We have all faced excellent customer experience, horrid customer experience, and everything in between.  Wherever your particular experience falls on that continuum, it does not happen without design.  That’s right!  A customer experience, whether good or bad, always happens by design.

My two most frustrating examples of bad customer experience by design range from the mundane nitty-gritty of the public restroom to the refined nuances of corporate Web sites.  Here we go:

1—Public Restrooms.

The most frustrating thing to me about using a public restroom is drying my hands after washing them.  I do not care what all the so-called experts say about sanitation and cleanliness, blowing hot air on my hands while damaging my hearing from the jet engine that powers the blower is never a pleasant or efficient experience to me.  Please give me paper towels!

Ah, paper towels.  Now that is where things really deteriorate.  Did you ever notice the one-inch handle on a lever you have to push down almost two feet to dispense about six inches of paper towel?  So here you are, pumping on this stupid lever up and down about six times just to obtain a useable piece of paper towel.  And of course, along the way, your wet fingers slip off that little lever for complimentary damages to your hand and forearm as they crash into the surrounding stainless steel housing and frame.

Now remember, someone specifically designed this mechanism!  This boggles my mind.  Can you imagine the designer and the engineer planning this?

So how can we design this paper-towel dispenser to create as much work, frustration, and inefficiency for the customer as possible?  We certainly don’t want to make this dispenser easy to use.

This is the epitome of bad customer experience by design.

2—Corporate Web Sites.

The most frustrating thing to me about some corporate Web sites involves the simplest matter: seeking an address or a phone number.  I cannot begin to count the times I have visited a corporate Web site with no other purpose than to obtain a simple phone number or address.  That is when the maddening search begins.  Some do not even have a page or link labeled “contact” so now you are really on a wild goose chase.  Equally amazing is when you do find a contact page or its equivalent, you click on it, and it takes you to a confusing labyrinth involving an automated internal message or chat system.  You still do not have a phone number or an address.

Again, remember, someone specifically designed this Web site!  Can you imagine the Web designer and the marketing manager discussing the dirty deed?

Let’s be sure to tell the customer all about who we are and all our wonderful products and services, but remember: we must never ever give the customer a way to call, visit, or write us.  Before we publish, let’s make sure we double check the entire Web site for any kind of a phone number or address so we can remove them.

This too, is bad customer experience by design.

Our Responsibility.

Now we can rant and rave about this all day especially because we are all customers.  Nonetheless, as businesspersons, the important thing is to learn from it.  Reflect on how your business designs its customer experience.  If your design is contributing to excellent customer experience, then may you live long and prosper.  On the other hand, if your design is looking more like my two examples above, then some serious redesign should be your top priority.

Customer experience is always by design.

About James Meadows

Currently I serve as a training team manager for Johnson Controls at a customer-care center in Kansas City. Additionally, I am a business consultant, a freelance corporate writer, an Assembly of God ordained minister, a Civil Air Patrol chaplain, and a blogger. I believe we are living in the most fascinating times of human history. To maximize the opportunities these times present, I have a passionate interest in leadership development and organizational success, both of which I view as inextricably linked.

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