Going Postal

I recently had one of the worst user experiences I think I’ve ever had online, courtesy of Canada Post. It was a simple change of address, but used the services of a credit bureau to verify identity. The questions I was asked to answer were invasive and disturbing, especially given what I was trying to do. I was left wondering how secure all this information was, given the obvious lack of competence in constructing this “user experience.”

Why did I submit to all this questioning? Simple, the post office is a monopoly, so I really didn’t have any choice but to answer probing multiple choice questions about non-existent car loans. It’s the same reason that government websites in general tend to be abysmally bad. But unless you’re lucky enough to be running the only game in town, you’ve got to pay a whole lot more attention to user experience than these guys do.

No matter what business you’re in, if you have customers, you have user experience. The more customers you have, and the easier it is for them to do business with somebody else instead, the more important it becomes. It’s important enough in the physical environment, but it’s critical online, because it’s just too easy to go somewhere else. The cost of user experience failure is high – the stink of bad or hard to use services clings stubbornly to a brand, and quickly becomes part of its reputation.

Great user experiences, the effortless, friction-free, get-out-of-my-way kind don’t just happen. They exist because somebody designed them. Everything from the biggest of the big picture, to the tiniest details were thought about deeply. They were developed and tested, and iterated, and sweat over. They were brought to final form, then buffed and polished with love and care. They were designed.

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update: 10/6/11

I wrote this post just hours before news of Steve Jobs’ passing broke. It’s impossible to think about user experience in the broadest sense without thinking about Steve Jobs and Apple. They’re the elephant in the room, the gold standard. I was profoundly saddened by his passing, and at the same time grateful for all he has contributed.

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Comments (2)

    Yup, Steve Jobs came immediately to mind when I read this one too. Awareness about exactly “why” a user experience is unsatisfactory can be tricky to articulate. Sometimes it’s obvious when you have a dreadful experience like you had with the CP. Sometimes it just doesn’t feel right. Or a user doesn’t realize that it could be easier, so they just go along jumping through hoops that are there just because they have always been there. Then Mr. Jobs comes along and shows us that the hoop-jumping isn’t really necessary at all. Thanks for that!

      Excellent point. My personal example was really glaring, but you’re right that it can be those small things that add up to tip an experience from easy to frustrating. Those important details can be very hard to identify, especially if you’ve grown used to them, but it’s absolutely worth the effort, especially if you aspire to make things “insanely great.”

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