For a while now I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a series of blog posts about bad design and bad user experience on popular Web sites – the little things I notice that inspire me to tell those sites, “YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!“. Today I had an experience that has finally inspired me to kick this series off.
Match.com: A Case Study in How to Turn a Bad User Experience into a Lost Customer, and Bad Customer Service into Bad PR
Part I: A Little Background
I am somebody who has never been enthusiastic about online dating. Call me old fashioned, but if I ever get married and settle down, I really, really don’t want the story of how I met my wife to involve an algorithm. I know online dating has worked for a lot of people, and that’s great, but for me it’s a notion that is just completely lacking in anything close to the romance I hope to have in my life story.
However, at 37 I’m still single, and the women I’ve dated over the years just haven’t worked out in the long run. So, the other day I was talking with a good friend, and he brought up match.com. He said a lot of good things about it, and urged me to give it a chance. For whatever reason, I finally decided, “OK, what the hell, I’ll give it a shot. Why not, maybe I’ll meet someone outside of my normal flight patterns.”
I went to the Web site, signed up for the 3 month package (the cheapest one that lets you do everything you’d want to do on the site), and off I went. …Now I don’t know if you’ve ever tried online dating, but getting started is a royal pain in the ass. They ask you tons and tons of questions, you have to click through page after page of forms, and it’s a major hassle all the way around.
I did it, though, and I finally got to the very end, where there was one last question remaining: “About Me & Who I’m Looking For” …Have you ever heard of a more open-ended question in your life? Unlike all the other ones, which were generally multiple choice or only required a sentence or two, this one was like the essay question at the end of a final exam. It was a huge box, and you could say anything you wanted. At first I just put like 5 quick sentences that basically amounted to, “I’m a fun lovin’ guy, and here are some nice to haves, and I’ll get back to this later…”
I walked away from it for a while, but eventually I came back and decided to give it a real try. After all, women like words and feelings and stuff, right? I figured if I’m paying for this service, I had better actually put something witty, funny, and honest in there or I wouldn’t stand a chance and I’d just be wasting my time and money. So I sat down and started typing away.
Part II: A Terrible User Experience
Now here’s the bad usability part: An hour later I was finally done and had it to my liking (Hey, it’s not easy digging deep and describing yourself and what you want in a woman, don’t judge!). So, I read it one more time, felt generally satisfied with my work, and hit the submit button.
Did my profile update with all my brilliantly described deeply personal details and desires in life? No, of course not. What happened instead? The page refreshed and I lost everything I had just spent an hour laboring over! Disaster! To add insult to injury it presented me with a login screen like it didn’t know me. “…Didn’t I just tell you everything I want in life, and now you don’t remember my name?!”
Now, I’m a Web developer. I know exactly what happened here. The stupid user session timed out and it logged me out. Great, site security, I get it. But come on! Match.com is a dating site. They have to know that formulating your thoughts for something like this and writing them all down isn’t easy, and that people are going to spend a long time thinking about this stuff when they’re writing (the ones who are actually trying anyway).
A well designed dating site would find a fancy way to save the user’s text before requiring another login (hey Match guys, heard of Ajax?!). This, my friends, was the crappiest user experience I’ve ever had. Why? Because I had put so much time, energy and emotion into trying to formulate something good, and it was so very personal. To have it all just wiped away was beyond frustrating, it was a major slap in the face. Even if I could write something as good or better than what I had, the last thing in the world I would do would be to waste another hour of my life trying to recreate it from scratch.
Part of my impatience for this experience was the personal nature of it and all the effort I’d put in and lost without recourse. The other part, I’ll admit, is that I’m a frikkin’ Web developer, and I know exactly what happened here, how completely simple it would have been to avoid, and how utterly incompetent the product and development teams at Match.com are for allowing this to happen on their site. Guys – when you’re gonna’ auto-log someone out, you check the darn field, and if it has a value, you save it somewhere. Better yet, as people are typing, you intermittently save a draft. Or how about this, you warn them before you’re going to log them out. ANY of these simple product features would have saved my pain. But no, Match.com shipped a crappy product, simple as that.
