So close but yet so far away

Authors: Monica Granfield
Posted: Thu, May 29, 2014 - 11:12:06

In the last five days I have clocked at least eight hours on three Fortune 100 consumer websites for tasks that should not take more than an hour combined. What made my poor experiences even more ironic is that these are companies in the service industry that pride themselves on innovation around the customer experience!

This has left me scratching my head, wondering how these customer-centric companies could have veered so greatly from their missions and failed at the interaction level. The sites were professionally created consumer sites—well branded, with impeccable visual presentations, thus setting my expectations high for a pleasant user experience.

In two cases there were scenarios that were not directly generating revenue, but instead asking for assistance on a recent purchase. The experiences were not only poorly thought out task flows—one provided little guidance and feedback to entering materials and the other was, as it turns out, operationally incorrect. Both of these interaction experiences failed and forced me to call customer support.

In the first case, with JetBlue, once the voice on the other end of the phone materialized I assumed could breathe a sigh of relief. The problem is going to be cleared up and I can get these tasks off of my plate. No such luck. The experience continued to deteriorate over the phone. Two calls mysteriously dropped off midway through my help session. Remaining calm, I continued to forge on. I was told twice in no uncertain terms that the website would not allow me to do what I had done, so the service rep would not instruct me on how to rectify the situation and properly register my family for the program offered. I was allowed to invite minors to my family pool without a frequent flyer number—there were no instructions to tell me otherwise—and the UI allowed me to accomplish this. I was fortunate that in this case, an actual confirmation e-mail had been sent to me. This did not help in promoting my cause or rectifying the situation with the service rep, as he told me, "No that can't happen." “Hmmm,” I thought, “then what am I looking at?” The steps to sign up for the program had no instructions and were completely undiscoverable. So much so that, in the end, the representative had to put me on hold for 10 minutes to go and somehow delete whatever was magically made possible to me via the website and sign me up manually. The steps that followed this process to get my family "registered" were also not discoverable and I could not have continued to complete the process (and remember I am a seasoned computer user/UX designer) without the assistance of the customer service representative. Several times during the two hours that it took to accomplish this 10-minute task, my husband must have asked me 10 times, "Is this really worth it?" while my oldest child intermittently hollered, "Virgin, we should have flown Virgin." Well, our tickets were already purchased, but how many other people are not bothering and abandoning this program or the airline all together based on these types of poor user experiences?  I finally did get us all signed up for the program, although we are still not sure if my miles are in this pool or not—hard to tell! I am excited for a trip, regardless of the UX fail. However, will I choose this airline next time I travel? Depends on my experience.

In the other case I spent upwards of 90 minutes painstakingly entering information, photos, and receipts into a highly unusable form and process with little or no instruction, only to hear nothing back from Disney until I picked up a phone and called them directly, two weeks later. This due to a lost activation code for a child's CD that is printed on a loose piece of paper, easily lost by an excited child waiting to watch the latest release of a Disney flick! Why not print the code on the CD or the insert on the case? I did pay for it. Why is it so difficult to get this number back or to more securely adhere it to the packaging? I will admit, once when attempting to use their site to book a trip to Disney World, I became so dismayed we stayed outside the park. Sorry, Walt. Of course I was not allowed to enter a new case for this issue, as one for this product ID already exists! UX fail.

My last and perhaps most disturbing experience is with a tactic used by many sites, including and, to passively and what seems to me questionably collect revenue unknowingly from users. Funny enough, the audience is busy parents! You check a box that says "Do not auto charge my account after my selected pay period ends" and lo and behold, you are charged anyway. And when you call to contest the charges, assuming that you catch this and call immediately, they will apologetically "refund" your money. Relying on the fact that you can't recall if you actually checked off that little option box—and where oh where was that little box anyway?—has left me saying, UX fail.

As an experience designer I have been left wondering what to think about these experiences.

My conclusion is this: scenarios that do not generate obvious revenue are not given UX priority or the attention needed to craft an elegant and usable recovery experience. Recovery experiences are important scenarios that, if not carefully considered, will eventually result in lost revenue. Evidence of this can be seen in Jared Spool’s blog post "The $300 Million Button." The business intent of the paradigm was to get users registered. Users who did not want to register became frustrated and abandoned their purchases. Once this was identified and rectified, there was significant increase in revenue. User abandonment of a product or brand can happen as often after a purchase as before or during a purchase. Companies need to embrace UX design in addressing the end-to-end experience and how it impacts the business, from the customer perspective and not just the business-revenue-generating channels. This will lead to a better user experience, repeat customers, and increased revenue. This is what a good UX can do!

Posted in: on Thu, May 29, 2014 - 11:12:06

Monica Granfield

Monica Granfield is a user experience strategist at Go Design LLC.
View All Monica Granfield's Posts

Post Comment

No Comments Found