It’s Tuesday, 9 August, 2022 and for the first time this week the air conditioner next to my desk is not running and I am not feeling like I am dying.
I have a sand timer in front of me, a topic that just caught my attention, and I’m going to get this done in 15 minutes.
Michele Hansen had an interesting question that flitted by my timeline:
I had a quick look at the replies, and they included things like:
as well as kinds of software like:
We know this already: a high-level commonality of all of these industries is that all of the end-users of these systems don’t have a practical choice in what software they have to use.
You don’t have a choice as to how you interact with a government service in terms of software.
You don’t have a choice (in the U.S. at least, I don’t want any of you European or formerly-European, ha, U.K. lot, going on about the Open Banking platform being developed and in actual use over there) in the software through which you “experience” banking, but only to the extent that you’ve got a choice in banks.
You don’t have a choice about the software through which you “access” healthcare.
You haven’t had a choice, really, in the quality of the in-car dashboard software, until recently when you now have a choice between say Apple or Google integration, or “do you get a Tesla or not”.
Again, we know this, it’s really bloody obvious, and don’t blame me if you think I’m not bringing anything new to this conversation. I’m thinking out loud, remember?
In every single one of these instances, when you don’t have a choice (or the choices open to you are minimal) and you don’t have the ability to choose “better” software, which we’ll assume would equate to a “better” user experience for that particular service or product, whoever or whatever provides that service or product has decided that software is not a differentiator: that it’s not the thing that will get you to switch because something about that product is more valuable to you. Or, I suppose, there are other things like high switching costs (e.g. when you want to switch banks. There’s this whole thing about bank accounts for kids because as the saying goes, if you give me a current/checking account for a child then I will give you the lifetime customer value and hopefully reduced churn or whatever).
In the U.S., where there hasn’t been telco unbundling and there are regional monopolies on telco services, you don’t have choice, so Comcast doesn’t have to get better. In healthcare, it’s not (ish) like you’re going to shop around for a provider who’s got “better software”, at least not primarily so. You might do so for easily substitutable services (e.g. primary care) which is how we get situations like One Medical popping up, combining exciting new subscription business models with getting acquired by Amazon.
In banking, you’re mainly looking (until things like Simple, or that UK bank that I can’t remember the name of) for banks that do nice things with your money, and you’re willing to take some sort of pain or lack of “magical, delightful experience”.
But if you work at one of those companies, in design, or development or service design or even product management or whatever, then suddenly you have to make the case that it’d be a competitive advantage if your software or user experience were better. The thing is, I reckon at least, that exec leadership really don’t see it that way, not unless they’ve Gotten The Techno Utopian Vision. There’s no competitive pressure to get better, they’re frequently in very cushy positions and aren’t subject to disruption – they might have built their moat of high switching cost, they might feel comfortable that, come on, healthcare is so fucked up that are you really going to choose a different healthcare provider because you’ve got better software? Or is it worth investing in software and service/product design, if you’ve got other ways of keeping your customers or business?
No, there isn’t. It probably isn’t worth it.
Sorry, this may have turned out to be too depressing.
Look, what I’m also kind of saying is this: you can’t get people to change until and unless they want to change. If people see nothing wrong with a particular situation, if they’re not experiencing for example sufficient pain, or if they don’t see a sufficient reward, then they’re not going to do anything differently. Doing things differently is difficult, hard, and takes time, and have you ever tried to steer a 500, 1000, 15,000 or more-person ship? It’s hard!
There are some people (and this is where it might get callous) who do get that things could be better and might be able to express why they might be better, or might make a persuasive case that this is some sort of arms race, that if we don’t do it, then somebody else is going to do it first.
So then we get down to: is it worth it to invest in software and experience? And that depends on, more often than not, money. I mean, you get entities (government, private, whatever) deciding to fling lots of money about for whatever reason every now and then. It’s like, well, if you’re going to do a whatever gazillion dollar acquisition and one of the benefits is “synergy” and “better technology” (I’m looking at you, Warner/Discovery), then you know, it might be cheaper to actually build and maintain that better technology yourself in the first place. I don’t know, it’s the whole build/buy thing.
Anyway. Conan: these things are the worst in life because you don’t have the power, and if we were serious about competition and choice, then things would look quite different and we would have more things like open banking an APIs. But that would also require those setting policy to understand and be persuaded that choice in software experience or front-end (to the extent that the actual experience matters as much on back-end business systems and their flexibility and responsiveness) is a Good Thing and would produce More Dynamic Markets and Increased GDP and Value.
Okay, that’s it.
I went over a bit, but I swear the part about Bad Software was only 15 minutes.
How are you doing?
Look, asking for money is awkward and embarrassing, so I’m trying to model good behavior here.
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What industry has the worst software / online experiences?, Michele Hansen, Twitter, 9 August, 2022 ↩