If you want to thrive as a business during this economic hardship, where people have been locked in their homes for over two months, my advice to you is to put on your best customer service hat. The only way for your customers to interact with you today, and probably for a long while after quarantine, is online. So how are you making sure they get that ‘excellent customer experience’ feeling that they normally get in your store — but online?

I had a recent interaction with a small independent design organization which motivated me enough to write this article. They are a content producing organization that writes about all things design, and I was excited for the opportunity to receive their emails every week in my inbox. After filling out my email and clicking that subscribe button, I waited.

Usually, email confirmations are instantaneous and I can check my email for some sort of confirmation right away — especially when the organization uses mailchimp or a similar service. This would typically lead you to a landing page that says something like “check your inbox to verify your email” after subscribing.

So I did. But found no email.

Occasionally newsletters can go to SPAM or junk or promotions folders, but this time, there was nothing.

It has also happened on multiple occasions where the confirmation email is delayed. We are so used to getting things instantly that we forget about the amazing process that takes place after clicking that subscribe button. Your information has to travel great distances to some server somewhere that is processing other information at the speed of light, all at the same time through a wireless connection. It then stores that information in an organized way so it can be recalled for future newsletters, and then travel all the way back the same distance to my inbox to say that it made it safely. So if something takes more than a minute to get confirmation, think about this process next time. Anyway, I digress.

I waited half a day to see if there was somehow a fluke in the process and my information possibly took that wrong turn at Albuquerque and got lost. Still. Nothing.

After checking through the various inboxes and searching within the “search mail” browser, and even went back to the website to go through the signup process all over again. I still turned up empty-handed. No confirmation email.

So I reached out through Linkedin to the organizer, like most professional Millenials do, to notify them that I signed up but received no confirmation, and wanted to know if I was actually added to their mailing list.

The response was a canned “Check your promotions or spam folders as it may be in there” reply that left me feeling all the ways I didn’t want to feel when signing up for a promising design newsletter.

As a UX Designer myself, I’ve been trained over the years to know a thing or two about good user experience at every stage of the customer journey, as well as to look for the flaws in order to fix them.

Needless to say, it was a poor excuse for a response from the organizer who possibly put in zero effort to look into my issue. Maybe they did check the mailing list and everything is fine, but based on their response, I have no clue if they did or not — and my problem is still not solved. After reading their response, I couldn’t help but put on my UX Hat and think about how this user experience could have been better.

So now the relationship has turned. I was looking to the organization to learn and be educated. But, it seems as though I now am the one educating. The student becomes the teacher.

If you have read up until this point, awesome. You have officially heard the back story and listened to me rant for the last 663 words. But please fasten your safety belts. Because I want to take you on a ride about how I feel this situation could have been handled much differently through a few user experience methods.

1. Know Your Audience

I get it. We have all received the canned “check your spam folder” response before. And if the majority of the world was populated by non-technically savvy grandpas, or maybe if we were back in 1990 when email was still fairly new, I would accept this response as valid. But as UX Designers, Customer Success Managers, or any other customer-facing professionals, we must assume people know how to use emails now. Let’s not fall into the same poor excuse of a response.

In my case with the design newsletter signup issue, the organizer and I have both seen each other on Linkedin. I know this because Linkedin notified me that this person ‘viewed my profile’. So the organizer knows that I am of millennial age and they know I am a UX Designer. The organization writes content for UX Designers, so there is a fair assumption that their audience is pretty tech-savvy as well. We are also in an era where in order to survive you have to be able to know how to check your email — even grandpas.

When someone responds the way that this organizer did it is assuming:

A. The user has never signed up for a newsletter before and therefore does not know what to do.

or,

B. The user has never used an email before and therefore does not know what to do.

Wrong on both accounts. It is true that part of my life was without computers. I was still using an electric typewriter for writing assignments in middle school because computers were not yet an everyday household item. Now, at 34 years old, I have lived through two recessions, 9/11, Y2K, an ongoing war in the middle east, and currently a global pandemic. I have managed to adapt like the rest of the world and can feel pretty confident when I say, “I know how to check my email!”

Most likely, everyone else who subscribes to your newsletter will also know how to check their email too. So please stop with the canned response of telling people to check their SPAM folders. Assume they have.

