Friday, June 08, 2012

Innovation of the Day

Now this is innovation.  Tablets have one advantage over ultrabooks and smartphones that I think is largely overlooked.  They are the perfect size for physical interaction as well as technological interaction.

Just as one example, how about using your tablet as a cutting board for cooking?  If you are already using it to download the recipe, you now only need one object to clutter the countertop. 

But wait – there’s more!!  It also has a digital scale to weigh the food.  How many times have you used too much salt, too much water, too little oil?  No worries, your tablet will weight it for you.

So here is my use case story. 
  • Jonathan is no great cook (or he would already have the tools) but he invited over the new girlfriend for dinner.  He doesn’t want to serve her cardboard chicken and dry pilaf.  He has no clue how thick chicken “strips” are when raw.  Too thin and they get dry.  Too thick and they are raw in the middle. So he puts the chicken on top of the tablet screen so he can see a picture of the size it is supposed to be as he is cutting.
  • Now he needs the flour for the breading.  What is 1 cup?  If he has a measuring cup, does it have to be flat?  Heaping?  He doesn’t even have one - can he use his beer cup?  Yup – that works too.  Just pour enough flour until you get 125 grams. 
  • Then he plugs the thermometer attachment into the tablet and sticks it into the chicken.  When it hits the temperature required by the recipe (he doesn’t even have to know that this is 160 degrees), it beeps and he takes the pan off the stove.  Perfectly done.

Customer Experience and Problem Resolution

Is this miserable customer experience caused by incompatible software formats or by poor employee training in a retail store?

I was giving a very important presentation at 7am the next morning.  I wanted to print out the latest version of my notes, but of course first I needed to finish writing them.  I stopped by Staples printing store to find out what time they closed and what formats they could print.  The clerk told me that they closed at 9pm, could print MS Office or PDF, and that a USB drive is much easier than a laptop to print from.

Any of you who know me personally know that I am meticulous about following instructions when something is important and I want to get it right.  So what did I do?  I saved both my notes and my powerpoint handout summary as PDFs on a USB drive and took them over to Staples at 8pm so I had an hour to spare.  I tried the notes first.  I got an error that was pretty vague, but ended with “call over a clerk for assistance.”  So I did.  He told me that the system couldn’t print PDFs.  Apparently, I had been misinformed.  Of course since I created the files on my laptop, the original Word file was still at the hotel.  And I only had an hour until the store closed.  The race was on.

I raced back to the hotel, turned the computer back on, saved the original Word and PPT files on the USB, and raced back to Staples.  I plugged the USB into the printing hardware and crossed my fingers.  It printed just fine.  But then I realized that I couldn’t print the PPT in handout form because the interface was just for printing and it defaulted to the whole file.  One slide per page.  Very awkward during a presentation to have to keep flipping.  So I tried to print the original PDF just to see what would happen.  It worked fine.  It turns out, the first clerk was the correct one.  I had run back to the hotel and re-saved the files for nothing.  The first error was just one of those computer gremlins and the clerk could have just told me to try it again.  Stupid me for believing him when he said PDFs were incompatible.  But he seemed to certain.  I told him (nicely) about his error and he just shrugged.  He wasn’t even sorry. 

Meanwhile, I had just lost an extra hour that I could have spent enjoying Time Square, which happens to be one of my favorite neighborhoods.  I couldn’t stay out too late because of my early meeting, so that hour was a big one. Expletive expletive. 

So I repeat the question in my title.  Is this Microsoft’s fault for having its Office programs hard for Staples to integrate?  Or was it Staples’ fault for crappy training of its clerks to know something so basic as what file formats could be printed in house?  Or perhaps my fault for trusting any of them? 

And now for the bonus question.  What really matters from a commercial perspective is “which brand got hurt the most from my bad experience?”  It was Staples.  They were proximate to the problem.  When I was frustrated, it was their logo, their store, their employees I was surrounded by.  Even if MS was at fault, I am not sure my natural brain wiring allows me to attribute the blame to them.  No hit to their net promoter score. 

But Staples isn't out of the Customer Engagement race yet.  I sent them an email explaining what happened to see how they responded.  I got an email back from Corporate telling me that I would receive a direct response from the NYC store manager in 2-6 hours.  That was 24 hours ago.  I am still waiting.  Strike 2.