Customer focus and failure demand

Over on The Verge the other week was a frustrating story about a region-locked printer. It appears that an HP printer (or at least, this particular model) bought in one geographic region can only accept ink also bought in that region.

In this story the journalist moved across the world, took their printer with them, and then when they put in some new ink cartridges from their new country the printer refused to work. It took many, many, many hours on the phone with customer support to get the situation resolved. Along the way we see the inadquacy of HP’s own internal tools to solve customer problems, and at one point they offered to ship the journalist an entirely new printer to solve the problem. It would appear the corporate decision to region-lock this printer and not invest sufficiently in support tools cost HP more than that of the printer and ink. The overall commercial benefit to HP is questionable.

In the digital product world the prevailing ethos is to be customer-focused. That is, the needs of customers need to be deeply understood. Ensuring they have the best possible experience has all kinds of consequential benefits. In this story we can see that a failure to consider the customer sufficiently leads to increased costs for the business.

A while back I worked in the UK public sector, and our service was assessed on the total cost of a transaction, where a transaction was something the user (the citizen) wanted to do, such as apply for their driving licence or report on their tax situation. One consequence of this was that it forced the team creating the service to make it really, really easy for users.

In one situation we found the easiest way to bring costs down—significantly—was change the way users logged in. They were required to sign in using a user ID sent to them by letter. But after their first login people tended to lose their user ID and call up the support line, which then entailed lengthy security checks before we could tell them anything. We changed this by allowing them to register their email address on their first access, and then use that for future logins. Users tended to remember their email address, and costly support calls were cut dramatically.

When people take up time and resources in a service to help them resolve problems with it it’s called failure demand. Very often failure demand is the most expensive part of running the service, so identifying and eliminating that benefits both customers and the organisation itself.

Much of this can be achieved in the first place by focusing on user needs. Otherwise—as happened with HP and the journalist—everybody loses.

Photo by Nikos Roussos

2 thoughts on “Customer focus and failure demand

Comments are closed.