2. Prove It To Me I’m Worth It!

As the customer, I have already done my due diligence by going through the trouble of signing up for your newsletter. Prove to me that you did your due diligence when I have an issue. We are in a time where the trust factor between consumers and emerging brands is very low and competition for consumer attention is extremely high across every industry. Now more than ever is the time when you only have a few seconds to prove your worth to keep people coming back for another day or two. Only a few of the most powerful brands in the world can get away with a few mistakes or poor customer service and still be able to retain customers. But only a few.

As a small growing business, you have to continue to prove your worth until you have been around long enough and helped enough people for users to trust you when you say, ‘it’s not me, it’s you’. Even then, they still tend to be skeptical.

Regardless of what the U.S. legal system says, in the eyes of the consumer, you are guilty until you can prove you are innocent. This is not a political statement, it’s business! As a business or product designer, your users will always believe they are correct. They will always believe that the issue is you before they admit their own human error. I did my part correctly, now where is the proof on your side that shows I have been successfully signed up for the newsletter? I need to see it before I can go through the tedious process of scouring my inboxes all over again.

Steve Krug, one of the founding fathers of UX, calls these types of arguments, “religious debates”. Until we show proof of what the user actually wants, no one’s opinion is correct no matter how much theory we throw at a design.

Similarly, you can debate a customer all you want on who is right and wrong and not get anywhere until you show them evidence. Most of the time, all the customer is looking for is reassurance. They just need to know everything is fine. Replying with, “check your spam folder” does not assure someone that everything is fine, especially when they may have already checked their spam folder.

3. Assume Your Design Is Flawed

If you think you have the perfect user experience, please find a different profession. Close your business, put in your notice, and run. Because you are in for a terrible future as a designer or business owner if you think your product cannot be improved upon. Every designer has been through the numerous late nights pouring sweat and tears into designing “the perfect product”, only to find that users do not use the product as you intended. Many times have I left usability studies thinking that the issue isn’t with the product, but the user’s own incompetencies. It took me a while to go from thinking ‘the issue is the user’ to realizing ‘the issue is the product’.

You are moving from a design system that teaches people how to use your product to a design system built for intuitive use.

As business owners and product designers, it is our job to defend the user, not the product. Many times we are the only people in the company who advocate for the user. Changing your mindset of, “why can’t people use my product” to “how can I make my product better for users”, you are taking the blame off of your users and beginning to think about how your product can improve. You are moving from a design system that teaches people how to use your product to a design system built for intuitive use. Human behavior is difficult to try and change, so rather than educate users on how to use your product, think about how your product better fits into human behavior. Assuming your design is flawed will help you notice the benefit your product actually provides a user. You start to see where friction points are in your product that keep users from accomplishing their daily behaviors.

Now, back to my issue with signing up for the design newsletter. If the organizer erred on the side of the user, not only would they be able to find new ways to improve their service, but they would be able to also engage differently with the people using their product. What if I am not the only one with the issue? The organizer may be neglecting to see a problem that is keeping other people from signing up. Erring on the side of the user may also help them think of how to properly respond to users.

Instead of a reply with something like:

“Check your SPAM or Promotion folder as it sometimes ends up there.”

A better response would have been:

“Thanks for raising this issue, [name]. I checked and saw that you are in our mailing list so you should be good to go. I will follow up with you when we send out our newsletter to make sure you received your first newsletter.”

Or,

“Thanks for raising this issue, [name]. I checked and saw that you are not on the mailing list. We are checking our systems to make sure this isn’t a problem in the future. If you wish, please send me the name and email you previously subscribed with and I will manually add you into our system.”

Both of these responses,

  1. Take the blame off me (the user),
  2. Let me know you did your due diligence by checking
  3. Offer a solution to the problem by assuming it was a system error, not a human error.

In conclusion, users are looking for something more than just being told that “your company is their side and willing to help”. We see this all the time in ads of companies that say they are committed to their customers. Does that make customers feel better? Not unless we start practicing what we preach. Get inside your users’ heads. Pretend you are them while using your product. Make a list of all the areas where your product could be better. Take a breath before you respond to a customer message. Think about what their journey was like up until they messaged you. When we assume our design is flawed, we advocate for the user and can begin taking actionable steps towards building an outstanding product a user will enjoy.

Image by WikiImages from Pixabay