We don’t deserve dogs.
literally just saw a 10 year old girl wearing a shirt with sparkles that said “doing my best” fucking same bitch where’d you get that— Summer (@summerjscott) August 27, 2017
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
With the Spotify’s recent IPO, The Washington Post’s Elahel Zadi and Travis M. Andrews launched an amazing quiz challenging you discern between a failed music streaming service or Stefon recommended nightclub.
Take the quiz.. I got 22/26.
Taking this quiz brought me back to different points in my life. Remembering services like Groveshark — which was built by students at the University of Florida. (Subsequently featured on Gimlet’s Startup podcast.
Thinking back to using Rdio — and their sad retrospective when they shut down.
Which brings me back to a favorite quote on the subject of streaming services.
Selling consumer-grade headphones at professional-grade prices with endorsements from a major-celebrity musician, a high-profile charity, and an overpriced pseudoscience lawsuit-happy cable manufacturer, HD, Special Edition is a more profitable business than streaming music. — Marco Arment
Here’s a few videos that I like to watch to calm the fuck down.
10 Minutes at Nubble Light House by Hank Green
Two Minute Meditation by The School of Life
Can’t Help Falling In Love on a Kalimba by AcousticTrench
Jackson Hole Wyoming Town Square Live
Seasons greetings. Happy holidays. Winter’s wishers. Happy Hnukkah. Merry Christmas. Have a festive winter solstice. Happy New Year.
Here’s to the future. May it be beautiful, wonderful, and less on fire than the present.
As big changes occur in my life, I the first to find solace and patterns in music. Right now? Kesha’s albums are on repeat.
Continuing in tradition, and my strong belief that the opposite of “thanks” is “shanks,” here is my list for 2017.
Shanks to TNT for cancelling Major Crimes after six amazing seasons and despite strong ratings.
Shanks to those who think that being gay is fine now. I can lose my job, get kicked out of my apartment, or denied service because someone is a bigot who is spending too much time thinking about my sex life.
Shanks to California drivers who are scared of the rain.
Shanks to Florida for continuing to exist.
Shanks to Dropbox. Every part of your product is poorly designed and engineered. From Dropbox Paper to your sync engine. I literally cannot wait to be rid of you.
Shanks to the FCC for attempting to roll back Net Neutrality regulations, again.
Shanks to the Department of Justice Anti-Trust Division focusing on Transportation. How could you let Virgin America and Alaska merge with essentially no strings attached? I will miss you forever, Redwood.
This year, despite evolving from 2016’s dumpster fire to the tornado in our collective backyards, has not been entirely terrible.
Thanks to my team at Flexport. I’m so proud of the work we’ve done.
Thanks to my new friends in Chicago. ;)
Thanks to Kesha, for being strong for all of us.
Thanks to close friends and family who have been incessantly encouraging.
Thanks to The Cheesecake Factory for existing. Shout out to the Nordstrom Cafe Bistro.
Thanks to my Honda Civic for unlocking the open road.
Thanks to my favorite nonfiction show, Earlier Times But Now with Spruance Morgendörffer. I’m so happy to spend my Sundays with you.
Thanks to journalists for doing your job. Thank you ACLU, Lambda Legal and the SPLC.
Thanks to Spotify for consistently knowing what music I want next and for getting Taylor back.
This year has been just as tough as the previous one. With 2018 now in range, I’m anxiously waiting in the gate area. I hope we can all remain open-hearted.
Last night I had the chance to enjoy the new sound exhibit at SFMOMA. There I was mesmerized by Ragnar Kjartansson’s installation entitled The Visitors.
Friends are separated throughout a weathered mansion in upstate New York. For me, the juxtaposition of friends playing together and their physical separation was poignant.
Don’t miss this installation. After you go, download the album from iTunes.
“’Cause the technology is just gonna get better and better and it’s gonna get easier and easier and more and more convenient and more and more pleasurable to sit alone with images on a screen given to us by people who do not love us but want our money and that’s fine in low doses but if it’s the basic main staple of your diet you’re gonna die.”
— David Foster Wallace (1996)
And after, when We went outside to look at her finished lantern from the road, I said I liked the way her light shone through the face that flickered in the dark. —“Jack O’Lantern,” Katrina Vandenberg in Atlas
This is an except from one of my favorite poems. John Green used it in the epigraph of his novel (and my favorite book) Paper Towns.
I’d highly encourage you to read the entire piece in Katrina Vandenberg’s collection called Atlas: Poems.
It’s four-o-clock in the morning. The streetlight is a small, fuzzy sun, haunting your cul-de-sac. Toothbrush in mouth, you reach for your buzzing phone. The lock screen shows both a text message from a five-digit phone number and new email appearing across your iPhone’s lock screen: “JetBlue Flight Notification — Important Flight Information | Cancelled”. (Read More on Design For Flight)
Interactive voice response systems are fascinating. This clear touch point has the power to calm frustrated travelers or enrage those already on the brink of a meltdown. Such a system, while lacking a graphical user interface, is by no means less designed.
Due to one of the (many!) online security breaches, my Simple bank account numbers became compromised and required me to close-and-reopen my bank account. (Why can’t account numbers be re-generated on-demand?) During the process of closing, and re-opening my Simple account, I opened a backup Wells Fargo account.
I was able to set up my account by walking into an impressive, original Wells Fargo branch building. About sixty minutes later, I was all set up. This was not my first Wells Fargo account. As a child, I opened a savings account with First Union. First Union merged into Wachovia, which merged into Wells Fargo during the recent financial crisis.
However, as a “new customer” Wells Fargo did not have historical purchasing data for me. The bank was terribly nervous letting me spend my money. Instead, quietly block my debit card and let me find out when I tried to buy something next.
Wells isn’t the only bank that proactively deactivates customers cards when they suspect fraud. Anyone can get their card blocked. Just buy two tanks of gas and some shoes. Most financial institutions have evolved to text customers the minute the anti-fraud algorithms raise a flag.
For Wells Fargo customs, you should receive receive a text message or call to confirm your recent purchases. Unfortunately for me, these alerts never came through. Instead, when I swiped, and my purchase was declined, I called the number on the back of your card. Which goes something like this:
Calling is a last-result option. Relied on only when online options for managing my account have been exhausted. If I use a secret trap-door word like ‘agent,’ ‘representative,’ or ‘operator,’ I mean business.
Wells Fargo is always experiencing a huge cal volume, no matter what time of day, day of the week, or financial shitstorm is currently happening.
Companies who state that they are experiencing a higher than usual call volume are unconsciously expressing two things. First, that their products or services are unreliable, confusing, or in some state that requires their customer to regularly call in. And two, that they are chronically understaffed.
Wells Fargo makes an embarrassing, nerve-wracking experience worse by not informing anyone ahead of time that I’m calling about a declined card. They have blocked my card so often; I’m surprised their system doesn’t call to alert you (via text, email or phone call) when it happens. Many Wells Fargo bankers and phone reps have told me that I should receive alerts and ways to allow access without needing to call. Unfortunately, it has never happened.
Forcing customers to wade through 20 minutes hold times to make a purchase is criminal. If you can’t implement an automated system for clearing transactions, have a dedicated queue for those with blocked cards.
Wells Fargo is the largest bank in the world, and with it comes the expectations that they can proactively manage security and fraud concerns. IVR is just as important to design as your online banking experience. It’s another touchpoint, and should be considered carefully.