Part III: A Terrible Customer Service Experience
When that little episode transpired, I decided then and there that I was done. I quit, I’m over it, see you later. I didn’t want to bother with online dating in the first place, and now I was pissed off. Thanks Match.com, you just lost a customer.
I went to the account settings page on the site, and immediately canceled my account then and there. Buh-bye. …The only problem was, I had just paid these bozos $72 for the 3 month subscription, and I couldn’t find anything that told me how to get a refund. All I could find was a customer service number, and it indicated that they were closed until 10 AM the next day (it was late). OK, fine, at least I had a customer service number. I resolved to call them in the morning and crashed out for the night.
The next day came, and I did indeed call customer service as soon as I had a break at work. Now this post is getting long, so I’ll cut to the chase… I spoke with a very nice woman, who politely informed me that since I had used the messaging part of the service, I was no longer eligible for a refund. Never mind that I had been a member for a total of under 8 hours when I cancelled my account – Never mind that I had actually only sent 4 messages, each only 2 or 3 sentences long (these were basically intro notes like, “Hi, you say you’re a foodie. What are some of your favorite restaurants?”) – Never mind that I hadn’t even received a single reply yet… Match.com has a corporate policy that once you send a single message, no refunds, period, end of discussion, no exceptions.
Believe me, I politely told her my entire story in great detail, explained the entire usability issue on their site, and did everything I could to be patient and reasonable with her. When she flatly denied me citing terms of service and standard policy, I finally asked to speak to her manager, which she obliged.
When he finally got on the phone (after a long hold) I spoke with him at great length. I told him the whole story, made clear that I was in no way trying to rip anyone off or take advantage of their service, I was simply a brand new customer who had a bad experience in my initial usage of their site, and all I wanted was a refund. No dice. After trying everything I could to reason with him, I finally asked to speak to his manager. He said OK, and again I was on hold for another 5 minutes.
Finally a very polite woman came on the line and informed me that she was from the Match.com corporate office – I guess I had been in call center hell. Whatever. Same routine, I explained to her that look, I’m a Web developer, I get it. Sites have bugs. All I want is my money back. I barely used the service, was enrolled for less than 8 hours, I know your policy because these people already explained it to me, but come on, you seem like a reasonable woman, I’m sure you can understand. I had a bad experience, I’m not asking for anything extraordinary, all I want is a refund.
“I’m sorry sir, but our policy states that once you’ve used the message service you are no longer eligible for a refund. It’s in our terms of service. No exceptions.” …Yeah, thanks, your peons already explained that to me.
I went so far as to say, in my final exasperated attempt to reason with her, “Look, I’m not threatening you here, but you realize that when customers have bad experiences like this, and are unable to reconcile their grievances fairly with a company, that’s when they do things like take to Twitter and write blog posts and start telling all their friends about how horribly they were treated, right? You know that that’s how companies generate bad will and lose customers, right?…” No dice.
So, I said, “Thank you for doing the best you can, I know this isn’t your fault, but the company you work for is clueless and this is completely f#@&ing ridiculous!” (or something very close to that) – and I hung up on her.
Guess what happened next? Here we are.
Part IV: The Right Way To Build a Product and Treat Customers
The sad thing is, this all could have been avoided. Let’s talk about a company that understands how to build great products and treat their customers. There are plenty, but Apple is the one that comes to mind first.
As of today, Apple is once again the most valuable company in the world. That should really be all I need to say. But I’ll say just a little more. When you buy an Apple product, it usually just works. They pay attention to the details. They understand their users. They don’t get it right all the time, but in general they’ve thought of the scenarios that are most likely to come up when a normal user is using their product the way it was intended to be used, and worked out all the problems that might arise (like, you know, logging someone out in the middle of asking them to write a long essay about their deepest and innermost feelings and desires). Apple builds great products, and everyone knows that.
BUT, sometimes Apple gets it wrong too, they’re human. Even if they don’t, it turns out that sometimes when people get their shiny new toy out of the box, it just doesn’t turn out to be what they wanted after all. So how does Apple handle this? They handle it perfectly: You get a 2 week return policy, no questions asked. Product is opened? No problem. You used it to write your dissertation before you returned it to us? No problem. As long as you’re within the 2 week window, they take it back without issue, you get your refund, and everyone is happy. This is how great customer service works.
