Making it easy to report problems

25Dec07

In the rare event that I go to the movies, I prefer to use the automated kiosk to buy tickets. Usually, it works fine. But when I tried to purchase tickets on a recent weekend, the kiosk ran out of paper right before it was my turn to use it. Perhaps it sends an automatic alert to the theater manager, or somebody’s watching from HQ and they notify the theater to replace the paper. But since the kiosk didn’t say anything about this either way, I tried to tell someone there about the issue. Nobody even acknowledged my presence, and the angry mob of a line ended up waiting a good 15 minutes for the kiosk to be fixed.

This situation highlights a process that every business should use when something goes wrong with its website, kiosks, whatever. First, provide a clear indication that the system is not available, e.g. “This kiosk is out of paper and cannot be used for printing tickets.” Next, tell the customer what steps are being taken to correct it, e.g. “A message has been sent to our theater manager and they will be correcting the problem by (some reasonable time in the future).” Then, provide alternate options for completing the transaction, like a toll-free number. And finally, if there’s any benefit in having the customer notify your staff about the issue, tell them how and where to do this, e.g. “For immediate service, please go to the Guest Services desk and tell them that kiosk number 123 is out of paper.”

This last point can easily be the most important. The theater has customers who are willing to tell them immediately about a problem, but they ignore you when you try to do so. Mostly, I think this is due to some degree of apathy, along with the lack of an established process for setting expectations and telling customers and employees how these issues should be handled. By following the steps I outlined above, issues would probably get resolved faster. But even if they didn’t, at least customers would know what to expect — and whether they should invest the time to help out in the first place.



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