D-6 Does Not Work

This afternoon I made a trip to the office vending machine for a little chocolate fix. I tend to go for Snickers, occasionally opting for Twix. If chocolate doesn’t feel right, I’ll go with a PayDay. Well, as you can see from the picture, an earlier visitor had gone looking for their favorite snack and left disappointed. So they left a note. “D-6 does not work” They even dated it 11-27.

Instantly, I felt a wave of panic. “Oh no, what if D-6 holds the Snickers? I’ve got to have my Snickers!” It turns out slot D-6 holds salty peanuts. There were plenty of peanut bags in the slot, so I imagine the issue is mechanical. Lucky, Snickers are in slot D-0. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Dropping my quarters into the coin slot, I began to feel sympathy pains for my unfortunate co-snacker. I’ve been in their shoes plenty of times. You probably have too. Remember?

It’s mid-afternoon and you’re sitting at your desk when the craving kicks in. “I need something sweet,” you think. “Just a little something to take the edge off and tide me over until dinner.” You check your pockets to make sure you have change. And on your way to the vending machine, your mind settles on a choice.

Then you arrive only to find that the machine is out of order. Or your number choice is all emptied out. Or the machine keeps spitting your crumpled dollar bill back out at you. Or, occasionally, the worst fate of all. Your selection gets hung up. It dangles there – resistant to any amount of machine shaking – until you cough up another round of payment.

A trip to the vending machine encompasses the myriad range of emotions a customer can feel when interacting with any business. These emotions can be broken into three distinct phases of the interaction.

Initially, there’s the lead-up. This phase involves everything that happens prior to the actual interaction. In the case of a vending machine visit, there’s the craving for somethign sweet, the frantic search for spare change and the eventual settling of the mind on a desired product.

Next comes the actual interaction. In the case of my frustrated co-worker, I imagine emotions such as surprise and confusion came into play as their preferred selection proved to be unavailable.

Finally, there’s the post-interaction phase. Walking away from the vending machine, you might feel satisfaction or even elation (like when someone else leaves their change in or an extra candy bar drops into the bin). Of course my coworker felt dissatisfied, frustrated and possibly even angry.

It may seem like a small thing, but empathizing with a person’s emotional state as they interact with your business is an important part of designing a superior customer experience. The key is imagine the emotions you want the customer to feel at each stage and then put strategies in place to ensure they encounter a scenario in which those emotions come into play. You also need to imagine the emotions you don’t want a customer to feel and design processes that keep them from evolving.

Were I a vending machine owner, I would want my customers to feel satisfied with not only their purchase, but their experience. I would not want them to feel frustrated or angry. Therefore I would design processes to ensure the best emotions come into play and reinforce their decision to visit my machine. After all, I’d love for them to come back day after day.

Here are a couple of things I might do to ensure the best emotions were felt by users of my vending machine.
• I’d keep track of inventory to know how often I needed to restock to ensure everyone’s favorites were available when they wanted them.
• I’d check the mechanics of each button frequently to make sure delivery was actually taking place.
• I’d post a note letting users know how to get their money back in case of a malfunction.
• I might even run periodic “sales” by discounting certain products to provide an element of surprise every now and then.

All of this ran through my head in the seconds it took for my coins to fall into the machine. I pressed D-0 and the machine’s display instructed me to try another selection. Uh, oh. I tried again thinking perhaps I’d accidentally hit two buttons at once with the same result. So I tried D-1 (Peanut M&M’s), D-2 (Twix) and D-3 (Plain M&M’s) all with the same result. The entire D section is out of commission.

Frustrated and still hungry, I decided to punt. I pressed E-4 and a PayDay dropped down. I walked away an unhappy customer.

What emotions do your customers feel as they anticipate interacting with you? What about during or after the interaction?

What emotions would you like for them to feel?

What steps will you take to ensure your customers feel the emotions necessary to reinforce their buying decision?

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