Monitoring the online customer experience, by Mark Hurst.
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Blinking Twelve

Monday, February 4, 2002
by Mark Hurst

I'm not much of a coffee drinker, but one morning last week I was interested to see a friend of mine struggling with a new coffee maker. It was too hard to use. This Cuisinart model, some sort of all-in-one grinder and percolator, was loaded with high-tech buttons that seemed to do everything except make coffee. My friend -- a technologist and veteran coffee drinker -- was stumped. Maybe Starbucks sells so much overpriced brew because no one knows *how* to make coffee any more.

So here we are in 2002, in millennial America, and our most advanced technology makes coffee too difficult for us. The disease of the software and electronics industries -- adding needless features, ignoring customers -- has now infected basic kitchen appliances. It's no coincidence, I suppose, that the coffee maker came outfitted with a digital clock, which was blinking "12:00, 12:00, 12:00."

How long before the rest of our kitchens start blinking twelve? Our can opener will need software upgrades, the dish towel will come with a manual, and we'll be flummoxed by our spatula.

I hope that consumers will begin to learn how to buy products based on utility and good experience design, and not get ripped off by high-tech promises. Coffee makers won't get easier to use until consumers learn to spend their money elsewhere (presumably on better-designed machines, not on Starbucks).

Here's a picture of the offending machine. (Note that the biggest button is called "Grind Off," making one wonder where the "Grind On" is hiding.)


As a sidenote, USA Today recently commented on the state of product design. The three common flaws, it says, are "Consumers are ignored... product design teams are flawed... [and] technology runs amok."

Companies really can make a difference -- in customers' lives and on the bottom line -- by focusing on a good customer experience. I recommend that companies pay positive attention to *all three* of those areas:

- Listen to customers.

- Build the right customer experience team.

- Understand the benefits and limitations of your technology.

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