my world of work and user experiences

March 31, 2010

Stuck in digital self service

Filed under: Usability — Tags: — frederique @ 16:25

In my job, I design and develop solutions that should provide a good user experience. But sometimes it is me who is the innocent user experiencing a site or a service. And that user experience is not always very nice. Fortunately, my annoyance is tempered by the fact that I can learn from it for my own work.

So far so good…
My telephone company wants to save trees (and money, I suppose), so they have stopped sending me phone bills on paper. I am all in favour of that, because I don’t mind saving trees and I dislike being swamped in physical paperwork in any case. I find it easier to consult my paperwork in digital form, on a site that I can access without having to dig for hefty folders on a remote shelf.
My phone company is also promoting self service. I am in favour of that too, because it allows me to do whatever I need to do at a time that suits me, which is usually outside normal office hours.

Where it went wrong… 
So why am I unhappy? Because they have automated and secured their systems in such a way, that I was completely stuck until I got new hardware…

I had created an account years ago, when they had started this service. But I’d never used it and forgotten all about it. Until I needed it recently.

Of course I had forgotten my password by then. You can request a new password, but that is sent to your mail address: an old address that I cannot access anymore. And you can only change the e-mail address when you are logged on using the password I could not remember – I called the service desk but they could not change it for me, because that would not be secure. Hm.

They also offer a way to change your account using your telephone: Call from the phone for which you want to reset your account and press the required buttons. But that only works on a ‘modern’ phone that can make the beeping sounds. Mine didn’t do that. Calling from another phone does not work, because they have to recognize that you are calling from this particular number. Hmmm.

In any case, I could not find on their website what I had to do. They offer a nice wizard that should answer your questions. But in that wizard, they assume that you have the latest version of their service deals and a modern phone. Apparently, dinosaurs with old telephones are supposed to be consistent and contact them the old-fashioned way: pick up the phone and avoid the new website. Hmmmmm….

I had enough of this mess and bought a new telephone. With that, I could reset my account. And I made sure I stored the account information in a safe place, so that I’ll be able to find it when I need it. Problem solved.

Apart from that, this experience as an innocent user who just tries to get the job done has taught me this:

  • Security and user friendliness really don’t get along. I already knew that of course, but this rubbed my nose in it again.
  • Allow people to create their own username and password. They are far more likely to remember those.
    Allow them to request a new password, sent to their e-mail address when they answer their secret question correctly. This doesn’t help people who changed e-mail addresses but it does help people who stick to their e-mail accounts.
  • Remember that not all users have the latest version of your products or the latest tools. Cater for them as well in your service and in your help content. List the older versions or at least include a generic option ‘Other’.
  • Create an escape option for users who get stuck. For instance, if you have no reliable e-mail address for self-service, allow people to send a copy of their contract and reset their e-mail address for them. Or allow them to call an operator on their old, beepless phone and let the operator perform the tasks that the phone cannot handle by computerized wizard.

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