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Unintended Consequences of Overlooking the Obvious with Technology Mon 17 Mar 08

LrgclockA week ago Saturday (March 8) we moved our clocks one hour ahead for daylight savings time (DST)  to give us more daylight in the evening.  The next day I checked into a DoubleTree hotel to attend a conference.  Upon entering my room I noticed that the alarm clock was one hour behind.  My first reaction was that they missed a great customer service opportunity.  Since the housekeeping staff is in the room everyday why not simply have them adjust the alarm clocks for daylight savings?  That should be simple enough, shouldn't it?  Well maybe not.

Since I wanted to use the alarm clock I figured it would be easier to set the time correctly myself.  Upon looking at the clock I noticed 2 things.  First the clock was 53 minutes behind and not 60 as I assumed resulting from the DST change.  Second, and this is the most shocking, there is no way to adjust the time.  That's right you can not change the time.  Some of the features include:

  • Four pre-set buttons for local radio stations designated by a graphic of the music type

  • Connection cable for use with guest’s personal MP3 player, portable CD player, laptop and other entertainment devices

  • Built-in stereo speakers for radio or connected devices

  • Large LCD screen with dimmer that adjusts to high, medium or low

  • Automatic daily alarm time reset, preventing an alarm set by a previous guest from repeating

I picked up the radio and looked on the top and looked on the bottom and looked all around but couldn't find anything that would let me change the time.  My curiosity got the best of me so I called the front desk and the conversation went something like this:

Me: I must be a complete idiot but the time on the clock is wrong and I cannot figure out how to set it, can you tell me how to set the time.

Front Desk: We'll have to send up someone from engineering to do that.  You have to have a screwdriver and open up the clock to adjust the time.

Me: Am I hearing you correctly?  It takes someone from engineering to set the time on a clock?

Front Desk:  I'm afraid so.  Would you like me to send someone up?

Me: No thanks.  I'll just use the alarm feature on my BlackBerry.

I wish I would have had more time.  It would have been interesting to see if the time setting really can be corrected.  While preparing this post I did a little research and things get even more interesting.

Back in 2005, Hilton Hotels the owner of DoubleTree, announced Hilton Family of Hotels Designs A Better Alarm Clock which was picked up by the travel industry press in such articles as:

The whole intent of these "custom designed" clocks was to alleviate concern about setting the alarm.  I can understand this and admit the alarm setting process is simple.  This is a great concept.  In fact DoubleTree even offers this clock for sale.  However, setting the alarm correctly is dependent on the time being correct.  Admittedly you can always "shift" the alarm setting but this defeats the whole purpose of its design.  So wouldn't it make sense to make sure the time is correct. 

Although not picked up in the articles cited above, the original press release states:

"Operationally, the hotel staff sets the time zone information only once (the clock arrives with time and calendar pre-set by the manufacturer) and the clocks automatically adjust one hour ahead for Daylight Savings Time and back to Standard Time, and adjust for Leap Year."

Unfortunately there were a couple of things they hadn't thought of.  First, digital clocks aren't always that accurate and over time can develop noticeable errors.  Second, the dates when DST starts and ends may change.  The result?  There are now 250,000 alarm clocks that are not set properly and justify traveler concern which is why I'm sticking with the BlackBerry alarm.  That's 250,000 potential opportunities for upsetting customers when you were really trying to serve them better.

A few things they could have done.

  1. Knowing of the problem (this isn't the first time the DST start date was different from the 2005 date) they could have made the effort to manually change all of the clocks so that customers wouldn't be inconvenienced.
  2. Think about how your product will be used over time and what happens if your assumptions (such as DST always starts on the same date) are wrong.
  3. I have a similar "smart" alarm clock at home but it at least allows me to change the time setting or time zone so I can make it correct.

There is a good lesson here for all us.  Beware of the unintended consequences of an incompletely thought out process.  We could end up making the problem worse instead of better.

What are your thoughts?

"lrg-clock" photo from DoubleTree At Home

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» Shield customers from unintended consequences from Kent Blumberg
My friend Mike Schaffner writes today about his frustrations with a customer friendly alarm clock at a DoubleTree hotel. It seems that back in 2005 the hotel chain introduced new clocks with simple to use alarm controls. Unfortunately, it is [Read More]

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