Technology Stills Needs Personal Touch
I was originally going to write a blog post about the conversation topic I alluded to in a few Tweets on the evening of June 29, 2011; however United Airlines changed the topic. This blog post is about the frustration when technology does not actually make things easier. It also gets more frustrating after asking for help when the technology fails.
I wanted to book an award fare to fly myself and the L&T Wife to California on United. So I went to the United website, logged in with my frequent flier number – you know the one that literally has almost half a million miles in the past 11 years. I went through and looked at all the options for flights before finally picking one. I signed myself and the Wife up for it, picked our seats, continued to the payment page and entered my credit card number. Clicked the Submit button, and nothing happened. Clicked button again, nothing happened.
I changed browser from Firefox to Safari and tried again all the way from the beginning I could not save or hold my work. Nothing happened under Safari as well. I then decided to call United Rewards Reservations, which is when the frustration started. This is a basic synopsis of the conversation
- "Hello, I am having trouble booking reward travel on the website."
- "When and where are you trying to travel to?"
- I respond with the information
- "No, there are no seats available for the dates you want."
- "But the website shows many open seats."
- "I am sorry sir the website is wrong."
- "Okay, so what are my options?"
- "There is a flight three days earlier for outbound and two days later for the return."
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot I thought – I did not say it. I was polite to the agent as they are just reporting what the screen is showing.
We go round and round and finally get the exact same itinerary, as I had created online. I did not care if it was a mileage saver fare or not, her system was defaulting to fares that take less miles. If I was asked I would have said, I had picked specific flights online.
Then came the time to make payment. Online it was 75,000 miles per person; via the phone it was 100,000 miles per person. I ask why the difference.
The agent had no good explanation, so I asked for a supervisor. During this time I was placed on hold, without music or other audio so I had no indication I was still connected. The supervisor could not assist me.
As we passed the thirty-minute mark the supervisor indicated I should be transferred to Web Support to assist. After a few minutes with the Web Support person I was able to book my flight.
It was extremely frustrating. I tried to do it via self-service on the web. It did not work. I tried to call for help and that did not work for the first 40 minutes. It took approximately 45 minutes on the phone and three agents to finish the transaction I already had details for. If the first person I communicated with listened to my original issue they might have thought to transfer me to the web team earlier. Instead I believe that they were just going off the script, not really helping the customer.
I tweeted out my frustration and decided to wait 24 hours to see if there was a response before posting. So far I have heard nothing.
Now some people may be thinking that it is only 50K miles, ~10% of your tally. To put the value of that in context, 50K miles is a round trip somewhere in the US with the right planning. Now that this trip is booked, I will get to call again to add my dietary needs as I can’t do that from the website. I think I will wait a day or two.
For those of you that have an impact on customer interaction, think about what happens when your website doesn’t work. How will you help that person? Have you provided them with enough information to know where to go for help? Is the first point of contact going to listen and respond or just follow a script? That one decision can change a customer interaction from a phone call to a frustration and wasting time for everyone involved.
Digital Audio that is Good Enough
Another airplane flight, another blog post. This one is about the “new modes” of audio delivery. As many of my readers know I work in the audio industry, I do not often blog about it as I am concerned about the impact my comments could have. Not that I would get in trouble with my employer, heck I was looking for a job when I got this one; but more that people would take my comments and opinions as if I was speaking for my employer. So let my blog, my domain, my opinions, written in my nonworking hours and me unequivocally state that these are my personal thoughts and opinions.
The new mode of delivery I am thinking of is digital distribution of audio products. I purchase music as a digital format less often than most people think. The reason is that most delivery methods are compressed. I believe that compression should be applied judiciously. Not all compression is bad, as I sit listening to music on my iPod on a plane. I decided the quality of music is the item I want for this application.
That is the key; the application is that I want to travel with a large selection of music. It does not have to be pristine as the listening environment is less than pristine. I do however want for airplane flights and time in hotels to be able to have music. I do not always know what kind of music I am going to want to listen to three days from now. I would rather have the selection at a compression ratio that I find appropriate.
I am purposefully omitting numbers, as too often when numbers are listed it becomes a contest by numbers, such as one saying that they will only listen to music at 96kHz sample rate. When I ask why, the answer is often well it is a higher number it must be better. I wonder if that person would be able to tell the difference between 48kHz and 96kHz recordings in the listening conditions I am currently in; a tin can traveling through the air at 300mph with an internal ambient noise of 70dB SPL A weighted through noise canceling ear buds. Probably not so easily, I am not going to say it is impossible; I am going to say it is improbable. I believe and can hear that there is a difference between sample rates in other environments.
At the same time, other listening environments that are acceptable applications for compressed audio for some people are not for me. In my car I have CDs loaded in the changer and a smaller election of non-compressed audio files on the attached iPod. In that environment I can hear a difference between the full quality and the compressed audio. I do not listen to satellite radio music channels in the car often as that compression annoys me and I can hear it. For other people they do not find it objectionable.
