Repetition as a negative inflection point in a user journey

You have just entered your 11-digit health insurance member ID into the keypad on your cell phone. There is no option to enter it verbally. Then you are asked to enter your birthdate verbally. There is no option to key it in. You say the month as a number, day, and two-digit year. The AI repeats your birthday back incorrectly. Only now that you’ve done it wrong are you prompted to say the name of the month and the year as a four-digit number. Then you’re asked to key in your zip code.

Having completed this labyrinth and listened to the menu items because “the options have recently changed”(although they never seem to), you find yourself chanting “customer service” or “agent” or “representative” because you’ve learned that these sometimes lead to a human even when there’s no obvious service option.

When you finally do reach a human, you are not greeted as a welcome guest or even a paying customer. Instead you’re asked to repeat all of the information you just laboriously entered.

How do you feel? How do you feel toward the person asking you to repeat this data? How do you feel toward the company you’re calling?

Situations like these are what I think of as a negative inflection point, a moment in the user journey that causes an affective experience that colors the rest of the journey.

This is a lose-lose situation. You are trying to accomplish the task of getting critical information about your access to healthcare. The person who answers your call is trying to get positive reviews. Neither of you are being set up to succeed.

Repetition in a user experience does not always cause this kind of friction. Being asked to re-type a password during account creation serves an obvious verification function. And being asked to stop and confirm the final step of a process can feel like a welcome chance to reconsider before hitting “submit” or “buy.”

But repetition for which there is no obvious purpose, at least from the user’s perspective, has a particular emotional valence. Asking for repeated authentication communicates disregard for the user’s time and even skepticism toward the user’s self, a point brilliantly illustrated in the second season of the Homecoming podcast where a guy is told, “I need to verify your biodata” and then given tasks like, “please hum three ascending notes into your phone”).

Ask the customer service agent why you have to restate all of the information you entered previously and you will likely hear, “I need to verify your identity” or “well, I’m not shown that information,” to which the tempting response is: then why did I have to enter it in the first place, or, then there’s a serious problem with your systems, or, can’t you come up with a better Turning test than this?

Companies can help reduce repetition and other forms of friction by incorporating UX research that looks at the end-to-end user journey to see whether there are specific interactions, which, if improved, could significantly improve user experience. And it requires feature teams and back-end systems to collaborate to move data where it needs to go instead of asking the user do that extra legwork. We can also emphasize consistency in order to reduce the repetition that comes with error (verbal entry or manual entry?). We can strive to give users the most flexible possible experience (how about offering verbal and manual entry? How about supporting month and year fields in every possible format?). And industries can strive to create common conventions so that users don’t have to guess or wait to listen for instructions (pound sign or no pound sign, people?).

At the risk of repeating myself, asking users to repeat themselves may get around having to build interoperability between different parts of a system, but it can also create a negative inflection point that impacts good will, system trust, and ultimately business.

UX researcher committed to empowering users by harnessing user insights to improve products, processes, and services.

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