Poor interoperability is a major challenge to good user experience design.

This type of thing seems disturbingly common nowadays: I am preparing to book a hotel for an upcoming conference. The hotel is part of a chain I’ve never stayed at before, so I decide to see if they’ve got some sort of affiliate program or bonus/loyalty/mileage thing, before I book.

I sign up for the program and get my number about 12 hours later. I tried to book online but because I was looking for a conference rate (without a code) I gave up and ended up calling.

And they don’t show my loyalty number.

I’m looking at the auto-generated email, with the number in bold text. And we try several times. They try my name, everything. And give up. Even though I have the “receipt” on hand. No dice.

So the convenience factor – not having to read out every single piece of contact info I’ve already entered, not having to specify room preferences that I’ve already entered, all gone.

They pointed me to the service number for the loyalty program, and the person I speak with explains it may take 7 to 10 days for a newly issued number to be available to the rest of the hotel systems (such as reservations). He was able to quickly put the number into my reservation for credit, and both people I spoke to were incredibly helpful and genuine (besides being forced to read some clunky scripts), so this isn’t really a complaint about bad service, but really an eyebrow-raised in amazement over bad design.

Shouldn’t a requirement of the system they design to create and issue the loyalty numbers be rapid integration with the reservation system? Isn’t a likely use scenario going to be booking of a reservation very quickly after creating a new account? IT systems in silos is scary for what it prevents.

I guess the band-aid would have been to explain this limitation in their “welcome” email but that might have been too big a peek behind the curtain. They did inform me it would take 48 hours to issue the new account at the beginning of all this (although that also seems silly, what are they doing, checking my references?)…

In general, poor interoperability is a major challenge to creating a good user experience. And this example seems highly typical.

Recently nytimes.com rolled out an integration of their home delivery accounts and web-content accounts (I think to help sell their premium access service), but they did it in a terribly clumsy and confusing way, leading to service calls to agents who had no information (I was told, after a lot of vague language like “when you go out of the system you have to come back and and when it asks for your account you enter your number” to wait 24 hours and try again) and no interest in helping (“this is all the information we have. We can only read this out to you; that’s all we can do.”)…a disaster, as far as I am concerned. Maybe it’ll be better now, but the NYT hurt their brand pretty badly, at least in my case.


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