The thin line of customer satisfaction – or how to turn good into bad

Sometimes it is surprising how easy it is to turn a good idea into an unsatisfying customer experience.

A few days ago, Bbcause I wanted to be on the safe side I had booked a train with a 2 hour time window after a meeting. Surprisingly the meeting ended on time so I was at the station very early.
I had booked a super-saver ticket which is bound to a specific train, so my first question was whether there is any way to upgrade it or pay for a change of train. This already was a 2 step process, because the Information booth I learned, is only there for Information and my question whether there is an upgrade possibility does not qualify as information and I needed to go to the ticket counter (limited bad customer experience part 1).

There the quick answer was no. There is no way of changing the ticket – I could only wait for the booked train or buy a new ticket (limited bad customer experience part 2). Also not sure why most airlines can offer such a service.

After walking around for 45 min in search for a coffee and a restroom and killing time, I remembered that the Deutsche Bahn (german railway) had started to have lounges in major train stations, which are open for 1st class ticket holders and loyalty card holders. As I normally book first class with super saver I was actually eligible for lounge access.

And indeed they have a decent lounge at the station (big bad customer experience part 3 – because I had to figure it out myself). The good idea of lounges at stations actually turned bad for me.

So had anyone of the people in the process – which we tend to refer to as touchpoints – bothered to ask which kind of ticket I have and that I could wait in the lounge for my train, this could have been an exceptional customer experience. But now it is another example in my long list of how things can easily go wrong with customers.

And the line between bad and excellent is extremely thin in customer experience.

What if people are not incentivized to answer questions and perform their duty, but to improve customer experience?

Is Data the Oil or the Currency?

Lately I have seen again the notion that “data is the new currency” and similarly „data is the new oil“. We are quick to put out these metaphors because they seem to illustrate the importance of data in business today.

But there is a fundamental difference between oil and currency as a model for what data is and this difference is sometimes lost in the discussion.

Oil is a limited resource that only can be found in some places. Whoever gets his hand on these places first or who happens to own the land (or the country in some cases) that oil is found on gets all the benefits from the oil. A fact that many middle east countries have been living on nicely.

While currency is also a limited resources, at least to some degree and with economic consequences when too much is created, it has a number of important features. The functioning of a currency is based on transparency: the value is visible to or can be determined by everybody and availability: everybody can acquire it at an agreed value.

Going through this description than data today is more like oil, where a few companies, by virtue of their business model, their execution excellence, their right time to market have gained access to a lot of data.

Data today is not transparent and tradable like a currency. While people may trade their personal data for free applications involuntarily, they can not determine the real value of their data. And data can not really be traded openly or actively. A lot of companies have created an infrastructure for themselves to sell data and the holy grail of many companies and new business models is created around such an infrastructure. But those people that provide the data for such business models are not involved in the creation or control of those systems.

Whether this will change in the future or data will always be stuck in the „oil corner“ of the metaphors is to be seen.

Fitbit vs. Apple Watch or Solution vs. Platform

Beginning of December market research company IDC released their market numbers for smartwatches and fitness devices (the summarize is as wearables) with fitbit leading the pack with a strong 23% while the Apple Watch only makes it to place 4 with 4.9% (here)

I found this quite surprising, but can now add a personal view to it.

For the last year I have been wearing and using a fitbit charge HR – as a fitness tracking device and to a lesser extent as a watch. The watch functionality is really very limited, especially as I switched off the “switch on by turning your wrist“-feature. I find this very annoying in the night and I don’t like switching off the feature every night. Also because it can not be done on the device, but requires syncing with the phone. Maybe someone could put a feature request in to sync the feature with the sleep detection. The major drawback of the fitbit, however, is that it looks pretty ugly.

But for some time I also wanted to try out the Apple Watch. Mainly because it is a nicer „watch“ combined with a different flavor of fitness device. So now I have been wearing an Apple Watch for a few weeks. And I have to say the experience is somewhat disappointing.

On the positive side, I still have the “turn on by turning your wrist“ feature switched off, but it is way easier to tap on the Apple Watch screen to get the time then on the small “screen” of the fitbit. Although admittedly the new fitbit charge 2 has a bigger display and I have not tried the fitbit Blaze.

