Don’t Make The User Feel Stupid: A Lesson In User Experience

I use a lot of personal experiences in the real world because they are much easier to explain than what’s on a screen, and I like pointing out that even in that world, User Experience is a hard thing to perfect. So, for now, I’m going to use a recent purchase of a home theater to illustrate some of the finer points of User Experience.

If you have an online store, whatever you are selling represents your brand

So I found myself with a few more hard-earned extra dollars, and schelped my way down to Best Buy. I looked through some home theater systems, and found one that I thought I would like, a Yamaha system. I bought it, stuffed it in my car (it barely fit), and tried unsuccessfully for hours to set up the system.

I’m not an electronics geek (and please don’t assume so, just because I wrote a blog). It’s like being a doctor — you’re at a party, you say something about being into technology, and pretty soon, everyone is walking up to you telling you about about their broken cupholder on their computer. I have the same problems everyone else does, and did so with this system.

Not only were the instructions too long, but it was just a hard to use product, and I imagine there’s some MBA in some office somewhere at Yamaha thinking, “You know, if we make this hard enough, Best Buy can make some extra money off of Geek Squad.” These same MBAs compute all kinds of numbers regarding return rates, and they fully expect a certain amount to be returned because they are just hard to use.

From a product management perspective, I would think it would be cheaper to make a product that would be easy to use because there would be a lower return rate — Apple gets this, and to a certain extent Microsoft does, because their consumer products are not too bad to install — but what do I know? Best Buy doesn’t care, because in reality, returned product is the responsibility of the manufacturer and not the retailer.

Because I bought it at Best Buy, my though process is, “Yo, Best Buy sells lousy products that are hard to use.” I know this isn’t the case, but I decided just to return the system, because I wanted an easier system to use. If I couldn’t install it, how am I going to be able to change it?

Your policies can be your own worst enemy

So I schelped back to Best Buy (a different one, because the first one was closed early on a Sunday), removing the system from my car (did I mention it weighed over 50 pounds?), and got to the return desk. I had a new system picked out, and was so close to buying a new system when their customer support manager came over and said to me, “Yo, you have to take it back, because there isn’t a remote control with the returned system.”

“You mean I have to stuff this thing in the car again and come back to get a refund and/or exchange?”

“Yes, because our policy is that we don’t want anything happening to the system. If it were to happen, we don’t want it to be our responsibility.”

The store policy is I couldn’t leave it there because they didn’t want to be responsible for what could happen in their store.

(Read that again, just so you get the full effect.)

Customers don’t care about policy — they just want to be happy that their dollars are well spent, so if you implement policies regarding returns that make it hard to return merchandise, or your systems make the users jump through a bunch of hoops, they will not become return customers.

I left the Best Buy and drove directly to Target down the street and picked up a Bose Home Theater system that was more expensive, had less features, and took me exactly 10 minutes to set up without a hitch.

Because of their policy, Best Buy lost a customer on a higher margin sale and I was willing to forgive them for the previous misstep of having a product on their floor that was hard to use. This is because not allowing me to return a $5 remote control a day later.

Whatever you do, don’t make your customer feel stupid

So that now I am perfectly content with my new Home Theater System, I returned to Best Buy to get my money back. Hell, it’s nearly $400 with taxes, and I just wanted this box out of my back seat.

I get there, I have everything I need to return it, and the cashier makes the dreaded call to the Home Theater department for a consult.

The sales expert walks over, looks at the system, looks at me, and says, “If we set this up, and if it works, will you take this back with you?”

“No, I just want to return the system, I spent too much time on it already.”

“But if we set this up…”

“You don’t understand, I don’t want the system. It’s too hard. I just want to return it.”

End of conversation.

The point: if a customer is unhappy with a product or a website, you’ve lost them. You can’t get them back with this approach, because it just makes them feel stupid. Customers want to buy a product and me done with it; if it turns into a long, drawn out experience that requires too much support, that’s a product they will never be happy with.