The key is that I am deciding. I can control how much compression and the amount of data that is important and acceptable to me. Often buying audio products as digital downloads that decision is someone else’s and I might not agree with it. Paying 99 cents for a compressed piece of music that is just for “fun” can make sense. Paying $15 for a digital download of a CD that is compressed as 11 separate songs versus buying the CD for $15 is something I will not do.
Why you may ask? I have done it, and I have regretted spending the money. The digital download has some audio artifacts that the CD does not. I then can also decide if I want to compress the audio to put it in another format. Not only that, I get to decide the compression protocol as MPEG3 is not always the best. If more people had uncompressed delivery methods I would buy more audio via digital distribution.
The key is to use the best test equipment that we have, our ears, to make the decision for yourself. The way I approach it, is your source should be as ideal as possible and then you have the control to decide what is acceptable compression tradeoffs.
Also please remember that one answer is not the right answer for everyone. The amount of compression that I find objectionable might be perfectly acceptable to someone else. So don’t turn your nose up and ruin other people’s enjoyment just because it doesn’t meet your standards. If people are having fun or the message is getting across isn’t the most important parts of audio being accomplished.
And yes my photographer friends the same thing can be said about JPEG compression. I start with RAW and then I decide how to impact the image as I process it to JPEG or other formats.
The airplane challenge for help, software, and interfaces
Another blog post written at 32,000 feet as that is when the issue hit me. I have various electronic devices as my dedicated reader knows. I have previously talked about various data access connection challenges. This new challenge is not one of my own doing. It is a poor user experience or use case definition. This problem was illustrated by Amazon and their Kindle applications, but it does not apply to just them. This challenge happens to many applications beyond this example.
I have found a time where the electronic delivery of a book advantages outstrip the disadvantages I previously outlined. This happened with a “for Dummies” book. At work, I am on a software implementation team rolling out a new application package. I wanted the “for Dummies” book for the application. I looked at Amazon and the book was available both in paperback and in Kindle form. The Kindle form was substatianaly less expensive, but the key item was I could get literally instant delivery. While on a conference call I was able to purchase the book, take delivery of it, and reference it during the call. It was very powerful and better than using the Internet search tools as it has high signal to noise and no rabbit trails.
The next day I had a business trip, I had my analog reading material and my electronic versions. On the plane flight I started to truly ready my newly purchased book. It was also the first time I had started to explore some of the Kindle application features. I saw that there were sections of the book that were underlined. Not underlined texted, but a dashed underline. I was not sure what it was at first, but I found out that it meant that other readers had highlighted that passage. The idea of crowd sourced highlighting was intriguing for me; it helps to know what areas one should pay attention to.
I wanted to see what other features were available. My brain needed a little break from thinking about business practices. I was going to use that time to browse through the help file and see what other features were available that I might not be using in the Kindle application. I was airborne when I wanted to do that. I had no Internet access on that flight. As a result of not being connected to the Internet the help file was not available.
That seems very counterintuitive, why would an electronic reading application not include a help file with it? Think about that for a moment. Something that is designed to read document while disconnected from the Intenet is not able to read its own help file while not connected. It is not just Kindle that has this design flaw. Cloudreader, Nook, and iBooks for iPad do not have a help file that is readily available. I am sure that I can continue to list others as well. It also occurs with applications for workstations.
Not all applications are that short sighted. Two applications on my iPad have help that is available offline. iAnnotate and DocsToGo install their help file as a document you can read from within the applications.
Makes perfect sense to me. An application that is designed to be portable, should have supporting documentation that is portable. So for those of you involved in the design and creation of applications, think about the user that is not connected to the Internet. They might want to refer to the supporting documents; you should make it easy for them. The fact that I turned to the help file already means that the application is not intuitive enough. Do not compound the issue by making it difficult to find the help.
Also this concept applies to those of you who are creating custom control interfaces using software created by others. On more occasions than I would care to count I have ended up troubleshooting a control system and having to guess. These guesses could range from what are the IP addresses to connect to the system to what the control system is using for the backend to how to get help.
For the application users, I recommend that you try out your applications before you are traveling with them or disconnected from the Internet to make sure you understand how to use it. The help files might not always be available.
Well the fasten seatbelt sign just came on….
<note this post was recreated after a website crash, good thing I backed it up>
Interesting E Book Occurrence
So in a previous post I commented on how I was not sure that Electronic Books might not be perfect. Well Amazon did something that I had not thought of: they took back a purchase. Basically they deleted George Orwell’s books 1984 and Animal Farm from users’ Kindles due to rights issues. The complete stories are listed below…
Oh and I could not find anything on Amazon’s site about it…
Back to recovering from the Rally and commute back home