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Don’t upgrade Web software, just keep improving it | By Jon Udell

June 3, 2006

When I logged in to my bank’s online system to pay some bills last night, I was greeted with the following message: “Bill payment system upgrade completed.”
Uh-oh. That’s a message I don’t want to see.

Thin-client software delivered through the Web can improve gradually and continuously, and that is one of its greatest virtues. When we could ship upgrades only once every year or two, we had no choice but to batch up the changes in ways that were guaranteed to disrupt the work habits of the people using our applications. But now we can trickle-feed those changes so that people can gradually adapt to them and we can more carefully monitor and adjust their experiences.

Unfortunately my bank’s bill payment service provider doesn’t operate that way. Along with a big-bang release of its back-end service, which added a variety of new features, it switched to an all-new Web interface. As a result, it took me a surprisingly long time to rediscover how to do the most basic thing — namely, pay a bill.

Hint: The link that leads to the bill payment window should probably be labeled “Pay bill.” Or, at the very least, that link’s anchor title — that is, the text that pops up when you hover over the link — ought to say “Pay bill” rather than “Opens a new window.”

It gets worse. The old system would queue up payments from multiple accounts in a single screen. The new system, with “simpler navigation that makes paying bills easier,” won’t let me do that. Now I have to make payments from my household account in one batch, and from my business account in another. The forklift upgrade didn’t just temporarily disrupt my online banking experience, it permanently subtracted value from it.

My credit union did the same thing, now when I look at my account I see from the beginning of the previous month. This is useless, in my opinion, I want to see the most recent transactions and their choice was a bad one. I also recently logged on to my Gas Company website, to look at my bill. I had questions about the bill, and didn’t want to waste time on hold, so instead I clicked on “Send Email” or something similar to that… and I’ll copy my comments to the company:

I find the website very difficult to navigate. My original email was about my bill, but when I tried to struggle through the contact us form, it became more obvious that feedback is very needed. I offer these suggestions because I think it can only get better. 🙂
1. Send To*: I didn’t expect to pick the company, but the department, then it was unclear to me which choice to make to send the email. I know BigCompanyA bought LocalCompanyA, and BigCompanyA was my first choice, but then realized that the operations might not merged yet. I was thinking that Send To* could possibly be changed to “Your local utility name,” though I think that is awkward, too. It seems that one address could have rules setup to forward the email to the appropriate division, transparent to the customer.
2. Questions* I have EPP payment questions, and it is not listed in the options. Therefore, I select “What if my question is not listed?” and it opens another window that says “We apologize that you could not locate the information you needed in our “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQ) section. Please contact us by using the link below or calling our 24-hour Customer Service Department at 1-XXX-XXX-XXXX and a Customer Relations Specialist will assist you.” and to use this form. This is a totally unnecessary action, in my opinion, and should be removed.
3. When I hit Send (which should be at the bottom of the window, not near the subject line, in my opinion), my account number, which is not required had the dashes eliminated, then told me it was an invalid account number. After double checking, I realized it had truncated the last two digits of the account number, when the dashes were removed.

I received a nice, but not grammatical letter in response, I’ll be curious about the results. The only changes I’ve seen based on the effort I go to to give good feedback are when podcast url’s are wrong. Its disappointing, frankly.
Don’t upgrade Web software, just keep improving it | By Jon Udell

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