January 10, 2001, 12:00 AM — A recent New York Times business travel column mentioned problems with
the FAA Web site
(http://www.nytimes.com/2001/01/03/business/03TRAV.html). 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
(http://www.fly.faa.gov) 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