Friday, May 25, 2007

Get the service right first, and figure out the techology later

Am going out for dinner tonight in London, and two savoury tastes have been swirling round my palate, competing for primacy. First was Indian (our national dish), exemplified by the excellent Bombay Bicycle Club. Second was Italian, and my sister recommended Numero Uno.

So, as a good considerate brother, I naturally prefer my own idea, and try and book a table at Bombay Bicyle Club. No such luck. Their website (kicking off with a flash movie, yuck), talks a lot about their "story", but when you go to "contact us" you get a web form. Forgedaboudit. I do find the phone number of the Balham branch under their restaurants section, but get a recorded message saying they're closed til 6:30pm. Nobody around to take orders by phone, really? Must be because they have such a sophisticated and effective online system then.

So, I try and use their whizzo online ordering capability. This is provided by Livebookings and creates a java popup to identify the slot you want which is quite cute. Unfortunately, it then requires you to register your name, ADDRESS and phone number. I already have far too many social networks requiring me to register with them, now I have to register at some obscure service (ok, used by other restaurants too) with username and password etc. They then reject my proposal because my password suggestion is not 7 characters long. Look!, I cry, this is a bloody restaurant booking service, not my bank.

After cursing and muttering about the excess of information, I get to the final submit screen, only to decide that I need to have the table half an hour earlier. OK, my bad, but these things happen. I click on Back, and everything is wiped out. As my blood pressure rockets I throw my long suffering Nokia across the room (it survives, always does) and curse loudly at the screen. And at Bombay Bicycle Club. Do they realize that they've just turned me, a long time fan of their product, into an annoyed non-customer, through the use of too much technology.

I then Google the Italian, find its phone number, call them up and book a slot. That takes me 15 seconds, and has delivered my evening's business to them, whereas all that Bombay Bicycle Club have got from me is frustration. If I had wanted to change the time, I could have done it verbally, and he'd have said - perfecto.

Underlying this is the fact that still have a long way to go before we can provide a "very human technology" experience for the management of customer service, with a big sticking point being identity and authentication. The reality is that the phone still does that job far easier and quicker than overly complicated web services. There is tremendous scope to get both of these working better by working together, and we've got some ideas for how this could happen, but if any of them involve sacrificing the experience in favour of some misguided technology vision, they deserve to fail.


Anonymous said...

You should try restaurant bookings powered by Provides a very different user experience to the Livebookings links.

Mike Conyers said...

Obviously, the last comment was written by an employee of OpenTable. I work for and
The comments on useability of the front end booking engine are pertinent and the system should not lose your details if you "go back".
The operators / booking engine providers have to balance ease of ease against security as one othe biggest problems in restaurants is a "no show".

Rupert said...

You should have gone to Green Chilli in Hammersmith - almost every one likes it (except the last poster on London-Eating*).

* Which incidentally only requires a name and your e-mail address to post a review, which you could alway use a service such as for the e-mail element. As for the name - up to you! I'll stop now..

Manne said...

Ah, the booking service providers congregate. ;)

Good morning! My name is Magnus Hultberg, I work at Livebookings with technology and booking services. I am really sorry about your poor experience, and must say I apologise profusely. We are well aware of the shortcomings of the current version of our restaurant homepage booking window and based on the evaluations we have done over the past months we have come to the same conclusions as you.

In a few months we are poised to release an upgraded version which will address all of the shortcomings you describe above. No need to register (you still have to give your contact details though, so the restaurant can contact you should they need to), no drop of information if desiring to change something, no dead ends in the booking process and the option to remember your contact details for next time so a booking is just a few clicks away. There are a few other useful features in there as well, but we must keep something for the launch…

I agree with you that online booking interfaces in general, and when it comes to the restaurant industry in particular, leave a lot to be desired. As we are now ramping up to expand rapidly in Europe we are focusing a lot of our efforts on creating efficient, user friendly and simple tools for restaurants as well as diners in order to improve the online experience.

By the way, it is possible to run the current version without user registration as well and we have seen that without the registration form restaurants do get more bookings. I will get in touch with Bombay Bicycle Club and see if they are interested in changing their settings.

Have a nice day, and thanks for voicing your opinions!

// Manne

Stephen Johnston said...

Thanks for the comments Magnus. Good to see that you're focused on making the service work better. I do like the concept of such things, but the key requirements for this to work for me would be an easy authentication solution so i don't have to create a new profile with an obscure social network (how about linking to facebook profile).

Manne said...

That is a very interesting suggestion. Actually, never thought of that before. Don't know if the FB API exposes that functionality, but it certainly seems that if they do FB has a lot better chance of becoming a portable autehantication passport then the MS attempt ever had.