Apps: A trip as fun as a landmine-travel?

|March 1, 2017 0
Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at freedigitalphotos.net
If users were just complaining about technical bugs, loading downtime, UI aspects; those were still problems that can be fixed with time. But how do you fix users’ frustration when they start getting annoyed at being gimmick-ed, ignored and being treated as data (not humans).

Pratima H

INDIA: A small idea by John Scott Haldane in the early 1900s proved extraordinarily helpful for coal-miners in Britain. Canaries (small sentinel birds) started being used for early-warning detection of toxic gases like Carbon Monoxide. The logic was simple and it worked brilliantly. These tiny birds were more sensitive than humans so any small aberration or hazard in the air would affect them first, and way before it inflicted a coal miner. Canaries were alarm signs. If anything happened to them, it was a sure-shot siren for miners to evacuate before the toxic air took its toll.

History and human-survival narrative is replete with the likes of canaries. Cats have helped Japan when it came to mercury-contaminated fish, bats and swallows have helped farmers when it came to pesticide-contaminated-soil, rats came in for plague, crows for West Nile virus, poultry in the case of polychlorinated biphenyl poisoning, and bees are still helping when it comes to sending warnings of dangerous-thresholds of air pollution.

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Now, there is a new species in this sentinel saga – a digital creature. It’s tiny, sensitive and dies quickly when exposed to harsh elements. But it does its job well – it warns well in advance.

Have a look.

Tomatoes, Tears and Trouble

“I have book a flight ticket from this ‘brand’*.DUE TO MY I’LL HEALTH I was unable to travel. I have submitted my medical certificate. This ‘brand’* should be ashamed f gulping customer hard money. since 15 days before my trip I have done many email and telephonic conversation to ‘brand’s* executive none of them has been reply. strict action should be taken against this app*.”

“Worst service ever. Cancelled the booking and lied that flight is not operational. Flight operator told it’s just preponed. ‘brand’*kept lying on their contradictory statements even we were running out of time for the travel. Never ever recommended these fraudsters.”

“Horrible experience.. wnated a urgent ticket to Bangalore… Booked it through this* app.. they deducted money from my account but cancelled my booking widout starting a reason.. haven’t even got my refund yet.. pathetic.. will never ever use this again..”

“Started out working fine. Lately wont let me upload photos to my reviews. Wont let me view average, poor, and terrible reviews unless they are ticked off with good or very good.”

“Misleading coupons…”

“…they artite cashback of 2000Rs then they will give you 220Rs. Atleast have some shame guys. You can write “upto” 2000Rs. But you are hungry for degrading your goodwill.”

“The android smartphone version has some functionality including access to saved trips(was useful in city guides) . The tablet version seems to have limited functionality and doesn’t allow for saved items or trips even when logged in. It also requires a data connection. It’s essentially their website accessible via an application… Seems to have gone backwards in terms customer experience and innovation. Quite disappointing.”

“Don’t ever install this app. This is the worst service provider & having so many terms & conditions Which never benifits to customers . Their terms & conditions benifits to them only not to customers .& it never shows the right price it shows high prices than actual ticket pices for bus services & hotels.”

“Pathetic. ..don’t install ..these guys are running fraud by sending sms for 1500 rs wallet gift for app registration. ..trying entering otp multiple times…waste of time n did not expect cheap tactics from this ‘brand’*. Stay away.”

“I used to love this ‘brand’* once (you can check my booking history) but now it’s just marketing gimmicks. You sure lost my trust.”

“Today is the 7th day and not refund the cash. Am calling lots of times to customer care.but they are not reply. This is fake and cheating app.”

“Battery sucker…Battery draining very fast after installing this app.”

“..In what are you competitive and how are you better than IRCTC when collect convenience fee too for all these. I am not going to book train tickets anymore.”

“Don’t install this app. Worst bus service provided by this ‘brand’*.. Niether the ‘brand’* nor bus staff take responsibility of you and your luggage got theft when you asleep after doing advance booking.”

“What did you do to my favourite app? I can’t add photos anymore. I am having problems adding reviews. I prided myself on leaving a review everywhere I went and now I am having difficulties because the app messes up ALL THE TIME!”

*(Names being skipped here, but you can imagine any of the top three-four travel apps and aggregators- and you could be guessing it right.)

