Archive for May, 2012

I’m just a bit of software

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Why going to the cinema is so crap these days

In The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex, British film critic Mark Kermode bemoans the decline in the multiplex cinema experience. Noisy eaters, people checking their mobile phones, doing anything it seems than enjoy what they supposedly came for – the movie. He points to the absence of ushers policing the theatre, cut long ago to save money.

And if you can block out all the distractions, the movie you are watching might not even be 1) in focus or 2) have the right aspect ratio. That’s right, you’ve guessed it – there’s no projectionist to check. Or at least there is one but they have 10 movies to get started so don’t have time to hang around and quality control.

Now Mark Kermode is a self-confessed Luddite, but the point is that when it comes to delivering an experience, technology is an imperfect substitute for humans.

If your job can be done by an algorithm – watch out!

During a project for a large consulting firm i found a similar pattern. In an efficiency drive they had replaced administrative assistants with various bits of software, moving to a self-serve admin process. This was to save money, but with consultants wrestling with unbendable billing software when they could be being charged out at thousands of pounds an hour it was unclear whether this cost-saving was actually achieved. Add in the fact that the software stressed the consultants out a great deal and you would have to call it a poor substitution.

Elsewhere in the building the new automatic door was unquestionably more efficient, but had far less charm than Bill the doorman who once worked there.

Recognising what’s lost

Social structures and processes are extremely complex and very hard, and (currently at least) impossible to replicate (even with advances in Artificial Intelligence and robotics that have given us Deep Blue, Asimov, and two chatbots talking to each other). Technology works best where it enhances rather than tries to replace. Undoubtedly automated processes in manufacturing have given large gains in productivity, but it’s less clear that such wholesale substitution works for the service industry.

Some customer-orientated businesses are recognising that unconstrained money-saving is harmful to the bottom line. Whether it’s banks that remain open on a Saturday or online retailers that provide a contact phone number, these business feel that investment in (human-based) customer service reap rewards.

One great example of being frank about their process and what technology can achieve is, the online print shop, who qualify their e-communications from Little MOO with:

Remember, I’m just a bit of software, so if you have any questions regarding your order, the best place to start is with our Frequently Asked Questions. We keep the answers here:

If you’re still not sure, contact customer services, (who are real people) at:

The trick is to think critically about the role of technology. Not just considering what it provides, but also what it takes away. Extensions of Man, not replacements.

The rise of experience over product

Monday, May 14th, 2012

By all accounts Sony is in a bit of bother. With no profit since 2008 and a predicted $6m loss this year, it still produces solid products but no real ‘hits’ in recent years. Is lack of attention to product experience to blame? This guy thinks so. The argument is that successful products are not just about functionality any more. Customers have moved on from “What are the specs?” to “What’s it like to use?”.

So if the tech is a given how do you create a great experience?

A few things to consider beyond the feature set:

1) Be easy to use

  • Bit of a no-brainer, but can too easily get pushed aside when committees are involved that have multiple interests
  • Highlights the importance of senior design input and sign-off (as opposed to just the engineering dept) to make sure interfaces are easy to use, intuitive and uncluttered with irrelevant stuff

2) Allow customisation

  • Apple has one phone in two colours but a myriad of customisation is possible via apps – can your product be customised through software/ digital accompaniment?
  • Help people create their own experience – for example this Canadian Bike Shop that teaches its customers mechanics

3) Context and intent

  • Does your product work well for what your customer wants to use it for right now?
  • How about mobile?
  • How about offline?

4) Packaging

5) Community

  • Like Harley Davidson, what else do your customers get for being your customers?
  • Can you harness your customers to help other customers like Giff Gaff?
  • The shared experience is a powerful driver of the individual one

6) Attention to detail

  • Think of the cult-like customer devotion found in Apple Stores. They got there by being obsessive about every aspect of the customer experience. Obviously someone has written a book about it

Sweating the small stuff

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Recent research shows how making supposedly trivial decisions can become a long and involved process if a lot of choice is present.

People confuse the number of options with the importance of that decision. The more choices there are, the more important the decision is assumed to be. The researchers describe this phenomenon of getting bogged-down in choice-making as “decision quicksand”.

Building on Barry Scwartz’s work on “Choice Paralysis“, they also found that this gets worse for decisions the more trivial they are supposed to be.

“…people sometimes fall into a recursive loop between deliberation time, difficulty, and perceived importance… Inferences from difficulty may not only impact immediate deliberation, but may kick off a quicksand cycle that leads people to spend more and more time on a decision that initially seemed rather unimportant. Decision quicksand sucks people in, but the worse it seems, the more we struggle.”

When it comes to decision overheads, less is definitely more.