Tuesday, November 27, 2018

How Not Do Think Like A Customer: Examples from ONT and AMZN

I'd planned today to use some downtime to write up a preview of the Nanopore Community Meeting which I am attending tomorrow and Thursday.  I might still do that, but the same organization just engaged in the sort of customer engagement that drives me batty (yeah, twisting the lion's tail before entering their den -- smart move or what?) and it reminded me of another lousy experience I had recently with a very prominent company: Amazon.
One challenge in operating the Nanopore platform is keeping everything synced up.  In particular, the MinKNOW software undergoes frequent revision.  Some of these revisions are trivial and we tend to ignore them, and some are quite significant.  Most times updates go well, but sometimes they don't at all -- I spent a good deal of time just before Thanksgiving trying to exterminate every last trace of MinKNOW from one machine so it would actually get updated.  Otherwise, I was in a constant cycle of being told the installation couldn't complete due to a reboot, rebooting, and then being told I needed to reboot.

So it was a nasty shock when my colleague forwarded the following message to me; you should be able to immediately find two gaping problems -- and then I'll add the information to find the third
Now, everybody knows that ONT is watching our runs for basic run information -- that doesn't bother me.  But note how the date of the problem runs isn't mentioned.  So did this happen before or after my recent update?  Information that the sender has that could be valuable in troubleshooting hasn't been included.

But worse, look at the sender -- it's a "no reply" address.  So if I have a question -- like what dates their telemetry detected the problem -- I need to initiate a new contact with Nanopore, losing the context of this letter.

The obvious thing is just to check the version of our MinKNOW -- on each of the three machines we run on -- to see if it matches the 18.07.9 mentioned in the letter.  So open up MinKNOW and select "About MinKNOW" and we get this:
Soooooo, I have two version numbers and none is remotely like the version number in the email! Now, if I go to the software downloads page on the community I can then find this
So now we are up to five different versioning numbers and still no easy matching between the various screens.  Yeah, I've figured it out that what the "About MinKNOW" screen calls the MinKNOW version number is probably the Core version -- or is it the protocols that has a very similar versioning?  I can see the value in tracking different components with separate version numbers -- but if you do this you absolutely must be utterly consistent in the labeling!!

To me the bigger problem is there doesn't appear to be someone at Nanopore really thinking like a customer.  To customers, particularly very new ones, any confusion is extremely undesirable. To a new customer, everything is potential confusion -- so pruning away the unnecessary bits is critical.

The problem isn't just confined to ONT of course.  I had a very unpleasant phone call with Amazon customer service a bit over a month ago -- it didn't help I wasn't in the best of moods due to unrelated events. But I think it does potentially illustrate a possible answer to a common question: how might the behemoth Amazon be brought down, just as predecessors like Sears ("I'm not dead yet!") were.  And that answer is becoming arrogant and not thinking like a customer.

Here's how things went wrong.  Amazon has this clever system of lockers to which one can have packages delivered.  They are typically located either inside or outside of a partner grocery or convenience store.  It's really handy when traveling if lockers are about -- I ordered some items I forgot and they were ready for me to pick up when we got to the proper geography.  Alas, only some parts of the country have these -- for example (and not surprisingly) the Seattle and the area immediately around it are heavily peppered with them, but get out on the Olympic Peninsula and there aren't any -- nor were any available during the epic trip TNG and I took this summer to Wyoming and Montana.

Speaking of TNG, he's off learning to act in the manner of Smaug.  And his dormitory's mail room has some limited hours -- in particular one can't pick up packages on weekends.  But there's a set of Amazon Lockers at a convenience store a block away which are available 24/7, so I had set that up in my Amazon address book.  And even better, planned to use it only during move-in, as once he was active as a student he could get his own discounted student Amazon Prime account.

We successfully delivered a number of packages to the locker -- though curiously I couldn't ship a lab coat there but could ship goggles.  Then a few weeks later he wanted an item -- hooks to hang stuff on a dresser door -- re-ordered, so it seemed easiest to just do that from my account.

When an item arrives at a locker, an email is sent with an unlock code.  And this time no email showed up at the time the item should have arrived.  Or the next day.  So I call customer support.

The original representative gives me a series of internally conflicting information, which I don't remember in detail.  It made no sense.  So to try to help me along, she transferred me to their Amazon Locker team -- and then they told me things that were clearly true but made even less sense.

What had happened is at some point I had typed the address into my Amazon address book, complete with the name of the locker (each locker has a unique name).  I was curtly informed that this is not the correct way to do things.  What I needed to do was go to a special page -- which only appears during ordering -- and click that I wanted a locker and then find the locker on that page -- which I could then save to my address book.  Because of the way I had done things, the package was delivered to the convenience store itself, where it was promptly lost.

I'm not proud of it, but I immediately went utterly foaming-at-the-mouth ballistic.  Something along the lines of "are you seriously trying to tell me that one of the biggest tech companies in the world can't detect that someone typed in a locker address and then convert that to what you need?  The company with perhaps the biggest cloud computing business of them all?  A company that sells a device to listen in on conversations and act on verbal commands?  What I found is a bug!" -- and I pointed out that the damn thing had worked previously!

Perhaps you've guessed that this didn't go over very well.  That I didn't get anything but further "you screwed up" from the representative -- perhaps said with a bit more polish, but still no admission that they had failed to see a likely user interaction with their system.  No, "you know, despite your rudeness you make a good point".  Not even a "let's just wash our hands of this incident and you by crediting your account".

I will credit Amazon that when I called another time in a more calm mood and reached a different representative and simply asked for a credit, I got that -- so Amazon in the end did the right thing.  But that first Locker Team representative clearly wasn't thinking like a customer (particularly their most important customer: me!).  There was no thought given to recognizing an opportunity to avoid future unpleasant customer experiences.


Guy said...

Forget amazon; "dormitory's mail room ... one can't pick up packages on weekends” !? What has the world come to? When I was an undergrad I worked at my dorm's front desk, and we staffed it every day. I guess everything is done with an app now?

Leeloo said...

1. Are researchers worried that when ONT are constantly monitoring information from all the sequencing runs, that ONT can look at the data inappropriately and get sensitive information? In others, they didn't just look at basic run metrics, but looked at the sequences which may contain sensitive data?

2. I bought something on Amazon and 2 days later they offered a 15 usd off discount. I called to see if they can do the price adjustment - they can't. I need to "return" the old items and reordered the "new" item to get the new price, which I did. They basically just wasted 1. my time for the return and 2. their operating cost in shipping (returning old and shipping out new).