Friday, July 11, 2014

Studio Journal Episode 1 – The Moving User Experience

I am starting a new blog series today.  As some of you know, I am moving into a (very) small studio apartment on September 1.  I am trading space and grass for a location just off Main St in Waltham, where there are bars, restaurants, and a bit more culture than two miles north where I currently live.  This series is intended to be an ethnographic study on the user experience of my new digs.

While I am not moving in for a few weeks yet, I spent the last few days planning my move.  The user experience of this process is completely broken, so I thought it would make for a perfect first episode in the series.  My experience involves three different components and three different companies.  I think my experience in all three is reflective of all rentals and movers, so my findings should be generalizable across the industry.

My first conclusion is that apartment rental companies/landlords and moving companies have centered their processes along their business needs and have not aligned them at all on the user process.  Here are a few examples:

Leases start at 5pm on the day you move in and end at 11am on the day you move out.  Why?  Because they need time to clean the unit.  And cleaners prefer to clean during business hours.  On the other hand, that means the user/renter needs to have the movers come early in the morning to get you out by 11, annoying all of your neighbors (especially if it falls on a weekend).  Same thing at the other end.  If you do your move-in walkthrough at 5pm, the movers are starting at 6 and finishing late at night.  Then you have to do a little unpacking to prep your bed and probably some food.  And a few other personal things just to feel settled.  The first experience your new neighbors have with you is that you kept them up all night.  I plan to pick up a case of Belgian chocolate and hand them out the next day.

Even though you move out at 11am, you still pay rent for the full day.  And even though you move in at 5pm, you still pay rent for that whole day too.  Works for the rental company/landlord.  Sucks for the user/renter.

And by the way, the lease dates are aligned for the landlord also.  They often need to paint with the cleaning.  So you move out on the last day of the month and move in the first day of the next month.  Where do you sleep that night?  For me, it will be in my office.  Good thing I have a couch there.  Not everyone is so lucky.

And then think about the movers.  If they have all of your belongings loaded onto the truck at 11am and can’t start unloading until 6pm, what do they do in the meantime?  If you are moving 7 hours away, it is perfect.  But there are many reasons for local moves (upsizing, downsizing, better school district . . .).  What do the movers do in those seven hours?  They sit around twiddling their thumbs and charge you for seven hours times three movers.  If it is a local move, they could go home.  But that does not align with the business needs.  In theory, those movers could have been assigned to another job during those seven hours, so on the moving company’s books the workers should be paid.  So you get charged for thumb twiddling. 

One last example.  The place I am moving to has these closets in the attics where renters can store extra stuff (the studio apartments are REALLY small).  It would be really helpful if I could put some stuff in there before 5pm when I start moving in to the apartment.   But no such luck.  Why?  I can’t get the key to the building until 5pm because it accesses the apartment.  And I need a key to the building to access the attic.  Why can’t I get the key early?  It is only some cleaners that would be in the apartment, the previous tenant moved out at 11am the day before.  And I would only be annoying the cleaners if I decided to abuse the privilege and access the apartment instead of the attic.  But no such luck. Why?  Well if the lease says 5pm, how can I get a key early?  That just doesn’t make sense (huh?).

Imagine if we flipped this process around and thought about it from the user/renter’s perspective. Move out times should be 5pm (or at least later than 11am).  Move in times should be 11am (or at least earlier than 5pm).  Or at least the same time for both (maybe 2pm to make everyone happy).  This would also eliminate the problem of the idle movers.  There are plenty of night cleaners in office buildings, why can’t we use one of these companies for rental apartments? 

And a key that accesses the building but not the apartment would be an easy thing to create, lend out to new residents for a day, and allow them to access the attic for an extra day.  If it is empty (the previous tenant moved out the day before), there is no harm.

This Week in EID - Episode 11

The week at EID started with a guest post from Peter Hancock.  Peter is one of the most well-respected human factors professionals and a past president of the Society.  He is also notoriously philosophic in his writings.  So I was really excited to have him as our first guest post.  Read it (after you finish this review of course).  It is really thought provoking.

Of course, no week would be complete without a piece on priming.  This one is a pet peeve of mine, and apparently a lot of other people according to the study I linked to.  Do you start sentences with “So, . . .”You should really stop.

Self-identity resonance is a phenomenon that most of us underappreciate.  Our behavior is probably more driven by actions that make us feel better about ourselves than by optimizing things like health or success.  We see this over and over again (and why it comes up so much in my blogging).  In this piece, I reviewed an intervention that was used to improve vaccination rates, but failed because of a lack of self-identity resonance.

On Thursday we turned to a sad anniversary, the Bangladesh Rana Plaza disaster.  We compared the two accords that have sprung up since and how they differ in terms of how serious about safety the signatory companies are.  It seems the Europeans are much more serious that the Americans are when it comes to safety.  What else is new?