Recently, I’ve spent a good amount of time clearing notifications from my iOS lock screen and Notification Center. More email notifications and push alerts pour down every minute, covering everything from what ‘Millennials are killing next’ to a selfie a friend-of-a-friend posted on Instagram.
Much of this rift raft can be seemingly blamed on veiled attempts for companies to boost engagement numbers. Let’s look at Facebook’s Yammer knock-off, known as Facebook Workplace.
My employer tried Facebook Workplace for roughly one week before quietly abandoning it. Facebook, seemingly feeling lonely at night, began to postmark periodic emails to me containing “recent“ notifications. Again, perhaps this behavior would be acceptable if team mates were @mentioning me. One could indeed stretch the logic to include summary updates from groups I’m a member of. (Though drip notification campaigns to re-engage users seem dubious at best.)
No, no, no. The notifications Facebook emails to all our employees are their own platform’s “inactivity notifications” that they themselves generate. Facebook is inventing notifications to have a reason to notify us that we haven’t made anything notification-worthy recently.
Invented notifications are dark patterns. Inactivity reports and growth hacking type reminders that I didn’t specifically enable are dark patterns. Unless you’re a rare unicorn user, I doubt you like reminders to use a given app. I doubt any user regularly is thrilled that Tumblr, Twitter, or Instagram is reminding me about another cousin— twice removed — exciting day.
Apple even has a (loosely enforced) App Store guideline around such spammy notifications. Rumor has it that the reviews team threatened to pull Tumblr multiple times over their egregious push spam. I wish they had followed through with that threat.
At least we can look to wonderful companies like Duolingo who automatically disable notifications when they aren’t effective. Though, to be completely honest, their rhetoric could be less disheartening. (Perhaps the notifications could quietly vanish, disappearing into the early hours of the morning like tertiary party guests. Popping up again to check in once you re-open the app, and only then asking you to clarify your notification tolerance levels.)
Designers and product managers working for these popular applications have the ability to interrupt millions of lives on a regular basis. Vibrate millions of pockets. Interrupt thousands of important conversations. Embarrass hundreds of users projecting their phones or laptops onto conference room screens. Escalate dozens of arguments between parents and teens when the latter becomes distracted by a notification during a particularly long lecture and breaks contact to check the alert— only to find their attempt to find a minor reprieve backfired, leaving weeks before their phone privileges are restored.
It’s a power that comes with a great responsibility. I hope you’ll take it seriously.
If you’d like to read more posts by yours truly, follow the Flexport Design blog over on Medium. I’m pretty proud of what I’ve written so far. I’d love you to check it out.
We are experiencing significant delays on your Muni line due to: Choose your own reasoning
A) We removed much of the overhead cabling to improve the views around the city for upcoming festivities.
B) Four Metro trains broke down and caught fire simultaneously blocking all traffic in and out of the Muni Metro subway system. No, we don’t have any way to move or bypass these trains. We designed our tracks without a way to bypass stalled electric trains. (Did you know electric trains can stall out? We just did!) In our defense, though, we thought Italian-made electric trains would rarely break down!
C) Someone spilled some water in one of the stations and now the power is out in the entire subway system.
D) AT&T upgraded their cellular services in the Bay Area and no longer support 2G EDGE service which we relied on for GPS tracking. Thus, we have lost track of all Muni vehicles. Yes we were told for years this would happen, but we just kept saying “Update Tomorrow” for the past few months.
E) Our tunneling project for the Central T subway is now a crime scene. It was actually a long con for several of Muni officials to steal everything in the Apple Store. They have escaped onto Caltrain. Which has hit a pedestrian and is now holding in all directions for 2-3 hours.
F) We tried to install Norton Anti-Ransomware and it bricked all of our Windows ME machines. We can’t open fare gates or turn on the trains right now.
G) We had a meeting with the General Manager of Cincinnati’s historic subway system and took some of their advice a little too close to heart.
H) We forgot to clean the trains and buses for a few days and it seems that a troupe of small animals have taken shelter. They are well armed.
We apologize for the inconvenience. We never planned for any one part of our transit system to ever stop working, so we have no alternates to suggest. Thanks for riding Muni.
The San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority
In March 2016, the the election was in a mad, unhinged swing and John Oliver was blaring about the election, or he made it increasingly known: “The Holy Shit, Please Make It Stop, Trash Fire, Two-thousand Fuckteen” or “Lady liberty Convenience Store Robbery Gone Wrong Descending into a Hostage Negotiation and She’s Now Demanding a Chopper 2016.”
The cacophony of shouting heads and disappointment after disappointment culminated in a sickening feeling of despair. I felt as if I was watching every friend, family member, and news anchor devolve into talking over one another. Not listening, rather vomiting out posts, op-eds, and angry tweets. More vile scandals, more name-calling, more noise.
One night on a close friend, Alec’s couch, we lamented how objectively easy it was to talk to your governmental representatives, but how no one we knew followed through. Friends and family prefer communicating over Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and even email. Yet, these grandmothers and grandfathers devalued these media forms. It was undeniable that to be really heard you had to communicate outside of social media.
Today, you can call your congressional rep’s office with a tap. That’s simple right? Objectively yes. Unfortunately, we were resigned that almost no people our age feel comfortable talking on the phone. (An investigation for another day.)
This leaves us writing your congressmen and senators and mailing them a letter. Again, not a particularly arduous process. It also has the benefit of not requiring direct human interaction.
Thinking it through, no task outside sentence construction are truly mentally challenging tasks. Yes, you have to Google around for which address you should mail the letter to. Then, you must get that printer out of the closet. Turn it on, install 387mb of drivers, and find some paper, rattle the ink cartridge, and rummage around for an envelope. (Can you make an envelope out of paper?) Finally, printed and sealed with saliva you find yourself in line at Walgreens buying a single stamp for 47¢. Outside, your hunting down a blue post office box you vaguely remember being on that corner by the Food ’N Stuff. Dammit that’s a green one.
If last paragraph sounded draining, you aren’t alone. However, to be clear, none of those steps are truly difficult. (It was even written in a bit of a hyperbolic tone for good measure.)
It’s so much easier to do nothing. It’s easier to say “my voice doesn’t matter” or that “they won’t listen to me.” It’s a cop-out though, and you know it.
Alec and I decided, in-between episodes of Last Week Tonight and fits of calling Comcast about slow internet, that there was something that could be done. He and I could lower the barrier a bit to mailing letters.
We’ve been working in spare moments this year to bring you this website. Fitted with a cute name, pointing back to the first article of the constitution that creates the Senate and the House of Representatives, it’s designed to make it easy to send elected officials physical letters.
Log on and write your note in a text box. Do it from the comfort of anywhere: in line at the coffee shop, on a bus, after hours of watching cable news. When you’re done, we will print, stamp, and mail your letter straight to your representatives: local, state, and federal. We did the work of stringing together a few APIs so it’s digital for you, and paper for them.
Send a note to the one who isn’t fighting for net neutrality. Or send four or five letters full of facts about climate change. Send it to your Senior Senator or Governor or your local comptroller.
It’s a small step to lowering the barrier for average people to write about what they care about. If you can call your reps, call. If you are nervous to call and would otherwise not participate in our political system beyond elections, try this.
