Category Archives: Customer experience

Information Architecture for the digital-physical world

Day 2 of the Electronic Resources and Libraries Conference is over and I am still finishing the second part of yesterdays blog post! Oh well, there are a few distractions in Austin after the conference that get in the way of sitting in a hotel typing away on a computer.

I want to follow on from yesterdays blog post with the seven points Andrea concluded his presentation with. For want of a better word, he used “manifesto” to box the following seven points:

1. Information architecture becomes an ecosystem – all of the information artifacts no longer stand alone. They are all part of the single user experience and need to be acknowledged as such.

2. Users become intermediaries – users produce and re-mediate content. [In content management circles this idea has been around a while]. Andrea cited the example of Rosenfeld Media with its range of user experiences.

3. static becomes dynamic – information and content acquisition really never gets finished. There is always something more. Content is always changing and being reconstituted in different ways. The example of a dynamic information example is Wikipedia.

4. dynamic becomes hybrid – boundaries are separating media; there are thinner channels and genre. The example given in the presentation was the Hitachi 2400 windshield that could display a bevvy of information on the screen as you drove along! For example, the logo for a company might pop up to alert you to the fact that a XYZ fast food joint was coming up. I am sure there are probably more worthwhile pieces of information that could be presented but I’ll need to see if digital placement of information on the windscreen is the way to go.

5.horizontal prevails over vertical – intermediaries push for more informal structures and meaning; push for spontaneity and ephemeral meaning. Tagging was the example given.

6. products become experiences – from single object to a wider experience. Experience spans multiple steps for the user experience. [I think that recognition of the customer experience has been around a while among companies and marketeers (love that US expression) for a while as they attempt to differentiate their products – objects – from competitors.]

7. experiences become cross channel experiences – no longer tied to the one artifact and experiences span across channels. The great example used was for selling teddy bears! Build-a-bear not only allows you to create your own teddy bear (thereby outdoing the boring standard teddy bear and associated fluffy pals), you can also enter a digital world and play with other kids and teddy bears there as well. Your teddy bear has a unique bar code and you can give it a name. You can go to Bearaville and play, as an avatar with your bear who is “alive and playing as well”. Whoa – life couldn’t be so good!

Ultimately, Andrea concludes, the information architecture experience needs to account for a vary range of experiences useing cross channels and taking advantage of the integration between our physical space and our digital space.

Within the library context, we need to be aware that information silos may not hold the answers as they once did. We need to look at what channels of information we can use to help our users/clients/patrons get the outcome they want – to find the information they need.


Electronic Resources and Libraries Conference 2012

It’s a beautiful time in Austin, Texas. The weather is warm to hot and the music is loud and proud. But I am in Austin for the  Electronic Resources and Libraries Conference. I attended this conference last year and I am pleased to be back again.

I’ll start my conference report with the morning session today (the first day) of the Electronic Resources and Libraries Conference. I will have to post another instalment for the after lunch sessions. By the way, I had lunch at the wonderful Blanton Museum down the road from the conference venue. The morning was both interesting and satisfying.

I will focus on the keynote since this was the presentation that had the most relevance and interest to me and my workplace. The keynote was delivered by Andrea Resmini currently working in Sweden. The title of his presentation was “Between physical and digital: understanding cross channel experiences”.

Andrea opened up with a story based on the Umberto Eco novel (and subsequent movie) The name of the rose. He focused on the labyrinthine library and the differences between the description and map of the library in the book and in the movie. The purpose of the story was to illustrate how important meaning is in understanding complex environments; and secondly, that we need to be able to understand how different media affect people’s experiences. Thus, is there really a meaningful difference between the physical reality of the library or information centre and that of the virtual library?

Taking some inspiration from William Gibson’s novel, Neuromancer, Andrea explains that cyberspace is not a place to go to, it is a layer tightly integrated into the world around us. And as such, there are cross channels that enable information to be delivered, exchanged, and received to suit the needs of individuals and the contexts in which they find themselves. Cross channels may be expressed this way: “Cross-channel is not about technology, or marketing, nor it is limited to media-related experiences: it’s a systemic change in the way we experience reality. The more the physical and the digital become intertwined, the more designing successful cross-channel user experiences becomes crucial”. A full explanation, from which this quote was taken, can be found here.

The point of course is that libraries can no longer think of themselves as a set of discrete multiple actions, or silos,  (e.g. circulation desk, catalogue, web site etc.) but as facilitator for the provision of information in different ways to meet the needs of clients/users/students and the way in which they want to access and consume information. This of course involves the virtual library.

