Lessons Learned at the Lost & Found

[This article was originally posted on ZS Associates’ CX Factor blog.]

I lost my phone at the airport on Friday night. In a classic story arc, I had a brief adrenaline rush followed by a wave of despair, and then a whole lot of frustration before things were set right. Once I was done being completely stressed and exasperated, I realized that it was a moment to reflect on how we deliver experiences both large and small.

lost and found - journeyThe Opening Scene

I was at the Enterprise User Experience conference last week, and when I landed at O’Hare on Friday night, I was still feeling that warm, happy buzz that you get when you spend time with your tribe. For the three days of the event, I had woken up early and stayed up late. I had been engaged in complex, energizing and thought-provoking conversations, and I was writing and blogging like mad about all of the exciting things that I learned, so it’s probably no surprise that by the time my plane landed back home, I was definitely running on fumes.

Once I landed, I stopped at the ladies room and then headed straight to the baggage claim, where I immediately realized that I must have left my phone behind. Yes, the phone is expensive, yes, it’s covered by insurance and yes, it has a ton of data on it, but there was also the feeling of shame and stress about explaining the situation to my IT group and my insurance company. And how was I going to call my ride home from the airport?

The Crisis and the Climax

shutterstock_248743552With that first spike of adrenaline, I ran all over the airport looking for help.  There was no one at the customer service or information desk when I arrived (of course), and it felt a little over the top to ask the Chicago Police, so I asked my airline.  After two unsuccessful attempts to get help in the luggage area, I found a service representative who traveled back through the secured part of the airport to check the ladies room for me. Twenty minutes later, I found her back at the service desk—with no phone, of course. I’m not even sure if she checked the right place, but at this point, I was realizing that I had to let it go.

I did manage to use the airport wi-fi to log into iCloud, use the “Find My Phone” feature, and confirm that my phone was off. It wasn’t off when I left it, so I knew the chances of recovery were already pretty slim. Now I became acutely aware of the loss of valuable data, including copies of my taxes, my mortgage paperwork and the not-yet-synced photos from the conference I had just attended.

The (Long) Denouement

While I was panicking about that, I used my computer to text my partner, who called my ride and got me home (an hour later, but otherwise as planned).  When I got home, I looked up the lost and found services at O’Hare, but it wasn’t clear whether I should have contacted the airline or the police. It was pretty clear, though, that even the adorable dog from KLM Airlines wasn’t going to save me now. And given that my phone had been turned off, it seemed extremely unlikely (even with a few days of phone calls) that I was going to get the help that I needed.

So I gave up. My best bet, at this point, was to erase the phone completely to protect the data. Now I needed to get a new phone, figure out if I was liable for it (and if so, how I was going to pay for it), and reinstall and reconfigure all of my applications. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well on Friday night.

I muddled my way through the weekend—phoneless—and on Monday, I headed to AT&T. Given the trajectory of the story so far, you can imagine that things didn’t go exactly as planned. Yes, the AT&T staff was helpful. Yes, they had my phone in stock. And yes, they charged me a fortune to replace the phone outside of my contract period. But no, they couldn’t replace my phone with (what I knew to be) my current model because their records still showed my earlier phone. After some wrangling with IT, the store representative and AT&T customer service, I walked out with a replacement phone, and our IT guy blocked the old phone hardware to prevent re-use by the person who had it. He then activated my new phone and reinstalled all of the work software. Let the ringing begin!

Lessons Learned

Traveling while tired is pretty much unavoidable, and making mistakes when overtired is tough to avoid, too. No, this isn’t a call to mindfulness or for better work/life balance (though those are great goals, too). The lessons learned, for me, are really about the challenges of designing an experience.

Through the process of getting “re-phoned,” I realized that my frustration had mostly to do with the wide variety of organizations involved. I came to appreciate, in a whole new way, how extraordinarily hard it is to design an experience with so many organizations and actors involved. The airline did, in fact, provide some help, the AT&T staff was friendly and helpful, and our IT team was great, but while each individual they did what they could, no one organization or individual was able to fully address my problem. In the end, I realized that most of the breakdown in delivering a positive experience occurs at the interstitial space between organizations and actors. Delivering an improved experience requires that we consider and address the experience from end to end, or for one group to voluntarily work across those boundaries in the best interest of the customer. Both are expensive propositions, though with the former, at least the burden is distributed across a broader group of stakeholders.

Working on these types of customer experience issues is challenging—but extremely rewarding—if you have the right team in place. And if you want to chat about what that might look like, call me anytime. My phone is on, and by my side.

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