heart stoppingly bad user experience

It was a busy day today, so at about 3pm I grabbed my bag and my phone and headed out to grab some lunch. Just as I got out the door, my phone rang. It was an unknown number.

I answered the phone, and a woman said she was from the Police.

She asked me to identify my husband.

Now… perhaps I watch too many episodes of CSI, but when some one says ‘can you identify this person’ it makes me kind of nervous. Particularly when they’re talking about a loved one.

With my past, present and future life flashing before my eyes, I tried as best I could to identify my husband. I asked the woman why she needed me to do this. She said the police were dealing with it and she’d get back to me. She asked me a few more details – was he a white male? What colour was his hair?

Then she put me on hold.

Now… perhaps I was over reacting, but at this stage I was physically shaking and imagining all kinds of horrible things I wouldn’t wish on anyone else.

Eventually (and, there was no hold music, just silence) she came back on the line and told me that my husband was using my debit card to pay for a few pounds worth of fuel. He’d lost his wallet on the tube a few days before so I’d loaned him my debit card… and because it said ‘Mrs’ (which, incidentally, I’d never asked for it to say) they’d assumed it was stolen and called the police.

So, for a few minutes, I thought that something dreadful had happened to someone I loved, because of the way that they handled that customer experience.

Now – hours later – I still feel powerful effects of that conversation.

Surely, people who work for the London Police don’t do that to people all day, every day. If so, it’s a miracle any of us are sane.

Surely, if someone had considered personas and user scenarios – there is no way that a call like that would ever have been made.

I whinge a lot on this blog about user experiences that piss me off. But this one has shaken me in an incredibly powerful way.

I’m not writing this so you say ‘oh, poor you’. I’m posting this so you think about how what you do might impact on peoples lives.

User experience is way more than not making my day frustrating. User experience might be not making me confront mortality when I just want to go get a sandwich.

Is that too much to ask?

4 Responses to “heart stoppingly bad user experience”

  1. Kevin September 29, 2006 at 2:34 am #

    That’s pretty bad oral communication. It’s almost as if they treated you like a criminal, though I’d understand that they themselves are so used to being like that given the kind of people they have to deal with.

  2. Gordon September 29, 2006 at 8:42 am #

    Au contraire Kevin. The fact that they deal with a certain ‘kind of people’ (you mean criminals, right?) is why they should be more aware of oral communication.

    Yes I know you are not excusing them, I think that is letting them off the hook. Aren’t they trained in how to speak to people, to use non-confrontational language and so on? If so, then this is the flip side.

    Awful experience, I’d imagine, and makes all those “nice to be nice” stickers I’ve seen stuck next to phones in offices all the more pertinent. Maybe it’s just a simple ‘mind hack’ that is required to put the person making the call into the ‘persona’ of the person they are calling.

    “Who are you calling and what will they think?”

  3. ivanka majic September 30, 2006 at 9:29 pm #

    What an awful thing to have happen! I am so sorry that happened to you. Someone really wasn’t engaging their brain.

    I wonder what sort of training they get for these sorts of calls? It does seem like the dots aren’t always connected up as they should be. I remember getting mugged and the woman who answered the 999 call telling me off really quite rudely. I appreciate that she had a job to do but she told me that she wasn’t going to put me through to the police until I “calmed down”. I admit that I was crying and shouting but was still able to make myself understood and I had just been mugged!

    In the interest of not exchanging “police phone manners and how they did me wrong” it never ceases to amaze me how some people don’t seem to think before they do something? This type of call really can cause a huge amount of distress and it makes the importance of understanding your ‘users’ even more important. As there seems to be a lack of empathy at the most inappropriate moment then perhaps some persona boards and some scenarios wouldn’t go amiss!

    Truly an extreme example of a poor customer experience.

  4. B. Rene Williams October 11, 2008 at 10:52 pm #

    I’m one of those people who always expects empathy. I can’t imagine what this policewoman could have been thinking, calling you for some trivial set of circumstances and leaving you on hold thinking that some harm might have come to your husband.

    People need to step back for a few short seconds before they act and realize how their conduct might affect someone else.

    That is, indeed, a bad user experience.