The other day I was attempting to make a purchase on eBay. It being eBay, I was more or less being forced to make my purchase through PayPal. Any time I’ve ever used PayPal in the past, I’ve never had good luck with it. This time, it went something like the following:
- Not wanting to use a PayPal account that I may or may not have created in the past (heck, I can’t remember – I’ve probably tried to purge the previous terrible experience from my mind), I opted to try to pay with a credit card.
- I enter my usual credit card details, making sure everything is correct. I then try to purchase the item in question, and get a completely useless error message. It basically says “This isn’t working”.
- Since the first credit card doesn’t work, I try using a different credit card. I get more or less the same result as the first one.
- I try yet again, and get a different error message that really has no details to it, so I still can’t figure out what exactly is wrong. An error message like the following is completely useless:
“We are unable to completed the transaction at this time. Please try again with a different credit card.”
So, there’s absolutely no details of why it has failed. None at all. All it has done by this point, is made me incredibly frustrated. I’m trying to give them my money, and it’s like they don’t want it. I’ve already done what the error message suggested, yet that didn’t help. Rather than tell me to do something else that doesn’t work, why not tell me why what I’m currently doing isn’t working?
Rather than still being bent out of shape about this, I’ve learned the following:
If you are going to show the user an error, at least make it a meaningful error. Tell the user exactly what they are doing wrong!
There’s nothing more frustrating than having a problem, but not being told what that problem is. It’s like a student being given a grade, but not being told which questions they did correctly or incorrectly.
There was a really good article and discussion on Ars Technica recently about the subject of learning to hate computers. It basically says that people don’t initially hate computers, but after repeatedly bad experiences trying to do things with them, they learn to hate them. The author of the article relates it to being pecked to death by ducks. It’s one little bite here, and another nibble there.
While we are on the subject of financial services, can we also please get rid of security questions? They’ve proven to be insecure. (Don’t believe me? Ask Sarah Pallin and Yahoo). The people who breached her email account did so by guessing the answers to security questions. Rather than having security questions, why not force two-factor authentication instead? It’d be a heck of a lot more secure.