More generally, all of us are not staying within one channel all of the time. We move between them, depending on what it is we need them to do. And we would like all the digital pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to fit and work together.

I will return in my next post to continue what Andrea went on to say, outlining his seven point “manifesto” about information architecture, the user experience, and cross channel experiences.

But to finish this post, I want to give some further reading. Andrea mentioned the book “Pervasive Information Architecture” and I will be chasing that up when I return home later in the week.


What you say is not what you do

There is a bit of ruckus at the moment about the power of Australia’s supermarket duopoly – Coles and Woolworths.

In the past the criticism was that the two supermarket chains had too much market power – over 80% of the Australian market. That percentage probably remains the same today despite all the brouhaha about market dominance over the past decade (i.e. there were lots of protestations at all levels of the community, and a number of government inquiries, but there has been little tangible action to reduce this market dominance).

The main brunt of the criticism relates to market concentration (the duopoly has reduced competition in the market) and has too much market power on the buying side (the duopoly can squeeze suppliers to almost unsustainable levels). In addition, supermarkets can cross-subsidise their products when it suits them, thereby using their market power to artificially lower prices in “competitive” products.

In 2008 there was the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) inquiry into the competitiveness of retail prices for standard groceries. In September 2002 there was the Report to the Senate by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission on prices paid to suppliers by retailers in the Australian grocery industry.

One of the interesting snippets of information from these public inquiries is that there was evidence that showed a difference in pricing at the supermarkets depending on whether the duopoly was in the one location and where the duopoly had a third supermarket in competition in the one geographic location. In the scenario where a location had three competing supermarkets, the Coles and Woolworths retail prices were generally lower than at locations where it was just Coles and Woolworths in competition. Well, as Michael Porter identified, businesses try to avoid price competition wheneve they can because it directly affects margins.

The impact on suppliers is clear enough. It was loud and clear when I worked at Rabobank throughout the first half of the naughties. I would hear how the supermarkets were screwing agricultural suppliers through reduced prices and increased compliance costs. For example, one banana producer told me that the bananas had to be packed in a box in a very specific way otherwise Woolworths would not accept delivery.

Nowadays, farmers have the same concerns but there are increasing demands from the duopoly concerning on-farm activities. Recently, one berry producer told me that having a dog on a berry farm was unacceptable because the dog may have been washed in a chemical bath that could get onto the berry fruit!

The supermarkets say that driving down consumer prices shows that a competitive market exists. Driving down the retail cost of milk to one dollar a litre makes a lot of sense if one wants to sell lots of milk but milk has a relatively inelastic demand – the lowering of the price does not necessarily see an increase in consumption. For the duopoly, however, a low price for a food staple like milk makes a lot of sense because it attracts shoppers to the supermarket rather than the corner store. If a shopper perceives the saving on milk is large enough, the shopper will alter his/her shopping behaviour to shop at the duopoly at the expense of other food retail providers and small businesses. Instead of going to the local convenience store to pick up milk and some ancillary groceries, the shopper will concentrate their total grocery shopping activity to the supermarket.  The duopoly wants consumers to stop buying any skerrick of grocery items from alternative convenience stores and grocery retailers. The milk war is less about increasing consumer demand for milk, but increasing the market power of the duopoly.

Currently, there is a lot of concern over the duopoly supermarket chains driving down supplier margins even further through “home brands” (also called private labels).  This article and this one sum up the private label issue nicely.

Everyone is out there saying how dreadful it is that the supermarket duopoly can do all these terrible things. However, the supermarket duopoly reduces prices on grocery items at the checkout for consumers (the same consumers who are equally screaming about the high cost of living).

A recent poll in the Sydney Morning Herald found that over 70% of people are against home brands because they limit variety (i.e. consumer choice). There is plenty of chatter to indicate that a similar percentage (or more) of people think that the supermarket duopoly has too much power.

But what does the behaviour say? Talk is cheap when there is no direct and tangible linkage to benefits or costs (i.e. there is no benefit or sanction as a consequence of our response to a survey or to give an opinion). A poll or a survey asks us what we think and we say so. We really believe what we say as well – Coles and Woolworths are bad.

However, it is likely that the very same people do their weekly grocery shopping at Coles or Woolworths. Mums and dads have Coles and/or Woolworths shares as an investment; either directly or via a superannuation fund. Our actions really do speak louder than words.

