As participles go, “excited” is a bit too strong, but “interested” is too limp.

I’m trying to describe my reaction to the email I received from a major air carrier, letting me know I was only a couple of hundred miles short of a first-class round trip ticket to anywhere in the United States. And if I had no immediate travel plans that would take me over the top, I could buy enough miles to cover the spread.

The minimum miles purchase was 2,000 for $59. Not too bad, so I clicked where I needed to click and arrived at the checkout page, which informed me that in addition to the sixty buck price tag, I’d also have to pay $35 in administrative fees.

My wife used to shop at Herberger’s. No longer, because Herberger’s is no more. One reason, we’re convinced, is that we weren’t the only customers who, attracted to the store and website by the many discount coupons they sent us, were annoyed to find that the coupon we held at any given shopping moment could not be used to buy the merchandise we had in hand.

The terms and conditions associated with Herberger’s coupons put your average end-user license agreement to shame.

Which leads to this conclusion, which in turn will lead to the point of this week’s essay: When it comes to structuring any sort of promotion, keep stupid out of it, and empathy for customers in it.

In the case of my first class ticket I can imagine the discussions that led to the $35 admin fee: “Deal momentum” would carry enough customers through that the net revenue gain outweighed the net reduction in total sales volume.

The math probably works. But the psychology doesn’t. All things being equal, the next time I travel I’ll do my best to avoid the airline in question. It’s an entirely predictable outcome, which would have been avoided through the simple expedient of concealing the $35 admin fee … an utterly preposterous number … within the purchase price, just as e-tailers that offer free shipping do.

Which gets us to the point, which is software quality assurance.

No, really.

Increasingly, as part of Digital this and Digital that, businesses are paying far more attention to the customer experience than they used to. As part of this effort, they’re creating mechanisms to understand how customers feel about their interactions with the company.

For telephone callers, it’s standard practice for companies to record calls so as to measure how well their call center staff are handling customer requests and complaints. Web and mobile apps are tougher, but methods for evaluating the customer experience in these environments are rapidly increasing in accuracy and sophistication.

It’s what internal IT would call UAT — user acceptance testing, which, done well, includes end-user suggestions as to how to improve overall usability.

Paying attention to the (real, paying) customer experience on the web and through mobile apps is admirable. I’m in favor of it.

What I suspect receives too little attention, though, is that unlike internal applications, the web and mobile customer experience includes more than layout, design, and functionality.

It also includes matters of more substance, such as the $35 admin fee I’m griping about here, coupons that are (or, in the case of Herberger’s, weren’t) redeemable on e-commerce websites and mobile apps, and, for a third example, requiring shoppers to establish userid’s and passwords before being allowed to buy merchandise.

Those who think in terms of organizational charts are likely to divide aesthetics, functionality, and substance into separate testing regimes. As with so many other forms of business dysfunction, this misguided use of the org chart is a likely step on the path to, if not perdition, at least suboptimalism.

This is because unlike everyone inside your company, for whom the org chart might be sacrosanct, Real Paying Customers don’t care an infinitesimal fig about who reports to whom or how responsibilities are divvied up.

They (which turns into “we” when you and I go home and shop for something) just find all of the above annoying.

Annoying, that is, is for Real Paying Customers a collective gerund, not a decomposable one. Which in turn means that customer experience testing should be collective as well.

KJR’s readers are increasingly being pulled into Digital initiatives of one sort or another. If you’re among them, promote this thought process:

The customer experience is holistic. We have to pretend we are, too.

Everyone has a story.

I was re-reading Eliyahu Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints. It’s the principles he first elucidated in his groundbreaking “business novel,” The Goal, rewritten as prescriptive methodology.

Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints (ToC) is, as process improvement methodologies go, quite brilliant and sadly underappreciated. And yet, early in the book appears this disturbing statement about the value of ToC success stories:

Who would be helped by such testimonials? The people that have already been persuaded by The Goal do not need them, they have their own real-life proof. Those who were not moved by the common sense logic in The Goal will certainly find it easy to demonstrate that their situations are different and that these ideas will not work in their environment.

I say disturbing because Goldratt appears to be asserting that fiction not only is more persuasive than fact, but that it should be.

It probably is — when I talk to clients about DevOps, for example, more cite The Phoenix Project than any company’s real-world experience.

By this logic, if, in a debate about military strategy and tactics, my opponent were to support a point with Grant’s victory at Vicksburg as described in his personal memoirs, my best counterargument should come from the battle of Helm’s Deep as described in The Lord of the Rings.

Fiction can be an excellent way to illustrate a point. But offered as evidence it’s a cheat. Fictions’ authors are puppeteers, able to make their characters say and do whatever is necessary to “prove” whatever point they’re trying to make.

Not that business case studies are much better. They aren’t, because those presenting them (1) start with the conclusion they’re trying to prove rather than starting with evidence and using it to guide their opinions; and then (2) sort through the available stories to find those that support the predetermined outcome, ignoring all the others that don’t.

Then there are the anecdotes we consultants tell. We all have them.

I recall (but couldn’t track down) a bit of braggadocio from a Lean consultant who described his experience on a construction site. After a brief period of observation he was able to use Lean principles to save the construction firm oodles of time and sacks of cash by repositioning the concrete mixers.

In my own consulting we once saved a client the time, expense, and aggravation of a multimillion dollar process reengineering project through the simple expedient of having IT educate a business department in the use of an already-installed feature of the software package they used.

Twenty minutes later the problem the reengineering project was supposed to fix was taken care of.

We all have these stories. They’re fun to tell. We hope they convince potential clients that we’re adept at finding “low hanging fruit” — quick and easy improvements that can justify and fund the hard stuff.

Quick and easy improvements that, astonishingly enough, never require significant investments in new or changed information technology. In fact I’ve yet to hear an apostle of any of the major process improvement methodologies explain the importance of cleaning up and modernizing the organization’s portfolio of business applications. I have often heard them explain how they’ll work their magic without requiring major investments in information technology.

There is, for example, this little ditty, found in Six Sigma Daily. It does a nice job of presenting some Lean Six Sigma principles Jeff Bezos relies on for making Amazon hum.

Don’t get me wrong. The principles and examples extolled in the article, while not the sole province of Lean Six Sigma, are good principles and examples.

It’s just that, reading the article, you’d be forgiven for concluding Amazon runs its warehouses with stacks of 3×5 index cards and not highly sophisticated information systems.

Why are these tales of easy, IT-free success so popular? That, at least, is easy to explain: it’s confirmation bias in action. That is, most people, most of the time, including you and including me, tend to accept without much scrutiny anything that tells us what we want to be true, while we nitpick to death anything that tells us anything else.

Fiction, case studies, and anecdotes of the “all you gotta do is …” variety tell business decision makers what they want to hear the most: making revenue grow, costs shrink, and risks disappear is going to be cheap and easy.

Against this “logic” there’s this simple but unattractive fact: When you’ve picked all the low-hanging fruit there’s a tree-full of peaches left that’s going to need a lot more effort to harvest.

Someday I’ll have to write a business novel about picking them.