Tag: Frictionless IT

A frictionless experience is not enough if it’s all there is

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, LavandaLaundrapp, 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.

Creative Folding 2 Creative Folding 1

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.

 

 

It’s 2015 and the address book is still broken

At the end of every year, taking advantage of the holiday break, I go for a tedious process: sanitising my address book. Every year, the process frustrates me to no end because it’s the moment I realise how the human kind is able to solve incredibly challenging problems (like landing on a comet) but not some trivial ones.

The socially-enabled address book of 2015 is a composite repository of information. For almost every contact I have, the details are distributed such that:

  • Company names and job titles are almost always on LinkedIn, as the de facto standard for professional identities
  • Birthdays and lists of interests are almost always on Facebook, as the de facto standard for personal identities
  • Phone numbers and email addresses are almost always on a mobile device address book, which is synched with either iCloud, Google, or a corporate Exchange/Zimbra server
  • Public opinions are sometimes on Twitter

So there are two classes of problems, both far away from being solved:

  1. find, aggregate and sanitise all aforementioned data to compose a single, unified persona
  2. sync the unified persona across all owned devices

Problem #1

A number of companies try solving problem #1, including Brewster, Cobook (now acquired by FullContact), Sync.me. I tried them all and none works as it should. The first two (Brewster and FullContact/Cobook ) are either too slow, unresponsive, or inaccurate. The last one (Sync.me) is much more accurate but it lacks granular rules to decide which service is the primary one for each specific piece of data (why can’t I specify, for example, that the picture must come from LinkedIn rather than Facebook?).
All of them fail to find LinkedIn data in a consistent way, and only some try to find the Google+ data, which could be used to associate a Google Hangouts handle to my contacts.

To add insult to injury, Apple makes things harder than necessary with its unified iOS address book: when you create a new contact on iOS you have no way to decide in which account you are creating it. You can only define the default address book in Preferences, and there is no way to move a contact from an address book account to another after creation. The result is a plethora of contacts spread across 2-3, or even more, cloud service providers.

Problem #2

Apple and Google try solving problem #2. Contact sync through iCloud only works across Apple devices, which is not ideal for many different reasons. Contact sync through Google works across any device but it’s completely unreliable on iOS devices.
I am not sure if it’s Apple’s fault or Google’s fault. I am inclined to believe, from my tests, that it’s Apple’s fault because of a poor implementation of the CardDAV protocol on iOS1. Even if so, shame on Google for not pushing hard for a fix. Regardless, I have proof that it’s utterly broken.

A supposedly simple setup where two iOS 8 devices (iPhone and iPad) sync the Google Contacts address book with a Google Apps for Work account fails miserably. Any change occurring on the devices is not reliably propagated to the server. And in case you are wondering, yes, I did all sort of troubleshooting2.

To make the setup work, and prove that it’s an iOS fault, I had to resort to a third-party iOS app called ContactSync (I tried many others, this is the only reliable one), which is designed to sync contacts between, for example, an iCloud address book and Google Contacts.

I forced the app into a weird behaviour, asking it to sync my Google Contact address book on the iOS device with the Google Contact server. So, assuming you start with a messed address book with contacts spread across iCloud, Google Contacts, and Exchange/Zimbra, the workflow to sanitise it would be the following:

  1. [aggregation] Export of all iCloud and Exchange contacts and import them into Google Contacts (on a computer – too hard to do on a device), delete of all iCloud and Exchange contacts
  2. [enrichment] Use of Sync.me (on a device) to augment the local copy of Google Contacts with data from LinkedIn and Facebook
  3. [synchronisation] Use of ContactSync (on the same device) to sync the local copy of Google Contacts with the Google Contact server

Of course, ContactSync thinks that I am crazy, given that CardDAV is there for that very reason, and raises a warning. Ignoring the warning results in a perfectly synched address book, the one that Apple and Google should guarantee out of the box.

Now, given that using a third party app is ridiculous and defeats the purpose, my only option is to fall back to Apple iCloud, right? No.
iCloud has the reverse issue: it’s reliable in syncing contacts when changes occur on the device, but not at all when changes occur on iCloud.com:

Device > ServerServer > Device
Google ContactsUnreliableReliable
Apple iCloudReliableUnreliable

Take Aways

  • Both Google Contacts and Apple iCloud are still too unreliable on iOS devices in 2015. You must resort to using a third party app to do what they should do out of the box.
  • It’s amazing that neither LinkedIn nor Facebook are taking advantage of their market dominance to solve at least one of the two problems.
  • Fixing the broken address book becomes more important as next generation calendars (e.g., SunriseTempo) and email clients (e.g., Tipbit) introduce an insightful social layer. I use Sunrise3, for example, and I can’t unlock its full potential.

Bottom Line

It’s 2015 and the address book is still broken. Humans shouldn’t dedicate their valuable time to fix it. Not in 2015. There’s no excuse.

There’s a concept I often talk about: Frictionless IT. This whole story is the opposite of Frictionless IT.


  1. According to iDownloadBlog, Apple introduced CardDAV support in iOS 4, but it took iOS 7 to natively support sync with Google Contacts. 

  2. Yes, I:

    • went to the Groups view in the iOS address book and dragged down to force a refresh
    • deleted and recreated the Google account on the iOS device multiple times
    • tried creating a CardDAV dedicated account for Google Contacts rather than using the unified Google account
    • verified that my Google Apps for Work domain is configured to allow iOS contact sync
    • tried the same tests on a different iOS device

    I’ll be happy to try additional steps if you have any 

  3. Sunrise too has its issues: contact information (e.g., picture and job title) for each meeting attendee don’t seem to be retrieved from the device address book, and are somehow cached after being retrieved from the linked social networks. So no matter how much you keep up to date your address book, no matter if you disconnect and reconnect your social network accounts, no matter if you delete and reinstall the app, you remain stuck with inaccurate information after the very first setup.