Dear Article One isn’t something disruptive, but maybe it can have a tiny hand in leaving the playing field between who gets heard most and who needs to be heard more. (I think we can all agree on that last point.)
I hope you’ll find it useful and simple to use. And if you find yourself not sure of what to say, or how to say it, just remember that these officials are humans who rely on you. Don’t worry about impressing them. They spend so much time trying to look relatable that I’m sure they will love reading your true thoughts.
After a year, and seeing how the ACLU and other services like ResistBot integrated digital-to-snail-mail services, Alec and I decided to shut down Dear Article One. Good night and thanks for all the stamps!
Today, when opening a link from the Gmail iOS app that I recently installed (as per my usual behavior, I’ve been hopping around emails apps regularly) I ran into this odd behavior by the Gmail app.
When opening a link from the app, Google has inserted an interstitial dialog box asking you which Browser you would like Gmail to open.
First, I don’t have Chrome for iOS installed. Thus, showing me this dialog asking me to choose browsers is an advertisement for their browser. This would be fine if phrased as “Look, we have Chrome for iOS now!” But it isn’t.
Second, the dark pattern emerges when you see that their default setting for this dialog is to ask me each time.
Google thinks it’s appropriate to remind me each time I click a link in their email program that they have a web browser they would also like me to download. That way it becomes a conscious choice to open Safari and not download Chrome. It’s an annoying and ugly user experience choice. Ugh.
Understand, this small tweak will increase downloads of their Chrome for iOS app, but this dialog is not automatically dismissed after selecting Safari once or twice. (Which I think was their original behavior, which has changed.)
If I had Chrome installed, I also might feel differently. Google could ask upon opening Chrome if I would like all Google apps to use Chrome as the default browser, then save those details to my Google Account. That setting would then propagate to Gmail and other Google owned apps. (Perhaps, even third parties authenticated with my Google account could sync that detail down.)
I know it’s not as bad as Microsoft’s dark pattern usage that got them into a court case with their users, but this is pretty damn annoying.
Ni Hao from your product and design teams in Flexport Hong Kong. Keep it locked for more seamless shipping from your favorite manufacturers.
With dozens of startups focused on reducing the need for personal car ownership, at least in urban areas, what’s a car maker to do? Join them, of course.
Here is a detailed review of a startup inside General Motors that is working to compete with the likes of Zipcar, Getaround, and other urban car-by-the-hour services: Meet Maven Drive.
Err, or is it Drive Maven? Both domains work… and the app just says Maven. Let’s go with Maven.
Car sharing platforms lets members rent a car by the hour or day, and include gas and insurance in the rate. During these multi-hour reservations, members can drive up to 180 miles per day, and return the car to where you found it. The cars have “home” parking spots in in major apartment complexes, big parking garages, and in neighborhoods around the city. Some are even available at the airport and commuter train stations.
Members get quickly vetted for major driving infractions during sign-up and then are provided an app and a membership card that makes it easy to reserve and access any car on the platform.
Hourly rates run between $6–15 per hour or about $60–120 when reserved by the day. At first glance it can seem more expensive than a standard car rental. However, the last-minute availability, simple reservation process, and all-inclusive nature makes up the difference for those living in major cities.
For example, I rented a Zipcar for a two day trip to Yosemite over Christmas 2015. Zipcar rates don’t experience the massive fluctuations of standard rental car agencies, so for around $200 I reserved a tricked-out Mercedes-Benz SUV. I didn’t pay for gas, insurance, or a daily FastTrak toll rental fee. Better yet, I got to pick it up and return it in the basement of my apartment building.
I could have rented the same vehicle for around $80/day from a traditional rental car company, but I would have had to cough up for gas, their additional insurance, a FastTrak toll transponder, and the cost of getting to and from their airport location.
Zipcar has several hundred of cars within San Francisco’s city limits, as does Airbnb-like-serivce Getaround. New players like Enterprise Car Share have around 100 cars around the city, and Maven Drive has just under 30.
For those not living in a major city, let’s imagine that having a car wasn’t totally necessary and was completely painful. Parking, expensive gas, insurance, tickets, and major congestion are all stacked against you.
Having a car in San Francisco is like living in car hell.
Parking is a small scale disaster — opening a weird market for apps that provide valet-parking-on-demand. Rush hour has crept out of the freeways and into most roads; featuring extended hours too. It can often last from 7am until well after 9pm, with little or no midday break. Above and beyond the congestion, driving feels perilous. Heading through SOMA or downtown makes you feel one step away from being in an accident with a lost Uber driver, getting sideswiped by a Muni bus whose driver doesn’t give a fuck, or accidentally running over a bicyclist that’s weaving through cars and running red lights.
I lived in downtown San Francisco for over two years, in an apartment building that charged over $400/month for parking. Mind you, this wasn’t even in the core downtown financial district, which can be even more costly. In my current residential neighborhood, street parking is as vicious as mall parking on Black Friday.
Current driving alternatives include the overburdened San Francisco public transit system, biking in dangerously-placed bike lanes, or utilizing transportation network apps like Lyft and Uber.
“Public transportation in San Francisco is the cleanliness of New York’s MTA, the whimsical reliability of Boston’s MBTA, and all the likelihood of getting from Point A to Point B of the Cincinnati Subway, which was shuttered in 1948.” — Claire McNear of SB Nation.
This year alone, I’ve driven 5,637+ miles so far in Zipcars across nearly a hundred reservations. I am definitely a heavy user, and have been since 2012.
I have tried Zipcar and Enterprise Car Share, plus have experience with the standard set of rental car options from traditional companies like Avis, Hertz, and Budget.
I was cooling down outside the Renegade crafts and arts fair in San Francisco a few weekends ago. In the back corner of the overcrowded festival, Maven had a large booth and a shiny, black car to entice passerby. Normally, I wouldn’t jump at the chance to try out a new car sharing service. I’m oddly loyal and protective of Zipcar, but I had a bit of an incident recently with them: Someone broke into my Zipcar during my reservation, and my account has been suspended for the past few weeks while they complete an investigation.
While at the fair, I signed up and was approved to drive about 24 hours later. My first reservation would be a day trip to San Jose. Humorously enough, I needed to get the police report for my Zipcar’s break-in.
The sign-up process for Maven isn’t involved, and is completed entirely by their responsive website. (In the app, it loads up a webview to complete the flow.) I have nothing against webview sign up flows — many companies use them — but I will always give gold-stars and brownie-points to those who implement a native sign up flow. For example, Simple.
The following Monday afternoon, I reserved a Maven car from 7:00pm for 24 hours.
Booking the car was simple enough, but it should be noted they have significantly fewer cars in the city than other options. Even Enterprise Car Share had more cars when they first marketed their service in San Francisco. The majority of the locations sit near the Civic Center / mid-market neighborhood of San Francisco’s downtown. To me, the primary market would be those who work or live in downtown, making these starting locations an odd choice. I ended up choosing the UCSF Parnassus location — which is a midpoint on my daily commute. Considering the low number of members, I could reserve nearly every vehicle whenever I would like to.
The primary New Reservation flow involves picking a location as a starting point and then filtering by time. It ranks the available cars by distance from the original locations. It’s not a bad flow, and is aligned with my mental modal. However, a lot of the UI details are unpolished, and alternate flows for seeing all available cars bring out the worst in the app.