Whilst the supermarket duopoly is an important economic and marketing case study, the implications of saying one thing and doing another are huge. Are opinion polls really worth anything at all? The monthly tabloid treats of political opinion polls tell us the Gillard government will be wiped out if an election was held today – but it’s not. The next federal election (the real poll where an outcome actually happens) isn’t for another couple of years. Opinion and speculation are now touted as fact in the media. However, these same opinion-makers are not held accountable when the future unfolds in real-time and they are proved wrong.

If we are to make any sense of opinions linked to action, we need to actually examine the behaviours. This applies equally to marketing, economics, and knowledge management. It’s the logic behind behavioural economics, real-life behavioural research, and user experiences. Mark Hurst’s Good Experience is a good example of looking at what actually happens as distinct from what reportedly happens.  It’s the logic that we need to apply in our knowledge management research as well.

Blinded by the numbers

I must relate one of those ridiculous customer service experiences where the customer definitely doesn’t come first. An this time, it’s not QANTAS.

I went to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) today for a coffee. I arrived about 11.40am and waited to be served. Whilst waiting, I spied a single table with a single chair up against the side of the elevator. To the left of this table was a table for four people, but with only person sitting there.

As a waiter arrived to take me to a table, I said that the single table by the elevator would suffice. I was told that I couldn’t have that table and I had to sit elsewhere. I responded with the obvious fact that it was a single table with a single chair backed onto the side of an elevator. Alas, “that table is part of a table of six” I was instructed.

I could see that there was a table of four (with one man sitting at it) next to it but not adjoined to it.  I could see that neither set of tables were reserved.  And I could imagine that different configurations of standard tables could yield a variety of seating positions, including the potential for a table for six, all over the cafe.

I couldn’t help but wonder what powers of persuasion the single chap at the table of four must have had to be able to conquer 2/3 of the table space from this so-called (and obviously critically necessary) table of six.  Still, I could still see an empty table for one and a customer (me) wanting to sit there for a drink. I perservered with our customer service representative – the waiter.

I reiterated that it was indeed a table for one and I wanted to sit there. The answer was still no. No further expanation was entered in to. Unrelenting as Tony Abbott’s naysaying on just about everything, I was escorted to a dimly lit row of stools facing a very narrow and equally dimly lit benchtop.

I left and I shall not return for coffee or a meal at the NGV ever again.

It should not be this difficult to sit at a table for a coffee, and certainly not forced to sit at a thin pub-like benchtop where the lighting was so poor that I wouldn’t be able to discern a coffee from a coconut! The fact that another sole customer was sitting at a table of four right next to the single table was incongruous to say the least.

I do hope the table of six unites at some stage. I would hate to think that the poor single table was left alone because it was missing five more patrons for company. And the waiter – you’re supposed to serve customers, not tables!

Big retail continue the whinge

The National Retail Association (aka the union for profit hungry big retail) is carping on again with their demand for the Australian government to impose a 10%  tax on online goods purchases. A report todays says:  “Australia stands to lose 88,000 retail jobs over the next five years if the government does not begin levying tax on imported items bought online and worth less than $1000” says the National Retail Association. The big retailers are just sooooo concerned about their staff and the potential for staff to lose their jobs. Isn’t that jolly good of them!

In reality of course, big retail is only concerned about themselves and their hungry profits. Having ripped off Australian consumers for years with over-inflated prices, baulked at providing real customer service, and completely failed to see the coming of the 21st century, the big retailers now want to keep heaping additional costs directly on the consumer.  Moreover, the high Australian dollar makes buying from overseas for BOTH the retailer and the consumer that much more inexpensive. Retail cannot face up to the fact that we live in a global village with access to a vast range of goods at various prices from around the globe.

One of the great ironies is that these same retailers are happy to source product from overseas at reduced costs. They obviously aren’t concerned about the Australian jobs lost through their offshore purchasing. Indeed, a bevy of big retailing bosses weren’t too unhappy when their businesses boomed at the expense of smaller local competition.

Like most big businesses, they don’t want the competition.  It’s easier without it.

The other self-serving irony is that it won’t be big retail paying the cost of collecting any new tax on online purchases. No, it will be us consumers again through our taxes. The government will have to pay for the cost of assessing and collecting this tax – on goods below $1000. I bet you the cost of administering the tax on my $35 book from Amazon won’t be efficient. And there’s still no guarantee I won’t continue buying from Amazon (or wherever) to get the goods I want, when I want it, and at a price I want to pay.

