My profession is in the user experience field. It’s fairly new and it is really divided up into several subsets of work titles, but it involves the design of websites and computer-based applications. Given that computers can be carried in your pocket these days, it includes all sorts of mobile platforms too. What user experience people do is try to ensure that the application or site is straight-forward in its organization and that it’s easy to find things you’re looking for. Companies like Best Buy, Apple, Home Depot, Dyson, Amazon, Zappos, Lowes, Kohl’s, and hundreds more, all have teams of user experience people finding easier ways to make life simple for you.
But there’s also an emerging segment of what we do that’s strategic in nature and it uses some somewhat vague sounding words and expressions, like holistic and working across teams. Sounds hard to pin down, but it’s not, really. It’s an expansion of the same sorts of activities and point of view that other companies have used in the past, such as Saturn Corporation. It’s approaching the customer as a person and seeing how every nook and cranny of what the company does touches on that customer when they’re dealing with the company. If they call to order something over the phone, is it easy to navigate the phone system? How do we keep them up to date on their order? Do we make everything that customer experiences reflect the best of what we are and do?
This is a tale of two experiences. Both involve buying a product, in this case, a laptop computer. One was bought from Apple and one from Dell. One is a lesson in how the purchase process is supposed to work. The other is an object lesson in what not to do.
First, because I’m doing it chronologically, is the Apple experience. I decided I needed a more up to date home laptop. Since we prefer to use Macs at home, that’s what I looked at. I checked out the Apple site and looked at the various size screens and decided on what I wanted. I thought I could live with a 13″ screen instead of a larger one, but I wanted more memory. I also wanted expansion ports for an external backup drive and that meant a Mac Book Pro. So I clicked on the 13″ version and it allowed me right then and there to configure the amount of memory and the hard drive size and type (solid-state drives are really, really fast, but expensive, by the way) and add it to my cart. There were other things I could add to it, pre-installed software, an care plan, extra gadgets and cables and printers, but everything was right there and i just had to click a button to select it or leave it alone if I didn’t want it. Then I clicked the buy button, filled in my credit card info and bought it. It was literally that straight-forward and simple. I got a confirmation email almost immediately and within a few hours they sent a follow-on email with my ship date. Slick and easy.
Recently we had a friend whose computer died. For various reasons we decided we wanted to give her a new computer. She’s used to Windows, so we asked around and several people told us they were happy with their Dell laptops, so that’s what we wanted for her. So, I go online to the Dell website to buy her a computer. They had a special on a 15″ screen one so we decided that would be what we would get but I thought she might need more than the standard memory so I wanted to raise it a bit. I clicked on the laptop configure button and went through the options on the first tab, selecting what I wanted or didn’t, then the second and third and fourth tabs and I was getting near the end. I hadn’t seen anywhere I could add more memory. So I figured I must have missed it and went back through each of the configuration tabs – it was nowhere to be found. I went back to the home page and did more searching. It seems you have to scroll down and down looking at the different laptop configurations to find the one that’s pre-configured with the amount of memory and the hard drive size you want, then you can”configure” the laptop. At that point, though, you’re not configuring the laptop, you’re buying other stuff for the laptop.
That’s the first of several learning points here. (They are customer experience pain points. These cause you to lose customers.) First, never, ever cause your customers to have to start over from scratch, which is what I had to do. Your buying process online is a live or die process. Usually, making them start over encourages them to start it all over somewhere else. Second, if you don’t let them actually configure a computer after they click Configure, you’re leading them astray. Words actually mean something to your customers. If what those words mean to you and what they mean to your customers is different, you cause a problem. You’re misdirecting them.
So, anyway, I finally got the right computer picked and added the options we wanted to the computer. So I clicked buy, entered my credit card information, entered the shipping and billing addresses (which were different) and clicked buy. Almost immediately, I got an acknowledgement of my order, including all the specifications. I thought great, she’ll get it soon, probably. No problem.
Three days later I got a second email from Dell. I was thinking that must be the shipping information. Nope. All the email said was that my order had been canceled. No explanation why, no contact information, Nothing.
Next learning point: Never leave your customer hanging. If something happens, tell them why it happened and what they can do to remedy it. Don’t throw their money back in their faces and not tell them why.
Since I had no idea what happened or why, I went to the website to see if that could help me. Fortunately, there’s an Order Status link near the top of the page. Great, we’re making progress. So I click that and it takes me to a page giving me all sorts of different ways to check on order status. In the text on that page it tells me that the best thing to to is Click Order Status and that phrase is a link. I’m thinking we’re gold now – at least in terms of giving me a hint as to what happened. So I click that link and it’s a link to the page I’m on – it goes nowhere. Eventually I see the same phrase somewhere else on the page and click it. Finally, I see the order is cancelled. Plus there’s another link that leads to a page of phone numbers I can call. It’s Saturday, but they are a major sales organization. People are there.