The largest disappointment, however, was the fitness and health functionality. Especially as this has been the major taling point for apple through several keynotes. On the fitbit you have the watch and a single app that compiles all the information into one simple screen. At least the information I am mainly looking at: heart rate – across the day, sleeping pattern and training sessions and the floors I climbed. The fitbit automatically detects training sessions and detects sleep and sleep pattern with surprising accuracy. And the fitbit app also serves as the main configuration tool for your device. On the Apple Watch you are first left with 3 different places to configure the fitness functionality: the watch itself, the watch app on your phone and the health app. Very confusing and difficult to understand which part is configured where. The health app itself only provides a very limited functionality in itself and relies on other applications to provide additional data.

The first thing I looked at was sleep tracking. Enthusiastically I invested money in 2 apps only to find that they do not automatically detect sleep, but I have to explicitly start them or indicate that I start sleeping (as said the fitbit detects this automatically and reliable, even for the short power nap after lunch :-).

The next thing that my fitbit did automatically was detecting floors I walked up. My combination of Apple Watch and iPhone does not do this, but the Health app only receives data from the iPhone, i.e. when leaving the iPhone at the desk the stairs I climb are not counted. Maybe this is a configuration topic, but going back to the previous point I have not managed to do this appropriately.While the heart rate monitoring is provided automatically the information value of the provided graphic is rather limited.

And overall the Health app looks very overloaded and lacks nice, simple look of the fitbit app. For example the introduction videos in each section of the Health app are very much out of place within the app.
But through all this I came to the conclusion that Apple Watch and fitbit have a fundamentally different approach to smartwatches and fitness tracking. While fitbit provides a complete solution with a well thought trough application to accompany all the functionality of the fitness device, the Apple Watch is just a platform or framework for creating an ecosystem of many different applications. This is inline with the experience and approach Apple has used for the iPhone and is also now trying in the Apple TV and tvOS.

However, in todays implementation this leaves the user with a lot of cracks in the user experience and way less satisfying than comparable fitness devices. I also understand that the capabilities of the Apple Watch are way beyond what today’s fitness devices can deliver and there are probably also battery considerations that make some solutions not feasible, but I don’t see any technical reason why you can not create a seamless health and fitness user experience on the Apple Watch. It appears that Apple tried to achieve too much with their first release of the OS and app (well actually the third by now)

Maybe I will learn to love my Apple Watch the same way I do my fitbit (which now gets to rest for a while).

Social Innovation

Matthias Horx of Zukunftsinstitut gave an interesting presentation on the future of family, women in business, work and society yesterday at the launch event for Bayerisches Zukunftsministerium.

Out of a lot of interesting facts, findings and prediction there were 2 things I thought especially interesting.
Transformation as business product
Looking at the evolution and hierachy of man made artifacts, moving from collected plants – hunted prey – harvesting – products – services, he ended up at Innovation (#2) and Transformation (#1) at the top of the list.
In the knowledge society this will be where value is created and high-value jobs will move to. Especially Transformation is an interesting “product” to consider for the future.
Social Innovation
For the past centuries looking at the future and trying to predict it was very much driven by technology, i.e. which new products will change the way we live.
Today, however, the innovations and changes in society and social interaction are much more relevant for the future than technology. For example the increasing number of women having access to higher education (in some countries they are even the majority) will have an significant impact on society.
And adding to this some comments from Rainer Höll, Head of Fellow-Development at Ashoka Germany, the interesting question is whether you can take a similar look at social innovation as we have done with technology innovation in the past. Are there any disruptive social innovations that change the way we live together and create a competitive advantage? On which level would this advantage play out? Is the rise of social media (Twitter, Facebook, Google+) such an innovation?

Who owns the customer ?

Again and again I come across remarks about the fight for “who owns the customer”.

Especially in the telecommunications industry there is a lengthy debate about this with regards to telecommunication operators, device manufacturers, Internet companies, content owners.

