I’ve been fairly quiet for the last few months on this blog about my information management topics. Work. Projects. Covering for other people’s leaves… that type of thing. It doesn’t spare much time for pondering the wide world of information theory.
Yet, having been on the front line (of the customer side, at least) of a very recent (and still in-progress) app launch by one of my favorite purveyors of coffee, I thought I would make some observations. It also just so happens that the last year of my professional life has been blended with the creamy goodness of mobile web design like so many vanilla lattes. This stuff has been the sugar in my coffee for a lot of foundation-building effort.
So, I downloaded a new app the other day…
The Second Cup Coffee Company has been late to the field with respect to the pay-for-your-joe-with-an-app game. I have no less than three of these little shops within walking distance of my office and a choice of four different locations close to my home. It’s also where my running club has been congealing for our unofficial post-run social club for the past fours years. I have no less than three active payment cards, each for a different circumstance and… well, you get the point. I was going to be one of those early adopters: download the app on day one and cross my fingers that my coffee supply goes uninterrupted.
It didn’t. And having only an outsider perspective to go on, here’s what I suspect happened:
1. Juggling Too Many (Hard Launch) Balls
There was nary a whiff of this new toy coming down the pipe. Oh, there was speculation that it would need to happen. Starbucks was presumably eating Second Cup’s lunch in the mobile payment game. Here I was manually reloading cards, or paying with (ironic shudder) cash at Canada’s flagship barrista, where next door I was calling up a sexy app on my phone, collecting rewards, and topping up my balance in the moments before i got to the front of the line through an integrated payment system. Tim Hortons had tried their own app a few months ago, quietly launching it with a sad collection of complicated sign-up features and payments that took (literally) two minutes to transact while we customers stood there at the POS holding up an impatient line.
On Tuesday morning I walked in to get my coffee at Second Cup and everything had changed: new brand, new reward system, new cups, new little coffee labels, and new little blinking lazer scanners. Expectations were huge. And while it’s tough to mess up the redesign of a pretty new cup, if you’re going to piggyback the launch of a payment system on the same day it’s important that it works.
I get it: bugs are inevitable, but this thing simply did not work.
2. Clumsy Account Migration
The first hint of this was at sign-up.
I mentioned that I am the holder of multiple Second Cup payment cards. The company has for many years made use of the strategic deployment of the gift card system, even offering both rewards and a convenient top-up system for using them. Not being a guy that bothers much with cash, having a card that auto-reloads based on a threshold balance is awesome. I pay for my coffee with the card that is always in my wallet and if the balance drops below about five bucks… bam… I wake up the next morning to a friendly email telling me that my card is now refilled and ready for all my pre-work caffeinating needs.
Registering my card also saved me about fifteen bucks when my wallet went AWOL a few months ago. I logged into my account, reported the card lost, and the system canceled it and mailed me a new one. Perfect.
In other words, I’ve been making use of my web-based account for a long time. So, my first inclination was to log in with that. And when that didn’t work, my second inclination was to sign up for a new account. And when that didn’t work… well… I was out of options, at least standing in the cafe with my iPhone laughing at me.
3. Hanging the App on a Broken Website
To the web!
Of course, the website would be rock-solid, right? That was a system that developers would have had complete control over. They had a legacy system that seemed to work really well, an integrated payment and top-up system that knew all about my cards, was holding my account information, and…
For the first half of the first day the system didn’t know who I was.
For the second half of the first day the system remembered me, but seemed to be a little confused about how many cards I had and what my balance should be. It even let me put twenty bucks into my account.
At the end of the first day, the barista at our “running” Second Cup spent fifteen minutes with me trying to diagnose what the issue was.
On the second day, I went to Starbucks.
On the third day –today– my account doesn’t seem to be valid anymore, and I can’t log in, I can’t pay with any of the new or old cards, and the website gives me an error when I try and reset my password.
4. Incentives That Flop
So, I suppose I’m probably not going to get my 500 free points for being one of the first people to sign up for an account, am I? That’s probably wishful thinking right now.
