We’ve been doing this long enough that it should “just work”…


I’ve been doing the technology thing for a long time. I met my wife when I was teaching an HTML class she attended. I was a partner in an ISP / hosting company back when that sort of thing was cool. I’ve been VP of IT for an online auction site / eBay competitor. I “get” the whole social media thing.

So, while I would not consider myself a user experience specialist (for that would I recommend friends who are, like Jon Wretlind and Debbie Levitt) I have a pretty good concept of what “broken” looks like when I see it.

Tonight Terri was out shopping for school supplies, so the rest of us were on our own for dinner. The kids decided they wanted pizza as opposed to anything I might scrape out of the refrigerator, so pizza it was. My method for ordering pizza is fairly geeky, but also consistant. I bring up 3 web sites (in this case Pizza Hut, Dominos, and Sardella’s) and I submit as close to the same order as their respective menus allow. Whichever one is least expensive is the one I order.

In this case Sardella’s was the winner, but try as I might, I couldn’t place an order.

Like the others, they require you to register to place an order. I registered, created a profile, and went to check out. The system notified me that registering entitled me to a free side order of cinnamon sticks, and please sign in. I already was signed in. I tried to proceed with checkout, and it insisted that I sign in to get my free cinnamon sticks. I signed out to sign in again, and doing so cleared my order.

Annoyed, I started again. Same result. Next I assembled an order without signing in. The system asked me to sign in to check out. I did. Again it wanted to reward me with a side order – please sign in. Just in case I had an issue with my session; I tried from another computer. For one final time I was unable to submit an order.

I called the restaurant to place my order, and abandoned my attempt after a couple of minutes on hold. I ended up ordering from Pizza Hut.

What are the lessons we learn from this event?

First, testing, testing, testing. It looks like someone added the “registration equals free cinna-sticks” logic without adequate testing. I believe part of my issue lay with that I already had side items in my order. From the points where I encountered the “register for free cinna-sticks” code, I believe if I had only ordered pizza it might have worked correctly.

Second, what’s your fallback? This was a typical Sunday evening. No bad weather, no sporting events, so Sardellas was probably only experiencing normal ordering traffic. If that is true, why the long hold times? I bet because their online ordering system had issues. With online ordering hampered, they had increased phone traffic – which they weren’t staffed for. I’ll make a side observation here: As employers have gained unheard of efficiencies through automation and reduced staffing, the US now has the highest productivity of any nation on Earth. However, increased staffing, while more expensive, gives you more flexibility. When I managed restaurants cross training was how we were efficient. You always had “x” number of employees working, and moved them as needed. If you reduce staffing and depend on your automation – that automation had better ALWAYS work. McDonald’s is currently experimenting with self service order placement. Again, it is efficient, and it saves money because once you absorb the purchase price you don’t have to pay it, insure it, train it, or worry if it will call in when it’s children are sick. However if the system fails, the restaurant in question likely won’t have enough spare staffing capacity to absorb the order taking tasks quickly.

Third, this was a USER EXPERIENCE failure! This was not solely a technology issue. This was not only the UI, this was my entire interaction with Sardellas as a product. Yes, the initial point of failure was the UI, but it was not the only one. There was no easy way for me to report my issue. There was no easy way for me to complete my transaction once I abandoned the web site. Technology should improve a user’s interaction with a company – but when technology fails everything else shouldn’t fail with it. The web interface let me down, but it wasn’t the only thing that did. Now if Sardellas is aware of the problem, they probably think a developer is at fault here, but that isn’t true. The entirety of user experience is not the responsibility of a single person. That responsibility falls on the entire organization because it is the entire organization that I (the user) was trying to interact with.

And they let me down.

1 thought on “We’ve been doing this long enough that it should “just work”…

  1. Amen Joking. A good read, and shows you understand the frequent lack of understanding by managers who employ IT to reduce cost without considering (or forgoing to save money) any thought as to what happens when it doesn’t work as expected.

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