Reservations made on Maven, until recently had, to be cancelled before 24 hours out. (Meaning reservations you book for later in the same day could not be cancelled.) In the time since my trip and the publication of this review, they have changed their cancellation policy — reducing it from 24 hours out to 30 minutes before your reservation begins. I’m really glad to hear that they are iterating with the feedback from their users. It shows a level of commitment and increases trust within their driving community.
Price-wise, Maven is competitive to other car sharing services. They feature the same $35 annual fee as Zipcar and Enterprise Car Share, which was waived as an incentive for those signing up at the arts fair I attended.
Unfortunately, they don’t have overnight discounts (flat rates for renting cars during the weeknight hours when they aren’t commonly used), don’t offer lower prices in the late evening (Zipcar’s rates are halved after midnight), and don’t have pre-paid incentives.
Right now I pay Zipcar $50/month which wavies my annual fee, provides $50/month in driving credit, and 10% off all reservations. Frequent trips can be more palatable when I can use a flat rate incentive, like Zipcar’s Overnight rate, which is $30 in San Francisco.
With my reservation made, I was off to find my Maven vehicle. They had branded signs on the outside of the garage, which were necessary considering the limited in-app instructions of how to get into the underground parking location. I wish they had included photos and even overly descriptive text on getting to the car. I feel so frustrated when I can’t find the car and my reservation has already started.
Maven’s entire driver experience is keyless. You use their app to begin and end the trip as well as locking and unlocking the vehicle. The app communicates with Maven’s servers to authenticate itself and then appears to communicate using Bluetooth LE with the vehicle from then on.
Just like a real keyfob, pressing unlock twice opens all the doors. Because Maven uses a combination of Bluetooth LE and internet based communications with the vehicle, the app allows you to remotely heat and cool the car. Just set the temperature before getting out and Maven can turn the car on, without starting the engine, so it’s heated or cooled when you get back. It’s a neat touch.
I would prefer Maven to not require Bluetooth connections to lock and unlock the vehicle, instead also allowing those actions to be completed over cellular data. I love the proximity based technology, especially when cellular service is limited, but it is flaky enough that I want a backup option.
To my complete surprise, I loved the car I rented: a Chevy Malibu. It was astonishingly modern, and featured a comfortable faux-leather interior. The car itself was brand new, smell and all. It was peppy and fun; something I never thought possible from a Chevy Malibu. Color me impressed.
This vehicle was equipped with Apple’s CarPlay interface. It was my first time using CarPlay and was quite pleased with the experience, compared to the alternative; Chevy’s built in infotainment system is badly designed — no surprise. Being able to escape to CarPlay was a big bonus. Maven even keeps cables for your iPhone or Android device in the car, so you don’t have to remember to pack one or fish one out of your bag. This Chevy featured a large capacitive touchscreen, and despite a dearth of multi-touch features like pinching-to-zoom, and a laggy overall experience, it was significantly nicer than any infotainment unit I’ve used. Maybe the bar for these systems is so low anything better is considered godly.
All of Maven’s cars feature Wifi hotspots; providing 4G LTE speeds service during your reservation. It’s run by Cisco Jasper on AT&T’s network and is unlimited, free, and a really unexpected — but welcome — addition. Unfortunately, there is an occasional delay from when the Wifi network is available to when data is actually functioning, which can leave you struggling to get navigation or music working right off the bat. (I had to disable my phone’s Wifi and wait a few minutes before re-enabling wifi.) I hope this delay can get shortened or eliminated, but that is Chevy’s responsibility. Maybe a software update can at least delay when Wifi network’s SSID is broadcasted to after the internet connection is confirmed?
I had a number of errands to run the night before my longer day trip, so I was getting in and out of the Chevy frequently over a 2 hour period.
At each stop, I had to launch the Maven app, wait 2–3 seconds for it to start and then perform the lock action. It quickly became quite tedious. The app stays connected to the car while driving and is fast compared to unlocking. Annoyingly, each time you exited the vehicle and close the driver’s side door the car honks three times. From what I can surmise, the car is alerting you that you left your “keys” inside. There is no keyfob to take with you, yet the car honks every time you close your door.
When unlocking the car, you have to reopen the app, which shows the login screen and a spinning dial every time. It’s an annoying wait for the app to initialize beyond a standard splash screen. Then you must tap the Key icon at the bottom and wait for the car and your phone to communicate with each other.
Sometimes this works well, other times it can cycle a few times and you’ll press yourself against the side of the car trying to get your phone to connect. While waiting you see this blue bar at the top as it searches for your vehicle. It flashes green and your lock/unlock actions become enabled once a secure connection to the car’s transmitter is established.
This communication delay is usually around 4–5 seconds, totaling 7–10 seconds from launch to unlock. It’s enough to introduce a little bit of friction in an experience that is usually instantaneous. This felt akin to how switching cable channels went from instantaneous to having a 3–4 second delay with the introduction of The Guide. Using a RFID card feels faster, even if they really aren’t. (I think it’s because you are performing an action rather than just waiting for a spinner to connect.) Plus, other services let you take the keyfob with you during a reservation, eliminating this process.
Maven must be storing a per device fingerprint for unlocking the vehicle over Bluetooth, as you are not required to have internet service to unlock the vehicle. Unluckily, I was able to enter an interesting edge case during this trip. One of my errands was to get my phone fixed at the Apple Genius Bar. During this appointment Apple swapped my device out for a replacement iPhone. This meant that my Bluetooth MAC address changed midway through a reservation, and I’m sure the new phone didn’t sync any access tokens.
Unfortunately, Maven didn’t plan for this to happen. The app, despite being signed in on my new phone, was unable to establish a connection to my car. Instead, cycling through “connecting” and the “must be close to the car” messages.
I sat outside in the cold waiting for a couple minutes as it cycled through it’s connection steps. I tried cycling device power, Bluetooth, and singing in and out of the app. Eventually, I called Maven’s support team, flummoxing their agent. I didn’t have my original device to unlock the vehicle, and powering off the device, cycling Bluetooth power and walking in/out of range didn’t help. I repeated the uninstall and reboot process, which was paired with an refresh on the representative’s end. I was finally able to gain access and had no other long connection problems throughout the reservation.
This might seem like an edge case, something that shouldn’t be taken as a priority. That’s fair until you realize that people lose phones, buy new phones, and phone batteries die regularly. If your device is the only way to access the vehicle, you could end up in a tricky situation. I was standing in the cold for about ten minutes working with the representative to diagnosing the issue. I would hate to think about losing a phone or being stuck with a dead device.
Maven is supported both by their dedicated representatives that you can call for “General Questions or Issues” and OnStar. Inside their help tab in the app, you are pointed first to use the OnStar button built into each car for immediate assistance. Secondarily, and in smaller text, is Maven’s direct support line and email.
For those unaware, OnStar is a service by GM that provides car owners with a built in, one button connection to an agent to assist in emergencies. Their agents are notified if the car has been in a crash, and reach out proactively to check in and call paramedics. They can track your car if it’s stolen, and they provide assistance if the car breaks down or has an alert light come on in the dash. The connected Wifi hotspot feature, is rolled into OnStar’s service, as is the ability for them to find and program in GPS directions for you. (The last feature feels a bit like giving up on built in infotainment interface design, but I will accept the safety-while-driving reasoning as a cop-out.)
