Last fall, as the school year commenced, I finally had to come to terms with the crappy inkjet printers I’d collected over the years. My 10th grader had just started a science class that required him to print his journal pages in full color – and I had two color inkjet printers that made that virtually impossible. My Lexmark would only print color and my HP wouldn’t print black ink. Both took forever to print one page and the ink cartridges were ridiculously expensive and seemingly always about to run out. Clearly this situation had to change.

After a few weeks of watching my son struggle to get print quality adequate to get a passing grade, I decided to sit down one Sunday afternoon and solve this problem once and for all. I had always preferred the HP’s interface so I decided that the Lexmark had to go. With that decision made I started HP’s methodical online process to troubleshoot the issue. An hour later, still unsuccessful, I decided to call HP customer service.

HP’s customer service rep was very efficient and friendly. As someone who’s had my fair share of retail jobs, I knew it wasn’t his fault. If only he could see my eye rolls and hear my deep sighs when he walked me through the exact steps I’d already taken the hour before! After another hour of working with the rep with no resolution, I made up my mind that I would never buy another inkjet printer.

Now, the question became, do I buy the LaserJet printer from HP or do I choose another retailer. I’m on the phone with HP so I figured I’d give them a chance to sell me a printer. The rep starts proposing different options and prices, and since I’m online, I promptly went to to see if I could get a better deal. I told him and he promptly started putting together various options to win my business.

Brands Can No Longer Afford to Ignore the End to End Digital Experience

We finally agreed on the specific printer and price I would pay. Then came the shipping and timeline. Again, this was Sunday afternoon and I really didn’t want to go into another school week with my crappy, ink-challenged inkjets. He offered me free two-day shipping and I thought that was a decent deal. By this point I was exhausted, had spent almost three hours on a Sunday trying to resolve this issue and just wanted to buy the printer so I could finally do my laundry and grocery shopping. I go to get my credit card and the first thing he says is:

I’m going to have to put you on hold for a moment.

I need to get my manager, I cannot accept your credit card information.

Yes, I’m about to give HP my money and the rep puts me on hold.

I sit there for about a minute, then had an epiphany. Staples is right around the corner from my home and probably has the exact printer that I want. I went to, saw that they had the printer I wanted, and hung up on HP. Of course, the rep called me right back, but I screened him with caller ID.

I left right away, walked into my local Staples and bought my new HP Laserjet printer. I had it loaded in my car and was on my way in less than 30 minutes. Problem solved.

So what’s the point? I use this as an object lesson for why brands can no longer afford to ignore the problem of end-to-end digital experience management.  Every one of us has had an experience like this, likely as recently as this past weekend.

Great Products and Optimized Channels are No Longer Enough

HP is a huge company with a ton of smart people. By many measures they’ve done a lot of things right:

  1. Their website is very thorough and provides an immense well of information to troubleshoot your own problems; in fact, the troubleshooting steps are nicely integrated with my computer operating system so I didn’t even have to search for help.
  2. Their customer service rep was extremely friendly and professional and used a consistent process to troubleshoot issues—imagine if he’d taken me through different steps to come to the same conclusion. That would’ve been even more frustrating.
  3. The rep was empowered to make offers and put together solutions that would entice me to buy – HP knows his role is both servicing and selling.
  4. HP has great products … I’ve always loved my HP products. I’ve found them superior in design, particularly their user interfaces. They are very easy to set up and use … my HP Laserjet printer is “the bomb” by the way. Fast, quiet, and stellar quality at a reasonable price.

Each of HP’s channels actually operate as they should, and their products are world class. So what’s wrong with that?

Managing the End-to-End Digital Experience is Now Cost of Entry

So what could HP have done differently? Well, there are a ton of things, but here are the top 5 in my view:

  1. Quick Access to Customer Browsing History: HP’s rep started the conversation from the standpoint that I had never tried to troubleshoot the problem and went straight to calling them on the phone. He knew who I was based on my product registration and previous warrantee. Why wasn’t he able to pull up my browsing history while we were on the phone to see which pages I’d already viewed? That would’ve taken less than a minute and could’ve saved us both a lot of frustration.
  2. Rationalize Pricing Across Distribution Channels: HP’s pricing across its distribution channels is confusing and far from customer friendly. At a minimum, shouldn’t I be able to get a better price from HP for an HP printer than anywhere else? What’s more, shouldn’t HP anticipate that callers to their customer service line who are interested in purchasing a replacement printer have ready access to competitor pricing?
  3. Match Competitor Shipping Options: HP’s rep offered me free, two-day shipping. All he had to do is ask me and I would’ve told him that I get one-day shipping for most items through my Amazon Prime membership. The rep needs to be more inquisitive about the competition in order to really make a compelling case to buy from HP.
  4. Understand Customer Journeys: I’ll have to confess if you haven’t figured it out: I’m a middle-aged mom. Surely HP has a customer journey map for middle-aged moms of teens who need printers that crank out color pages quickly and with a minimum of fuss and bother! If HP’s rep understood my journey and why I needed to buy a printer, he would’ve understood that the key driver of my decision-making wasn’t cost, but speed. He should’ve proactively offered me one-day shipping, because of who I am.
  5. Streamline Selling for Customer Service Reps: Finally, and this is one of the most obvious, HP’s reps need to be empowered to process a transaction. Instead of putting me on hold—which should be the last resort—why not send me a link to a place where I can enter my credit card information. Yes, it may have taken a bit more time, but when a customer is ready to buy, never, ever put a hurdle in front of them.