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Digital Customer Experiences Hits and Misses

Are all digital experiences by definition better?

Business and government seem addicted to “digitising everything”. Currently, all our clients of the last three years in the private or public sector have had digital strategies. The idea of digital disruption has been flavour of the month across the business world. There are clear customer benefits in most of these strategies.

The most often quoted statistic is the Morgan Poll of Bank Satisfaction. Access to digital services is cited as the basis for this incredible group rise and narrowing of the big banks satisfaction in Australia. Digital made everyone happier – for a while. (But notice that recently the digital effect is wearing off as well…)


Digital strategies seem to work best when customers benefit from greater convenience, control, choice and pricing. The most successful companies deliver all those benefits. Great examples of digital leaders offering these experience wins include:

  • Amazon providing customers one touch ordering and then adding a second check when the order has been placed before

  • Quality transparency through peer to peer product or service ratings pioneered by Amazon and eBay giving customers more control and now seen as a standard on many sites

  • Easier price comparison through market places such as Amazon or Expedia

  • Transparency and visibility of elements critical to the experience such as Uber’s display of wait times and ride availability

  • Customer convenience of choosing when to transact (on line retail) or being able to watch what you want, when you want on Netflix

  • Speed of outcome where transactions are processed in real time.

With these benefits customers have embraced digital solutions across all industries from mobile banking, to on-line tax returns, and we now demand apps for everything.

However, we have started noticing that some of the great customer experience benefits are starting to be off-set by some complex and ugly customer experience issues, that may be caused by the rapid growth of the digital world. In this paper, we’ll look at three “good” and three “ugly” customer experiences and identify the lessons that can be learnt from the ugly as much as the good.

The Good and Bad of Amazon’s Entry to Australia

The Good launched its Australian business in December 2017 just in time for Christmas.

Amazon is famous for thinking through the customer experiences and the launch demonstrated some of this. Though Amazon had no prior physical presence in Australia, many Australians were already Amazon customers buying from the United States or with products like Kindles. Pre-existing Australian customers were delighted to find that Amazon didn’t expect them to re-register in anyway. Enabling customers who were already registered to the Australian site to order and pay in the same manner they had come to expect when ordering in the U.S. Amazon had made the process of becoming an Australian customer effortless for someone who was already a US customer. The Australian ordering and delivery processes continued their great tradition of proactive contact through notifications as Amazon customers have come to expect even though the operations in Australia were brand new.

Not quite frictionless

Even “the great Amazon” can tie itself in knots sometimes. One great feature of the Kindle platform is that customers can “share” digital books across a limited number of devices to enable family sharing just as families have always shared physical books. Unfortunately, the Australian launch meant anyone buying a Kindle in Australia became an Australian customer and existing Kindle users were US customers. This meant that new Kindle customers can’t share with old. Amazon’s support staff had difficulty diagnosing the issue (hour long calls) and struggled to resolve it. Even attempts to migrate the new Australian customers to the US failed to sort this issue and the family members remained “isolated” from each other. It also appeared that some aspects of sharing hadn’t been switched on in Australia and certainly couldn’t work across the Amazon geographies, even though both customers resided in Australia.

The lesson

This latter lesson is an example of the difficulty of predicting and managing how customers will behave and interact in a digital world. Amazon probably considered the complex issue of Intellectual property across geographies when putting this rule in place. In doing so they didn’t find a way to accommodate legacy US and new Australian customers. What they did need was a means to hear about the problem quickly from the front line and then find a method to handle it. It was a scenario the system designers hadn’t resolved. We know Amazon used to have great ways to take and act on front line feedback in a process call WOCAS. (what our customers are saying). In fact, we liked that process so much we have ways to institutionalise it in any business. It will be interesting to see if Amazon’s listening ability is still there.

Digital Ticketing: Ying and Yang


Airlines and their customers have been huge beneficiaries of digital ticket ordering and handling. Its quick and easy to book flights and trains on line and we can even check in using a digital ticket on a phone. It has also given customers more control as they can choose seats, select other options and compare pricing via comparator sites. The process has also enabled the airlines to save staff through self-service bag check, check in and other digitally enabled services. It hasn’t always got rid of queues at airports but it has helped.


As well as booking a ticket many airlines enable changes on line. We observe two things that many airlines haven’t enabled as they have gone digital.

