Unconsciously Killing User Experience in the Enterprise

After ~18 moths in a large organization, I’d be hard pressed to find a statement that fills me with dread more than: “Oh, we’ve got this great new system that you can enter your request in now” – No sooner have those words left someone’s mouth and I know that I’ve just lost hours of my life and in short order, will likely start sympathizing with those people who snap in the workplace.

It happens easily enough – A team within a department are tasked with cleaning up their processes and building or configuring a system to automate all that tedious data collection and information submission. It’s a task that is approached with the best intentions but often goes horribly astray at some point along the way. The reason? The Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) begin thinking of themselves as the ‘users’ and when that happens, all hope is lost.

Heck, if it’s a system that only the SMEs need to use then go for it, knock yourself out. Unfortunately though, more often than not, the intentions of these systems is to get users from outside a department or work group to submit information to the SMEs in a consistent, organized fashion. The problem? They’re not SME’s – they don’t know what you know. Actually, the problem in these cases is that YOU don’t know what you know. Continue reading Unconsciously Killing User Experience in the Enterprise

In-store Pickup – Why do they even offer it?

So a couple of weeks ago once again I made an attempt at ordering an item or two online from Futureshop.ca – I’ve blogged about my Christmas time experience with their site and the site of sister company Best Buy in the past but I hoped this time would be different.

Ugh.

I don’t know why I even bother sometimes. Somehow I ended up having to go through the checkout stages three times before it decided it wanted to let me pay and order the items. I checked stock in the stores before I ordered and picked the store with the shiny green check mark that indicated that my items were in stock. Then in the checkout stage it re-verified that the item was in stock and available for the in-store pickup service so I went ahead.

I get my confirmation email and it lets me know I’ll get a response from the store within 3 hours. 20 minutes later I get the standard “Your order could not be filled” email.

The item(s) you ordered on Order ######## are not available for pickup at the Downtown Toronto store.

Huh?

But your site just told me they were available!

Here’s the real kicker…

You can re-order your item(s) at futureshop.ca – choose another store for pickup or have the item(s) shipped to you.

So you tell me the item is there, and now it isn’t but instead of offering me the choice to have it shipped you kill the order entirely???

When this happened at Christmas I logged back into the site in hopes I simply had to go into the order and change the shipping process – no dice. At this stage they kill the transaction completely, total dead end. To order again I’d have to basically start from scratch.

If anyone at Future Shop is reading this you really should fire whoever is responsible for this disaster of a site (Best Buy too since it seems to be the same platform).

Why on Earth, when you have an order in hand, credit card details attached would you, under any circumstances, kill the deal? Your site is already painful enough to deal with – I’ve got no interest in going back and rebuilding my queue and re-entering all my information. Would it kill you to just give me a “Just Ship it” option? You could put it right in the email and I would have clicked it!

I’m going to guess that if Future Shop went back and reviewed all of their in-store pickup cancellations they’d find that very few people actually bother to recreate their shopping cart again and buy the product. For me, I figured I could take a crap shoot with their system or, in the same amount of time, walk over to Staples and buy the items for a few bucks more than Future Shop was offering. I chose the latter. At this rate, with me alone, this one stupid “step” has cost you several hundred dollars since the beginning of this year.

The timings of the emails are always suspicious too I find – the perception I get is that someone at the store level is basically getting these requests and ditching all but the big ticket items with a “Can’t be bothered” attitude. Reality or not it doesn’t look good and I can’t be the only one who feels this way.

Maintaining User Experience Across your Brand

Gradually I think a lot of companies are coming around to the notion of user experience as being a vital part of creating a valuable, usable and desirable product. Looking at this data posted over at Adaptive Path yesterday and you can see that it certainly has become top of mind.

The one place though I often see User Experience fall down though is when it comes to maintaining consistency across an organizations various products. Microsoft is a bad for this at times – looking at their new office suite most of the products got the new “Ribbon” menu system but Visio got left out and Outlook seems to only insert it into certain environments. The challenge is a user is forced to continually adjust their frame of reference and methods of interaction with their computer as they move through their day to day work.

