The online shopping experience – is it really better?

I think I kind of just accepted that online shopping is convenient because that’s what we’re told.

Except I’ve recently moved offices and am no longer in a convenient location with the florist for the last minute present, or the dry cleaner for the drop off and pick up between the car park and office. And now I’m finding I have to find ways to get these services in ways that are out of hours and to sacrifice major chunks of weekend time to go somewhere, rather than just 5 minutes in the work day.

And online seems the perfect solution – except it isn’t.

In the first scenario of physically going to the shop, yes I am limited by time and location, but I get what I see, I get it right then and there, and I don’t have to fill out forms. I just exchange some money. It’s so simple. A 15 minute transaction.

But online – my god, it’s never simple! You have to find the item that kind of resembles what you probably would have asked for in real life, and agonise over the photos so you get something you’ll actually like when you see it in real life. And then you have to fill out at least 2 forms of payment details and delivery details. And then you have to work out your availability to accept the delivery (typically in business hours) and have to hold out for enjoying the item you have already paid for. For convenience, there seems to be an awful lot of pre-planning required, hard decision making, form filling-out, and waiting…

Is online shopping really that good? Or is it just the line we’ve been told? Is the truth that online shopping fixes overhead costs for businesses, but for customers, it doesn’t fix much at all?

This isn’t one of those posts where I have the answers. This is just a question that I am asking. And I think it raises some valid points about customer experience when online shopping isn’t really that convenient, and yet it seems to be the model so much is based on for ‘great customer experiences’. Not to say that shopping in physical spaces is the answer either. I just don’t think we’ve found the answer yet, and think this is a ripe space for some constructive dissatisfaction.

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Service should sweat the small stuff

I’m a pretty go-with-the-flow kind of gal, so I don’t often get too hung up on service mishaps.

But yesterday was some fresh hell as I travelled with my grieving partner to join his family overseas, and had to endure hours of airport travel and countless service encounters. I fully understand now why people hermit when they have been through tragedy – all of sudden so much becomes raw. Human beings going through things are so sensitive to feeling like cattle. It’s like, all of a sudden your life is being put into perspective because of some awful event filled with complications and intricate implications. It’s the moment we feel most human and least animal.

So to find yourself in a service situation where all of a sudden you feel like cattle being herded through a process, well, it is excruciating.

The worst example I have from the day was checking into our international flight where we had arranged to have a 12 hour stopover so we could see a family member and pick up some clothing, before heading onto our final destination. We asked to take our bags at the stopover, although the staff member just assumed we wanted the bags to transfer directly to our final destination. When we asked (politely, because i am no believer of speaking rudely to service staff) it was clear this employee didn’t know how to action our request, and she asked her colleagues at the adjacent desks how to do it by saying in front of us “these customers have changed their mind and now want their baggage at the stopover – how do I do that?” Oh my God, I wanted to snap my fingers and say “no you didn’t!” We changed OUR mind?! We hadn’t even been asked where we wanted the bags – she simply made an assumption, then blamed us because her assumption was wrong. Did she realise what we were going through? Did she know the huge amount of pain we were dealing with and how simple but important our request was? Nope.

I can’t see any scenario where service doesn’t eventually end up affecting a human being. And human beings aren’t always in good places, sometimes they’re in joyful places, sometimes they are raw nerves going through divorce, sickness or children that won’t sleep. Often that means they don’t need the service to surprise and delight them – they just need something that works and treats them like humans.

So although in life we are told not to sweat the small stuff, service is a place I really do believe the small stuff needs to be sweated more than ever. And it’s noble to sweat the small stuff in service, because it means the rest of us mere mortals interacting with service everyday can leave that small stuff in capable hands.

The small stuff that would have helped our sisyphean day of travel was being spoken to kindly with care, being shown the generosity of patience, and listened to because our situation mattered, despite only being an economy-travelling pleb. The small stuff that would have avoided the service that made my eyes prickle was the ability to indicate whether we wanted our luggage at the stopover in the booking process, just as we can choose a seat, so there’s no need for an employee to bungle this simple request at check in.

That’s the small stuff that makes a world of difference to those living through the big stuff.

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