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Design of Everyday cover

But The Billing Department Always Works

By John Prince

Life has rules. Some imposed (apparently you have to wear clothes at the mall) and others self-created. In case of an opportunity to choose between grilled Brussels sprouts and ice cream, ‘choose ice cream’ is the rule.

When dealing with technology, if the next step is not immediately clear and obvious, move on to something else. That’s my new, self-created rule.

In other words, if the instructions say, “Click to next step and open the application,” and you click and there are no obvious ways to open anything, “Fuhgettaboudit” as Tony Soprano might say.

The Design of Everyday Things, a great book by Donald A. Norman, came out a few years ago. It takes on the design of everyday items like doors and coffee pots and telephones. Norman’s thinking is that if a product cannot be easily managed by the user, then it is a good example of bad design.

He tells the story of a designer who created glass doors in a public building that were completely clear; no push plates, hinges showing, just a big rectangle of clear glass. People trying the enter the building stood puzzled, tried pushing on one side (50/50 chance they were pushing on the hinge side) and then the other. Bad design, Norman sums up. When approaching a clear door people unconsciously look for a push plate, handle, and even the hint of hinges to make their decision. Beautiful design; designer forgot that people had to use it.

Technology is very rapidly reaching the apex of bad design. Last week I tried to create an online account to pay a bill. After filling in the forms, confirming my email, and creating and entering the eight-digit password, I was told that I did not exist. At least not in their universe.

I called support. A chirpy woman named Destiny assured me that it was a lovely day in Orlando and that she was an expert and could certainly solve my problem. Three attempts later I still didn’t exist. I explained that her billing department certainly knew of my existence and had, just that very day, sent me an email announcing that if I didn’t pay my bill that very day, they would terminate my service.

I vigorously suggested that she pass me on to someone who was, perhaps, an “advanced expert.” Soon I had Kal on the phone. Explaining the past history, he announced that he, too, was an expert and he looked upon my problem as “a challenge.”

Three unsuccessful attempts and Kal asked if he could try to set up the account from his end. He tried—twice. In the middle of that process we got cut off. Kal nicely called me back—which told me something—the CSRs can call back, despite their protestations to the contrary.

Kal asked my indulgence while he consulted with colleagues over this “weird” situation. “Why don’t you call me back when you’ve come up with a solution,” I suggested helpfully.

“Oh, I can’t call you back,” Kal said mouthing the Party line.

“Well, you just did, Kal. So, just call me back again. Bye, now.”

Kal did call back a couple of hours later. They still hadn’t figured out the answer. I don’t care.

If you like conspiracy theories, here is one for you.

Technology (software) has become so complex with updates, patches, BandAids, antihacking bits, add-ons, fixes, data collection algorithms, gum, string, and baling wire that no one can stay up to date and, when there is a problem, no one even knows where to look let alone how to fix it. Millions of lines of code; hundreds of millions (maybe billions) of characters.

The conspiracy is that the technology companies will not (a) admit that they have a classically over-cooked the product, (b) are not about to do anything to fix it, and (c) will be coming out with a new version in a few months that you absolutely MUST have/buy lest you fall victim to FOMO and other digital ailments.

Support bots have few answers. Q: “How do I open the program.” A: “You must contact out Support Team for that.” Q: “How can I contact the Support Team?” A: “You must contact our Support Team for that.”

If you do get Support, you’ll no doubt hear “Your call is important to us…” in an endless loop interspersed with Steely Dan music played on a smooth, jazzy sweet potato. A seated endurance marathon with an earpiece sticking out the side of your head.

I figure that over the past year I’ve spend 200 hours online, on hold, or trying to prove my existence to an infernal machine. That’s 8.3 days. Since I usually sleep, eat, and perform other necessities for 12 hours a day, that really means that I could have saved 16.6 days over the past year if I has just said “Fuhgettaboudit” when technology smacks me in the face. That’s a two-week vacation in Italy drinking vino and twirling pasta. Including travel days. Vastly superior to arguing with Customer Support about my existence.

There is good news, however. Even if the technology ceases to operate, the billing department always works.

4 thoughts on “But The Billing Department Always Works”

  1. GREAT article John. “Truer words were never spoken!” That’s why I gave up when that happened to me once.
    I use to send in a check via snail mail ( until my check was lost) , I was charged a late fee, so now I use the good old telephone to make a call, get a reference number and my bill gets paid from my checking account. So far it is working.

    You have more patience than I do… I don’t want any aggravation at my age.

  2. Manijeh Badiozamani

    Amen, my friend!
    Someday, I will share the agony we went through by upgrading our cell phones. Never again!

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