in a world that shows up an mostly inhuman it is soul filling to come across such as you.

I want you to know that you have helped me to fix my problem.

The MacBook Air is up and running and I know that this will please my 17 year old daughter who is never far from it.  She will especially welcome getting here homework back – so that she does not need to redo it!

I shall be writing about the GREAT folks at Apple Support and especially you.  Keep a tab on this blog here:  www.thecustomerblog.co.uk

How to end?  I wish you and your loved ones the very best. Also, is it possible to keep in touch perhaps through LinkedIn?

This is the reply I received:

Case Number: ***********
Hello Maziqbal,
Thank you for contacting Apple and for replying to my email (much appreciated)!
Good news, excellent!
I am very happy the issue is resolved and that you are more than satisfied with our support!
I really wanted to resolve this issue for you as much as you did.
Please whatever you will need from now and on just drop me an email and I will contact
you as soon as I will be available.
I wish you all the best!
Looking forward to hear from you!

t: 00800 ******* ext.**********
I will be in the office this week :
Sunday-Thursday 8.00.-16.00 UK time

Kind Regards,
Danae Panagopoulou
Apple Distribution International

Richard Shapiro in The Welcomer’s Edge stresses the critical importance of Welcomers – customers, to the business, by cultivating loyalty through genuine heartfelt service.  I am clear that Danae is a Welcomer!

I am also clear that the folks in leadership positions are the ones that create the context/space for Welcomers like Danae to show up as Welcomers. Great support does not happen by accident.  Great support flows from a certain kind of customer philosophy: take care of your customers and your customers will take care of you. This kind of philosophy requires a long term orientation and faith in the decency of human beings.  Few, of those that I have encountered, in leadership positions embody this orientation, this faith.

So I offer my thanks and gratitude to the folks at Apple – those in Apple Support, and those who in leadership positions who enable Apple Support to provide great support.

I dedicate this conversation to Danae Panagopoulou – I am grateful that she exists for it makes this world that much more beautiful with her in it.

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

Maz Signature

What’s The Impact of a Shitty Employee Experience on the Customer Experience?

Can you deliver a good-to-great customer experience without paying attention to the employee experience?  If you forget theory and look at the practice in large organisations you might just see that the answer is a resounding “Yes!”  There is so much talk about the customer experience and in the process a lot of extra work is put on to the shoulders of the employees. There is almost zero attention to the employee experience. Almost nobody that matters grapple seriously with improving the lives/experience of the employees who face the customers. Especially not the folks in call-centres.

I say that if you provide your call-centre agents with a shitty employee experience then the costs (of this shitty experience) are inevitably passed on to the customers. First the customer experiences a lack in the interaction with the call-centre agent: something just doesn’t feel right. Second, the customer is left with an inadequate outcome whether s/he is aware of this or not: the question isn’t really answered; the advice given is less than optimal; or the advice is plain wrong.

Let me say this again: fine sounding words like customer focus, respect, empathy, customer-centricity, customer delight are not enough. On their own they represent icing on a turd.  I go further and assert this: if you recruit the right people and get the employee experience right then your customer facing agents will deliver good-to-great customer experiences without the need for the fine sounding words.

What happens when you have an environment in which the fine sounding words are in place and the call-centre agent experience is shitty?  Allow me share some experience:

  • The agent is aware that time it ticking and his performance is being monitored so he is keen to get on with the call and close it;
  • The agent is so busy navigating / accessing / viewing / updating many applications (that do not talk to one another) including spreadsheets and Word documents that s/he is not in the state necessary to really listen to the customer, to empathise, to make the customer feel valued;
  • The agent is dealing with a complex issue – which is what customers tend to ring in for increasingly – and he doesn’t know the answer. Under the pressure of the clock the agent finds the first plausible answer and gives this to the customer;
  • The agent is speaking jargon whether he s/he knows it or not. The agent is speaking to a sixteen year old who does not get the jargon. This sixteen year old asks for clarification on some of the jargon. The agent explains this jargon with more jargon all the time his/her tone implies that the customer is stupid;
  • This customer, this call, requires flexibility yet the agent is being monitored and managed on his/her ability to stick to the script. So that agent sacrifices the customer experience and his sense of what is appropriate in order do that which is clearly not appropriate – stick to the script. The customer pays the price in that s/he feels that s/he is talking with an idiot and dealing with an inhuman organisation.

Let me sum it up: If you provide your customer facing employees with a shitty employee experience then the best you can expect these folks to deliver is shitty-to-ordinary customer experience.  And no amount of find sounding words will make any difference. These fine sounding words are as effective as putting cream on a turd and serving it in a restaurant.  Nobody does this in the restaurant business, but this practice is common in large organisations.

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

Mary: What Kind of a Difference Does Generosity Make?

IMG_MaryIf you want to attract customers then you must have something that pulls customers to you.  If you happen to be in the business of selling fine chocolates then good service is necessary but insufficient.

In the fine chocolate business the ‘product’ matters.  By ‘product’ I mean both the quality (taste) of each chocolate and the range of chocolates.  It is the ‘product’ that calls the customer and pulls him back to your business – your store.  I have witnessed folks put up with poor service just to get their hands on the ‘product’ at a competing brand.

