A Tale of Two Stores

Store One: Office Max

I went to Office Max to pick up chairs that I ordered earlier. The store was almost empty. I was happy to see my chairs stacked up in the cash register area. I thought it would a quick stop at the cash register to pay for the chairs and leave. Perhaps 5 minutes total. 

There were two employees at the cash register. One was dealing with a customer who tried to get a refund. The other was trying to find a product that a customer wants to buy (if you buy a big item there, you bring a card from the floor to the cash register and they will bring to you). I was the first one behind these two customers. Lucky me, I thought! Well, not quite. The one customer at the cash register #1 did not seem to have receipts, and also got some type of discounts because she was a member of the "club". It seemed like a complicated return case and the cashier finally asked for a manager. When the manager came, three of them were going through the customers iPhone to find an email from the store. In the meantime, the line was getting longer, but the manager did not seem to be bothered by the growing line.  At the same time, at the cash register #2, the other cashier did not seem to be able to locate the product the second customer wanted to purchase. He was running around the store, while the customer was waiting. The line was getting longer and longer, some of the customers starting to complain loudly that the store should have more people manning the cash registers. (I wasn't one of them!) The customer at the register #1 noticed that she was causing a long delay behind her, and suggested that she might come back later. To my surprise, the cashier told her that the customer could walk over to the customer service counter where a couple of employees were just standing. I was asking myself, "why on earth didn't the cashier tell the customer to go to the customer service desk, in the first place? and why didn't manager act as a manager, but as a super cashier?" Finally, my turn came. The cash register #1 crashed; cashier asked me to come to the register #3. I left the store with the chairs. Total time wasted: 40 minutes.

Store Two: Apple Store

Then, I went to an Apple Store. The store was packed with people checking out the latest iPhone X. I wanted to pick up new iPhone cases for myself and my son. I went straight to the shelf to pick up two cases. All employees were busy talking to customers. So, I whipped out my iPhone, started Apple Store app, scanned the barcodes on the back of the cases, and used Apple pay to pay. I walked out with two cases in my hand. Total time experienced: 5 minutes. 


No wonder why the traditional retailers are dying. It is not technology. It is bad management. Apple is just good at using the technology to create good user experiences. 

experience design: what are we designing?

Yesterday, I had Lee Green, IBM’s Worldwide design chief, as a guest speaker for my class. As always, it was filled with lots of interesting stories from times he was with IBM, including the small division that he was asked to join called “desktop” and the day when the Big Blue went cultural change with a new dress code. He shared many examples where IBM leverages its design competency to bring solutions to its clients and how that has changed the way IBM internally organize for its own operation.

An important part of his message was that experience can and should be designed. It is not something that happens as a afterthought. Rather, it is something that is carefully designed and crafted with the same level of rigor and intensity. One important factor that differentiates great organizations from mediocre ones is the intentionality of experience design. There are two aspects that need to be explicitly articulated.

One is the methods by which experience is articulated. Tools like customer journey map with explicit articulations of various customer touch-points, spatio-temporal context, periphery actors and different dimensions of experiences can be extremely powerful. Such tools immediately allows to see the innovation space that one can operate and how they might they can expand their interactions with their customers.

But at the same time, what is necessary is the ways in which the organizations can mobilize and coalesce necessary resources in order to deliver such experiences. The challenge here is that it is often highly political exercise. Lee talked about how IBM deals with this challenge internally. How do you bring multiple constituents together to “mashup” their services and resources? The principle here is that organizations do not drive what they give to the world. Instead, what they give to the world defines who they are. It is this reflective process of “becoming” that is at heart of organizational challenge in experience-based innovation. Lee’s talk was excellent as it illuminates some of these issues in IBM’s context as they rapidly become one of the world’s largest service company.