#productfail: When Technology Gets in the Way

Published Feb 2, 2018

A few weeks ago, I was in my favorite ride-sharing service catching a lift to the airport. About five minutes en route, I got an urgent email prompting a change to my flight plans. A quick pop over to the airline app on my iPhone and I got started making the adjustments. As I got through all of the menus and choices and changes, I reached the final step: paying the nice people.  

I’m not here to complain about change fees and variable pricing and airlines (though that is probably a valid topic for another time). But the product experience? That is worth complaining about.

Here I am at the end of the process; I’ve made all my changes, worked through the system and I’m about to pay. It is at this point that the airline app hits me with this news: I need to upgrade the app in order to proceed.

Now I’m furious.

I know: first-world problems. But, still, this isn’t how you win raving fans.

The truth is that being customer-focus is not just a platitude; it should mean developing products that put the customer at the center of everything you do. More to the point, it should begin with a deep understanding of the customer need state, which becomes the lens for designing the experience.

As product people, it is important, essential even, that we think through customers’ experiences in our product, actively trying to make technology nearly invisible. A great customer experience means you’re able to deliver at every touchpoint. Your customer doesn’t easily forgive disconnects between screens and devices on the path to fulfilling some urgent need. They just expect it all to work together. When one channel fails to deliver, the experience for the customer falls apart. Like it did for me.

Everything about my experience made technology a conspicuous hassle. I had to download the app (on bad reception) and start all over again. Needless to say, I was not in the best of moods when I dialed customer service to navigate through the labyrinth of voice prompts to find an agent who could help me. But, for this particular airline, the damage was already done.

How could this have been avoided? Before I started re-booking, I could have received an in-app message telling me that I can’t proceed without upgrading. Better yet, I could have been sent a message about a new app version and its many benefits a week or two earlier. Give the user some time to move to the latest version and don’t force them to move while they are trying to accomplish an urgent task. Or if the need for an upgrade is urgent–a security breach for example–make sure the user gets the message early in the process.

It’s important to always remember that your application, your software, your technology should be there to make customers’ lives and your processes easier. When it doesn’t, as a product leader, you’ve failed and your customer will likely just take their business elsewhere.