June 16, 2019

Basic Customer Experiences That Failed Miserably

Basic Customer Experiences That Failed Miserably


At a bowling center, the automatic scoring system has one job — to keep score.Dan Gingiss

On Saturday night, I went bowling with some friends. There was a brand-new electronic scoring system that even let us choose a background theme on which to display the scores.

The only problem was the thing couldn’t keep score.

On Sunday night, I lost power in my home after a big snowstorm. The power was out for more than 16 hours, and I had no idea if or when it was coming back on, despite signing up for the power company’s text alert system.

What do these two experiences have in common? They both involve a basic service failure of a system that was specifically designed to provide that service.

In the case of the bowling alley, the electronic scoring system is designed to do one thing – keep score. After I rolled a 9 and a spare but didn’t receive credit for the spare, I tried to manually fix it only to be informed that manual scoring changes were disabled. So I walked to the front desk and politely asked them to award me my hard-earned spare.

On the next turn, the same thing happened. I again made the walk and got my score changed.

Then it happened again. And again. And a few more times. The front desk employee said she would ask “Maintenance” to look at it. Apparently the cameras that scan the pins to calculate the score weren’t functioning correctly. Maintenance couldn’t fix it.

Finally a different front desk employee moved us to the next lane – where the same scoring problem happened again. I eventually stopped walking to the front desk to have the scores changed – I had done it six or eight times already – and we just played out the last game. I suddenly found myself pining for the traditional paper-and-pencil scoring system that never broke down.

When we went to pay afterward, the front desk employee assured us again that Maintenance was on the case, as if we cared on the way out. No apology, no offer for a free game and alas, no more customer for this bowling alley.

The electric company tried to leverage technology to improve communications during the power outage. Other utilities like Duke Energy have done a great job of proactively alerting customers on social media to impending storms and potential outages. In my case, I was able to report my outage online and see that 382 other poor souls were also freezing in their powerless homes. I also signed up for text alerts and immediately received a confirmation message.

And then – silence, for the entire day. No updates whatsoever.

I returned to the website to find an interactive map which showed reported outages in the area. But on my street, there were apparently no reported outages, even though both my neighbor and I had reported them. Concerned that my report didn’t go through and that the power company would forget to turn my power back on, I submitted another outage report – and a third one later in the day. My street never did display any outages on that map.

After abandoning my home for more than nine hours for the warmth of a Starbucks and a friend’s house, I returned to find the power had been restored. I still haven’t received a text alert telling me that.

A basic service failure of a system that was specifically designed to provide that service – a scoring machine that doesn’t score, and a text alert that doesn’t alert. These are some of the most frustrating kinds of experiences for customers because it makes us feel that the businesses we’ve entrusted lack coordination or attention to detail, it requires us to do extra work, and we’re treated as ancillary passengers along for the bumpy ride.

These failures are also a reflection of business leaders who haven’t truly immersed themselves in the customer experience that their company provides. Did anyone actually test that scoring system or text alert system before deploying it? Have the executives at those companies ever felt the frustration that their customers feel?

If your company offers customers technology solutions, it is imperative that those solutions actually work. They should be constantly tested, with new experience iterations based on real customer feedback. This is essentially table stakes in today’s highly competitive experience economy, and though many people don’t have a choice in electricity providers, they certainly have a choice in bowling centers. And they likely have a choice when it comes to your business.

Focus on doing the simple things better. If technology and innovation are going to cause more problems than they solve, then don’t waste money implementing sub-par experiences. Every experience that you create must elevate the overall customer experience, not detract from it. Because if you can’t provide an experience that at least meets – if not exceeds – your customers’ expectations, someone else surely will.



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