Customer interfa(r)ce

I’m primed to rant today, but I just reread what Scrooge’s nephew Fred said about Christmas, so I’ll offer a miscellany of easy ways to improve performance when you (as an organization) are dealing with people who don’t work for you (prospects, customers, suppliers).

If you ask, and they answer, remember what they said.

You talking to me?That’s useful if you’re taking orders at the bagel shop.  It’s almost essential if you’re the cable or telephone company.   If nothing else, it shows that your computer systems occasionally talk to one another.   If I tap in my number for the voicemail system, I expect it to pass the number along if a human ever answers. (Or is entering the number what they do instead of Muzak?)

Leading zeros don’t.

Most people don’t write dates with leading zeros.   They just don’t.   Maybe you do, but you’re an exception.   Your customer doesn’t want to know about engineering precision, and absolutely doesn’t care about the length of the data field.   If your legacy mainframe needs a leading zero, put it in yourself.

Corollary: yes, you need to allow for leading zeros (so you don’t trip technical types and people who’ve been beaten into compliance by your refractory competitors).   Just don’t require them.

Shun marketing advice about hiding info from customers.

I wonder what they're hiding.Here’s the deal: I’m already at your site, the one where you sell stuff.   I’m looking at stuff you sell that I’m considering buying.   Whatever clever sales stunt leads you to think I’m likelier to buy or happier about the purchase when I have to put something in the cart to find out how much it costs is wrong.   All this does is make me lump you with the cell phone company that charges $1.99 a month service fee for… providing a cell phone.

Bonus hint for airlines: people want to know when the plane leaves, when it arrives, and how much it costs.   They like seeing choices for the same day on the same screen, and they like being able to change dates experimentally.   This is known as “what if I leave Tuesday?”

People do not want to have to rewrite the search or go back five screens to find out what Tuesday looks like.   Several of you airlines, many of you bankrupt, have sites that look like you asked a competitor to build them.

Have someone not in sales or IT try out your interface.

Ideally, pay them for it.   Short of that,   remember that you can observe a lot just by watching.  Watch what they do, watch where they get stuck.   Ask them to think out loud.   Pay them (upfront even) so they’re invested in what they’re doing but not worried about failing.

I’m sorry; I’ve got to rant at least a little.   I’d spring for lunch at Bombay Bistro to find out the design decisions that led to this (a “customer dialogue” I came across this morning):

No, this is not a made-up form, just a made-up phone number

“Out of line” photo by mdezemery / Marc Dezemery.
Constrained-view photo by Alex Grech.