When designing quality customer self-service experiences, account for potential malfunction scenarios as well as high use and age on equipment and software
If you've ever been in a hurry to mail an oversized envelope or package at the Post Office and used one of the USPS self-service machines, perhaps this will sound familiar to you.
What Happened to Me
Until a few weeks ago I had only used the machines to weigh an envelope and buy a book of stamps. However, on this occasion I was actually purchasing postage for an oversized envelope. I didn’t want a big label with postage and address, just a simple stamp-like postage sticker to place in the right corner.
I went through the transaction on-screen, paid for my postage and received my receipt. I could not, however, find the print out of my postage. I assumed this would be delivered to me in the tray marked Postage, which seems a logical assumption, but I also checked the area under Label as well. Nothing.
I then proceeded to wait on line to speak to a human being, defeating the purpose of using the self-service kiosk in the first place. The postal clerk tiredly told me my postage was indeed in the machine, “You’ve got to bend down and feel around for it, but it’s there.” Really? I thought I’d already done that.
I went back to the machine. I bent down and felt in and around the Postage tray. Again, nothing. Another clerk came out onto the floor and in a very annoyed tone said, “Bend down. It’s there, in the other one.” So, I reached into the Label tray and sure enough poking out of the slot behind which lies the guts of the machine was the edge of my postage sticker.
I'm Not Alone
The following week I was back at the same post office and using a machine to check the amount of postage needed to mail a letter. The woman next to me was having the exact same meltdown experience as I had had the week before. This and the respective weary and surly attitudes of the two postal clerks I had dealt with assured me that my confusion and reaction was the norm and not the exception when making this and similar purchases.
Who or What Is To Blame?
I’d like to say that it’s just one thing that causes this kind of major fail, but it’s actually several things working in concert that get overlooked by the engineers and designers of the hardware and software and all the folks who work with them and their client, in this case the USPS, who review and give feedback and ultimately approve and sign-off on their work. So, it's a whole host of people, some of whom work in the field of customer or user experience, but who really don't understand all of the permutations of what that experience entails throughout the life of a system such as this.
Where They Went Wrong