Sure, the whole point of the site is so people don’t need to call but never hide how to contact you when they have a problem. They’re people – they will have problems. Deal with it.
I called that number and it’s one of those voice mail jungles. You know the type. “Just tell me what you want and I’ll try to direct your call.” Well, so what do I say? I have a problem with my order? Why was my order cancelled? Sorry, the system interprets that as “You want to place an order. Is that correct?” GAAAHHHHH!! No, I need to speak to someone. After several tries, it asks if I want to “speak to a rep”.
Don’t make your voice mail system a living hell for your customers. Always tell them how to get to a person. Don’t make them use your jargon for a person.
Once the nice person gets on the phone I tell them my problem. My order was cancelled for some reason and I don’t know why or what I need to do. She looks the information up and says “The Verification Team cancelled your order. That usually happens when your credit card company refuses to honor the charge. You should call your bank to see what happened.” And she also tells me that once I clear things with the bank, the Verification Team can bring my order up out of cancelled status a resurrect it. She gives me the number of the Verification Team, which is an entirely different number.
So I hang up and call my credit card company to see why they refused this charge when they didn’t refuse the bigger Mac Book Pro purchase. The bank checks its records and says Dell never contacted us at all. Ever.
Never lie to your customer. If you don’t know what happened, say “I don’t know what happened.”
So I immediately pick up the phone to dial the Verification Team. “I’m sorry, our normal office hours are from x to y Monday through Friday.” (Remember, this is Saturday when I called.)
People that fix screw-ups should work the same hours as your sales people. Sales people should be able to get the screw-up fixers on the phone FOR you. You shouldn’t have to call a separate number for this. One contact who brings the right people into the situation.
Well, by this time, I’m one unhappy customer. It’s a good thing Michael Dell doesn’t have his phone number on the site. I would have called him right up and started bitching up one side and down another. I’m not interested in waiting two days more to deal with this. I decide what if I just go back to the site and try a second order. Maybe it will go through. This was some kind of fluke, probably. So I do it all over again, specifying what I want a third time to generate a new order.
Yep. That one got cancelled again. Now you’re talking red hot pissed customer. When I call back to see what’s going on again, this time I eventually reach a guy who seems to understand what happened. The Verification Team seems to have put some sort of block on my account. This new guy starts telling me how I need to fool the system into processing my order by creating a brand, new customer number. At this point, all my IT experience is screaming NOOOOOOO at the top of my lungs.
If you make it hard to buy your stuff, people will stop buying it.
Finally I tell him I don’t understand how that will help and I ask to speak to a supervisor. I’m still being polite, but it’s hard. The next thing I know, I’m back in the voice mail jungle and it’s telling me to say what I want. I ask to speak to a living sales person. Clarice (that was her name) is very nice. I tell her my problem, tell her what I want in terms of hardware and then she walks me through every option of the online process over the phone (I’ve been on the phone for over an hour by now.) and despite my specifying exactly what I wanted, she tries at every opportunity to up sell every possible option.
Listen to what your customers are telling you they want. Don’t up sell every little thing.
We get through the whole process and she tells me I should get a confirmation email in the next two hours and I can make sure the order is right and modify it online if I need to (fat chance) before it goes to shipping.
It’s like success, finally. The order confirmation comes through just as she said and it’s exactly as we wanted. Huzzah! So now I’m thinking the next step will be the shipping confirmation. Wrong. There’s still that Verification Team out there waiting for my name to come by their eyes. Sure enough, they call around 8 p.m. It’s apparently their job to make sure that I am who I say I am. They verify I am the authorized card holder. They do this by asking all the arcane secrets of my life. What was my mother’s maiden name? Date of birth? Current billing address? For most companies, that would be enough,but not for Dell, apparently. What was my previous address? What apartment number did I live in 35 years ago? What was the post office box number of our old address 27 years ago? No, seriously. They expected me to remember addresses, street numbers, and apartment numbers from three decades ago. At that point, I told them I was done. They needed to do whatever they felt was the right thing to do, but we were done and I hung up.
Don’t treat your customers like thieves.
It’s not brain surgery, just common sense. Make your customer have an experience just like the one you’d like to have when you buy something.
Just to be absolutely clear, if our friend had not needed extended technical support as an option, I would have never made the second, or any further attempt, at buying a Dell. Nor will I ever buy one if I end up needing a PC for some reason. I will spend any amount of money I have to in order to avoid buying a Dell. Forever. I will never recommend a Dell to anyone. Forever. That is the cost of bad user experience.