I called OnStar on the first day to get help with the Wifi feature, and she was happy to help point me to that feature, but to be honest I was given the impression that OnStar wasn’t really meant for these kinds of questions.
Just like most car sharing programs, fuel is built into the reservation cost. Maven vehicles have a fleet service card stored in the driver’s side visor that can be used at most chain gas stations. Swipe it at the pump and you’ll enter a Driver ID number and the current milage from the odometer.
I needed to fill up on my way back from San Jose, and I realized after swiping the card at the pump that I didn’t know my Driver ID number. Zipcar’s Drive ID number is just the first six digits of your Zipcar Account Number, and it’s stays the same from reservation to reservation — making it easy to memorize.
Maven has the Driver ID linked to each vehicle independently of which member is driving. It’s certainly one way to do it, and you can supposedly get it from the Fuel button on the active reservation page in the app. Unfortunately for me, the Driver ID / PIN and Billing Zip Code just stated: Contact OnStar.
I assumed this wouldn’t be hard, but you know what they say about those who assume… they have to listen to hold music.
I hopped back into the car and pressed the blue “On” button near the review mirror. I was connected to a very upbeat agent, to whom I said: “Hi, I’m driving a Maven vehicle and need the Driver ID number to fill up the vehicle. Actually, first, do you know what Maven is?”
A long pause as he thought about it: “…Yes.”
“Okay so I need the Driver ID number for this fleet card to be able to fuel up.”
Another long pause. I imagine he’s frantically searching through his operations guide to figure out what to do: “…okay… what is your name, birthday, and billing address”
I provided my information and after another long pause reconfirmed, “Could you get that number and billing Zip code for me?”
A third pause, “Sure, let me look that up, can I place you on a brief hold?”
The agent disappeared for a few minutes and came back a bit confused about what exactly I was asking for. I ran through the process laid out for refueling a Maven vehicle. He went back on hold for a few minutes and then asks some clarifying questions:
“Do I have the fleet card?” Yes. “Did I check in the app?” Yes, it said to contact OnStar for this number. “Did you call Maven?” No, because the app says to contact OnStar.
Back on hold. The music is quiet and the voice mentioning “the OnStar agent will be back momentarily” is one of the most calming voices I have ever heard.
He surfaces briefly to give me an update that he is talking to a team lead, and then I’m back on hold.
Finally, he comes back and said: “Do you have a pen and paper?” Success! With the PIN number located I followed up with the billing zip code. He said the billing zip code should be the Zipcode of where I found the car. I was skeptical and just hoped that it wouldn’t be required at the pump. (It wasn’t.)
Refueling shouldn’t have taken 15 minutes long, and I get that the agent was probably dealing with this question for the first time. However, each time I was asked to contact OnStar for support, it felt like I was asking them to do more than they initially signed up for. They were the ones that called Maven’s agents for me, and they were the ones that attempted to figure out who the hell I was. Full points for being so nice and pleasant and dedicated to figuring this out.
I imagine Maven sent a memorandum to the OnStar team which outlined: “Maven is a thing. People rent cars through an app. If they call you, help them, or call us. Sound good? Good.”
Near the end of the reservation, I used the app to extend the end time by one hour via the app. This worked seamlessly, and I ultimately returned the car with about 25 minutes to spare.
Unlike other services, you must manually end your Maven reservation. Zipcar ends the reservation automatically, so this added step is an annoying bit of friction. After circling the block trying to find the parking garage entrance, wishing again for more directions of how to park in the app, I found myself standing for 10 minutes in a parking garage, praying for cellular signal. To me, it appeared that the app needed to be open and connected to the vehicle and my cellular service to end the reservation.
The app didn’t time out, just sitting and spinning after tapping End Trip. I ended up force quitting the app twice and stepping closer towards the street, eyes on my vehicle and the spinner hoping it would end the trip. It eventually worked and I was presented with a brief survey.
This entire “End Trip” step was not remotely necessary. It’s clearly possible for Maven to know if the vehicle is running or if it’s not at its home location. There is no need to have me end my reservation manually, and the consequences if I forget to do this extra step are steep: $50 in initial late fees, plus reservation time. I could easily see myself forgetting and walking away, not using my phone for a couple hours while racking up expensive penalties.
Oddly, my phone sent multiple push notifications to alert me to end the trip 5 minutes before and after my scheduled reservation time. It was odd to receive these notifications, since I had already ended the trip; I think the inconsistent internet connection confused the app.
After I ended the trip, quick survey of my experience booking and using Maven appeared. I think I was generous for my ratings, as I really liked the car and was mostly amused with the difficulties I had. Then again, I like trying these new experiences and working through problems… so I’m not the average user.
The entire Maven was a bit hairy at times, but not something I’d give up on completely. I don’t know if I’ll switch away from Zipcar for my car sharing service of choice at the moment, mostly due to significant differences in vehicle availability and better pricing for my type of driving (late nights and on weeknights). However, for road trips and long day trips, Maven is a strong competitor.
If I could change anything about the app, I would like to see it feel less “phonegappy.” This is the term I use for apps that feel like they were built using a cross-compiling service. They feel not-native, and are often built with Adobe PhoneGap or another similar tool. There were minimal native iOS interface elements, and I’m pretty sure it’s something they built once and deployed for both iOS and Android.
It’s not necessarily bad, but I expect higher of a company backed by GM. Well, actually, I take that back. This is totally the experience I expected from GM: a sub par, non-native app, an experience that was pretty rough, edge cases that weren’t solved for, and mildly confused support agents.
I wanted Maven to be better.
To Julia Steyn, the VP of Maven at GM, and her 40 or so employees:
I hope you guys can read through this feedback with an open mind. There is a lot of potential here. Especially for a company with the resources of GM. I really want you guys to succeed, and I think that Zipcar and Getaround could do with a another strong competitor.
Play into your strengths: keep adding brand-new cars, keep them super clean and maintained, integrate better with OnStar, and keep finding inventive ways to make the entire experience fun. Start to build out a really strong engineering and product team back at HQ. Build native iOS and Android apps, and get few strong designers who can be given the space and authority to clean up the UX/UI and service design. Build out a web app for managing my account and making reservations.
I’m happy to provide more detailed feedback, if you guys would like. (You already have my info.) Remember, Zipcar did not start with a perfect experience. I started using it nearly a decade into the company’s history. Maven is getting there fast.
Good luck out there.
This post was written by Quintin Carlson. He’s currently a product designer at Flexport, designing how planes, trains, boats, and trucks move goods from one side of the world to another.
So according to a friend, the opposite of “thanks” is “shanks.” Without further ado, here is my Shanks and Thanks list for 2016.
Shanks for American cancelling round trip mistake fare from San Francisco to Rio de Jeanaro in First for <$600. Big shanks to the DOT who totally rolled over to their corporate lobbyists by suspending enforcement of their fare mistake guidelines. Shanks for protecting industry leaders and not your citizens.
Shanks for T-Mobile’s new user-hostile, anti-net neutrality data plans. Shanks for making Verizon and AT&T the good guys.
Shanks for the corporate-funded, corrupted, unfair election process where my vote counted for a third of those in Wyoming.
Shanks for a poisonous 20+ months of campaigning that made me dislike John Oliver a little bit. How dare you? John is all I have on Sunday nights. Don’t do that to us.
Shanks for shitty wifi. It’s back and it’s worse than ever.