5. Catching Your Front Line Unprepared
This morning I gave them the benefit of the doubt. I mentioned that I had spent fifteen minutes with the owner/franchisee of the location where our running club meets. I had been the first guy to show up all day with the new app, and he was just as eager to try out the system as I was to have my post-run beverage. We scanned my phone about thirty times and not once did it do anything that made sense to either of us, I as a tech-savy guy used to cryptic technology behavior and he as the front line of a new technology launch who supposedly should have been given a bit of training or documentation.
I frequent a cafe near my office nearly every morning and the lovely young girl who not only remembers what I order every day –a medium dark-roast, no room– serves me with a smile. I patiently asked her if they had their new system up and working yet. She grinned and said, “maybe, we can try” and then when it flopped she profusely apologized and accepted my cash payment instead. “It’s really not your fault.” I offered, but I don’t think she’ll get much of that kind of patience from everyone today.
Outside Looking In
I’m an outsider looking in, of course. I don’t see (though I suspect) the frantic all-night conference calls between management and contractors burning through years of budgeted overtime right now. I don’t see the hard-working developers who haven’t slept in a week or the customer service folks pounding out hundreds of thankless replies to angry inquiries. I feel for them, and I wish them well…
But I’m taking notes and I’m gonna try and learn a few things from their very public mistakes.
Update: April 28th
After an app update, and having spent about a week trying to access my “existing” accounts (2 of them) with, y’know, all the passwordsz, I took a gamble and attempted to set up a new account using one of the cards I had in my wallet.
So, apparently I missed something in my earlier analysis: along with changing the brand and their POS system, they ALSO invalidated all their existing customer cards in the new system. This means I get the “exciting new opportunity” to register a new card and try and piece together the crumbling remains of my old accounts.
The kicker is that after going through a process to set up a new account with the email that I assumed was still connected to my old account all my old cards (with, y’know cash balances on them) still insist that they are already connected to existing accounts. I assume these are my old accounts that I can’t access anymore… ?
One glowing bit of good luck is that the $20 I added back on day one –y’know? a week ago– when things seemed to be working is somehow mysteriously associated with this new account I just created –y’know? today. (I have an idea why, but still… it’s money, guys. A little more careful with that, please if you want to retain my trust here.) And, yes, I finally did get my 500 points. Too bad for second cup that they’ve lost out on a week of my business while I stumbled blindly through sorting this out.
Update: April 30th
A couple more observations. While my account seems to be chugging along just fine at the moment and a few of the bugs appear to have been worked out (I’m even earning points) apparently there was a little snafu in the incentive planning at launch that is causing some back-peddling of the service at some locations.
This is second-hand knowledge (fair disclosure) but after trying to buy a coffee with my phone last night following our running outing, and instead discovering a little hand-written sign saying something along the lines of “our app payment and rewards system is temporarily suspended due to some technical issues” I heard the following story (and thus another what-not-to-do issue):
6. An Incentive Too Good
Underestimating the creativity of some customers (specifically customers from the high school next door) the new app rewards you with 500 free points (just enough for a free coffee) for creating an account. Of course, to create an account, all you need is a name and an email address. Now, I just want a functioning app and I’m perfectly willing to pay for my coffees, but it didn’t take long for some creative teenagers to connect the infinite availability of free email addresses to the simple video-game-esque grinding of cranking out dozens of new accounts each and the subsequent rewards of a free drink for their (minimal) effort. That’s right. With absolutely no investment but effort, time and access to the shady morals involved with duping a loophole in an overly generous incentive program you too can have as many free drinks as may fill your heartless soul. The proprietor of my local cafe figured this out pretty quick and pulled the plug, but in doing so has shut it off completely and for all his customers… or at least that’s what the story is.
The simple solution is to crank it down a notch: say, 400 points with sign-up, then spend ten more bucks and boom… free coffee. It creates a minor hurdle to exploitation, but probably enough that it’s not worth the effort for 99% of the people. Or, just shut off the sign-up bonus, and offer double points for the first couple months as an early-adopter bonus.
Oh, and they seem to be out of their nifty new cup designs (at least where I go.)
This thing just keeps getting crazier. Good luck, Second Cup.