- Posted August 5, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
The frustrations of poorly used technology
What do email and GPS have in common? Besides both being on my mind lately, they are two of many examples of how companies turn great technology innovations into a pain in the butt.
As the use of technology becomes more mainstream, I’ve noticed an increasing number of incidents in which companies use tech poorly, either because of ignorance, lack of experience or the involvement of others, such as lawyers who are so concerned with lawsuits that they insist on limitations that end up interfering with what would have been an excellent customer experience. The result is that what is supposed to be a customer benefit instead creates frustration and antagonizes those very customers they are trying to serve.
One of the most frustrating implementations of technology is from companies that want to keep in contact with us via email. The proper approach would be to ask you, as a customer, if you want to receive email, give you the option of the type of content and frequency, and then verify your email address. Many companies do this, but many others choose to bombard you with email without asking and then make it your responsibility to opt out.
Some companies just assume you want to hear from them multiple times a week and assume you have little else to do but read their messages. Even worse, some companies send email to those who never signed up in the first place and have had no prior business relationship, technically a violation of law.
I have a very simple personal Gmail address, just six letters. (I signed up on the day Gmail was introduced). I thought I was lucky, but after all these years it’s become a nuisance. For whatever reasons, many people use my email address to register at an online site or use it when making purchases. Because many businesses never bother to confirm the address, I get all of their email correspondence.
A recent example: I began receiving four emails a day from a retailer called Destination XL, a New England-based company with both mail order and physical stores. Fortunately, there was a link to unsubscribe. However, the daily barrage of emails didn’t stop, even after unsubscribing on several consecutive days.
After two weeks and about 50 emails, I contacted the company. A customer service agent said that each time the customer using my email made a purchase that person would automatically be re-subscribed to the emails. The company did eventually remove my email from their list. But they admitted they don’t verify the email that’s given them.
A few days later I received five consecutive emails from Redbox, an Illinois company that rents movies using stand-alone kiosks. When I contacted them, they were very responsive and explained that their customers type in their email address on the rental kiosk and there is no way to verify if it is correct. They could solve this by asking the customer to confirm that the address is theirs when they send out the first receipt.
The considerate policy is to make it easy to unsubscribe, with just one or two clicks. But Constant Contact, a huge email company that sends out 45 billion emails a year (not a typo!) on behalf of their clients, make you enter your email to opt out. A spokesman explained that many of their emails are forwarded to others, and this ensures the correct person is unsubscribed. But that’s not an excuse. They can find a way to satisfy both their clients and the recipients.
Provide a 2-click opt-out option: choose Unsubscribe and then ask you by name if that’s who you are.
What’s consistent among these companies and many more is they don’t give much thought to the nuisance they create with the billions of emails they send out.
Any company that develops an email relationship with its customers’ needs to take the same care as a personal relationship, and not assume that a constant barrage of email will sell more products or services. In fact, it’s the fastest way to alienate a customer.
Consider a different example of how expensive high-tech hardware has alienated so many customers.
Automobile GPS systems are one of the great inventions of the last 20 years. They free you up from perusing maps and planning trips well in advance, and allow you to navigate out of dangerous areas. But Toyota turned what is intended to be a valuable $2,000 option into an annoying and frustrating experience.
Toyota’s insistence in locking out key GPS functions when the car is in motion makes it impossible to set or change a destination when the car is moving more than 5 mph.
This has been-well documented by countless Toyota and Lexus owners for the past seven years, and the problem continues on their latest models. Customers have been very vocal, arguing that features they paid for are being taken away because of Toyota’s conservative lawyers. (www.toyotaoverride.com ).
The lawyers believe that setting a GPS while driving is a safety issue; however, when there is a passenger in the car, why not allow the passenger to use the GPS?
Every car has technology built in to sense when a passenger is present so that the passenger side airbag would become activated in a collision. So why not use this same technology to allow the GPS to be used? In fact, in some circumstances, being able to set a GPS while driving can increase safety.
Consider the following situation as described in this blog posting:
“As I woman, I find it potentially quite unsafe to have to stop the car to get directions. My friend and I were lost in a 'very bad' Denver neighborhood recently but couldn't get directions without pulling over and stopping the car. While I understand Toyota's legal concerns, I can't imagine that they don't realize we may be depending upon directions to get out of a place where we simply can't stop. If there is a passenger who can operate the nav, it certainly makes sense to have access without stopping. It was a nightmare and I wish that I had known before buying the car.”
Having just returned from a 1,200 mile road trip in our Toyota Highlander, the influence of the Toyota lawyers was visible, not only with the GPS. One hundred miles into the trip, the small display above the GPS reported low tire pressure in the spare tire. But instead of the warning screen going away to allow us to read other important information on the display (such as miles to empty, travel distance and mpg), it stayed on. The only way to extinguish the message was to stop at a garage to have a mechanic access the spare tire valve, which is buried under the car, and add a little air.
So while new technology is great and can help both companies and customers save time and work more efficiently, businesses should think first of customer experience. Respect our time. Respect our intelligence.