Signing on for user support

Earlier this week, with tax time approaching, I went to a former employer’s website to download a tax form for the pension I receive. Since I only go to their site once a year, I wasn’t surprised that my password needed to be reset.

I was surprised how picky they were about resetting.

Fifty-plus words in the guidelines, and I still failed the first attempt — probably because the new password my password-manager software generated was too long. I cranked down 1Password‘s default of 20 characters, then failed again from not noticing the begin-and-end-with-a-letter part. Finally, I managed to enter a password GE could live with.

On the same screen , I saw they wanted contact information. Here too they provided highly specific guidance that managed not to guide that well.

What is with those min/max phone number fields?

Diminished as it is, GE’s a global company, with roughly 100,000 employees in the US, and more than 260,000 American retirees. Bump those up by, say, 10% to include Canadians, and you’ve got 400,000 people whose phone numbers, mobile or land line, fit the North American pattern of 987-654-3210.

And if I have to enter a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 3, you could just say “3 digits.” Why I have the option for zero digits in the second field passes my understanding.

You won’t be surprised to learn I wasn’t able to automatically go to the second field after entering three digits in the first. Nor was I able to tab–I had to click.

The phone business was a detour on my update journey, as it is here. I’d meant to update my email. That’s where GE shifted from guidelines to just plain nitpicking.

As soon as I started typing in the “confirm” box, the red finger-wagging appears to make sure I knew the two versions of my email address didn’t (yet) match.

I didn’t include it in the screen shot, but the Send button, which probably had a much more technoid label than “Send,” remains inactive until the two versions of the email match — so it’s not possible to submit ones that aren’t a match.

And when they did, I got this:

I think it’s great to have some confirmation that a process has begun. It’s not nearly as great when there’s no clear message to say the process had ended.

Granted, the first sentence below the heading says the password “will be reset immediately.” But I came to this sequence after entering my old password, which is a good suggestion that I had something I wanted to do, and it probably wasn’t resetting the password.

In other words, the Identity Manager interrupted me, dragged me into this administrative chore, and has left me here wondering how to get my tax form. There’s nowhere on this screen I could click to get me there; I’m stranded on Identity Island. I have to close the browser and start over.

So that’s what I did.

Luckily for me, 1Password worked the way I expected, filling in the new password.

I made my way to the tax information screen and clicked on the helpful link to view or print my 1099 form. Good thing I knew that 1099 was the form I wanted.

And this was the result:

Passing by “maintainance” as alternative spelling for maintenance, take a look at the time window… and the time.

I’m in the Pacific time zone, so for me the maintenance window would have been 2:00 – 6:00 pm. I saw this message at 6:59 am. Maybe the maintenance took longer than expected. Or started sooner.

This might seem like a lot of grousing about relatively minor setbacks. The unfortunate part is that the experience suggests a stronger focus on the system and its requirements — or preferences — than on employees or retirees and their wishes.

I’ll bet GE has a good idea how many times a year people need to reset their passwords. A little data collection might even reveal patterns about what people did after resetting, emphasizing that resetting is probably not a primary task for people using this site.

Making practical use of that information isn’t flashy, like responsive web design or roller-towel pages, but it’s a solid move toward user support, especially in this kind of I-don’t-come-here-often setting.