What’s your customers’ single point of failure?

“A single point of failure (SPOF) is a part of a system that, if it fails, will stop the entire system from working. They are undesirable in any system with a goal of high availability or reliability, be it a business practice, software application, or other industrial system.”

Thinking about customer needs when looking at creating a successful startup? Perhaps putting yourself in the customer’s shoes, and ask what is their single point of failure? The component or process which if it went down would potentially take the whole business with it?

Do I have an example? How about a few years ago while working for an award-winning ski holiday company I was presented with a ‘wicked problem’. Twin sisters I thought I had booked into a twin room were now told that they would have to share a double bed, as there was no twin rooms left. When I informed the pair the sisters were not happy at this bed-sharing prospect.

So I went back to the holiday supplier and suggested to the operator that they stand by the confirmation of the twin bed booking. They refused. They said as I had made the booking on the phone, rather by the preferred electronic online system (which was ‘down’ at the time of booking) that they would not honour it.

So I asked the company directors with many years of experience for guidance to help resolve the problem, and they were also baffled, suggesting that I might pitch human rights law at the holiday company to get them to budge on the issue. While I am not averse to using a big concept to solve a small problem it didn’t quite seem the right approach.

After sleeping on the issue I came back the next morning – and drafted a fax letter to the company. In the letter I simply asked if their response meant they regarded the telephone booking, and the online booking, as two separate distinct systems.

I waited. A few hours later, they had a ‘surprise’ change of mind, and the twin sisters got their twin hotel room. Which reminds me of the chirpy catchphrase we used in the office with travel customers, “we can request, but we can’t guarantee”.