Shanks for Dropbox’s shitty service and for lying about being hacked for FOUR years. Shanks Apple, Google, Box, Microsoft and Dropbox making a solved problem unsolved again. You fixed something that was working just fine.
Shanks to Anthem healthcare plans that make Kevorkian say “don’t put my name on that figurative dumpster fire of a policy.”
Shanks to those who stole my personal devices and smashed my Zipcar window last week. You’re making me not want to go back to Target. I love Target. You should be ashamed. It’s not like we don’t know who you are. We have you on tape. What on earth are you going to do with aluminum bricks?
Shanks again to iCloud and Apple ID for continuing to prove that nearly anyone can pull off contacts syncing except Apple. Who thought a rotating cast of 200 external contractors would make such shitty software?
Shanks to Uber and Squarespace who thought that if they just sent back canned responses for each email I’d just give up. Fuck unhelpful canned responses. I pay you money. Read my email first.
Shanks to Allegiant Airlines and the FAA who colluded to ensure that the airline could get away with 4x the in air emergencies and forced landings than any other airlines.
Shanks to those who mention how many illegal immigrants are in this country. Guess what? Fuck you.
Shanks to those who say my homosexuality is a lifestyle. Hot air ballooning is a lifestyle. Being really into jazz music is a lifestyle. Keeping your cell phone on silent is a lifestyle. Following the paleo diet is a lifestyle. I’m just gay. I like guys. It’s not a choice and it sure as shit isn’t a lifestyle.
Shanks to Apple Music who lost my music twice this year. Shanks to Spotify who still haven’t figured out how to even close to properly sync local music. Some of us like Taylor Swift for what it’s worth.
Shanks to politicians who think disenfranchising others is something that should be moral and legal to do. How do you sleep at night knowing that you are making it harder for others to access their rights as citizens?
Shanks to inarticulate people who think that living and breathing give them the right to hurt others and make people feel bad about themselves. Shanks you to hell.
Shanks to rolls of clear packing tape that can’t keep the end from getting impossibly reattached to the roll.
Shanks to drivers who don’t use turn signals. Still.
Shanks to people who choose to not empathize with others. Who never try to put themselves in another person’s situation.
Shanks to corporate executives who invent policies that push American Airlines employees to provide shitty service for the sake of quantified performance improvements.
Shanks to those who say that my free lunch at work is something I cannot complain about. This is literally part of my compensation plan. I get paid less to be given a mandatory thing. A mandatory thing that is full of rubber chicken.
Shanks to gate agents who don’t clear upgrade lists. Shanks to passengers who say “Do you know who I am?”
Shanks to Florida for still being a state.
Shanks to those who take up the whole escalator step and get upset when you ask them to step to the side. Also shanks for the groups of people who walk 3+ people abreast on the sidewalks.
Last and probably worst: Shanks to Alaska Air Group for buying and trying to merge Virgin America into Alaska. No one wants this. Enjoy my constant emails, calls, and complaints to the DOJ and DOT.
Despite being cathartic, it might have been a bit of a downer to read a bunch of complaints all in a row. I’ve complied a slightly less terrible list of things that I am grateful for, despite the current circumstances:
Thanks to my new team at Flexport for making me feel at home, making upward professional mobility feel real, and for letting my annoy you all with airline centric facts and stories.
Thanks to Quizlet for introducing me to many of my best friends.
Thanks to Webpass for 3 years of awesome service. Good luck as the new Google Fiber. I can’t wait for gigabit wireless internet everywhere.
Thanks to Homar at American Airlines’s Eagle Nest in LAX for coming onboard to process my upgrade. You’re the best of American.
Thanks to my mentors and friends outside work, you make me feel capable and remind me that I have worth. Thank you Meg and Fang and Christy.
Thanks to Virgin America for being one of the best flight experiences in the industry, and always giving me an invisible microphone to lip-sing your safety dance video. I’m sorry to see you fly into the sunset (not if I and my letters to the DOT/DOJ have anything to do with it!).
Thanks to those who were there to lift me up last week when I went through the election, a breakup, a break-in, and other terribleness.
Thanks to Twitter account bots that post photos of dogs. You have made Twitter tolerable for me.
Thanks to Vice News Tonight, John Oliver, and Gale King for making me want to be part an informed part of this country’s future.
Thanks to Jason Levine for giving us the best designer moment in a long time. (Gather the crowd! Shout it aloud! Creative Cloud!)
Thanks to Iliza Shlesinger for making me laugh uncontrollably in the darkness.
Thanks to McMansion Hell for make me laugh uncontrollably in public.
Thanks to Hillary Duff and the Lizzie McGuire Movie for the trip down memory lane.
Thanks to friends who like to build products and dream up companies with me.
Thanks to Zipcar for giving me that suburban fix I need each week — The Cheesecake Factory, Target, Panera, small town mainstreams, large malls, dog parks, and airfield overlooks here I come.
Thanks to Justin Trudeau for being a symbol of greatness. I’m so glad Canada is providing a guiding light to where we should be in 5-7 years.
Thanks to Final Cut Pro X for bringing back to my TV Production roots in a flash.
Thanks for the extended family members that moved to San Francisco and for my sister for providing some sanity on the east coast.
Thanks to everyone for living through my terrible airline anecdotes and nonsense.
Thanks to my favorite authors, podcast makers, and artists who bring beautiful light into world on a regular basis.
Thanks to my grandmother who has brought me so much joy. You are the heart of our family.
Thanks to American, Virgin America, JetBlue, and Delta for helping me experience the miracle of flight this year.
Lastly, but certainly not least, thanks my new housemates for helping me build a home here in San Francisco.
I’m (kinda) bitter. I’m (mostly) exhausted. I’m (entirely) ready for 2017.
As much as we reject the rhetoric that has poisoned our political environment these past 20 months, we cannot simply blacklist those who supported Trump. There were clearly many, many people who quietly (or loudly) supported Trump. They have opinions, feelings, and perspectives that we have negated. Continuing to ignore the voices that dissent from our own views will not haste long term progress.
You might ask why we have to acknowledge their feelings — after all, they are the ones who are supported a candidate who crosses our personal bright lines regrinding our belief in the basics of what the United States stands for? It’s because we have more to give. We have more empathy to give to those who feel like the world is changing too fast, those who cannot empathize with being different, or those who feel (probably for the very first time) that they are the outsiders in their own country.
We can open our hearts a bit more. We can take a deep breath before shutting someone down. We can listen, empathetically, and provide safe spaces to openly talk about these dissenting — to us — views.
“When they go low, you go high.” — Our fearless leader, Michelle Obama.
When they insult us, discriminate against us, hate us, we can open our hearts, arms, and welcome them to our America. Together. Moving forward.
We’ve got this. We can do this. I believe in us.
Tech executives demonstrate their masterful knowledge of everyday life for everyone else. pic.twitter.com/i8dXTIm8Hc— VICE News (@vicenews) October 27, 2016
You are not the user. The user is not you.
(According to my boyfriend.)
Me: What the fuck are you doing. What. The fuck. Are you doing.
Me: NICE BLINKER ASSHOLE.
Me: Why the FUCK are we not even going to speed limit. Why.
Me: I AM GOING TEN MILES PER HOUR OVER THE SPEED LIMIT WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT
Me: Shit is that a cop? No.
Me: Shit THAT is a cop.
