When customer experience needs to get physical.

digital_physical_iface

 

It all started with a drip of water. You know that moment when you open the fridge door and feel a drop of water on your hand where you shouldn’t. It didn’t take me long to track where it was coming from, a dislodged pipe.

At least that’s what I thought it was. I managed to reconnect the pipe, but although the trickle of water lessened, it didn’t stop. Whatever was wrong was deeper in the workings of the fridge than I could see or reach.

No problem, the fridge was still under the manufacturer’s warranty. So I headed over to the manufacturer’s website and opened the online form to book a service call. It was all going well until I got to the line that asked for the fridge’s serial number.

It was back to the kitchen where I opened every door, and peered at every surface of the fridge writing down any number I could find; but it turned out none of them was the actual serial number. The serial number that was a required field on the service call form.

I called the customer help desk number, and the lady explained they needed the serial number so they could make sure they had the right information about model number for spare parts, and to check the purchase date and warranty coverage. That all seemed fair enough.

“So where do I find the serial number?” I asked.
“On a sticker on the fridge.”
“And where’s that sticker located on the fridge?”
“Oh, it’s on the back.”
“On the back of the fridge. The back that’s against a wall and enveloped in custom built kitchen cabinets? “
“Yes.”

This experience brought back memories of when I was working in the manufacturing sector. One of the companies I worked for also used the product serial number as the prime data point to identify a piece of equipment when customers needed service or spares.

An analysis of our online service portal showed that 70% of customers got the serial number wrong. They either guessed, or in most cases input the product’s model designation instead (the nice combination of letters and numbers painted on the side in a big bold color and large font).

The actual serial number they needed was on a small metal plate under a cover – but it told you how to find it in the owner’s manual, so there shouldn’t be a problem. Right?

Both are great examples of the disconnect that often happens when companies focus on the digital customer interaction without considering the actual physical product as part the overall experience.

Customer experience is a holistic exercise, and companies need to make it easy to transfer the process, and the data associated with it, from the physical to the digital, and vice-versa.

Think about your car. Need to access the VIN number for any reason, service, DMV registration, insurance etc. it’s right there at the bottom of the windshield where you can easily access it. Need to know the correct pressures to inflate your tires to – just open the car door and look at the stickers on the sill by the door catch.

The motor industry has done an excellent job over the years in standardizing how to provide essential information to the owner/operator in an accessible manner. It’s a lesson that many makers of many other products need to learn

As the internet of things comes to life around us, the boundary between digital and physical is fast disappearing and the customer experience needs to be an essential part of that evolution.

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Color me this…

The following are a few extracts from my latest feature cover article for INTERCOM magazine on Communicating with Color

 

My red shoes went viral on the Internet thanks to a photograph taken at the Intelligent Content Conference in Palm Springs back in February. Over the last couple of years I’ve developed a bit of an obsession with Converse sneakers, and as of today have nine pairs in different colors, usually worn to match whatever shirt or jacket I’m wearing. The red ones always seem to draw comments or, it seems, the occasional photograph.
However my interest in color goes beyond my choice of sartorial footwear, as I’ve long been interested in the use of color as a design element in communications and storytelling.
Color has always been around us, used by both man and nature as a means to communicate.  The bright plumage of a bird, or the striped fur of a Tiger are not an accident, they are an integral part of the way that the animals interact with each other and their surroundings. The same goes for the human species. We have long used color to communicate with each other and as a part of various cultural traditions. So why not use color as part of our technical communications toolbox as well?
….
Of course adding color to your technical communications deliverables isn’t as simple as just picking a few crayons from the box and coloring in between the lines. The use of color takes a lot of thought, and a new set of skills that need to be considered. In fact the color theory knowledge and experience of an individual can make a big impact.   
….
Think about the colors you see around you everyday and how they are used. Red for Stop or Danger. Green for Go etc. Your company probably already has some color standards overseen by the marketing group on how the company colors can be used. Think about how they can be incorporated in to your technical documentation. Even take a look at the colors used in the product you are writing about. How can they be used?

The full article is available in the print edition of the STC INTERCOM magazine, or on-line here.

What Do Stories Look Like?

Book design guru Chip Kidd discusses how designing books is all about using visual design to convey the story contained within. He also makes some great observations about eBooks.

“Much is to be gained by eBooks: ease, convenience, portability. But something is definitely lost: tradition, a sensual experience, the comfort of thingy-ness — a little bit of humanity.” (Chip Kidd)

Technically incompetent or just bad design?

Last week I suddenly noticed that the Dell laptop I use for certain contracts was no longer picking up my home office wireless network. In fact it was telling me it was connected to an unrecognized public network without internet access. No matter what I tried I couldn’t get it to disconnect from that network and pick up the wireless.

On Tuesday afternoon I plugged the laptop directly into my ethernet cable and spent several hours disabling, and enabling network adapters, rebooting modems, and frantically googling various scenarios. Most of which told me the culprit was a well known Windows 7 bug related to a rogue ID file that showed up in the Windows Services menu. Except I couldn’t find that file anywhere on my machine. In the end I just reset everything and resigned myself to spending an afternoon on a help desk call.

But first I needed to be on-site at a client’s facility. Thinking the problem might be my home network, I took the laptop along hoping to connect to the client’s wireless – no such luck. I mentioned the problem to several people, and no one had any suggestions.

Then about 5 minutes before I decided to call the Help Desk someone who has the same model laptop asked me if the wireless switch was off.

What wireless switch?

Ah that one!!

A switch that in the five month’s I’ve had the laptop have never even noticed.

From a communications perspective a couple of things sprung to mind from this incident.

  • How about putting up a warning dialog on screen at boot up when this switch is switched to the off position (maybe with a location diagram) instead of leaving it to Windows to think it has connected to an untrusted network? Would have saved sveral hours of frustration. BTW when the switch is OFF it displays a red background – but let’s face it, who looks at the side of their laptop on a regular basis?
  • How about making switches a different color, better labeled and slightly more obvious? Most people reading this probably know I’m a big advocate of using symbols to communicate. But make them big enough and clear enough. For a guy of a certain age who wears bifocals, how am I suppose to know what that is?

Oh and who puts a switch that can disable a major feature in a position where it can slide on and off through the process of picking up the lap top and sliding it into a case? Not exactly a well thought out design there.