Sunday, 15 February 2015

On empathy and delivery

I hadn't intended on writing on this subject this week, it was going to be about a personal consumer travel site bugbear and my prediction for the future, but I'm going to look at empathy again. I've written about empathy and solutions with an eye on the development process and buying behaviours and usability looking at how the development and user needs might be different.

So, what triggered this post? I like to use the Timehop app, which displays your history on the same day in the past across social media, and I like their mini-features like snow animations at Christmas. This Valentine's day opening up the app presented me with two options, would I like my real life on this day in social media and phone photos? Or would I prefer not to see it?

Out of interest I chose "NOPE" and was presented with a fake timeline of kittens and puppies, with the option to go see my real Timehop at the end.

There are a couple of things I liked about this. The first was the obvious emptahy of the potential impact of such an emtional day. The second might seem a bit strange, but the use of regular updates that have become common and Timehop seem to use to deliver date targeted features such as these.

I have sat in various meetings on continous integration/delivery in the past and they have typically talked about ease of development, lower overheads, ease of understanding etc etc. All very good reasons but a bit insular.

I think features like this show how with good product management you can
experiement with features that could be useful or react to missing use cases, perhaps ones like this that are time specific and won't make the cut for a March launch and they won't trigger for nearly a year. Who knows, maybe this is precursor to adding in user selected significant dates ... or hiding posts containing certain subjects.

Maybe I'm just easily impressed but I liked this, it was unexpected, it was humorous and got my attention. Features like this keep the app feeling fresh. I'm glad they haven't just got stuck in a spiral of adding more connections ... "Connect to JIRA to see which issues you set to ready for QA last year!" or "Connect to Salesforce and see which prospect you cold called 4 years ago!"

Sunday, 8 February 2015

On intentions and customer service

Waiter - B1 by Hartwig HKD
If the previous episode that I shared was like a case study for my working life, the this one was like living this blog post on Gross Incompetence Implies Bad Intentions.

We began the trip after an early start and arrived after 10hour flight (+5 hour time difference to add to the tiredness!) to find the room "not available" (later find due to problem rather than late checkout of previous guest). A meal was offered at this point on the hotel, but frankly with a body clock all over the place and constant grazing on an long haul flight really not needed.

Betsy, the Lady from customer service then made it her mission to make up for various things going wrong, starting with catching us at the bar and converting our free meal into the mojitos and chips (fries) that we had after the complimentary "Welcome Cocktail". I'm not sure which room we should have had, but we ended up in a senior suite that although tired looking had a great view.

The first problem that Betsy really had to use her customer service skills with was a pre-ordered room service breakfast that went to the wrong room. Slightly frustrating as waited for a breakfast to arrive rather than visit the restaurant, but no financial loss so no drama. 

Next to make up for the initial delay, then the breakfast incident, a private meal was changed from being around $30 a head to being complimentary. However, this was then confused with another more standard complimentary meal being hosted by the restaurant. 

A quick call down from Betsy and the candlelit supper was soon in full swing. Unfortunately candlelit has the side affect of being low level lighting and I was soon wearing steak sauce mixed with blood. Initially I got the response of laundry is closed but once the restaurant manager saw that I looked like the victim of a holloween horror slash attack, I was promised freshly laundered clothes in the hour. 

Luckily for them at this point I was laughing, the staff were all really friendly and trying to make the stay special. Unfortunately for them something just wasn't working making the hotel seem incompetent. 

The consultant in me would love to see their internal processes to see what could be improved - they had computer systems good enough to track we had stayed before and get attention on the return visit, they also had wireless phones for keeping in contact around the hotel. Maybe it was training? communication between departments? Reporting lines?

The product person in me wonders about the computer system and phones, as tools what was lacking in helping them perform their jobs? Did they use the same systems? How could a new tool do the job better or fill a niche not currently served?

I think the lesson I'll take from this is, a fairly obvious one, in that producing a tool for people in a service industry you are taking a certain amount of responsibility in making the end customer's life easier. So you need to look beyond what might be the requirement at hand, for example "move bookings from one queue to another", and see how that makes travellers lives easier, less stressful and ultimately happier. It might create a good customer experience if you do, it may also help the brand live its values.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

On communications and customer service

Early morning view of Cayo Las Brujas
I have recently returned from a trip that was like walking into a living case study into why I have helped 15below produce the software it does for the past decade.

I was a on a twin centre trip to Cuba and on arrival our rep gave us the pickup time to leave Havana which was very early (3am!). We queried this to confirm it was correct and simply told "yes, 3 am". What we later found out was that it was the start of pickups and NOT a specific time. In addition, ours was the last hotel. we had no information on flight number or a published flight schedule (later found out it's a very informal timetable, leaves when everyone has turned up!)

Now if waiting for nearly two hours, before even boarding a coach to the airport at that time, weren't bad enough the hotel staff weren't that interested and the telephones using the hotel phones couldn't get through to the rep's number - it didn't help that I don't speak Spanish and the mobile network's prerecorded message didn't make sense to me.

So, after over an hour of worrying about missing the flight (and whether to get a taxi!) the pickup turned up.

This is where things started going smoothly right?

Not quite .... the plane made two stops and baggage was unloaded at the first. No announcements where made. It then took two attempts to get answer as to if it was a required stop (later found out from the announcements on the return leg that it was an international airport on the route and yes, was a scheduled stop).

On second stop, still no announcement but could see the airport name so proceeded to get off. On the way out - bit late! - was asked if wanted Cayo Santa Maria. the final coach delivered us to the hotel at around 10am. From getting up over a 7 hour trial by miscommunication.

Several things this episode highlighted to me:

  • How used I am to being able to use mobile for voice and data at home (and how helpless being deprived of it makes me)
  • How I rely on published schedules and flight status queries
  • Information about stops *is* useful on itineraries
  • How one simple piece of information at the start (pick up time is for first hotel) could have saved stress and worry (which was compounded by the very early start!)
  • Communications form an important part of both customer service and the overall customer experience
  • I need to learn Spanish :-)

Finally, the second rep at the beach resort was much clearer - without any prompting - on the pickup times for an excursion and the transfer home.

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