How to Trip Up Your Customers With Technology

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print
Technology problems

It's easy to build IT systems that turn simple problems into train wrecks. Companies need to design systems that are flexible enough to address—and fix—problems.

What defines a company isn't the way its business processes and IT systems work under normal conditions. It's how a company addresses a problem. Customer loyalty is made and broken in these moments.

Last week, I was reminded of just how easy it is to design and build IT systems that transform relatively simple problems into train wrecks. While attempting to book a couple of day-tours for an upcoming trip to Italy, things went south.

Viator, a division of TripAdvisor that books tours, couldn't apply a promotional discount through its Website. So, instead of the transaction taking 30 seconds to complete, I had to spend 20 minutes on the phone with a rep.

That was bad enough. But no sooner had I booked the tours then the next problem appeared. I received an email message with the vouchers, but there was no link to add them to Passbook on my iPhone.

I'll spare you the details but six emails and two phone calls later, the problem still wasn't resolved. Along the way, I received polite messages telling me how to load vouchers into Passbook, asking me for the same information I already provided and, finally, informing me that the company had no way to correct the problem.

Of course, that is blatantly false. There is almost always a way to correct a problem, even if someone has to do it manually.

Unfortunately, Viator is a textbook case of IT-gone-wrong. The promotional email with the discount did not have a code. It required clicking a link. And when that broke, only a call to a sales rep could fix it (with a supervisor's help).

But, alas, the system didn't require the rep to tie the transaction to an existing account, even though I provided an email address associated with the account. Worse, there's apparently no way to enter an itinerary or booking number and add an existing transaction to an account. Even a rep can't do it.

So, I'm stuck with some vouchers loaded in Passbook and some on paper. Travel is stressful enough without having to deal with apps and tools that don't work properly.

Here are a few suggestions for business and IT leaders at Viator and elsewhere: Understand each and every step required to make a purchase and obtain a product. Ensure that the system handles the transaction in a simple and streamlined way—and works as billed.

Finally, design systems and processes that are flexible enough to address—and fix—real-world problems. Otherwise, you're merely selling a tour through customer support hell.

This article was originally published on 2015-04-21

Samuel Greengard, a Baseline contributor, writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).

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