Useless Technology… Cautionary Tales from Ford and Fairmont Hotels


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Our suite at the Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver was gorgeous. We had checked in at 3 am after a red-eye flight and I went into the bathroom and looked for the light switch. I was confronted by a panel which gave me 6 choices. There were 3 “light scenes” including “night”, “spa” and “groom”, (why nothing for bride?). Then another 3 choices: “main”, “vanity” and “off”. With the exception of “off”, none of the options made much sense.

Plus, I kept feeling badly that “bride” had been omitted. My daughter pointed out that my failure to realize that it meant “groom” as in “groom
oneself” probably explained why I did so poorly on the SATs.

Four hours later, we were woken by the sound of our daughter’s angry voice. She was on the phone, insisting that the front desk manager come to the room immediately, because no one had responded to her previous calls explaining
that the high-tech drapes on the floor-to-ceiling windows had been opening and closing by themselves for the last two hours, letting in the blinding

Engineering and the manager eventually came to the room with a laptop and offered to re-program the drape settings. We stated that clearly, we were not the only people who had experienced this problem and that, evidently, a lasting fix had not been found. They admitted this was true.

The solution? We all agreed that the only guaranteed solution would be to remove the motors from each of the 8 drape sections in the suite!

Don’t get me wrong … I love technology. Some of my best friends are technology geeks and some of our best clients are technology companies. But, there is a difference between technology which is functional and useful and attempts at “gee whiz” which aren’t.

Consider my wife’s new Lincoln MKS. Advertised as the super high-tech offspring resulting from the union of Ford and Microsoft, it is a nice car generally, but there is one persistent problem: it often won’t start.

The push button ignition technology is flawed and often leaves my wife stranded and anxious on dark streets or parking lots, pushing the ignition 12 to 17 times before it will decide to start.

The Ford dealer mechanics can’t fix it because the computer system is too complex, and the Ford engineers “cannot duplicate the problem” and therefore, after 3 months of this persistent issue, have decided that they can’t do anything.

Ford has washed it’s hands of the situation and left my wife in a dangerous situation, not knowing if her car will start.

But I stray, the customer dis-service attitude of Ford is a topic for another blog…

Back to technology. Companies have to ask themselves …is certain technology necessary? Who does it benefit? Is it a useful application of technology? Will the user be better off than with a simpler solution?

No matter what my daughter says, I still feel badly that the bathroom setting only thinks of the “groom” and not the bride.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Ernan Roman
Ernan Roman (@ernanroman) is president of ERDM Corp. and author of Voice of the Customer Marketing. He was inducted into the DMA Marketing Hall of Fame due to the results his VoC research-based CX strategies achieve for clients such as IBM, Microsoft, QVC, Gilt and HP. ERDM conducts deep qualitative research to help companies understand how customers articulate their feelings and expectations for high value CX and personalization. Named one of the Top 40 Digital Luminaries and one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing.


  1. As a child, I remember the car that my father bought with automatic windows. One day, the system failed; the windows went down; and the rain poured in. The basic simple cars that I buy cost a lot less and don’t break down as often. I roll my windows up and down, turn the key in the ignition, and turn the headlights on. These automatic systems seem to be the ones that break down the soonest. My wife won’t give up her non-luxurious 1998 Honda Civic until they pry her fingers off the wheels. We’ve spent virtually nothing on repairs except standard maintenance.

    While I may seem strange, I don’t feel that put upon by manually dealing with my car’s functions. I’m also rich enough on a modest salary that I can retire whenever I want.


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