The few ones that follow me on Twitter (@giano) are used to me talking about “Frictionless IT“. The way I used the term so far was mostly referring to a new kind of enterprise IT, rethought and redesigned to systematically remove the complexity and the frustration that pushes line of business users towards shadow IT services. I usually mention frictionless IT when talking about cloud computing, as public cloud providers provided and keep providing an amazing example of how to disrupt markets thanks to a frictionless experience. They did an amazing job in embracing some key principles driving user experience in consumer IT and offering them to an enterprise audience.
That said, the quest for a frictionless experience is not just a prerogative of the cloud computing market or the enterprise IT industry as a whole. Startups in almost every market (Uber is the most obvious example) are trying to disrupt the establishment by offering a vastly superior interaction. I am carefully watching a lot of them, especially in the “personalised recommendations and services”, as I call it. Some of them do the fatal mistake of focusing so much on removing friction that it becomes their only value proposition. Today’s example is ZipJet.
I travel a lot, work a lot, and live alone. Anything that can save me time in between my trips is worth a try, including the laundry service. There are a lot of startups that are trying to turn upside down the current dry cleaning model, offering busy professionals perks like impossibly flexible pickup and delivery time scheduling (well beyond the traditional laundry working hours), collection and return at the address of preference, and tiered pricing (i.e., per item and per bag, depending on the task) . It’s the peace of mind that I refer to when I talk about frictionless experience, and it’s perfect for markets hungry of time saving solutions like London (where I live) or NYC. Techcrunch did a great job in covering the explosion of this space and mentioned quite a few, including ihateironing, Lavanda, Laundrapp, LaundryRepublic, Washbox, Spyn, and ZipJet.
I was very doubtful about these laundry services due to the delicate nature of the clothes I need to clean, and it’s impossible to tell which one of these services is good without a reliable third party rating system, but ZipJet was recommended by a friend and so I did a (costly) experiment. The result was a disaster. Yes, I had the best frictionless experience ever, but it was all there was.
My laundry was divided into two categories: “wash and iron” and “wash and fold”.
- Wash and iron results: one of the six dress shirts, white, put in the “wash and iron” bags returned with a melted collar. Another, black, returned shiny.
- Wash and fold results: ZipJet idea of folding a long sleeve t-shirt is the following.
Now, while I really appreciate creative solutions, and understand that young companies might have operational scalability issues when they get unprecedented popularity, this is really unacceptable. Especially in a highly competitive market. Especially in the personalised services industry, where a customer centric approach is the basis to retain and grow your user base.
So the experience was frictionless, but the product was terrible. First fatal mistake. What about the customer service?
I wrote to the customer service to express my disappointment, supported by visual evidence. I promptly received a “We are investigating” reply and in 24h I was offered to collect my laundry to process it again for free. Good timing, good answer. However, indicating a new collection time over email was too complicated to process for the customer service, so they invited me to use the app again as I would normally do. I did and, of course, my credit card was charged again despite I was guaranteed the second attempt would be free of charge. I had to write again to the customer service to be sure they would offset the cost. Less than optimal interaction, considering how disappointed I already was.
My laundry returned as expected but it was all but folded properly. The trick ZipJet used was to only fold properly the first couple of t-shirts for each bag while the rest remained pretty much in the same state shown in pictures.
The customer service even offered a £10 discount for the next regular collection. Lovely, except that on my side I lost two expensive dress shirts, I had to pay a maid to actually iron and fold everything properly, and I got what I needed over a week later than expected. The overall cost for this is way, way superior to the £10 discount.
So the customer services was prompt and courteous , but the corrective action was less than optimal and they didn’t solve the problem. Second fatal mistake. What about the leadership presence?
I sent a direct email to the co-founder and managing director of the company, expressing my concerns about how ZipJet operates. I didn’t receive a reply in 12 days. I am sure he’s really busy, like all of us, but other startups that have a rough start or incidents like this have their executive leadership reaching out personally as part of an exceptional customer experience.
So the leadership is not present. Third fatal mistake.
The take away here is that drastically improving (or revolutionising) the user experience is key to attract more demanding customers in highly competitive markets, but it can’t be done at the expense of core values like product quality, attention to details, and exceptional support. If you have a frictionless experience but you don’t have those things, you have nothing.