Be Careful With Your Defaults

I'm just off the phone with Bell Canada asking about the status of my refund. This is the same matter that forced me to converse with Emily, the amazing talking computer service representative. I'm told that my cheque for the $368.00 that I overpaid Bell Canada is in the mail, and should be reaching me early next week.

Some of you are doubtless wondering why I would be so dumb as to hand over $400 to a company that didn't need it. For that, I blame my credit union. They are wonderful in every other respect, especially customer service and service charges, but their online bill paying system leaves a lot to be desired.

You log in to pay your bill. It's easy enough to view your balance and get statements, but then you click "Pay a Bill". This takes you to a screen where your balance is listed, along with registered bills you normally pay, a box to type in the amount you want to pay, and a button that says "Submit Payment". The problem is, the list of registered bills doesn't have a null option. Instead, it defaults to the top bill on the list which, because it is in alphabetical order, is Bell Canada. Occasionally, I forget to select the proper bill, and I click "Submit Payment", and a payment that I intended to go to, oh... say, my credit card is instead routed to the top bill on the list: Bell Canada.

I spend a lot more on my credit card than I do on local phone calls.

The confirmation screen is also badly designed. The bill that I'm actually paying is listed in font that's just as large as the font on the rest of the page. There's no headline-size, flashing font screaming "BELL CANADA! BELL CANADA!" to tell me that I've selected the wrong bill. Me, being asleep at the switch more often than I care to admit, click "Confirm", and thus I end up paying my phone bill for the rest of the year.

When designing web pages like this, make sure that you don't select a value by default. Force the user to make a choice. And, when you're asking for confirmation, make sure the user can easily see what's being confirmed. These simple principles can save a lot of people a lot of grief.

Guest Columnist

Rick Jessup has a guest columnist who seems like a mentally well-put-together guy. The advice he gave was just what I needed on a frazzled Friday. I think we all need it.

More Interesting Google Searches

In the Two Towers Gandalf falls through the depths of Moria; what item does he grab? (third in search)

Why, that would be the Balrog's own sword of flame, wouldn't it?

Do we need a Canadian Senate? (unknown placement)

I think so, though I guess we could import one from the UK...

History of Telemarketers

In the beginning, there were salesmen. But they had to stand next to the things that they wanted to sell, so you could avoid most of them until you actually had to go out and buy something. And we saw that this was good. A enterprising handful ventured forth to sell door-to-door, but we could usually see them coming, or said to ourselves "who would be ringing the doorbell at this hour of the day" and we could pretend not to be home, or accidentally drop our wash water out the kitchen window, and we saw that this was good as well.

Then the telephone was invented, and with it the salesmen realized that they could communicate to hundreds of people without ever leaving their desks. People couldn't see them coming, and always picked up the phone, and we saw that this wasn't so good. We tried to be out most of the day, at our workplaces, but they would lie in wait, watching the clock until it was the sanctified hour of the day when people would be eating. With mouths full, potential victims couldn't speak to tell the telemarketers to go away. And the telemarketers saw this, and thought that it was good. We, on the other hand, got ticked off.

Then came the answering machine, call display, and a box that sent 120 decibels screaming down the phone line. The telemarketers persisted, they had to make their sales, but we stand firm too. And thus balance was restored...

...until the bastards found the Internet.

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