‘Giving back something broken’ undoes all your good work and then some.

In Stephen Donaldson’s Second Chronicle of Thomas Covenant, the protagonist Covenant points out that ‘there’s only one way to hurt a man who’s lost everything: Give him back something broken’.  While that is certainly melodramatic for the tone of this post, it is something than rings true in user experience.  If your system does something good for users and then takes that something good away without good reason it will make the user angry.

Let me give you an example:  Long time readers of this blog will remember how pleased I was with the pre-pay option available at my local supermarket.  Recently the chain involved in that post has brought out a loyalty card which allows you to collect those four cent petrol vouchers on the card, rather than stuffed into your wallet.  This works particularly well for my partner and I, since we don’t own a car and therefore only rarely purchase petrol; it means when we do purchase petrol we can just hand over the card rather than having to remember to save the dockets and present them at the right time.

So far it all sounds pretty good, right?  The problem is, this card breaks the pre-pay option on the supermarket tills.  You can put all the information in, but when you hand the cashier your loaylty card, it cancels the transaction you have begun and forces the cahsier to start all over.

This problem takes a system that works in favour of the customer, and turns it on its head: the customer does the work of entering their information, only to have that work completely wasted.  It would be less annoying not to have the option to pre-pay in the first place. The supermarket needs to fix this problem, or remove the pre-pay option before they get into more loyalty schemes (as is happening in the next couple of months).

What experiences do you have of systems that were working really well only to turn on you at the last minute?


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