Automation Gone Wrong.

My GrubHub Experience

I’m sitting on my couch scarfing down some peanuts while I write this with shaking fingers. My mind is a bit hazy and I’m a bit weak due to lack of food but I’m getting ahead of myself. Lack of nourishment induces delirium I discovered. What I really want to write about is the dangerous world of automated messaging. Maybe I should step back a bit and describe how my evening has unfolded.

It’s been a long day (as every day tends to be) and I’m not asking for any sympathy or special treatment. I’ve ridden the T, been accosted by strangers, been jostled, bumped, and fought for my right to stand in line. You know, a typical day in the city. As I stood squished into the sardine can hurtling underneath the city I glanced absentmindedly at the advertising in the placard on the wall.

Something about the advertisement caught my eye and it stuck with me subconsciously throughout the rest of my day. When I arrived back at my place that evening and I pondered my dinner options I thought that perhaps I’d give this food ordering service a try. At the time it was a bit after 6pm so I knew I’d be eating a bit later as the website suggested I expect a 45–60 min delivery time. That’s ok. I decide I don’t mind the wait for the opportunity to try a new experience.

After the usual dilemma of what to order (only multiplied by a thousand because now it’s not just what to order but where to order it from!) I finally settle on a good looking dish from a restaurant that’s not too far away from where I live. The ordering process is smooth and painless. I place my order and am given an order # and my estimated delivery time.

All good at this point. My delivery time matches my expected wait. I sit back and relax, enjoying this convenient way to order food not typically available as take-out. It’s a bit like ordering something on Amazon! Only it’s food! At this point I’m pretty hyped on the idea and think I may use this more often. Oh, if only I had known what lay ahead.

Just like when I was younger and I watched and waited for the UPS truck I found myself constantly checking the time, waiting for the late-night waffle wagon to deliver my delicious dinner. A part of me (probably my stomach) wonders if they might even show up early. I know the place is close so maybe my hot dinner is already on its way over! But alas, 7:00 comes and no arugula arrives. That’s cool, 9 minutes and counting I assume. Should have remembered what they say about when you assume. Then the unimaginable happens. 7:09 comes…and goes. Traffic. That’s my next self-created excuse for the delay. I’m pretty sure my driver must have just gotten stuck in a bit of traffic I tell myself. I’m feeling magnanimous and only slightly hungry so a couple more minutes is no big deal.

Then at approximately 7:15 I get the above text from GrubHub. It leaves me puzzled and a bit confused. First of all, the time they suggest my food to arrive is actually a bit sooner than the original delivery times given. This would normally be great, except that those times have already come and gone and I’m pretty sure that even though GrubHub has a crystal ball (which maybe they shouldn’t have deep fried), they probably don’t have a time machine (Unless they cooked that up in a wok with some amazing stir-fry last week). The second problem here is the time when this text was sent. In case you missed it, and if you’re starving like I was then it might not have been immediately noticeable. 7:15. That’s right, this message was sent 10 minutes after the projected delivery time! Now even in my slightly hungry state I can still recognize something seems fishy here (mmm, fish, I could really go for some smoked salmon on a cedar plank about now).

But in my foolishness I just assume it’s a delayed text or some other technical glitch with the timing. So I continue to wait. And wait. And wait. While I wait I start to wonder what my Snickers alter-ego might look like? Am I an angry caveman, a baby, a witch? A quick google search reveals that in fact Snickers is prepared to help me answer this question.

Yep, sounds about right. I’m a curmudgeon when I don’t eat. This little experiment didn’t take very long to perform (probably about the same amount of time it would have taken to consume a junior bacon cheeseburger). But alas, my grumpy alter-ego must continue to sit with a stomach protesting its emptiness with ever-increasing volume. At 8:00 I start to wonder. Could GrubHub really have been off by an hour on my order? Is it possible there was just a mistake and it’s being corrected even as I type this? Maybe they’re on Central timezone! At this point I’m beginning to worry about multiple things. My delirious food-starved brain starts to build fantastic possibilities. Some of them cause me great concern and I begin to worry about the well-being of my driver.

Perhaps he’s been in a wreck. Lying somewhere in need of medical attention. How dare I worry about my tacos getting cold (should have ordered the sushi). Do these delivery people use cars? Maybe the delivery fleet is all carried out on bicycles, in that case it would be a bummer if I ever ordered my usual Friday night mass-quantity of food. I can see my poor laden down cyclist hauling 50 lbs of fried chicken up the hill. Of course given that it’s almost an hour late I wonder…maybe they walk. Have they taken equal opportunity employment too far and begun hiring turtles to serve as delivery staff? These thoughts and a million more flood my brain.

I am always amazed when I watched shows on television like TLC’s My Strange Addiction, and could never really fathom how someone would eat their mattress, or munching on rocks, or plastic, or laundry detergent, couch cushions, and more. But as I sit here I begin to wonder to myself…perhaps they’re on to something. I mean, there probably is protein in some of those things. Isn’t it better than dying of starvation?

I forego the pillow appetizer and choose instead to think longingly about the small can of peanuts in my pantry. I had been holding off on eating them because, well, of course, I’ve ordered some fantastic food and I don’t want to ruin my appetite eating some slightly stale peanuts!

Finally, at 8:55 I can take it no longer. I take quick screenshot of my current time, my order, and the errant text message I received and fire off a tweet to GrubHub.

I know, I know, full-on curmudgeon. The quick response from GrubHub is for me to send a DM with my Order ID. Good to know at least the social media team is still alive. I send them my order number and they promise to call the restaurant to see what might be wrong. Ten more minutes past. Then twenty. Suddenly I get a new text

Even though I am close to passing out at this point — I manage to read the first sentence, GrubHub here! I think this is the resolution to my communication via the twitter team. They’ve found my order (somehow). I’m hoping it’s not a cold soggy mess at approximately 3 hours since order but I hold off judgement and wait for the knock. No knock. Minutes drag on, still no knock. I’m puzzled, perhaps I need to walk downstairs to check on it. Dragging myself down I find nothing has come and no one is waiting for me. There’s nothing left to do but turn around dizzy and lightheaded and stumble back to the elevator. I find my floor and return to my room. A new twitter message awaits me.

Apparently, the text I had previously received has nothing to do with the order. What? At this point I pulled out the peanuts and begin to regain my fortitude for the ensuing thought process.

Clearly what we have here is automation gone wrong. This is not just a little failure either. It appears based on my experience that there is a series of automated text messages that are sent to users who order food that in no way ties in with their actual order process or tracking system. My case proves to be the extreme example of how this disconnect can adversely effect the user experience. Imagine, my first time using the service and here I’m getting asked to tell my friends about the experience. I sincerely doubt this is the goal GrubHub had in mind when they created their text message campaign (at least I hope not).

What’s the take-away then from this experience? (Take-away…get it?) I wouldn’t say its to give up on GrubHub or their service. I’m sure they haven’t gotten to their size through examples like this. Rather I think my personal case of the lost burrito is an rare occurrence. No, the take-away is to look more closely at the processes and the structure of outreach campaigns. Are they tied to actual customer touchpoint? Are they reaching the customer at the right points in their customer journey? There’s nothing worse than making a poor impression which could be entirely avoided by using technology well. Make sure your platforms are deeply integrated and talking to each other. Only by doing this will you be able to appropriately get helpful feedback and encourage your customers to help you spread the word about your service.

I’ll probably try GrubHub again, though probably at a time when I have a good back-up plan. For now, I’ll sit here contemplating the power of integrated campaigns and munch on a few mo’ peanuts.