Me: /dinosaur screams/
I’m sure this originated on Tumblr. Where exactly, I’m not sure…
Stripe is an online financial services company, focused on providing startups and growing companies with an easy-to-use merchant API. I have previously recommended and used Stripe for professional, client, and personal projects of various shapes and sizes. It is not a revolutionary company, there have been other online gateways and similar solutions available for years before Stripe became popular. It is, however, radically easier to use than the alternatives and it is an impressively polished developer tool. Everything from the marketing pages to the dashboard is painstaking considered.
While Stripe’s dashboards, and websites, and Dribbble pages are filled with pixel-perfect screenshots, design can’t stop there. Most companies these days are service companies, which means that you’re not just selling a product — your income is based on continued usage where churn is your enemy. While providing a more steady stream of income, services companies need customer support and service become much more important. With services companies, support is something that needs to be designed, just as much as their marketing site does.
My usage of Stripe was pretty basic. Using the Stripe integration on Memberful, I set up a subscription payment option on a blog for a client. With $3.99/monthly payments, she was able to start receiving small subscription fees for her posts from her intensely engaged readers. Payments were working, depositing a moderate amount of money each week until I got a text from her a few weeks back. She noted that she hadn’t seen any Stripe deposits in a long time. Months.
When I logged into her Stripe dashboard, I saw that that thousands of dollars had failed to transfer dozens and dozens of times. Stripe would attempt to transfer the funds, it would fail, and while they have email notifications for transfers, they don’t for failed deposits, weird. It failed over and over, trying in vain every two days.
Initially, I assumed it was a bank account error, and I went ahead and reverified and re-entered my client’s bank account and rounding numbers. Stripe requires 7 days to verify new bank account information. Their deposit schedule reflected this and we waited. After 7 days, the scheduled deposit failed, again.
I reached out to their support team, which was only available via email. In the two weeks since the first message was sent, the only responses I received were seemingly non-canned emails saying they were “looking into it”, and Stripe would “follow up as soon as possible…” which never happened. I sent many unanswered, one-way emails before I started to get really frustrated. (What’s truly strange is that follow-up messages went unanswered, but sending two additional distinct emails to Stripe’s email@example.com account returned separate agents mentioning there was no record of my previous emails…)
Despite being a financial services company, dealing with real money, Stripe lacked non-email support channels. When Stripe refused to respond to my questions or handle this situation within a generous timeframe, I decided to go public, on Designer News.
I don’t like sounding like a demanding prick. I have worked in the customer service industry (as an IT professional) and respond to support tickets at my current job quite regularly. I know that it can be hard to manage an onslaught of email based support requests in a timely manner. However, for a company valued at over $5 billion, I think having basic customer service phone or chat support isn’t too much to ask.
My post landed on the homepage of Designer News in a matter of hours and quickly rose to the top of the DN homepage. Stripe responded very quickly, both publically and privately once this happened. In fact, they solved the error/bug that was causing the problems and the funds were deposited the next day. Ignoring that Stripe appears to be a premier engineering institution which lacked basic error logging, I’m most frustrated on why it took so long for them to resolve this case, why they ignored me in the first place, and why it took a public confrontation for them to follow up with a resolution. (Which apparently was not difficult… As it only required 2 hours from Stripe’s initial comment on DN until they added that the bug was resolved.)
Going to Twitter’s Search page, one can see all of the shitty experiences people have with United Airlines, Comcast, and Verizon play out online. This is in part due to social media making it easier and easier to voice your frustrations in a wildly public arena. I don’t think people would voice their hatred and frustration online as often and with such vitriol as they do if these companies designed their support channels in a customer-focused manner.
Businesses often treat customer service as a cost, not an investment. It’s one thing to have poor service options for your customers, but it’s another thing entirely to have no customer service, forcing customers to reach out to public. So many companies see customer service as a department to make as efficient and low-cost as possible. Often executives can’t see how it can make them money. Comcast tries to make their service department up-sell customers, which is not only poorly timed and frustrating, but distracts from the entire purpose of restoring a relationship with a company.
Customer service departments provide a way to invest in your business and customers and reap massive rewards in future sales and customer loyalty. It’s quite short-sighted to focus on customer acquisition without adequate ways to support and ensure success in your customer base! This is why I’m often not that frustrated about wait lists for services. (Though that’s for another time…) Cutting support department budgets will lead to increased churn and dissatisfaction with the product, service, or platform.
One comment I see on support pages that frustrates me: “We’re a small team and can’t offer support by phone/chat/anything but 2-week delayed email at this time.”
When I was at PayTango — an invoicing and automated accounts receivable company — the founder and I had in depth conversations about how important it was for us to have “above-and-beyond” service. When were just an invoicing platform, it was easy for us to convince ourselves that we weren’t mission critical. Meaning, if we went down for a few hours or half a day here and there, it wouldn’t bring any business to its knees. This isn’t a great mindset to being with. It’s a worse mindset, if your product is in fact, critical to a business’s operations.
While building out the product, we launched a new level of service that had our customers to hand-off their accounts receivables tasks to our team. We’d hunt down their unpaid invoices and handling the billing relationship with our customers’ customers. This decision had the side effect of us needing to implement lighting fast support, including a 24/7 toll-free phone number. Our company consisted of only two full-time employees and a few contracts. It was, however, blatantly clear that because of the industry we had entered (financial services) we had to be nearly always reachable. We were handling people’s money. We were depositing checks, handling wire transfers, credit card, and ACH payments as well. Not to mention following up with customers, via email and phone calls on behalf of our clients.
Financial services are incredibly mission critical. You can’t fuck it up.
Our two person company gave all of our customers the option to call us 24/7, which simultaneously rung all of us, and if it fails sends texts of the voicemails transcripts to our entire team. While it isn’t always an option to provide 24/7 service, email only support wasn’t on the table. Luckily for companies today, Twilio and Grasshopper and Phone.com provide wonderful, easy-to-implement phone and texting support channels. For us, it wasn’t acceptable to have limited support options. While I am aware this is one anecdotal, personal choice, I truly believe that no matter what scale you are at, you have the choice to invest in customer service.
There is a huge difference between Customer Service and Damage Control. What happened on my Designer News story was clearly Damage Control. Designer News is a somewhat influential news site and community of designers who can impact a business’s decision on which merchant service to choose.
This is just one of a few similar comments. Stripe most definitely lost customers who felt that this example of poor support meant Stripe would provide a similar level of support to them. It would have cost significantly less money to have just handled or escalated this issue.
Customer Service is often most successful when it’s not done in public. (Notice how most companies push for users tweeting angrily at them to follow / DM the customer service account. It’s not just for account security, it’s often to help let customers be heard and vent in a private space.) I’ve had so many bad experiences with customer service representatives. Even at companies which are known for their incredibly effective support systems, like Amazon and Apple, there are always bad apples.
I find the best setup for customer service success is when an agent can take the time to listen empathetically, and are personally empowered to solve problems without heavy management oversight or escalate without repercussions.
Customer Service isn’t an exact science. There isn’t one motto that works for every company and every situation. A lot of what needs to go into customer service is a combination of long-term thinking and empathy.