One of the worst culprits for this though is automotive companies. They spend millions, if not billions of dollars establishing and common look, feel or design sensibility across their product line. Take Jeep for example:


Looking at the front of any Jeep product, you know it’s a jeep. Mazda’s are the same way – I’ve got two of them, a Mazda3 and a Mazda6. Even the interiors are very similar to each other, you know you’re sitting in a Mazda.

Similar is the Problem
But there’s the crux of the issue – “similar” is the problem. Esthetically similar is just fine – like the Jeeps above – they’re like a family, no one is identical but when viewed they all bear similar features etc.. A Jeep looks like a Jeep, A Mazda looks like a Mazda and so on. But at an interaction level “similar” starts to go down some very bad paths.

We got the Mazda6 first and later bought the Mazda3 so the 6 is what we’ve “imprinted” on, our interactions with both cars are based on how we interacted with the six for the 12 months we had it before the 3.

The photo above is pretty much what my 6’s dash looks like. The 3’s is actually pretty similar, display, vents, radio, 3 dial climate control. Perfect right?

Not so, inexplicable things such as the 3 Climate Control dials – on the 6 the dials go Heat/Cool | Fan Speed | Direction. IN the 3? Direction | Fan Speed | Heat/Cool. So every time we switch form car to car (it’s quite often I’ll drive home in my commuter 3 and hop right into the 6 to take the family out) we’re constantly changing the wrong dials – at best a pain in the butt, at worst another unnecessary look away form the road/distraction.

The radio is another peeve, the two dials are reversed and the 3 introduces a third dial which controls the volume – so I’m always tuning to another station when I’m really trying to reach for the volume.

Lastly the cars also have some very strange differences in behavior.

What brought this all together was my experience this morning with my Mazda3. Our Mazda6 has the great “feature” that it automatically turns off the car’s headlights about 30 seconds to a minute after you lock the car doors, even if the “lights” dial is in the on position. I’ve always believed that all lights on, all the time is the safest way to drive so we just leave the lights on and they turn off on their own.

My 3 on the other hand has an automatic headlights option, which is nice – but for some reason
they decided that because there was the automatic lights feature they probably didn’t need ANY sort of timer on the headlights if they were left in the on (but not auto) position (unlike just about every car on the market these days).

Yesterday afternoon I was checking that a light was still working – it was bright out so the automatic option wasn’t turning them on – I flicked the switch to lights “on” and checked, then drove home and put the car in the garage for the night.

Come out this morning, remote locks don’t work – open the door and get in, no interior lights, nothing. Not even a whimper as I turn the key.

My experience with the 6 turning off the lights quickly had basically trained my head to ignore the “Your light’s are on” tone that both cars emit. So when I hopped out of the 3 I didn’t even acknowledge it. My car sat there all night slowly draining the battery.

At the end of the day I’m all about personal responsibility – but corporations also need to consider how consistent the user experience is across their brand. Had both my Mazda’s had reasonably consistent ways of functioning, beyond simply “looking” similar I wouldn’t have been cursing up a blue streak in their honour while waiting for roadside assistance to arrive (turns out the transmission lock is electric – so I couldn’t even get it in neutral to roll it out of the garage and boost it with my other car).

We’ve worked pretty hard internally to get all of our products working on one common interface, I won’t suggest that it’s perfect but we’re constantly working on improving it (including a new interface revision in the works right now).

Advice for any company: Keep it simple, Keep it useful, Keep it consistent.

(As an aside: I will give Mazda’s Roadside Assistance credit where it’s due. They had someone at my house within 15 minutes at rush hour. The nice operator even showed my how to manually unlock my transmission in the future should the need arise.)

Photos: Jeeps – ~anuradha | Mazda Dash – prettywar-stl