What we cannot skip are the adjectives though – Pathetic, Disappointing, Irresponsible, Fake, Cheater, Lost my Trust, Uninstalling, Sucker- and so on.

These examples can go on for quite a while. Any app store you prefer is replete with reviews pouring over with disappointment, exasperation, hopelessness and sometimes well-deserved anger. The good reviews and pats get hidden way beneath this ire-decked pile of user agony.

Apps are turning out to be brave recipients of a lot of toxic wind and the ones that users shut down resemble martyr canaries to a large extent. But were they supposed to be birds set off to die?

What happened to the ‘convenience’ and the ‘speed’ that apps were supposedly brought forth for?

A quick glance at the endless rant and disappointed/grievance-filled user reviews that most travel apps are getting certainly makes a thin-skinned user sit up and wonder: Why should I lean towards an app instead of other interfaces? What’s the value/convenience factor?

The questions and reviews are possibly gushing out of a place of bad experience but is it all about knee-jerk emotions or is there something more serious submerged in there that app-makers are still not reading as warning signs?

Users have a Sharp Tongue, but after a Sharp Nose

When so many users are spotting a click-bait attitude when it comes to incentives, coupons, cash-backs, offers etc. and when they complain of these seldom translating into tangibles – is there a bigger problem tucked underneath all this mud?

The alarm-indicators just start here.

Image courtesy of samarttiw at freedigitalphotos

Clogged refunds, fake coupons, cold response, crashes, forced updates, app-actual travel misalignment, loading delays: Apps bringing a lot of user-flak for travel brands

On one hand, there is the technical muscle under ruthless dissection. Complaints about frequent crashes, slow performance, server unavailability, production-level uptime and QA, along with angst over inadequate safety and transparency when it comes to the experience that payment gateways lead to – all this hints at a lot of gaps that stare app-makers and the lords that stay behind these walled greenhouses.

On the other hand, aggrieved users feel swindled when it comes to empty but noisy marketing that surrounds cashbacks, coupons, incentives etc. Many users seem to complain of prices changing the minute they select an option and start the booking process. Or about refunds that take an annoying time-cycle of follow-ups, reminders and confusion. There are also umpteen gripes about intrusive and too-frequent notifications as well as those about forced updates after every few times of transactions.

What’s afflicting apps? Is this a frost-bite?

Specially as apps are meant to be the new status-quo, the miners, not the warning clocks.

Where’s the CO?

Recent data from AppFigures points out the number of app releases rose substantially year-over-year as smart phones became standard across the world. In 2016, new and existing developers alone published a total of 1.1 million new iOS and 1.3 million new Android apps. This was the year of the most apps ever added in a single year: 2.4 million apps! Imagine – More than 300 new iOS and Android apps were released every hour in 2016!

In an app-forward world, dissatisfied users can mean a lot of weight on the reverse gear.

Abhilash Puroshothaman, Country Director & Head of DevOps Business for India & SAARC Region, CA Technologies takes on the issue of keeping up with user expectations first.

This can be a considerable challenge when most apps struggle with on-the-fly performance of coupons promised, payment gateways smoothness and sorting out tricky tunnels like refunds.

He weighs in two aspects here. “How do you leverage ecosystem-based experience? How well are traditional operational systems enhanced to take care of the rush coming their way? Traditional systems may, in all likelihood, be not very great in terms of scale and speed. They were used to a different ‘Ops’ which may not work in the new ‘Dev-Ops’ cycles, and the typical 24 hour processes won’t hold good now. The new-age organisation has to write the code with this mindset-shift addressed first.”

He also underlines that the idea of an experience, per se, has to be revisited. This is beyond performance, analytics, API connects, service provider integration, working in low-Internet scenarios – everything.

Earlier, the time taken by an app to respond – was itself a big factor, he explains. “But today, we are so much digitally immersed, thanks to consumerisation of technology, that now the factors that we see have moved to – how it looks, how it engages you, and whether it has utility services along with features and a unified experience.” He minces no words.

An app failing to cater to these expectations runs a huge risk of brand corrosion, thanks to the constantly-on, digitally-unrelenting world brands have to live up to these days. Making an app has to be an additive in the brand continuum, but making a miserable app can do just the opposite.

Should this state of affairs really worry brands?

Dents on the Brand – Or Craters?

