The Tao of On-line Processes (or how Amazon have got it right)

I’ve just ordered a book from Amazon.

Yippeee! Roll out the bunting, let’s hold a parade. Comerford has ordered a book from Amazon!

OK. OK, before everyone gets too sarcastic let’s look at the statement at the head of this post from a process point of view.

“I’ve just ordered a book from Amazon”

To put this on more verbose language: I have searched a web site, identified and selected a suitable piece of writing, entered my name, address, payment and contact details, selected a delivery address, reviewed the final cost and placed the order.

How long did it take to do this?

From the time I decided which book I wanted to the time the order was confirmed took 11 seconds and three mouse clicks.

Think about that for a moment. Without the intervention of a single human (other than myself of course) I was able to place an order for something, give all my payment details, have those details accredited and reviewed, select a delivery address, identify a means and cost of shipping and confirm that everything was correct. In 11 seconds. With three mouse clicks.

A mere matter of a few years ago this would have been unlikely. When I was first using computers back in the 80’s this was impossible. Even quite recently the technology and process to enable this was only for the very committed web retailer. In fact there are still places on the web where something like this takes a lot longer and is far more stressful. What makes this even more special is that I could have done all of this in one click AND I could have done it all from my smart phone.

(One of the shows that was regularly on TV in primetime during my youth was Quantum Leap. (For those who don’t know about the show it concerned a scientist who was the victim of an experiment that went wrong and who was transported each week from one situation to the next and dropped into somebody else’s body. Each week he would have to work out where he was, who he was and why he was here. Oh, and it involved time travel) In Quantum Leap our hero, Sam, was helped by the computerised embodiment of a colleague of his who would appear visible only to Sam. This character would have a small, digital device in his hand that he could consult and it would relay information to him instantly. He could check historical records, charts, building layouts, TV clips everything. We all watched this and thought ‘Yeah right! Something like that in the palm of your hand. That’ll be the day’

And of course that day has come. Millions of people are now walking around with digital devices in their pocket that connect directly to the internet. Some of the higher end ones have applications that enable specific activities to be carried out such as reviewing video content or - here’s the link to the earlier thought about Amazon - purchasing items directly. We now look at this as being something which is commonplace and expected (indeed Finland this week mandated high speed broadband - an enabler of this technology - as a constitutional right).)

But none of this would be possible without the correct processes in place.

Let’s go back to Amazon and compare it to, say a cut price airline ticket.

The process needs to be as quick and as painless as possible. With Amazon One-click I can, literally, identify it and purchase it automatically by clicking the button next to the item. I can do this on the web and I can do this on my smart phone. Of course there is a piece of set-up to be done such as adding contact info and delivery details as well as payment details. But that was done for me several years ago.

With an unnamed ‘Budget airline’  - let’s call it Bryanair for convenience sake - for example, from the time I have selected the flights to the time I have confirmed is 6 minutes (Assuming I have already entered my contact and billing details. Payment details will still need to be entered). Furthermore I have had to make 4 clicks on the first page, click through one unnecessary reminder, bypass an unwanted advertising page for car rental and select payment type and click ‘Purchase now’ at the bottom of the page. I also know that if I was to make the Bryanair purchase I would then have additional information to enter due to the fact that I was theoretically booking a flight to Spain and they need additional passenger information for Spanish destinations.

So let’s look at this;
Amazon: Potential cost of goods £3279 (if I was to purchase, for example, the Canon EOS D1 camera body). Number of clicks 3. Time 11 seconds
Bryanair: Potential cost of goods £159. Number of clicks 8 (minimum). Time 6 minutes.

Who would look at these and suggest that Bryanair has sorted out their processes to the benefit of the customer? In fact who would look at many on-line retailers and say that they are customer focused? I purchase quite extensively from the web and - with the exception of Amazon and Tesco - I find the on-line purchasing to be generally user unfriendly.

It appears as if many companies have designed their processes around an existing bricks-and-mortar method of dealing with customers and have then transferred that directly to the web. Let’s take the example above of airline ticket buying. After selecting my flights and telling them I didn’t want insurance, how many bags I wanted to check in and whether I wanted to check in on-line or at the airport, I was confronted with a message asking me if I was sure I wanted to continue without insurance. This was despite the fact that in order to continue to this point I had to physically click a drop-down box on the screen and select ‘No insurance’ as an option. Surely if I have physically selected ‘No Insurance’ then reminding me about taking out insurance is just supposed to annoy me, right? Now had I not selected anything in that field it is possible that I had overlooked this option and would need reminding. But not when I have made a choice and indicated this already. This smacks of the ‘old’ way of doing things with an estate agent where they would ask you as part of their purchasing spiel whether insurance was wanted and then remind you later on in case you had changed your mind. Once this warning was dispatched on the airline site I was then confronted with a whole page unrelated to the airline that related to booking car hire. All the details were filled in already, but there was no choice of providers and the rates being quoted are - I know from experience - quite preposterous.

Amazon on the other hand have designed their purchasing process to be customer focused from the ground up. ‘One-click’ ordering takes the hassle out of buying things, preloading information makes the purchasing process simple and little items such as ‘Customers who bought items in your list also bought...’ are invaluable.

How good is your customer purchasing process?

How good are your other customer facing processes? Are the optimised for the medium they are using or are they electronic versions of old-fashioned bricks-and-mortar processes?

Could you do better?

Reminder: 'The Perfect Process Project Second Edition' is now available. Don't miss the chance to get this valuable insight into how to make business processes work for you. Click this link and follow the instructions to get this book.

All information is Copyright (C) G Comerford See related info below

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