Changing business conditions have always occurred. The farriers and wheelwrights went out of business when the car replaced the horse and cart. Farm labour got the bullet when farm mechanisation was possible. Service station attendants got the chop when self-serve petrol pumps came into vogue. And big, fat department stores will face the wall from more competitive providers of goods who can serve customers more effectively and deliver faster.

Offsetting these job losses in industries facing rapid change have been new jobs. There aren’t too many unemployed wheelwrights and farriers any more as there won’t be too many bored shop assistants in the future. And courier companies will be looking to soak up new staff to move all these goods around. One wonders why the National Retail Association hasn’t been pushing for a carbon tax – now, that would be real progress!

Instead of blowing additional hot air, the National Retail Association would be better served by having its financial supporters actually provide proper training to staff. They could actually provide excellent customer service. They could  try new ways of  creating relationships with customers instead of treating customers like commodities. They could stop ripping off Australian consumers with ridiculous prices. But most of all, they could wake up to the 21st century and respond (which is different to react) to the new environment with a change to the way THEY operate.

Go, National Retail, Go!

Compliance over customer service

I have had an ongoing saga for two months now with UniSuper. UniSuper has a very tiny amount of my superannuation funds under management (sic). In the period I was with UniSuper they have been deducting payments for insurance without my knowledge and without my consent.

I only found out in late March when the statement to December 2011 showed my balance, eaten away by fees and insurance payments. I immediately contacted UniSuper, by phone and in writing, expressly instructing UniSuper to cease all insurance payments.  Three subsequent phone calls revealed that nothing had happened, although “your request will be confirmed within five business days”. Not.

UniSuper failed to act to stop the payments for this unauthorised insurance. They have subsequently failed to act despite additional follow-up my part over the past eight weeks. They have shown no interest in providing any form of positive customer service throughout this period.

But what happens when an official complaint is made under section 101 of the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993? Well, I get a letter from UniSuper within a week. And guess what the letter says – it says that UniSuper has received my complaint and has 90 days in which to respond (under the Act).

What we have here is an act of compliance, not of customer service. Had UniSuper done the right thing in ceasing these unauthorised payments as I directed in April, they would have provided some level of customer service.  But no. UniSuper has not been in touch me other than to say they have received my complaint.

Well, UniSuper, I have received your letter of compliance but I am still waiting for your customer service.

QANTAS customer experience in nose-dive

Having written about the importance of customer experience and the way in which news travels fast in the 21st century, I thought I’d share my very recent customer experience with One World and Australian airline, QANTAS.

I arrived at Los Angeles airport this evening for my flight home to Australia. I went to the QANTAS check-in counter. My QANTAS customer experience was about to nose-dive very quickly. Not happy QANTAS.

Firstly, the check-in clerk couldn’t get the computer terminal to read my passport.  Another person came over to try and get the computer to read my passport details for the check-in procedure. No go. Finally, a third person came over and magically the machine worked. Apologies all round for the faulty terminal but at last it worked.

At the same time, my checked-in baggage was 4kg over the recommended weight. The check-in clerk quickly informed me that I’d have to pay a USD35 charge. In my 25 years of air travel I have never been forced to pay for baggage a couple of kilos over the recommended weight so I was mightily surprised by this.

Now, I weigh less than 70kg and a couple of extra kilos extra on my luggage isn’t going to make much difference.  I am well under the average male weight, especially over here in the US.  I mentioned this self-evident truth of male proportionality to no avail.  I was told that she was just following orders (yes indeed). I would have thought the check-in clerk could have shown some common sense, especially after I made it clear that I was not happy with the “service” and that my last flight with V Australia was eminently more pleasant. So much for flying the “Spirit of Australia”.

To add to the poor customer experience, I was led to another check-in counter where I was asked to pay the USD35. I gave the chap USD40. He had no change and began yelling out behind the counter if someone had $5. After a short while, a fellow check-in operator proffered the $5 change and that was that. Oh dear, how professional was that transaction!

I will head back to Sydney hoping that my QANTAS experience improves. I will certainly be writing a letter of complaint to QANTAS about the whole check-in fiasco. The response from QANTAS will have a major bearing on whether I choose to fly QANTAS again. I am sure V Australia will be more than happy to get me to the US – they really understand the importance of customer experience and do their best for the customer at all times.

Customer experience – try and understand what that means QANTAS.