So, it is the ‘product’ that Mary makes-sells that drew me the Mary store in the Royal Galleries (Brussels) last week. Yet, I am not writing this because of the ‘product’.

I am writing this as an expression of my sense of gratitude. Gratitude to whom?  Gratitude to the two fellow human beings (Olivier, Eda? ) who served me.  Language fails here: serve is not the right word.  Yes, they provided service. No, they did not merely serve me.

What is it that made such an impact on me?  Their way of being was professional yet human/warm/considerate. Clearly, they knew/cared about their ‘product’ (the chocolates). And, I was made to feel welcome.  Yet, this is not it. All this is necessary yet not sufficient.

What really made the difference?  Generosity.  Olivier offered me several chocolates to taste whilst he was putting the selection together.  Eda? offered me some chocolates whilst Olivier was working the cash till. Both of them were generous in dancing with the conversation that I initiated.

Lesson: If you wish to be granted a space in the hearts of your customers it is necessary to cultivate gratitude in the hearts of your customers. A great way to cultivate this gratitude is through generosity in your way of showing up and travelling in this world. Reciprocity ensures that most of us, most of the time, remember and repay our debts.  The catch here is that the generosity must be genuine and not a technique for getting the better of your customers.

It occurs to me that the real measure of customer-centricity is generosity.  Which is why so many large organisations struggle with the Customer thing.  Interestingly, I have found Amazon to be the exception as I have experienced acts of generosity from Amazon. Each time those acts have left me feeling delighted.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Endangered Customer by Richard. R. Shapiro

I enjoyed reading Richard Shapiro’s first book: The Welcomer’s Edge.  In this book Richard set out a 3 step model (the greet, the assist, the leave-behind) for making a human connection with customers through every customer interaction.

In his latest book – The Endangered Customer – Richard expands the 3 step model into eight steps in the customer’s journey from the initial encounter to making a repeat purchase. The book is relatively short (less than 150 pages), easy to read, and each of the eight chapters addresses one of the eight steps.

What Is The Endangered Customer About?  

It’s about retaining customers through superior service.  Superior service necessarily involves seeing customers as persons and striving to cultivate a human connection with them. Here’s how Richard puts it (bolding mine):

“Poor service followed by poor service – that’s how you endanger your customers into becoming someone else’s customers.”

Why bother going to the effort of generating good/great service?  After 28+ years spent working in the customer service industry, Richard makes the following assertion (bolding mine):

“.. companies of any size and in any consumer channel, can survive and thrive in the Switching Economy by making human connections that build sustainable customer relationships…..”

“As automated transactions become faster, easier, and more reliable, making human connection will become increasingly rare – and therefore increasingly more valuable. The greatest differentiator for any company will be how well it makes that human connection with its endangered customers.”

What Are the 8 Steps to Guarantee Repeat Business Through Human Connection?

In the Endangered Customer Richard sets out the 8 steps for cultivating human connection, delivering personalised service, and inviting-cultivating lasting relationships with customers.  These steps and associated nuggets of wisdom are:

1 – Make me feel welcome

“Human beings come to you with hope in their hearts. They need or want something they haven’t found elsewhere, and hope you have the answer…. Your job is to give them hope that they’ve come to a place where their problem or desire will be addressed in a helpful, friendly manner....”

“Offering hope beings with a welcoming smile.”

“The goal is not to create a relationship with every interaction. The goal is to invite a relationship…. This is why it’s important to faire the right people for customer-facing positions.”

2 – Give me your full attention

“Customers carve attention. They want and need to feel that you’re interested in them.”

“Fundamentally, giving your full attention requires an ability to acutely listen.”

“Joe Girard, the Guiness Book’s world record-holder for retail sales: “People may have had to wait for an appointment, but when I was with them, I was with them body and soul.

3 – Answer more than my question

“Questions are the customer’s way of inviting you to become a valuable guide in his or her journey. A sales associate accepts that invitation by taking the time to anticipate the “detours” and other obstacles that might lie ahead. That’s often the information that has the most profound effect on the customer. “

4 – Know your stuff

“There is no sales tool as powerful as knowledge. When we were shopping with Rochelle, we knew we were in good hands. Her expertise, coupled with a smile and an uplifting attitude, made all the difference.”

“… in a retail environment, I believe that the greatest cost of employee turnover is the one that is rarely quantified or even discussed: the diminished capacity in terms of customer relationships and institutional knowledge.”

5 – Don’t tell me no

“Never saying no is all about trying your best, because people will always come back to do business with a company that gives them the feeling that it is there for your.”

“…. many companies have standard practices that needlessly leave their customers feeling disappointed and uncared for.”

6 – Invite me to return

“The leave-behind represents any number of little things that associates can do and say to make customers want to visit again…. The point of every leave-behind is to make it easy for the customer to stay in touch.”

“When you are invited to return, it makes you feel wanted and accepted.”

“I can’t emphasise enough that feelings of loyalty naturally develop towards a person and not the business.”