Many still charge far more for changeable fares or a big surcharge to the customer for changing their fare regardless of when they do it, or that they do it all themselves. In the pre-digital days re-issuing tickets and handling re-bookings involved staff and cost. Now it costs the airline almost nothing but the fare policies don’t recognise that. We would understand some time -restrictions e.g. a penalty for change within X days of a flight where the airline might struggle to fill a seat. However, if the customer rebooks to a like flight and does all the work, that is at no cost to the airline they shouldn’t cop a hefty penalty. Airlines are charging a premium for changeable fares even where the customers do all the work.

The second problem we’ve seen is with a well-known carrier’s Australia’s site. On change bookings, the system asked customers with return flights “which leg” do you want to change. However, in some instances it would force customers to pick both legs (even when they wanted to change only one). This had lots of unpleasant consequences for the customer:

  • Extra effort to rebook a fare they didn’t want to change

  • Sometimes incurring a higher fare if the original wasn’t available even though they didn’t want to change it

  • Often getting a worse seat if other seat selections had gone

The problem was a form of bug. The customers were only forced to change BOTH legs if they had booked any other service e.g. a car or hotel under that booking. Unfortunately paying for a $1-$2 carbon offset also counted as an additional service on the booking and forced customers to change both legs.

This was another unintended design consequence. The digital site cross sells other services like car hire, carbon offset, insurance and hotels. But when customers took those options they incurred a worse experience if they chose to change anything.

There were no warnings of this anywhere and we suspect that the airline didn’t recognise the issue until customers complained.

The lesson

The pricing and change problems illustrate that real digital enablement involves a total re-think of process and can reshape product and pricing. It also illustrates that digital processes need to think through the whole customer experience not just “standard” scenarios but also exceptions. This needs a design process that we call “outside in thinking”, where trained designers can think through the customer scenarios. It’s something we do a lot of when helping organisations re-think their processes in a digitally enabled world.

Digital Enabling New

Now we are all designers

Digitisation is also enabling customers to do new things. While digitised photos have revolutionised what we capture, they have also spawned many digital companies who enable you to turn pictures into other things from t-shirts to lamp shades. The photo album is also “back” as many of us still want to keep a physical copy of our best photos. Many online businesses have sprung up offering customers access to great design, lay outs and professional quality production for their pictures. They let customers design their own albums and then produce high quality physical albums or portraits. These digital companies let customers control every aspect of design within their software and then complete production and delivery. The best companies send customers frequent offers to keep them engaged and then beat the customers’ expectations in production by delivering within the time frame and sending Amazon like updates in all stages of the production process e.g. received, reviews, printed and so forth.

Apple delivers a lemon

While Apple is rightly acknowledged for their innovative and customer centric product design they have also been critiqued at times for the iTunes user interface. They also failed to anticipate a common customer need. Like Amazon and Kindle books, they did identify that music should be shareable across multiple devices and to protect IP, placed a limit of five devices on “sharing”. They did anticipate that customers would want to remove a device. However, the way that works is that you can “deauthorize” the computer or device you are using now. The problem is that one of the most common reasons for disabling a device is that it is broken, corrupt lost or stolen. If it’s not working or is gone, you can’t use it and therefore can’t disable it from sharing. Apple didn’t miss this need altogether but the work around is complex and involves a lot of customer effort. The only way to disable sharing on a device you aren’t using right now is to deauthorize all current devices and start again rebuilding authorization on each device. If one device breaks, and you have five enabled you have to wipe them out and start again to replace the broken one. Far from ideal.

The lesson

This a further example of designing in the customers shoes. Making it easy to replace a broken or lost device is a common need and requires customer thinking. When we approach service design we bring the customer “frame of reference” to all decisions. We also use front line staff to broaden this thinking. They are the ones who experience customer problems and are also customers themselves. This helps us anticipate more of these issues. We also apply “life cycle” thinking trying to anticipate all stages of a customer relationship and the experiences they need at every stage.


We hope these cases illustrate that digital offers huge gains for customers and business. However, it can pose new challenges and create new complex problems. We can help anticipate those and set up the front-line staff to feedback issues that no one can anticipate. We specialise in turning demand lead problems like the above into great customer centric design across channels. We know that most companies today will benefit greatly from implementing our continuous service design approach. Please get in touch if you think you would like more information by emailing to or calling 03 9499 3550. More details are at

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