Some Stuff About User Experience, eCommerce, Social Media & etc.

How to Lose Money With Bad Usability

I’m kind of a nut about usability. Jakob Nielsen is my hero and I live in a constant state of frustration at all the ways today’s systems (and the people who design them) pay little attention to the issue. While usability is an issue in all types of systems, many of the usability sins committed occur on the web.

Bad usability is also expensive. Many developers don’t always connect the dots between usability and revenue but if they did, they could save their organizations time and money, as well as avoid negative branding.

Here’s a recent example. I received an email a few days ago from The Hartford. It looked like this:

When I received the email, I thought “great!” since I hate paper and would welcome the chance to switch to electronic documents. Not that I understand anything The Hartford sends me, but that’s another issue. So I clicked “go to Plan Access” and was presented with this login screen:

First of all, calling my username an “Operator ID” is a bit clumsy. Am I an “Operator?” I thought I was a person? Or at least a user? By straying from conventional naming schemes, The Hartford is already causing me to question whether I am even in the right place. “Operator” sounds pretty official. Maybe this is actually a place for my financial advisor to log in?

In any case, I gave it a try. Since I rarely log in to this site, of course I don’t remember my username or password. So after a failed attempt, here is what I got:

I am now at a dead end. Since I’m working on this on a Saturday, I’m not even going to try calling the 800 number because I’m not expecting anyone at a financial company to answer the phone. And even if it were a weekday I wouldn’t call because it’s simply not worth it for me to wait on hold for someone to reset my password. I simply don’t care that much. So now I completely give up and move on. I have lots of other email to get to and it’s not worth it to me to spend the time logging in.

If I were not planning to write this blog, then it would be end of story and The Hartford would continue spending money printing and mailing me things. However, since I am writing this blog I explored a bit further. I clicked the “Back” button (which many people would not bother doing) and scanned the login page. I then noticed that there was indeed a “Forgot Your Password?” link tucked away in the corner in very tiny text. So I clicked on it and got this:

Well, this is not very helpful to me because I don’t know what my “Operator ID” is. I am pretty sure I knew my password but I vaguely recall that The Hartford’s website made me choose some non-standard “Operator ID” back in the day so I don’t remember what it is. Another brick wall! So despite my extra effort to figure things out, I still hit a snag and I’m actually giving up for real now.

Could I have spent a little time figuring it out? Sure. I could have saved the email and called The Hartford on Monday. Or I could have spent a few minutes trying different usernames to see if one would work. However, the point here is that it’s simply not worth it to me. I’m not going to win some fabulous prize if I figure it out. I’m just trying to get my 401k provider to send me documents electronically rather than on paper. The incentive for me to spend time on this is not very strong. Apparently I would rather write this blog than continue to try to log in!

Here is what The Hartford is doing wrong:

  • Using non-standard labels on login fields, causing the user to question the validity of the system
  • Giving the user no automated password reset option when displaying the error message
  • Defaulting to “call this number” as the suggested password recovery option
  • Hiding the password reset option on the previous page and far away from the login fields
  • Making the user remember more than just the email address in order to even reset the password

Here is what The Hartford should be doing instead:

  • Using standard form field labels, like “username” or better yet, use email as the username and explicitly say so
  • Instead of a “call us” dead end, offer a self-serve password reset option when displaying the error message
  • Only ask for email address for the password reset option
  • Make sure the “forgot password” link is clearly posted under the login fields so it’s not missed
  • Improve the language on the login and error screens so it’s not so robotic

A few simple usability improvements could have gotten me to switch to paperless document delivery. However, I am giving up and will be resigned to getting things printed and mailed. Now multiply that by all the customers who received this same message and who got stuck like I did.

Let’s do some math. I don’t know how many customers The Harford has but according to its website, it’s in the millions, so let’s say one million. Now, let’s come up with a reasonable cost to mail a document to me. If we factor in the cost of printing, mailing, and general processing, let’s just say it costs one dollar to mail me each packet. Now, if The Hartford were using good usability practices on it’s website, let’s say 50% of the people that received the email decided to go paperless and were able to do so. Now, The Hartford is saving $500,000 each time a packet is distributed. Not bad! However, since usability is lacking on the website, let’s say that in reality, only 25% of customers are able to log in and go paperless. Remember that this is a financial services site, not your Gmail or your Facebook account. Most people don’t visit this site very often and so there is a high probability that many will not remember their usernames and/or passwords. Now, The Hartford is only saving $250,000.

As you can see, because of some simple usability problems (which would take very little time to fix), The Hartford is potentially losing a quarter of a million dollars with every mailing because of unnecessary printing, mailing, and processing costs.

My numbers are made up, but I’m sure you can create your own scenarios based on best guesses. I chose to be conservative and I would bet they they are losing a lot more than this.

By connecting the dots, we can now see how usability attaches to dollars in a very real sense. While some may think investing in good usability is expensive, ignoring it seems a lot more costly to me.

via: http://www.spinweb.net/


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