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User Experience at Hello Erik

The Poop in the Ice Cream

Posted January 16, 2015

A really bad touchpoint can ruin an entire customer’s journey experience. The power of the negative experience can be a 4:1 ratio to a positive. It can set up conditions for big dropoffs in your journeyer’s path, creating a painful delta from what they were feeling before the crash, and what they feel after. A big service sag Brandon Schauer (@brandonschauer) would say.

But every day, bad touchpoints get overlooked, dismissed, or even justified. No time, no resources, or a lack of feeling importance to decision makers. Always the same excuses; a race to “good enough.” Well, I’ve co-opted a metaphor I think can help illustrate the importance of putting serious effort into addressing these bad touchpoint experiences along your customer’s journey.

Making it Stick

General Patton, when commenting on his use of profanity when addressing his men:

When I want my men to remember something important, to really make it stick, I give it to them double dirty. You can’t run an army without profanity, and it has to be eloquent profanity.

I love a colorful metaphor, and General Patton was renowned for his (proof!). It just so happens that I heard one, some random day years ago, that’s always stuck with me. I think you’ll see why.

John Calipari, the head coach of the men’s basketball team at the University of Kentucky was making a comment of the effects of a negative, “non team player” on his teams, and the effect just 1 bad apple can have on the bunch. But he used a little different metaphor:

Let’s say you have a bucket of ice cream and a bucket of poop. You can add all the ice cream you want to that bucket of poop and it’s not going to change it one bit. But if you add so much as one pinch of poop to that ice cream it’ll never be the same.


To break down the metaphor into plain words: If you have a negative baseline experience that no one wants, adding positive experiences won’t really save it. But if you have a positive experience and add something really bad to it, it can ruin the entire thing. Negativity is always stronger and always has a larger reach.


Alright. Not sure if that counts as eloquent like Patton said, but it definitely makes an impression. It’s extreme and an absolute, and certainly not meant to be taken 100% seriously.

Regardless, I’ve always found it humorous and memorable. When your job is to have deep customer empathy and to offer the best experiences you can, it’s a strong reminder of the zealotry that pushes people to reconsider the amount of apology they afford the touchpoints that are well… poopy.

Just a pinch can ruin it all

A bad touchpoint or discrete experience as part of a larger experience doesn’t ruin it completely. It’s a spectrum of ruin or delight. But it can can have huge ramifications. Bad experiences last a long time and become a part of a companies reputation. We can analyze and predict what we think a customer will feel throughout their experience, but I have a hypothesis that how we measure the journey and how that compares to their memory of the journey are going to be a bit different:


The big dip in the journey from the bad touchpoint has big downstream impact on the blue line, our “experience designer” assumptions. But a journey is something that is remembered and is used by people to inform their future decisions – I think the magenta line is what people end up walking away with.

An ongoing relationship

There’s the idea that 1 negative comment must be offset by 4 positive comments, popularized in part by psychologist John Gottman and his study into why marriages succeed or fail. How much of this theory applies to the relationship you have with a customer?

I say customer instead of user on purpose. A user is someone who interacts with a thing, something that “is of use.” A customer is someone that a company has a relationship with in a series of interactions over time; it acts in service of the customer’s needs.

That’s the important aspect of customer vs. user experience. Everything you build and offer that a human interacts with is an experience. It doesn’t matter what industry or context, and it doesn’t matter where you draw the line between customer, user, or just a human that interacts. Even if you don’t realize it or focus on it, you’re creating a relationship.

It’s up to all of us to decide when bad experiences drag everything down to the point where the totality of the experience is at a net loss. And in a lot of cases, it can be just that 1 bad touchpoint. Just like Calipari’s metaphor above, always be on the lookout for the poop.

Don’t let a bad touchpoint experience be the poop in your ice cream.

I love all things experience design. I work as a Principal Service Experience Designer at Intuit in Mountain View, CA.

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