Bad Product Design is Sapping My Will to Live

It has been a bad week for product design in the Christensen household.

FirstTech Credit Union

Our credit union has been marketing their new iPhone app that will allow us to deposit checks remotely by taking a picture of them. What a great idea. I had a check that I wanted to deposit so I downloaded the app, started it up and all the app said was call customer service. Seriously? What they really meant, we were to learn, was you can’t use this app unless you have signed up for online deposits. But instead of a cogent message and a link to where I could sign up all we had was an invitation to do something we really did not want to do.
Rule 1: Don’t make me call customer support
I hate to call customer support. The best I hope for is an experience that is not horrible. This experience did not live up to even those low expectations. My wife called customer support.

  1. The credit union uses some public source of information on places they think we have lived to verify that we are who we say we are. Their list is wrong. If we could answer those questions, then we would definitely not be us.
  2. The person on the phone walked my wife through getting a new temporary password, completely misunderstanding her problem because she was not having any problem logging in to her account.
  3. The second call to customer support by my wife, who has already been on the phone for what we can not accurately call the better part of a half hour, introduced the customer support rep to an angry customer. She then learned that she could not deposit money because she was not the primary person this account and needed to come fill out some paperwork.

Rule 2: Understand your customer’s concerns
We found it ironic that my wife could not deposit money into an account that only a month before she was able to transfer money out of, a lot of money, for the down payment on a townhouse. The credit union somehow thought that I as the primary card holder was more concerned  having her put money into my account than take money out. They were wrong.
As a bonus later it the process the credit union did not want to have my wife return the application through regular mail because it had her social security number… which they had emailed her with the application in unencrypted email.
Suggestion: Have policies that make sense first of all. Make the prompts on your website more informative. “You can’t use this feature because you are not the primary card holder or because you need to sign up at this URL” would at least be a better experience.

PayPal MasterCard

I used my credit card recently in a fashion that triggered a fraud warning. They called my home phone to verify the purchases. So far so good, I understand they are trying to protect me as well as themselves. I called back PayPal using the number on their site, they gave me a temporary pin to identify myself on the website which First Tech could have done also.
But, I found myself in the kind of voicemail hell that leads to Rule 1 above. the voicemail menu did not list any of the options I needed and no option to get to an operator. Finally I realized that if they had a menu option for “debit card” then they might have one for “credit card”. Success. They did have a “credit card” option and the nice automated voice told me it would direct me to the person who could help me.
Frustrating so far but not unusual. But things went downhill from there. Before I was transferred to their operator they told me how to go into the system and change my password if I needed to. Wait… I know that people forgetting their passwords are probably their most common call… but I just told them that this was not my problem. The support rep came on the line and asked me to verify my identity then asked me what my issue was… and even though I had already spent several minutes trying to communicate to the robot that my problem was with a credit card, he would have to transfer me to someone who dealt with credit card problems. Would it be unreasonable to think that a hidden menu item called “credit card” might deliver me to just such a person.
Rule 3:  If the customer tells you their problem, tailor their experience to solve that problem
I was transferred back into the phone tree, waited again, again got someone who could not deal with credit cards, had him hold onto my call while I waited for someone who could deal with credit cards… but could not deal with fraud complains. At least 30 minutes and 4 customer support people later I got to the point where someone could read 3 charges and ask if they we mine.
Suggestion: Have a number people can call that is specific to fraud, read the charges automatically and get you to press 1 for these are mine or 2 for these are not mine, or better yet allow me to see the charges on a website. Either solution would also save the company money.

HP Deskjet Printer

The last 3 times that I recall using our printer went something like this:

  1. My niece printed a paper while running out the door for class
  2. I printed out a coupon while running out the door for dinner
  3. I printed a boarding pass while running out the door for a plane

So let’s ignore for a moment my frustrations over the high cost of ink and how a printer cartridge only seems to last a short period of time and look at the product experience I had yesterday.
I was trying to print that boarding pass but the printer was out of ink. I had a black ink cartridge but not a spare color ink cartridge. Honestly I don’t print much in color anyway. So I had to replace the black cartridge but could not replace the color cartridge. When you replace a cartridge you have to print a page and then scan it to see if the printer alignment is good. Seriously? I was running for a plane but it wanted me to spend time, futzing with the printer. Then after printing and scanning it failed because it could not scan the sample page because I was out of color ink… even though everything I needed on the boarding pass was in black and white. They were willing to print their alignment page but not my boarding pass.
Rule 4: Assume your customer has better things to do with their life than fiddle with your product
Suggestion: Don’t require calibration on the printer’s schedule. Assume when I print something I am in a hurry to print it and move on with my life. Sure, warn me when I am out of color ink, but don’t stop me from printing. I am smarter than your printer and actually know what I am trying to accomplish.
These sort of problems are fairly routine in my experience. They usually come from engineers and product marketeers failing to think like their customer. Better product design could have saved us at least 2 hours of frustration and failure. Do better.

Author: chris2x

One man's view of life in Silicon Valley from Chris Christensen - a podcaster, blogger, programmer, entrepreneur


  1. I suggest you dump the deskjet printer, or just keep it for color stuff. This Thanksgiving, look at the sales and get one of the inexpensive B/W laser printers. I am happy with my Brother laser printer. The ink never dries out as it is already dry!
    You can get refill kits for the toner too. It is fast and works well. The price is right.

  2. Hi Chris, You have put into word what I feel like when dealing with customer support and any thing like computers, printer, etc. You also have come up with some simple and logical ways for business to help us the consumer. bravo and Thank you for your common sense way of problem solving. Maggie

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