Monday, July 25, 2011

A simple test for UX design sensibility

A manager says "the customer understands x," where x is a concept, a complicated control on a UI, or a navigation path through a web site.
  • If you respond to that statement without a question and simply wait for the next requirement or instruction, you're a technician.
  • If you react to that statement with immediate, polite skepticism and ask how the manager knows that, you're a designer.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

You're doing it wrong: American Airlines

I've been writing about other peoples' experience with service failures lately, so it's time to post one of my own. I was flying back from Chicago yesterday after a business meeting. I got to the airport early, at 5:30pm, and noticed there was a flight to Raleigh-Durham that was boarding. I went to the counter at the gate and asked if I could step on the flight. The attendant snapped at me, "I'll have to check." She checked, and said "Yes, you can. It will be $50." Fifty dollars to step on a plane that was boarding, and I'd paid full fare for my ticket! Apparently the attendant was simply checking to see if I was a Platinum/Gold/Rewards blah blah member who merited some small free service. I said no thanks, and walked away.

My own flight was at 7:30pm, and after the obligatory delays, the attendant announced that the flight was ready to board. And, he added, they were looking for three people to step off the flight because they were overbooked. They were offering $300 to anyone who would agree to re-book the next day!

If they had allowed me to move to an earlier flight they would have had an extra seat. American Airline was willing to forego $300 to not allow me to move from the later flight to an earlier flight, and they earned a dissatisfied customer in the process. As a final, perfect note to their general incompetence, the attendant announced, "the bathroom on the plane is out of order, so customers are urged to use the airport facilities before they board."

And the management of AA probably doesn't understand why they're getting beat to death by Southwest Airlines and its culture of customer service.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Want to work on strategy? Don't call it strategy

I used to work at a company that struggled with strategy, as many companies do. The leadership team would issue vague aspirations at the beginning of the year about producing software better, faster, and cheaper, and would forget about strategy until the next end-of-year planning cycle. However, there were strong ownership issues around strategy, and anyone outside the leadership team who used the word "strategy" found themselves with some explaining to do. The "strategy of no strategy" may sound like a zen-like approach to life but it's no way to run a company in a very competitive environment.

I decided that the way around this problem was to pull together some like-minded individuals and develop an innovation strategy, but simply not call it by that name. We would call it an "engagement approach" or "marketing meta-analysis" or something similarly vague that wouldn't hit any leader's hot button, but the content would contain a real strategy. We worked on it for a little while but the business sponsor of the effort left to pursue a developmental opportunity and was replaced by someone who wasn't with the program. I left the company a little while later.

I was reminded of this incident after reading Richard Rumelt's excellent The Perils of Bad Strategy. Rumelt's describes the hallmarks of bad strategy, including (1) failure to face the problem, (2) mistaking goals for strategy, (3) bad strategic objectives, and (4) fluff. The descriptions of each will be familiar to anyone who's seen bad corporate strategies. Highly recommended reading, but I wonder if any strategy-impaired leadership teams will recognize their own so-called strategies in the descriptions.