If your digital transformation looks like this, you’re doing it wrong

There are four of this German manufacturer’s products in my New York City apartment. The engineering quality is excellent, and they are beautiful to look at. The oven, a square of black glass and stainless steel, heats quickly and evenly. The dishwasher is whisper-quiet. Though this company’s products cost twice as much as other brands I’ve used, I did not hesitate to order their washer & dryer when our old ones had to be replaced. 

The company does so many hard things well, yet they continue to miss something obvious and important.

“Please make it stop!”

When we first moved into our apartment, the building was new and each of the 265 units came with a high-end dishwasher. After our first dinner there, I loaded it with dirty dishes, turned it on, and went to sleep.

Soon after, my wife and I woke up to an insistent beeping. Half-awake, we wondered what it was. A smoke detector? Some other alarm? After stumbling in the dark, we discovered it was the dishwasher. I turned it off and went back to bed.

The next day I mentioned it to two neighbors and learned they were also woken up by their dishwashers, and they couldn’t figure out how to make it stop. Not the woman with a Ph.D. from Stanford. Not the partner in a corporate law firm. They had resigned themselves to organizing their lives around the beep. 

I searched the Internet and discovered numerous complaints, and also a solution that only a mad scientist could expect consumers to find and follow. (It took me four attempts.) Why would such a quality manufacturer force customers to do something like this?

  1. Turn off the dishwasher.

  2. Press the Program Select option and, while holding it down, switch the machine back on. 

  3. Keep the Program Select and power buttons down until the bottom right indicator light comes on.

  4. Press Program Select four times. The Inlet/Drain light should now be flashing.

  5. Hold the Program Select button down again until the Inlet/Drain indicator stays on continuously.

  6. Release the Program Select button and the press it again once quickly.  This should toggle the buzzer activation to off.

  7. Turn off the dishwasher.

How would you turn off the beep?

Cursing in the laundry room

Now it’s ten years later, and almost every company is offering “smart” products. The washer and dryer I purchased is highly-rated and they come with Internet connectivity and an app. The machines notify me, for example, when the laundry is done, and also report (oddly) the precise temperature of the water and the revolutions per minute of the interior drum.

The day the new equipment arrived there were piles of laundry to do, and I was eager to get started. But the small display instructed me that I must first follow setup instructions and connect the machine to my network, which it could not find. I read the manual. I repeat all the steps. No connection. 

I downloaded the app and re-read the manual. I try again - and it works! But still I cannot do laundry. I must now “calibrate” the machine (a 2-hour process!) before setup is complete. Failing to do this step forces me to start from the very beginning. I do this twice. 

Half a day later, I load dirty clothes into the machine, cursing the engineers responsible for this experience. “Didn’t anyone at this company try their own product?!?” 

The missing piece in most transformation programs

I purposefully did not mention the company’s name because they are not the exception but the rule. Almost every company has a digital transformation program of some kind, but they all tend to focus on the technology and forget about the people. 

  • Did they ever observe a real customer trying to use their product?

  • Were employees invited to share their feedback and offer ideas for a better experience?

  • What if, instead of reporting the RPM of the motor, the “smart” appliances noticed how long setup was taking and pointed me to help? Or noticed that I am consistently using only one of the 20+ programs (“Normal”) and gave me useful tips for how to make the most of the machines?

Despite all their technology, the manufacturer has created a connected product that leaves me completely disconnected from them. As a result, they have no insight into my experience, and miss out on valuable information they need to improve. Until companies include empathy and human connection as part of their transformations, the promise of digital will remain unfulfilled, and customers and employees will remain unsatisfied. 

The Mainentance (sic) program on my new washing machine.