“Relationships are cultivated on a person-to-person basis, not through impersonal automated “thank you” emails.”

7 – Show me I matter

“We are all innately suspicious of someone who seems to lose interest in us after money has changed hands. People just hate feeling seduced and abandoned. People like feeling important and special.”

“… demonstrating genuine concern and care after the conclusion of the interaction is something that many companies do not consider. When it does happen, it’s just an accident.”

“Take a good look at any company that is known for being “loved” …… You will discover that the company has instituted any number of consistent procedures and practices that assure customers of their importance….”

“Everything about the customer experience has to be genuine or it loses its punch.”

8 – Surprise me in good ways

“Customer satisfaction is a minimal standard; loyal customer relationships are built around surprise and delight. Customers crave human interactions that leave them with the experience of feeling special, and nothing conveys specialness better than surprise. “

 

The Heart of Customer Loyalty: Paying It Forward?

Richard has some interesting things to say when it comes to the implementation of the 8 steps, and the cultivating of long term relationships with customers.  Lets listen to his speaking:

“Of the eight steps…. the final three are perhaps the most difficult ones to implement because acknowledgement, appreciation, and delight have noting to so with closing sales and raising short-term revenues….”

Pay it forward is really the ultimate expression of customer service, because it’s a practice that puts people before profits….. A pay it forward culture …. will naturally reap dividends in terms of customer loyalty and repeat patronage because customers will naturally keep returning to anyone capable of giving them this feeling. And they in turn will tell their friends about you ….. as a way of paying it forward.”

Concluding Remarks

I enjoyed reading The Endangered Customer. I am clear that Richard Shapiro knows his subject matter – building enduring bonds with customers by cultivating the human connection between the customer-facing employees and the customers. I am also clear that Richard provides valuable advice if you have the listening for this advice.

My concern is that the very people who are in the position to effect change in organisations – especially big corporations – do not have the listening for that which Richard Shapiro speaks. The human connection seems antiquated in the age of worship at the altars of process and technology.

Please note that this review is necessarily biassed. To be human is to be biased – always and forever.  In my case, my bias is that I consider myself to be a friend of Richard R. Shapiro even though we have never met / nor talked.  Finally, I offer my thanks to Richard for sending me signed copy to read.

I thank you for listening and I wish you the very best. As the French say: until the next time….

 

 

Dancing With Customers: Rodolphe Renwart And The Art Of Hospitality

What is it to be a human being?  There are many answers. I find myself attracted to the answer provided by the philosopher Martin Heidegger.  A human being is necessarily a being-in-the-world.  One of the key characteristics of human worlds is the presence / absence of others. So one can say that a human being is a being-in-the-world-with-others.

What kind of withness characterises the ‘with-others’ for folks living-working in western cities?  I invite you to relive your ordinary day and come up with your own answer.  Is it primarily detachedness, aloneness even in the midst of others, even indifference?  Are not most of the encounters transactional where the feel and form of the encounter would be the same even if the parties to the encounter were replaced by other parties – even automatons lacking soul?  Which is to say that the primary character of withness of ‘with-others’ is one of a certain coolness as opposed to the warmth of genuine human relating and human connection.

Some folks, maybe even the majority, are ok with such withness. Some folks even prefer it as it leaves them unencumbered by the demands of other people. Not me.  I miss genuine human relating and connectedness. I miss smiling, talking, sharing, laughing with my fellow human beings.  I especially miss this when I find myself away from home like I was earlier this week.

Now allow me to introduce Rodolphe Renwart.  Here he is at work at Natural Caffe on Boulevard Ansbach in the centre of Brussels.

Rodolphe_Renwart

 

This week I walked into Natural Caffe and came across Rodolphe.  On a cloud dull morning I was looking for someplace quiet, clean, and spacious to get a breakfast. I got exactly that. But that is not the reason that I returned the following day for breakfast.

Why did I return given that there are so many cafes and restaurants in central Brussels and I like to try out new places?  I returned because Rodolphe provided that something that few provide.  Rodolphe did more than take my order or serve me.  He made me feel welcome. He brought me an English newspapers without being asked. He took up my invitation to enter into a conversation. He shared some things about himself like is German ancestory and the way he has been treated when travelling in England.  He invited me to return the following morning. And when I did return he recognised me and looked pleased to see me.

It occurs to me that Rodolphe is at home, in his very being, in that cafe ‘dancing’ with customers.  Notice, that dancing implies a certain kind of intimacy that is absent in merely serving customers.  Put differently, at the cafe, the quality of Rudolphe’s kind of withness with customers is the differentiator.

Why am I sharing this story with you?  Because I notice the addiction with data, information systems, and business process redesign. And a neglect of the human  – people, conversation, helpfulness, sharing, caring, smiling, laughing…. In a world saturated with the withness of indifference, detachedness, and superficial politeness, some of us yearn for folks like Rodolphe who embody the withness of genuine humanity, warmth, and connection. They leave us feeling good about ourselves and the world. They provide what technology does not provide: genuine hospitality.

I thank you for listening. 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….