If Apple operated like Match.com, their policy would state that you can’t return your iPhone once you’ve sent a single text message, no exceptions. Further, they wouldn’t warn you about this limitation, they’d expect you to read it in the users manual. They might not be out of business right now, but I guarantee you that they wouldn’t be crushing their earnings forecasts and dominating the technology world at a time when everyone else is happy just to find new paying customers.
So back to Match.com … I’ve explained that their site had a major user experience flaw that could have been avoided if they were paying attention to how people actually use their service. I’ve detailed how that led directly to me going from being a happy new customer to a frustrated ex-customer in under 20 minutes.
I’ve also explained that their customer service staff, while certainly friendly and polite, were completely incapable of offering me the most basic accommodation available to a frustrated customer: a simple refund. I’ve explained that I took the time to go 2 levels up in management to a representative from their corporate office, and still wasn’t able to get anywhere with my request. You’ll recall that this ridiculous failure in customer care happened within 24 hours of me signing up for their service, and is dictated by a corporate policy which even a representative from the corporate office had no flexibility to waive, no exceptions – just because I sent a 3 sentence message to someone.
All of that is already more than enough to have moved me from being frustrated to being angry and bitter. But the cherry on top, the single salient fact that really proves to me that Match.com doesn’t care about its customer and has no clue how to handle someone who’s upset with their service – even in a case where it was clearly their own buggy service which caused such frustration to begin with (as opposed to me being upset because I just couldn’t get a date or something) – is that at no point did anyone even attempt to offer me any other form of recourse. How about, “I’m so sorry sir, let us give you an upgrade.” Or maybe, “We’re terribly sorry, can we give you a 6 month free extension to make up for your unpleasant experience? We’d really like to make it up to you because we value you as a customer.” Nope, nothing like that. Even if you’re not going to give me a refund, isn’t that on page 1 of the book in Customer Service 101?! Mind you, that’s definitely not what I wanted, but at least it would have been something. Instead, all I got was a lot of time on hold and the most worthless of corporate lines, “We’re sorry, but that’s our policy and we can’t help you.” …Three times.
Part V: Now What
So now what happens? I don’t know. Match.com is lucky, I’m not a world famous blogger. They didn’t know that, but they might have made a safe bet. However, what I am is a guy that won’t just walk away quietly. I know how well designed products and services work. I know how good customer service works. I had a legitimate complaint, I asked for the most basic thing I could have in the form of a refund, and I got nothing from them. So now I’m doing what any angry customer has every right to do: I’m calling them out on it as loudly as I can.
So, maybe nobody will ever read this. If so, that’s fine. I feel a little better already just for venting it all out in this post. But then again, who knows what might happen? You can be certain that if you’re reading this post, I’ve already sent it to my 600+ facebook friends. That’s not a lot of eyeballs, but it’s something. I guarantee I’ll also tweet this as far and wide as I can. Just because I alluded to the risk and Miss Corporate flat out ignored me, I’ll even go so far as to send this to a few of the most prominent tech blogs. After all, covering the tech business is their business, right? If bad site design and bad customer service from a leading dating site isn’t tech business, I don’t know what is. They may not care to write about my little tale, but they’ll get their chance.
Why go so far? Do I just have an axe to grind? Yes, of sorts. I’m not generally a vindictive person. I’m not out to damage their business or anything. I simply want them to read this post, realize they made a mistake, and make it right. …If Match.com had simply given me a refund to begin with I’d still think their site sucks, but none of this messy blogging business would have ever happened. But they didn’t. They blew me off like I don’t matter, like their customers don’t matter, and that’s just not right.
All I want is my $72 back. That’s it. I promise I’ll never log on to Match.com again, and we can both go our happy separate ways.
…But if they can’t give me that, and until I update this post you can know that they haven’t, then the least I feel obliged to do is tell it like it really is at Match.com. Why? Because I don’t know what else they could do to get someone as pissed off as I am right now – but I do know that whatever they do wrong, they won’t do anything to fix it. That’s not how good companies operate. Companies that suck deserve to be taken to task – and I’m just the guy to do it. Enough said.