While TripAdvisor and MakeMyTrip declined to comment and Cleartrip did not respond to a request for comment; brand experts help us with understanding the actual implications on a brand’s equity that bad reviews connote.

Tejas Mehta, Co-Founder of Digital Brand Consultancy What’s Your Problem- WYP reckons that sometimes brands can indeed miss an important stumbling block. “Brands do not realise that managing reputation of a brand in a digital sense is getting bigger and bigger.

The real estate on a mobile phone is precious so an app that does not hold up to the attraction it promised can really put off a user: Tejas MImage courtesy of freedigitalphotos

The real estate on a mobile phone is precious so an app that does not hold up to the attraction it promised can really put off a user: Tejas M

Then the money really goes down the drain.”

Reviews are important, if only for the developer community at large. Harish Bijoor, Brand-expert & Founder, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc. reasons. He also opines that reviews do not count with consumers. “Users are essentially concerned with the questions: how efficient? How fast? How seamless? If those three are answered well, reviews can remain for reasons academic and developmental.”

He suggests though that Apps must perform with speed and satisfaction.

As Mehta contends, reviews do play an important role in terms of reputation and as a part of customer’s journey. He adds a fair pinch of salt too. “It is hard to say how much of a behavior inclination is already established with reading the review before actually downloading an app. We tend to not appreciate good things as much as we tend to criticise – so brands have to be cognizant to that human predisposition too.”

Yes, users are humans and they love to vent out when they are left high and dry in any way.

There is also another peeve that is often summarily dismissed under the garb of personalisation. Why do most apps list down so many permissions (and a number of irrelevant ones)? Why don’t they provide a user with opt-out options if privacy-conscious users feel uncomfortable? (Except of course for that my-way-or-the-highway option to not install the app).

When we ask Puroshothaman, he reorients the question to a human angle that has been tucked away under all the technical yada-yada all this time.

Can apps be designed with two kinds of users (one who may be convenience-oriented to the extent that they are okay with all those permissions, and also for the segment that is privacy-concerned)?

No, he answers with a cryptic smile. Not until the maker and the checker walk in separate shoes, he qualifies.

“Think for a moment about the person who is actually making an app – a quintessential digital native. These people are born in a world where they live, breathe and hence, reflexively trust their digital environments. They cannot be relied upon for questions that do not make sense to them. It is not fair. They are occupied with ‘their’ questions – how to make an app more fast, robust, jazzy? The internal, ethical searching has to be left to others who can look at a business and user-stand-point outside this digital bubble. But then they have to keep up. The pace of change is mercilessly brisk.”

Apps makers and checkers walk in separate shoes: Abhilash PImage courtesy of Freedigitalphotos

Apps makers and checkers walk in separate shoes: Abhilash P

What he aims his hammer at is actually a sore thumb. The ones who make an app do not have those principles or concerns entrenched in them that worries the not-so-digital users.

Puroshothaman hopes that with time, things would change and the brain would find a way to meet the heart. “Technology has to ensure privacy and user comfort and not just because of legal imperatives, but due to an innate understanding of the concern.”

An App is not JUST an App

No matter how much road is covered back there, apps cannot make up for the people-aspect of any business model, right? A feedback about slow/indifferent/under-trained customer-service personnel or about hardly-bothered hotel/airline management once the user arrives at the actual experience-spot – that’s not an app’s playground but that’s what it ultimately leads to.

Human element, Mehta agrees too, is a critical ingredient and just can’t be ignored. “Every part or discipline about a brand, whether it is data, action or a customer-service person, has to be seamless and positive. Every experience, even with a call centre, has to resonate the polish that a premium marketing campaign hints of.”

Mehta wisely remarks – a hundred per cent experience is hardly likely for any user but what matters for a brand is the way it responds.

For now, brands are pasting dry, frosty quick-liners as they appear to respond to the kind of bad reviews listed earlier. “Sincere apologies.” Or “Please get in touch with our executive on this email….”

These may not be exactly the attention and concern that users expect from a brand, specially the one they love, or have high hopes from. But should we be rather thankful for the acknowledgement, no matter how cold, numb and ineffective it is? At least there is a possibility of an actual eye or ear behind that quick script sometime.

At least, the yellow canary is not dying without being un-noticed.

Or so we may hope.

App

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