With any automated system, mistakes are bound to happen. Sometimes it is the end user’s fault. Many times it is a bug in the program, a server glitch or someone spilling a Pepsi on the keyboard. The point is simple; you need to anticipate that at some time, someone is going to make a mistake using your church’s website. The question is how does your response reflect your church’s purpose and personality? Being a little proactive may be the difference between a return visitor and someone never gracing the door of your institution ever again.
Case in point, last night Ikea had $350 of my dollars in their hands, but because of a faulty information infrastructure, a lack of contingencies and a queue system that enslaves the customer to the needs of the merchant, they let it slip through their fingers. Here is what happened:
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Yesterday, my wife and I make the 40-minute trek from Rockville to the Ikea in College Park Maryland. No small feat as we are bringing along a sweet, but typical 4 year old. We took the pickup truck, which isn’t as comfortable as the Honda Accord, but then again, you can’t pack a computer desk and side unit in the trunk of the latter.
So we get there, I take the kid to the play area; my wife begins to hunt for the furniture she saw online. I wait 15 minutes with my anxious daughter because the play area staff is short handed.
Finally, my daughter gets the green light and I try to hail my wife on our two-way radios. One problem, my wife put it down for a second to measure a desk. She turns around, the radio is gone, and some well-intended staff saw it and took it to the lost and found. I admire that to a degree; I would admire it a bit more had the employee first asked anyone within sight of the radio if they had misplaced such an item.
I lose 15 minutes trying to find my wife, who has to track down the lost and found to recover the radio to find me.
We get to the office furniture area, we look at alternate models, we decide on the ‘Galant Desk Combination Left‘, but it isn’t a “self shop” item. We get the attention of a very helpful staff person named Condi. She walks us over to a terminal, prints out a paper and instructs to get our self-shop items and then present the paper while we’re ready to purchase.
It takes 5 minutes to walk the maze from the office area to the self-shop area. There we get a CPU/printer cart to go with my wife’s desk, I get a “Jerker” table.
The wait in line at the register wasn’t nearly as long as it was on a previous visit, so I didn’t mind my wife had to walk down to the pickup line while I brought the truck around. I park the truck and wait. Time is running out, my daughter’s allotted time in the play area. I leave the truck in the loading area; my wife can see it … she’s still waiting.
I get in line to wait for my daughter. I get my daughter. I return my daughter to her mother who turns to me and points to a cart that has everything for the ‘Galant‘ desk unit … except the desktop. Looking up from the cart full of table legs, a ‘half round’ and frame, I ask the clerk where the desktop is. He non-chalantly informs us that they must be out stock because they couldn’t find it.
Now let’s stop here for a minute. First, when Condi pulled the item up on screen, she should have had a bright red flag on her machine tell her the unit was out of stock … yellow if there was only one or two left; at which point she could have called down to the warehouse to confirm the piece in stock, and hold it while removing it from the system. The system should have refused to print the order unless the out of stock unit was removed from the list of the purchase. Second, up on printing page, a message should have been sent to the warehouse to hold that unit … in fact, the entire request should have arrived at the shipping area before we did.
With that in mind, I inform them that I’m not going to by any of the parts of the desk unless there is a desktop. What is the sense in that? Especially since we were never informed when the desktop would be back in stock … if ever.
Let’s stop again, at moment the clerk realized someone had just paid for something that was out of stock, he should have informed the warehouse manager, and the manager should approach the customers; perhaps with free shipping when the unit arrives. If for no other reason because Maryland consumer laws are pretty strict about taking a customer’s money for unavailable item without prior agreement of the consumer. Instead, he points to the refund area, in which we must pick a number … 580, while the current number is 574.
We wait another 15 minutes, we get a pretty jovial guy who doesn’t mind us asking for a manager … we wait a couple more minutes … he comes back and informs us a warehouse manager will be right up. My wife asks the refund clerk if there is any way we can make sure a mistake hasn’t been made in the warehouse. The refund clerk shakes his head no.
Myself, having worked on a large POS/Inventory/Warehouse data systems for the largest Mac vendor to the Federal Government a few years back, I remark how impossible it seems to me that Condi was allowed to print-out a request for an item not in stock. How it is absurd that there aren’t procedures and mechanisms in place to deal with low quantity non-self-serve items. Especially since everyone is bar-coding everything in a day and age of high-speed data replication.
The clerk tries to tell me that it could other persons requested the same unit at the same time. Which was odd, we didn’t see a whole lot of people near looking at the desk, nor near Condi’s station nor loading such units in their trucks and vans. Nor does it explain how the person at the register is allowed to ring-up a sale to the out of stock after scanning the barcode. Though it does indicate to me that this young man’s sales talents are being squandered at the returns desk.
Exasperated, I kvetch to the cheerful young man at the refund counter that I can’t believe the system is so decrepit. He assures me that it is, and then proceeds to say, “I should know, I work with computers.” Hmmm … that must explain why he’s wearing the yellow shirt with the blue Ikea logo on it.
Don’t worry the refund guy was nice enough that I kept that thought to myself. Moreover, I inform him that he’s taken too many items off the purchase, that is, there was a $99 “Jerker” sitting my truck that I did want to take home … and no matter how frustrated, it would be stealing if he didn’t debit my credit.
We pay for the “Jerker” and leave the store; still no warehouse manager in site, my wife is frustrated to the point of tears.
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It’s a long story, but I feel much better after writing it. I also hope you’re a bit wiser in understanding the importance of pre-empting mistakes, and when that doesn’t work, giving your users what they need to gracefully recover from mistakes.
For example, what happens when your user types in a URL that doesn’t exist on their page? I personally prefer to give them the name of the attempted page, along with an explanation, a menu/method of navigation and the search form.
So what happens when the user can’t find something on the search form? Have you taken into account they might not know how to enter an effective query? Along with instructions, do you have an “advanced form” which dumbs down some of the options in the forms of additional radio button and/or check box elements?
Have you instructed members of the church office how to respond to errors and inquiries? Do you provide any type of documentation to help the users and/or the church staff circumnavigates the site?
Here’s the point, if you don’t address the potential for “oopsies” on your church’s website, then you are probably insuring that a potential visitor is going to visit some other church after they frustrated with your website and leave forever.
Ikea had $350 in their hand, yet they let it slip through their fingers. Worse, we’re not likely to go back to buy anything else after having to wait in five different lines of 15 minutes each, three of which was to pay for a cash and carry item that was not in stock … or couldn’t be found.
Don’t let the same type of thing happen to your church’s website.
- put systems in place that keep everyone on the same page
- have contigencies to deal with mistakes and/or complaints
- put the needs of the seeker and/or member above that of the system