Customer Service and User Interface

Lately I have been reading a pretty good book on user interface design, Why Software Sucks, and as soon as I finish I plan on offering a review. It has got me rethinking many aspects of my development processes, especially user interface. One of the things I preach when I am asked about search engine optimization is not target the keywords you look things up, but rather find out what your target customer is searching for. To extrapolate that to how a user expereinces our software we need to realize that we as programmers know how to use just about any application as soon as we sit in front of the computer. The average, and by average I think about 95% of the world will fit into that slice, struggles with the way we think.

This morning I woke up to an e-mail from my mother (no we are not going there) with one of those funny e-mails that gets passed around. It was a copy of a letter sent to the bank by a reported 86 year old woman. She had bounced a check, by her calculations, only nano seconds. Her response is just classic, and as you read it think about the way users feel about you as they use your applications as she responds to the bank's user interface.


Shown below

, is an actual letter that was sent to a bank by an 86 year

old woman. The bank manager thought it amusing enough to have it

published in the New York Times.


Dear Sir:

am writing to thank you for bouncing my check with which I endeavored to pay my plumber last month.

By my calculations, three nanoseconds must have elapsed between his

presenting the check and the arrival in my account of the funds needed to honor it.


I refer, of course, to the automatic monthly deposit of my entire

pension, an arrangement which, I admit, has been in place for only eight years.


You are to be commended for seizing that brief window of opportunity,and also for debiting my account $30 by way of penalty for the

inconvenience caused to your bank.



My thankfulness springs from the manner in which this incident has

caused me to rethink my errant financial ways.

I noticed that whereas I personally answer your telephone calls and

letters, --- when I try to contact you, I am confronted by the impersonal, over- charging, pre-recorded, faceless entity which your bank

has become.

From now on, I, like you, choose only to deal with a flesh-and-blood


person. My mortgage and loan repayments will therefore and hereafter no longer be automatic, but will arrive at your bank, by check, addressed personally and confidentially to an employee at your bank whom you must



Be aware that it is an offense under the Postal Act for any other person to open such an envelope.

Please find attached an Application Contact

which I require your chosen employee to complete.

I am sorry it runs to eight pages, but in order that I know as much

about him or her as your bank knows about me, there is no alternative.

Please note that all copies of his or her medical history must be

countersigned by a Notary Public, and the mandatory details of his/her financial situation (income, debts, assets and

liabilities) must be accompanied by documented proof.

In due course, at MY convenience, I will issue your employee with a PIN

number which he/she must quote in dealings with me. 


I regret that it cannot be shorter than 28 digits but, again, I have

modeled it on the number of button presses required of me to access my account balance on your phone bank service. As they say, imitation is

the sincerest form of flattery.



Let me level the playing field even further



you call me, press buttons as follows:
#1. To make an appointment to see me
#2. To query a missing payment.
# 3. To transfer the call to my living room in case I am there.
# 4. To transfer the call to my bedroom in case I am sleeping.
# 5. To transfer the call to my toilet in case I am attending to nature.
# 6. To transfer the call to my mobile phone if I am not at home

#7. To leave a message on my computer, a password to access my computer is required. Password will be communicated to you at a later date to that Authorized Contact mentioned earlier.
# 8. To return to the main menu and to listen to options 1 through 7.
# 9. To make a general complaint or inquiry. The contact will then be put on hold, pending the attention of my automated answering service.

While this may, on occasion, involve a lengthy wait, uplifting music


will play for the duration of the call.

Regrettably, but again following your example, I must also levy an establishment fee to cover the setting up of this new arrangement. May I wish you a happy, if ever so slightly less prosperous New Year?


Your Humble Client

(Remember: This was written by a 86 year old woman)



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