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July 16, 2012 / Blog

The Cost of Failure to Test

By Cheryl Kay

The last time I wrote in this space I was talking about electronic forms, which in my mind also includes User Interfaces. I referenced how we use “forms” on the web every day, using the example of a Webinar enrollment form. These are often built using pre canned templates; often by people who, through no fault of their own, do not appreciate the value of usability testing to determine what that customer experience truly is.

A few days later I was presented with a real life example to illustrate how ignoring usability testing can lead to an unhappy customer and a flood of expensive customer service calls.


It started out as a simple task-to get information about taking a loan from my 401(k). Sounds easy, right?

So I log on to my Plan Provider Portal. The first screen I see asks me “Has your Email address changed? “ It showed me what they have on file, which is my correct current email address. Being logical, I assume that my answer is “no”. However, the only option I have on this screen is to enter my “new” email address. Again, being logical, I decide not to do this because I don’t’ have another email address to enter and I am afraid that entering the one they have on file is only going to put me into some kind of infinite loop.

Now I decide to call for help. I go back to the login screen and I see something that says “To speak to a representative call ……” In good faith and hoping I am getting closer to my solution, I dial the number.

“Welcome to XYZ Company automated phone system”, says the automated voice. Then the voice presents me with many automated phone system choices, none of which is to speak to a representative. So much for getting closer to my solution! I feel I have been misled and I am getting frustrated. But I press on.

And I press a lot of buttons. I have to enter my SSN, my Date of Birth and verify my address. Then I have to enter a PIN #, which I don’t have because I never use the phone system; I’m a web user. But since I can’t use the web right now, I set up a PIN. Good, I think, now that they have proof that I know my age and where I live, and I have a PIN, I will get someone to help me.

No such luck. The automated phone system has decided that it wants to give me my balance and my contribution rate. OK, good to know, but not why I called. I press on (pun intended). I get a bunch of other options.

Finally, after about a ten minute period of frustration, it sends me to a menu that gives me an option to speak to a live representative. She is very sweet and eager to assist, but proceeds to ask me all the same questions – SSN, DoB, address, PIN etc. Where is my blood pressure medicine?

At last, I explain my dilemma. Actually, is it a Catch 22? The sweet and eager representative provides the explanation: the system won’t let me past a screen unless I enter a new email address, even if I don’t have a new email address. What I need to do is enter my CURRENT email address. The reason? The web site has been changed and everyone who logs on for the first time needs to re-enter their email address because it did not get ported over in the web site upgrade. ARRRGGHHHH!!!!!

Why didn’t it say that on the screen? Did this company test the user experience for that part of their site “upgrade”? Did they consider that they were creating a confusing experience for their customer? I think not. The rep happened to mention that they were experiencing high call volume due to the web upgrade. I wonder why?!

Misleading your customers is bad design. Failing to test new designs is bad business.

They took the quick and easy way out by using a screen created for another purpose. Misleading your customers is bad design. Failing to test new designs is bad business.

When you are designing any kind of customer interface, whether it be paper forms, paper statements, or a simple set of directions on a web page, don’t forget to test with the intended audience. That extra step can make all the difference between a happy customer and a frustrated customer. Frustrated customers walk away and take their business to someone who values them enough to consider the details. Customer Service calls are an expensive workaround to a simple solution. And so is more blood pressure medicine!

Stay tuned in coming weeks for more insights into Usability Testing.