No Second Chances in eCommerce

A recent New York Times business travel column mentioned problems with

the FAA Web site

( The article

excellently illustrates the tenuous nature of the customer connection.

The issue revolved around the holiday weekend, when major snowstorms

reeked havoc with airline schedules. The FAA site

( provides real-time status updates from major

urban airports, indicating if the airport is experiencing any system-

wide delays due to weather or congestion. Unfortunately, when one

traveler tried to access the site over the holidays, someone at the FAA

forgot to update the information. Ouch.

I have always maintained that a Web storefront operator has only to

make one big mistake before losing the customer forever. You get no

second chances with Web shoppers. But why?

Are we all impatient people, with hair-triggers? Is it the increasing

overall level of cynicism in our society? Perhaps, but I think the

reason is a lot simpler. We all expect our computer systems to work

flawlessly, and when they don't, our level of frustration rapidly

reaches the boiling point. Witness many people's comments about Windows

crashes for good examples.

Or better yet, in keeping with the calendar let's recall the famous HAL

9000 computer from Stanley Kubrick's movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey. It

failed big-time, killing all but one of its human crewmembers because

it was given an impossible mission profile. (Well, maybe there were

some other reasons, too.) And the computer, which prided itself on

never making a mistake, became just as frustrated as ordinary humans

when it realized it was making mistakes.

A great commentary on the lessons learned from the movie can be found

here, a recent column by Dan Gillmor of the San Jose Mercury.

But something else is going on here, at a time when a site

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