I recently placed an order with a company for something my wife and I had been discussing quite a bit. We were quite excited to finally order this particular item. I was duly impressed when, about an hour after I placed my order, I actually received an automated phone call from the company informing me that the order had been placed and asking me to confirm my details associated with the order, to prevent the possibility of someone signing me up for this particular service without my knowledge. A nice touch in the age of identity theft.
A week went by, and I had rearranged my entire weekend to be able to accept delivery on Saturday. I waited. And waited. And no one ever showed up. Frustrated, I went downstairs to the home office to pull out the order confirmation email that I had recieved earlier in the week, so I could dig out the customer service phone number and the order number.
The email, with a subject line of "Order Confirmation for Order #1234567", surprised me a bit. The top contained the standard order confirmation stuff - a restatement of the items I had ordered, the subtotal, tax, expected delivery date, etc. At the bottom of the email, however, I was surprised to find the following paragraph:
"We're sorry, but due to an error while processing your credit card, your order cannot be fulfilled at this time. If you do not contact us within 10 days, we will cancel this order."
This sentence was actually crammed between a sentence thanking me for my order, and a block of legalese.
I was flabergasted.
After a brief chat with their customer service folks, it turns out that I must have mistyped my credit card number. This raises three issues, for me:
- People have been doing realtime processing and validation of credit cards for twenty years or more. It's a commodity skill. Why didn't the user interface catch that mistake? Even something as simple as a mod-10 check would have found this particular error.
- Why would the email not be titled something such as "Order Not Processed - Please Contact Us" or something similar? Why make the customer dig through the response to determine their order status, when the initial subject indicates that all is well?
- Given the companies obvious infrastructure for placing order-driven outbound calls (such as the one I received verifying that it was actually me that placed the order) why didn't they leverage that same system to inform me of my mistake?
The issue here is that they obviously never user tested their confirmation emails through all the possible use case scenarios. Granted, I should have read the email end to end, but it also should have been much more obvious that there was something that was going to prevent the succesfuly completion of my order. It shouldn't be this difficult to give someone money.
So, the lesson here is to user test as much as you possibly can - especially those elements that require the user to perform some action. And especially when it might interfere with your ability to accept money from someone.