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Details Are Necessary Before Claiming Something is Wrong With a Web Site

June 30, 2007 by  

This really grinds my gears. Every 3-4 weeks, I’ll get an urgent email or call. The escalation chain goes something like this:

Consumer writes to Customer Service.
> Customer Service Rep forwards to Customer Service Supervisor.
>> Customer Service Supervisor forwards to Associate Marketing Manager.
>>> Associate Marketing Manager forwards to Marketing Manager.
>>>> Marketing Manager forwards to agency Account Manager.
>>>>> Agency Account Manager forwards to me.

Along the way, each person tacks on a message about how urgent this is, get back to me right away, yada yada yada.

By the time I see it, the email thread is fairly lengthy. When I scroll down to the original message, it typically says something like this:

“Your web site doesn’t work.”

[sigh…] I take application bugs seriously, but it never occurs to anyone that this is not enough information to make a guess as to what the problem was. So I’ll spend a half hour reviewing the site, testing functionality and forms, and looking at our Web Analytics to see if there were any traffic spikes or periods of no data that might indicate there was a problem with the Web hosting. 100% of the time I find nothing wrong. So I say nothing wrong could be identified by the information we have.

Of course clients want to hear that something was wrong because “the customer is always right.”

Then I have to reeducate everyone again that the user did not report any details that could help identify what the problem might be. It could be any number of things:

  • User didn’t say what he was tying to specifically do.
  • Maybe the user is not waiting for a Flash movie to play.
  • User may be on slow dial-up connection, not broadband. Or possibly sharing Internet connection on a network that is congested due to heavy use by other users.
  • User might be using outdated operating system and browser version we are not currently supporting. (e.g. Windows 98 and IE 5)
  • User may be using a computer that is very old/slow, loaded with many applications or malware that freezes from Flash, video or other functionality.
  • The user may be impatient and clicking everything and causing the browser/computer to freeze.
  • We don’t know if user only tried once. If user tries again, it might be fine.
  • Maybe the site is blocked by the military/school/company/organization that the user is accessing the Internet through.

Having someone say the Web site doesn’t work is too vague to confirm if it is a Web hosting issue, programming issue, database issue, hardware issue, software issue or user issue.

It is critical to try to educate the Customer Support team to ask more detailed questions when they get obscure comments. The following is the minimum amount of information we need to recreate and identify problems:

  • What type of computer being used: brand, processor specs, memory (e.g. Dell Latitude D610 Intel Pentium M processor 1.86GHz, 2 GB RAM)
  • What Operating System (e.g. Windows XP Professional)
  • What type of Internet connection (i.e. DSL, Cable, T1, Dial-up)
  • What Web browser and version (e.g. Apple Safari 2.0.4, Firefox 2.0.0.4, Internet Explorer 7)
  • Specifically what day and time (including time zone) did the user try to access the Web site?
  • What specifically did the user try to do?
  • What happened as a result of the user’s actions?

Also, design contact forms to capture useful information. Clients tend to ignore this, but as a result, we waste a lot of time down the road troubleshooting vague claims.

The user was kind enough to report a problem. But without details, it’s unlikely any problem can be identified.

Please let me know if you found this useful.
Thanks.
-Roland

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