Our Partner John Sills explores why the little map shared by DHL to track your parcel gives him so much joy, and what other companies could do to make managing expectations more human and fun
I’m slightly in love with a delivery company tracking service.
That’s not a sentence I ever thought I’d write, but after a year of trying to relieve lockdown boredom by buying a whole host of unnecessary items – a telescope, a hedge trimmer, the infamous patio doors that never arrived – I’ve experienced pretty much every delivery company on offer. The knockers-and droppers, the throw -behind-the bush-ers, the you-didn’t-get-off-your-zoom-quick-enough-so-its-going-to-the-post-office-ers. They’re the most annoying.
These delivery companies all have their own way of keeping you informed, their own way to let you know when you might need to be stood at the door ready to have your photo taken by a complete stranger as proof that you did, indeed, get handed your parcel.
(At this point I’m really hoping that happens to everyone else and I’ve not been part of an elaborate delivery-driver in-joke with my posed parcel photo regularly appearing on some private Facebook group somewhere)
One company reminded me of the importance of not only doing the functional part well, but of the possibilities to add a bit of human emotion into the process, too.
On the day of delivery, DHL send a notification with the estimated time of arrival. So far, so usual.
The notification also has a link to a website, mapping out the journey your brave, intrepid parcel is on that day. It tells you when the journey started (mine was a late-riser), what stop the driver is currently at, and what number stop you are.
Now this may be the lockdown talking, but I found it utterly enthralling. Grab the popcorn, take a seat, and watch the action unfold, an immersive Postman Pat experience for the whole family to enjoy.
Have I got time to get to the shop and back before he gets here? Why is he taking so long at number 38, what could they have ordered?? He’s only two stops away! Quick, kids, get to the window and look out for him!
Even more exciting was the time when we were out of the house and had to race home, whilst watching the driver on the map, to try and avoid a passive-aggressive red postcard being put through the door. A real-life Challenge Annika, or Hunted, for the Millennials amongst you.
As shopping has become more digital, some of the human excitement that comes buying stuff in a store, sitting on the train surrounded by bags, and eagerly unwrapping them all when you get home has been lost. But the addition of something visual to follow and check in on throughout the day made it slightly more certain, slightly more interesting, and slightly more exciting knowing the thing you’ve been waiting for is nearly with you.
It’s a great example of something that doesn’t change the functional experience at all but does improve the human, emotional experience just a little bit. The same is true with the digital timing boards in train stations. They don’t change the functional experience of the train turning up and taking you somewhere. Their role is just to make you feel better about the whole thing, let you know you’ve got time to scroll mindlessly through your phone, as opposed to pacing up and down the platform in a mild panic convinced the entire TFL network has ground to a halt.
The importance of managing expectations in customer experience is far from a new thought (Valarie Zeithaml was writing about ‘Zones of Tolerance’ back in 1991), and many companies have perfected the basics of keeping their customers informed. However, often the focus is on the functional service, rather than the fun that can be had with it.
Managing expectations well will certainly reduce worry, but if done in the right way, it can build excitement, too. The DHL map is a clever touch and others, such as Amazon, go further and show the location of the driver on a real map. But why stop there? If it were RyanAir, their app would play a celebratory noise when the package arrived. Channel Four would play the Countdown theme tune as it drew near. Hasbro would turn it into a Top Trumps style game, comparing different drivers on speed, parcel handling, and delivery friendliness.
So as technology creates the opportunity to manage expectations and give customers the certainty they crave in ever easier ways, why just settle the functional when you can have a little fun with it too? If it’s good enough for Santa…