As far as the customer is concerned, the interface is the product. – Jef Raskin
Dragging kids around the city centre and doing shopping is one of the less enjoyable things to do in the world.
Bored kids find inventive ways to act out – causing mayhem of one kind or another, especially when they’re also hungry.
Which is why we headed to a large chain restaurant, where we knew we would get cheap food made from plastic that would probably come quickly – and found a table.
And then, when it was time to order, we used an app.
And it worked perfectly.
Minutes later, the drinks arrived and the food shortly after that, and everything was good with the world.
Normally, I try and take off all the apps on my phone that want to distract me – email is out, social media is banned and whatsap is on mute with no notifications.
Anything that wants to try and interrupt me has to be eliminated.
But, there are times when I want something – a takeaway, a taxi or to order food.
There are certain types of choices that are simple to make – this kind of food from that place, take me from here to there and I want this and that off the menu.
If you look around you’ll see apps and interfaces taking the place of call centers and waiters to help you with those choices.
And they work well, when what you want is simple and can be set up as a menu.
At that point the waiter is no longer required.
The point at which you need someone to get involved is when things start to get complicated or need personalisation.
Like when you need help understanding what something means or does, or if you want to make unusual modifications to your order or you need a customised version that has your kid’s name and favourite character.
The point at which applications start to suffer is when they have to deal with lots of variety.
They are good with things that stay the same but start to struggle when something different happens.
Now, you might argue that you can deal with a different situation by creating a rule – something that helps improve the ability of the system to deal with variety.
This shows up as the option on some menus to change ingredients or the text box at the end of your takeaway order that lets you give instructions to the driver to come round to the side entrance.
But at some point things cross over – where the overhead of dealing with customisation results in a deterioration in the quality of service.
For example, we went to a climbing facility recently that had a ridiculously long, web based, legal disclaimer form.
It took so long to finish that the kids were out of sight and could quite easily have gotten themselves into trouble.
If something bad had happened, all those words wouldn’t have really helped with their liability – they would have closed down anyway if a serious incident happened just because of the negative news effect.
What they should have done was have a short form and get someone from the team to carefully explain how to be safe in the facility instead of hiding behind a legal shield made of cobwebs.
In one case the app or web interface made ordering easy and life easy.
The other case made getting started hard and customers irritated.
The point about going digital is this – the reason you’re doing it is to improve the customer’s experience.
So first you need to do everything to just do better work.
Make better food, create a better climbing environment and operate newer and cleaner taxis.
Then, look at the things people have problems with and redesign your operations to get rid of them by working better – through training staff to spot those issues and removing processes that don’t add value.
And where there is a high degree of variation – where customers are unsure or want a lot of customisation, personalisation or changes – put a real person in front of them, one who knows what they are doing to help them get what they need.
As the quote that starts this post says the interface is the product. In some cases that interface has to be human – and we should start by trying to make it as pleasant an experience as possible.
And then when you’re left with nothing else you can do to improve your service then look at how digital systems can make your customer’s lives easier.
This is what John Seddon calls an IT last approach.
A good rule is to only put digital systems in when customers start saying to you “Do we really need to talk to you to get what we want?”
That’s when you give them the ability to order from you through an app or online.
p.s. Thank you for the feedback and likes on my recent posts.
There will be radio silence for ten days or so as we go off the grid for the summer holidays but the posts will resume after that.