A disruptive product experience killed my love for “About a Girl”


My super duper cute car’s stereo interface.

I loved this Nirvana song since the first time I heard it in college, and often played it out loud with my ghetto blaster boombox from my dorm room.  I was so cool, or at least I thought I was.

Fast forward to 2015, I bought a new super duper cute vehicle with all the bells and whistles and have the ability to connect mobile devices to the car stereo system either via USB or Bluetooth. This is the most desirable feature for me since I prefer using apps on my phone to listen to books or music.

But here’s the kicker. It’s as if the product experience of this car is disrupted at the moment the mobile device is connected to the stereo system via USB. This isn’t just with my car, I’ve had similar experiences while renting cars that are made by other auto companies:

  • The stereo system inconsistently becomes unresponsive after I plug in my mobile device via USB up to 3 minutes or more (I usually give up after 3 minutes of no response and listen to the radio instead).
  • Once the stereo system recognizes the device, it launches the Music app (I’m using an iPhone) and plays the very first song alphabetically by song title.
  • Sometimes while a song is playing by another app, the Music app will randomly hijack the action back and play the very first song alphabetically by song title.
  • The Music app doesn’t show that any song is even playing while this is happening. Ummm, WTF? The Music app also isn’t even being displayed as one of the apps that are currently open or running.
  • The only way to kill the song is to either unplug the device or hijack it back by playing a song or book with another app.

Guess what song has become a torture? I’ll give you a hint, it starts with an “A”.

My 5-Year old daughter has resorted to saying “ugh, I don’t like this song. Make it stop!” pretty much every time she experiences this. Me too, baby, me too. This song has become a reminder of how annoying and frustrating this broken product experience is and there is no way to fix it because software upgrades don’t happen with automobiles. We’re stuck with this anger-inducing experience for the remainder of our ownership of this car.

On the bright side, this is a good daily reminder to myself that user experience is just a portion of the product experience. The product experience is more than just the experience pertaining to the user interactions with the intellectual property piece of your product. It is all the touchpoints of the user’s journey that start from the moment s/he learns about your product, becomes a loyal customer who promotes your product and ultimately buys more. Repeat. This is especially crucial for a software company that packages its software with commodity hardware components. Example touchpoints:

  • The sources and sentiments of information in which your users learned about your products or services. This could be from your Website, ads, a tradeshow, word of mouth, etc..
  • The process of finding and ordering the right products or services.
  • The purchase order process often referred to as the “P.O.”
  • The fulfillment process (this also includes the internal process of sourcing the hardware, accessories, parts, and bundling it with the software, etc.).
  • The customer’s product receiving experience.
  • The unboxing experience.
  • The hardware installation experience (this most likely would require the help of customer success team if it’s an enterprise product or working with customers that have little or no experience with hardware installations).
  • The hardware setup (getting started) experience via software.
  • The software set up experience.
  • The promised experience in your company’s marketing material that made your users give you a chance to prove that you’re worthy of the money spent. This is usually the touch point that gets the bulk of design focus. You know, the sexy UI.
  • The interactions with the customer success team.
  • How your product and company deal with a software or hardware failure. Trust me, this will happen. Expect it to happen.

When designing a product experience that has its intellectual property in the software and is bundled with commodity hardware as a package, there cannot be any edge case left behind. I have learned this from working on an enterprise data storage product the last 4-ish years. Depending on what your product does, external factors that cause unmet expectations of your product can be detrimental to your customers and your business. At the end of the day, the customer just knows that s/he did not receive the value that was promised to her/him by your company.

Every touch point is an opportunity to earn more trust and credibility with your customers. Think through your product experience and find out where the disruptive touch points may exist. I wish that my car’s maker didn’t stop at the mobile device hook up to stereo system experience. Because even though the stereo system is made by another company, I still blame the car maker who sold me the entire experience as one package. Who in your company is ensuring that the product experience is designed as thoughtfully as the user experience of the product? If you want a huge loyal customer base, every single touch point will require attention to be on par with the experience of the rest of the product.

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

~ Legendary Jedi Master Yoda

Thankfully, I’m not at the hate stage with “About a Girl”. Maybe I’ll hire a hypnotist to trigger happy laughter every time I hear it because I’m likely to keep this car for another 5 to 10 years.

Also, where’s that built-in mobile device holder already? One that is placed in a spot that does not obstruct views out the window and is easily accessible visually and tangibly. One that feels like it is a part of the car. Until then, there are many mobile device holders to choose from on amazon.com, with very limited good placements on or near the dashboard.