Your employees and business must have empathy for your customers. Your customers aren’t calling to just chat or listen to your hold music (except if it’s this song). They are frustrated and probably quite irate. Even the best frontline agents’ can’t solve the clusterfuck when systemic problems, a nerve-wracking situation, some external/personal drama, difficult to reach representatives, long hold times, lack of updated documentation, and annoying ever-present marketing stack on top of one another.
If you’re a support, success, or operations team member, there’s a lot you can take from bad Customer Service “horror” stories. The solutions are not simple but require nuanced and a good deal of deep thinking and validation.
Can you give your agents the autonomy to make judgment calls on small stakes problems without management repercussions? Do your frontline people have the ability to escalate situations in a framework. A framework that is clearly explained to them? Can you make it easier for customers to not have to deal with complex IVR (interactive voice response — a.k.a. phone tree) systems? Can you back the thinking all the way up to make policies that can prevent the need for customers to call in the first place? Spending a significant effort on testing your current system, new support options and looping in feedback is a great way to improve the status quo.
In Stripe’s case, the fault didn’t lie entirely with the engineering teams or QA people. I bet it had a lot to do with policy. When I reached out the first time, a clear outline of what Stripe was going to do should have been laid out (not just “I’ll look into it”). Sure, they responded initially in 24-hours, but the response was just as meaningless as their canned “support case created” email. Stripe could have easily provided users who email in with an escalation path in their initial automated response. For instance, they could have included a phone number or non-technical chat option that is staffed during business hours for these type of situations. I didn’t need technical support– I needed someone who had empathy and power to not just file a bug report, but immediately find a way to rectify the situation. Could the agent have asked for Stripe to wire the pending funds immediately? Could one of the agents
Remembering that no matter how well a product is designed, it matters more how it works that how it looks. How it works isn’t skin deep. It goes all the way to business policies and company culture. Design isn’t just interfaces, animations, and pixels. It’s also policies, support interactions, and how services are designed for how they work when everything is perfect and how they work when the service falls short.
October 17, 2015, marked the day of the last US Airways operated flight. US Airways flight 1939 departed from San Francisco International Airport (KSFO) at 10:07pm, arriving in Philadelphia International Airport (KPHL) the following morning at 5:52am.
US Airways was my original favorite airline, and also the first airline I ever remember flying. It was a flight from Jacksonville, FL to Philadelphia, PA. I was visiting my cousins, and it was the first time that I ever saw snow falling. It just started sprinkling as soon as our flight landed. I remember being so excited to see the first snowflakes fall onto the airplane window. For the weeks that followed, I would force all of my friends to sit in two columns of 3 seats each, while I dictated what I remember from the US Airways safety demonstration.
Years later, after arriving on an extremely long Lufthansa flight from Munich to Washington DC — Dulles — I was greeted on my regional US Airways Express flight with bountiful cups of ice and soda. (Ice and Coca Cola are always in limited quantities in Europe.)
US Airways always had a certain charm for me, it was the legacy carrier in my mind. Their livery was old fashioned, as was their seats, and their logo was distinctly minimal and restrained. While they did not keep up with the industry’s hard product enhancements (in-cabin seats and amenities), first class seats were easy for elite members to get as complimentary upgrades.
US Airways previously was an amalgamation of Allegheny Air, Piedmont Air, Pacific Southwest Air, and several others. They had been fraught for years operating (essentially) as two airlines: US Airways and America West Airlines after America West completed a reverse merger with US Air in 2005.
Though their history was fraught with difficulties, they remained a steadfast legacy carrier in the market for years. However, after today, all flights will operate as ‘American Airlines’ branded flights, under the American Airlines operating certificate. US Airways has ceased operations. Completing another reverse-merger with the bankrupt American Airlines.
I attended the final send-off of the last US Airways flight, number 1939 (the date of the first US Airways flight) from San Francisco to Philadelphia. The flight had originally started in Charlotte and had stopped in Phoenix (the primary hubs for US Air and America West, respectively) prior to arriving here. There were balloons, buffets of food and cake, and many of the airline’s previous management. Reporters and fans lined up to get trinkets (including an inflatable hat that was designed to look like a US Air A319) and board the very last flight ‘Cactus’ flight.
There is always a distinct sadness when something ends. Whether that is the last time you’ll be a teenager, the last time you’ll eat at your favorite local restaurant, or the last time a TV show airs. The last of anything brings about feelings of remorse, regret, and a form of nostalgia. You block out all the difficult movements in a fleeting attempt to leave your last touch with something pure and untarnished.
Sitting there at the departure gate, with my back to the Delta Airlines gates, another part of my past, I stared at the flight attendants and people who made up US Airways and the new American Airlines. In a feet of incredible coincidence, I ran into an old acquaintance waiting to board a Delta red-eye, bound for Atlanta.
I smiled and chatted about shallow things: what was happening around us, airline loyalty, things we’d been working on, why I was there and details of his upcoming vacation. We sat there, him eating a cupcake and pasta from the buffet, and me with my Admirals Club drink in hand, staring at the festivities from a distance.
Back at gate 48B, half of me still felt like I should try to impress him, as you often feel with old acquaintances, show him that I was a worthwhile person that he could wish he stayed in touch with.
He wasn’t the only person that had shown that there was the world outside the darkness that I had lived in for so long. Others would come and go. Attempting to help and wake me up, show me the world outside the dark corner I inhabited. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to understand or appreciate what they were giving me. I couldn’t accept the help. I pushed everyone away.
I couldn’t accept the help from the man sitting next to me at gate 48B, the man in the Mustang, the archivist, Ms. Shakespeare, the principal, or the director. No one could even tell me I was important and worthwhile enough for me to believe it. They all had worked so hard to help, but it wasn’t their job to keep trying to persuade me. They couldn’t keep pulling themselves down to my level, trying to help me up.
As I sit here, coming up on a year of picking up the broken pieces of who I was and trying to make something whole again, I can’t keep blaming myself. I have to forgive myself. For missing those guideposts: these real people who cared enough to try to help. For they saw something worthwhile in me, when I couldn’t. I am thankful to have a small number of real people standing around me now.
I have worked hard to break my habits formed and crystallized during my first 24 years. In a twist of an ending, I’m sad to see these traits fade away. I’m sad about the series finale. Most of all, I’m scared about what is happening next: what fills their void? There’s this whole new world around me that is starting to form.
So, as I said goodbye to the man at gate 48B, and said goodbye to US Airways flight 1939, I walked away thinking about the future: when the flight lands, at six-in-the-morning, everything around them changed.
“Stay tuned next for the sound of future becoming the present — becoming the past — in no time at all.” — Welcome to Night
I still laugh about the Apple Pencil and Magic Mouse 2 charging mechanisms, which I experience multiple times a week. Either no one actually designed this, or were drunk while designing this…
While the United Fruit Company, whose software and hardware I use nearly constantly throughout the day, seems to care less about user experience and less about basic function, they do seem keen on continuing to expand the scope and number of their products.
It does seem stupid that a 24 year old designer in San Francisco is criticizing the world’s
first second wealthiest company. I’m not sure what I say about them matters a damn. Then again, neither do analysts who talk about this on CNBC, and they are paid to make up bullshit, unsolicited advice to Time Cook about what Apple should do.
One thing that does go through my head fairly regularly: What if United Fruit spent 12 months just ensuring that their products lived up to the beautiful marketing materials that are plastered everywhere. That the devices I use every day actually lived up to what Phil Schiller says they can and will do?
Just a thought.