My first point is that the question is wrong. It should be “who gets permission to serve the customer”. Probably very much in line with Seth Godin (see Permission Marketing). Personally at least I don’t want to be owned by any company and if I feel that way they have already lost. I would also assume that most people would not feel owned by Google, just because they use their search engine (although in fact they are to a great deal)

The second point is that if your business is based on “customer ownership” it might disappear pretty fast.

Most recently this was part of a debate on Apple’s rumored initiative to add a SoftSIM to the iPhone or iPad in one of the next releases. SoftSIM would replace the normal, physical SIM card and would allow customers to switch operators without replacing a card. (Obviously also without the hassle to get the card etc.)

The immediate reaction in the operator community was an uproar, because of the threat to loose “ownership” of the customer. Currently operators spend large amount of money (of which the management and distribution of the physical SIM cards is only one part) to acquire new customers. This obviously only works if the customer stays with the operator for some time so the initial costs can be refinanced by service charges.

That is also why churn (i.e. loosing customer to the competition) is considered to be a bad thing. But what if you re-define the operations to streamline the acquisition of new customers. In saturated markets, i.e. with limited number of additional customers, churn usually works in all directions. You loose some customers and you gain some customers (from your competition). If you could make acquiring new customers more effective than your competition, you could immediately create a business advantage.

So don’t try to own the customer, get the permission to serve them and serve them more efficiently.

Now the GSMA (the organisation of telecommunication operators) seems to have taken up initiative to work on a SoftSIM (or embeddedSIM) standard. However, the officially stated driver is the increasing number of connected devices.

Nokia – Apple – Hardware – Software

Over at daringfireball John Gruber has an interesting piece on the challenges Nokia and especially their new CEO is facing. The main conclusion is that Nokia today is a Hardware company that needs to turn into a Software company in order to compete on the level of Apple and RIM rather than HTC.

Competing with Apple? The success of Apple is not so much based on either Hardware or Software, but on creating a perfect combination of both with an unbeatable user experience.

The iPod has a cool hardware and a great form factor, but only with the integration in to iTunes and the simple way to synchronize and buy music, did it become the success it is today. The iPhone and the iPad have incredible hardware, but only in combination with the AppStore and the very consistent user interface did they become so successful.

Moving from cost efficient hardware focus to perfect user experience is a big step to take.

Why can’t trains be operated like planes ?

I spent the weekend going back and forth through Germany by train and this triggered the question above.

The journey started with issues and ended with issues. Germany’s Deutsche Bahn has some problems at the moment with their high-speed trains so eventually they don’t have enough coaches from the trains. But somehow the can not manage this in their reservation system and customer service, so people who have made a seat reservation – and paid extra for that – are left with their seat not available.

On the first part this caused our train to be delayed, so we missed our connecting train. So we had to take a later train, which itself had some technical problems and was again delayed.

On our way back we were ourselves victim to a “disappearing coach” so our reserved seat was just not there. And while I have to admit that the conductor managed the situation very professionally and we were lucky to get some alternative seat, it nevertheless left me with the question about simple service improvements.

I had ordered the tickets via the Internet so they could have known my reservation and email address and I assume that the decision that 6 coaches are not available is not something decided on the spot, but known some time in advance.

So why not send an email with a new reservation, so I would not even have to go through the hassle of trying to find a non-existent seat?  Why not create new reservations and give printouts with the mapping to the conductors and service people on the platform with some announcement that people could get their new seats from them?

I assume that this is not a logistics “super-problem” as airlines manage seat assignments and changes everyday. They can even send me a SMS when my flight is delayed.

Another issue that struck me was, when our connecting train had technical problems and the conductor made an announcement. Apparently he thought if he would speak as quietly as possible no one would notice the delay. But exactly the opposite happened. Everybody in the train was even more annoyed, because on top of the delay we could not understand the announcement and therefore didn’t know what was going on.

So again I would think a simple thing to improve customer service. Just be as transparent and audible as possible on what the status is. Any delay will be annoying to travelers, but having to guess about the status will make it even worse or to the opposite – also reflecting Jeff Jarvis’ experience here –  openess will improve the situation.