Thursday, December 22, 2011

AppliancesConnection.com (and GE Capital) ... Adventures (and failures in) User Experience (Updated 1x)

Background

After two service calls to fix an old dishwasher, I decided I'd had enough of my beautiful bride having to hand-wash 3/4 of what came out of our failing GE Profile dishwasher. I did some research and landed on a Bosch model that was both highly rated by its owners and recommended by Consumer Reports. The problem is that no local retailer carries this specific model. Being sensitive to the fact that I purchased the last dishwasher without enough research, I wanted this model. And heck, I buy everything else online, why not a semi-major appliance?

Solving Cart Abandonment at the Expense of an Angry Blogger

A lot has been written on preventing cart abandonment, and I won't say that they got it all wrong. I clicked "Add to Cart", did a quick retailmenot.com look. They actually have coupon codes named RETMENOT??, I saw this as funny and won't take issue with the whole "why don't they just offer that as a deal" element. Clearly they know a lot of customers are going to use that service to find coupon codes. They also didn't require me to set-up an account, and instead just e-mailed me a password (we'll skip the security implications -- that they're likely storing this password in plain-text in a database -- for another post).

When presented with payment options, I was offered 12-month financing if I filled out a quick credit app. I had intended on doing the equivalent of paying cash (I pay my credit cards off every cycle), but when offered an option to simply pay it off in chunks over a few months with no interest, my weakness to loss aversion kicked in and I told myself that funny little lie that somehow I'll pocket a small discount due to the interest earned with that money remaining in my investment account for a few months.

After completing my order and printing my authorization form as instructed (I felt dirty doing this, but I was on my bride's laptop which didn't have PDF Creator installed but did have a USB Laser printer attached). Then, I headed out for a small trip with the family. Upon returning, I discovered the order was on hold and I was required to submit proof of identification and fax or e-mail my authorization letter from GE Capital to AppliancesConnection.com. This seemed bizarre. I've got three other online accounts that I signed up and used same day and I've never been asked for such a sensitive piece of documentation. Coupled with the fact that they e-mailed me my account password, I was not confident about how this sensitive information was going to be stored. The inconvenience of having to scan this all in (and redact most of my drivers license) on what was in my mind "a done deal" was enough to make me cancel the order. Or, that's what I should have done. This dishwasher is hard to find, and it's the one I wanted. They were the only retailer of three that carried it and the only one with a delivery timeframe that was acceptable (my bride's poor fingers!). I'll likely never do business with them again, but they got this one.

Moan and Complain, that's what the Internet is for. STFU, how would you solve this?

  1. This is a solved problem. Amazon.com, buy.com and newegg.com have figured it out. Amazon even uses GE! Granted, I don't know AppliancesConnection.com's balance sheet and negotiating position with their payment provider, but if this is GE saying "pay us more to eliminate hassling your customers" and they're doing so claiming that the fees are to offset additional fraud, they're lying. It's a revenue booster. I could have easily forged the parts of my license they required me to send. And in the end, they were delivering to my billing/home address, which GE verified during the credit check. At some point, a dude is going to be walking this product into my foyer and I'll be signing for it.
  2. Shop for credit providers and find one that isn't stuck with policies pre-2002.
  3. Negotiate a better or equal solution that isn't quite such an awful user experience. While still messy, AppliancesConnection.com could have requested a secondary credit account with matching shipping/billing information, and only require the added scrutiny if the item is not being shipped to a matching billing addresses. This seems like it would be more effective than asking for my ID with everything but my name/address redacted. Even that seems unnecessary, though.
  4. At a minimum, ... prepare your customer for this. What followed after submitting my order was this strange progression of e-mails, one of which claiming that I had opened up a support ticket with the order (I was puzzled reading this on my phone). The credit authorization did have a section at the bottom informing the merchant to treat the transaction as they would if it were done face-to-face (laughable). I half wonder what would have happened if I had just ignored the e-mail. Would someone have called eventually?

So you jumped through the hoop anyway, STFU

You're right. At this point, I've attached the required information with the bits redacted. With how clumsy this was, I'm having second thoughts even as I write this. Will delivery scheduling be this messy? If one other thing ends up odd about this order, I'm cancelling it and probably going brick-and-mortar with my second choice dishwasher carried by a local retailer. I have a truck.

The difference: A delightful user experience

User Experience is the new customer service. If I complete a transaction and it's easy, or even delightful, it's the equivalent of being rushed to the front of the line and having a sales associate offer to help you load the product into your car. If, then, something goes wrong between the payment processing point and delivery that requires me to call customer service, I'm going to be far more forgiving and assume it's a one-off. Based on how that turns out, I'll probably do business with that merchant again. In fact, if the inconvenience is handled very well with discounts or other perks to offset the inconvenience, I may seek that retailer out first because they've now proven they know how to make things right when things go wrong. They'll be predictable if something like that inevitably happens again.

User Experience will probably be the only Customer Service I encounter when interacting with you. Do it like everyone else and I'll have my only incentive will be seeking out the best price. Do it right, and I'll start at your site and pay more for a product knowing the results will be predictably good.

Send weird, cryptic e-mail messages from do-not-reply addresses and make unusual requests for documentation, and you might get an ugly blog post on a blog nobody reads. Still, I've probably told at least 8-16 people about my only marginally bad customer experience.

UPDATE . . . 6:15 PM same day as post

The mystery solved

I kept thinking about this and it seemed so off that I had to review everything again.
After reviewing my approval documentation more closely, I discovered wording that implied I had actually applied for a more generic credit card (think Visa, Master, American Express or Discover card if nobody had ever heard of them). It's a GE Capital card (Ta Da!). So my card is accepted wherever GE Capital is accepted. Wait, what?! Where exactly? This is why I was asked for additional documentation during checkout. AppliancesConnection.com did what they'd be required to do if they were presented with a Visa/Master card that was in the just approved but not mailed yet non-card card state, so they were instructed to use the rather traditional protocol of requiring additional documentation ... except that method doesn't work online and it works even worse when the customer thinks they've just performed part of the check-out routine. Being a familiar, though infrequent experience, I would have understood what was going on if the GE Capital card was a Visa/Master/American Express/Discover Card. Perhaps there's a really good incentive (zero fees?) for landing in on the negative side of both a generic and a retail store-branded credit card, but I can't find one. Feel free to convince me.

This post was proof-read by my dog. Unfortunately, she died several years ago.

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