There must be millions of forms on millions of web pages which ask the user to enter a date. They are not hard to create and they are even easier to copy. That’s good because we, as users, know pretty much what to expect. So confronted with a page on the Microsoft web site, I was pretty sure I knew what to do
Easy. Drop from January down to June. Drop from 1 down to 3. Drop from 2007 down to 2008. Done. Except that the 3 has mysteriously become 1 again. That’s odd, try again. And it turns out that if you change the year, the day resets to 1. So you have to set the year before the day if you want to get the right answer.
Utterly trivial, of course, and easy enough to get round. But it’s quite impossible not to spot the problem the moment you try to fill the form in, which can only mean that nobody who has anything to do with the page has ever bothered to use it.
Seth Godin reports on a more complicated version of this, trying to navigate telephone options:
Let’s say the person in charge of your retail operations does the following every single day:
- Puts up a sign indicating which of five doors customers should use.
- Locks that door.
- Randomly unlocks another door.
- When someone figures out which door to use, he runs out and kicks them in the groin, then locks the door.
Maybe, just maybe, after a day or two of this, and a few warnings, you’d realize that this person was doing serious damage to your organization, no?
As Seth observes, outside the physical channels, the problems, and the frustrations of the users are simply much less visible, so problems can just sit for long periods without being obvious.
If the person in charge were stealing laptops or peeing in the soup, it’s unlikely he’d still be around, no?
It’s pretty obvious: the CEO would notice the angry crowds in front of the store, she’d notice the police being called and the riot out front if the person in charge of the front doors was such a jester. But voice mail trees are invisible and the CEO doesn’t notice them. She should.
Exactly the same phenomenon is apparent in other areas of customer experience. A few years ago I was in a room full of senior managers who were suddenly asked to fill in a form which thousands of their customers had to grapple with. Nobody found it easy and there were some pretty shamefaced looks being exchanged: in a couple of places in the form, it just wasn’t clear enough from the context exactly what was being asked for.
The requirements are pretty clear: an obsessive attention to the detail of how your service works, and the ability to fix glitches quickly and easily. It really shouldn’t be hard, but far too often it clearly is.