Good. Evil. Bratwurst.

Customer Disservice pt 3

Posted on by arlen

Had a brain wave this Christmas. My son-in-law is still a bit of an enigma to me (heck, so is his wife, in many ways, and I spent 20 years with her) so buying presents is a stretch. Oh, I could buy off his Amazon list, but that takes all the fun out of present hunting.

So, anyway, the brain wave was Safari. No, not the web browser, but the O’Reilly publishing venture’s electronic book service. He works from home most of the time, and this would give him access to the best computer reference library in the world. Great! Seemed like just the ticket.

Except for one minor glitch. The O’Reilly system seems to be not just unfriendly, but actually downright hostile to the idea that someone might want to give it as a gift! I don’t know why, perhaps Tim doesn’t believe his bookshelf would make a good gift for someone. But for whatever reason, the hostility of the O’Reilly website almost blew a sale for them this year (it didn’t, but only because my determination to give this overcame my common sense; a more rational person than I would have simply told them to shove it, and moved on to another gift idea).

First, there’s no way to give someone a Safari account without first creating a general O’Reilly acount for them. This is absurd. How do I know which email account Jeff wants associated with this, and how do I ask him without giving it away? I work past that by using the account he uses for most of his other public work. At least it didn’t require email-based activiation of the account, so I could get this far, at least, without tipping him off what was coming.

Second, it stores my credit card information. That wouldn’t be bad, in and of itself, but ask yourself the question: If I’m going to be giving it to someone else, why would I want my credit card information on file related to it? Doesn’t that seem in the least bizarre?

Now let’s compound the problem a little. First, O’Reilly uses the negative-option renewal plan. This, of course, is a Big No-No in customer service. Give me the choice of making the renewal a negative-option scheme, but also let me say “I want one year and one year only. I’ll let you know if I want to continue it later.”

Because of the bad renewal plan, it won’t let me delete mt credit card from the account unless I substitute Jeff’s for it! This is wrong on so many levels. In effect, it’s going to hold my card info hostage.

And all this because the nice folks over at O’Reilly never considered the idea that someone might want to give their service as a gift. Considering the arrogance of the default renewal program, this lack of confidence in their own products and services is remarkable.

C’mon, Tim! Am I the only person in the world who’s ever thought Safari would make a good present for a beloved techie? Are you telling me your recent study about how people use Safari didn’t turn up the fact that some people would like to give it as a gift?

General advice: When building an e-commerce site, especially one with subscription services, take into account the apparently uncommon idea that the products and services you’re selling just might make for a good gift for someone, and allow the gift giver to easily give it, without having to make a commitment to renew the gift every year.

And, while the negative-option method is good to have as a user-selectable option, it should be an option your customer can select, rather than the default. It’s like saying to your customer “Now that you’ve purchased it, I’m going to pick your pocket for more funds whenever I feel like it until you slap my hand, and if you try and stop me, I’m going to cut you off.” It’s a good line for a drug dealer, but do you really want your customers to think of you in those terms?

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December 2004
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