Despite the fact that I have no children, I’m currently the owner of not one, but two mustachifiers; those adorable novelty pacifiers that make your three month old look like he’s sporting a Magnum P.I. era Tom Selleck mustache – and it’s all because of poor transaction monitoring.
It started with an invitation to a Christening and my need to inject a little bit of personality into what was shaping up to be a predictably bland gift. Of course, being a guy who always waits until the last minute, the idea of adding a mustachifier to the mix didn’t hit me until three days before the ceremony – and that’s when things got dicey.
After a quick Google search I found a "mustachifier" for sale on a well-known and widely used site, added it my cart and proceeded to checkout where I spent a little extra on two-day delivery to guarantee I had it in time for the Christening. However, after clicking "submit" I received an error message explaining the site was unable to process my order. I confirmed my credit card information was correct and resubmitted the order only to receive the same message. As annoyed as I was, I understood that these things happen. A server could have been down, the payment API could have been overloaded or the item may have just been out of stock. Whatever the reason, I realized I wasn’t getting my mustachifier from the site and moved on.
Not to be dissuaded, I found the same mustachifier on a competitor’s site and purchased it without incident. A few minutes later my phone buzzed showing three new emails – I opened my messages fully expecting one to be my order confirmation. What I found wasn’t just one confirmation, but three. The first two for the orders that were supposedly unable to be processed and a third for the order that went off without a hitch.
I won’t bore you with the details of how I tried to cancel two supposedly "unprocessed" orders – let’s just say that I ended up on the losing end of a 45-minute customer service call. On the bright side, I was able to walk away with a couple of consolation prizes: two mustachifiers complete with two-day shipping surcharges.
Needless to say, I won’t be in the market for another mustachifier for a long, long time – but this all begs the question of how a major online retailer could let something like this happen?
In a broader context, this whole ordeal underscores the fact that the user experience is at the core of a successful retail site – positive experiences build brand loyalty, earning customers’ trust and business for years. Conversely, a poor user experience not only hurts your bottom line, but also pushes potential customers to the competitors and negatively affects your brand’s reputation.
Numerous studies have shown that people are far more likely to share their negative experiences with colleagues, family and friends than they are their positive experiences. Couple this with the extended reach social media now affords the average online consumer and one user’s bad experience can touch hundreds, sometimes thousands, of potential customers in a matter of minutes. A recent Zendesk study actually showed that 95% of people who have had a poor customer experience will share it with others and 54% of those people share it with five or more people.
Although my story is clearly anecdotal, it serves as a perfect example of how ignoring the customer experience results in lost revenue and bad press – just imagine if I were an irate blogger calling out the retailer by name. That said, I probably told ten people my story the same day it happened – and who knows how many potential customers saw the #epicfail tweet I sent directly to the retailer’s twitter feed.
What’s most frustrating is that, as someone who works in the Web performance industry, I know that there are plenty of tools specifically designed to prevent these things from happening. Monitoring Web transactions like checkouts and log-ins for errors should be a given for large online retailers. Had even a basic transactional monitoring solution been in place I would most likely have never ended up with two extra mustachifiers expedited to my doorstep.
One of the knocks against transaction monitoring has always been the idea that in order to get started companies need to invest time and resources into coding out the scripts to execute each transaction. While larger organizations might be able to absorb this workload it’s not ideal and it’s often a non-starter for smaller online businesses.
While hand coding is a necessity for many performance-monitoring solutions, AlertSite by SmartBear has addressed the issue by using the DejaClick transaction recorder. DejaClick creates the scripts for the Web transactions you need to monitor by recording your clickstream as you navigate through your site - so there’s no coding required. Once the transaction is complete you can upload your recording directly from the browser to AlertSite and begin monitoring in minutes. This frees up the development and operations teams of larger organizations for more pressing projects while offering smaller companies an easy alternative to hand-coding without compromising quality.
Regardless of how online retailers choose to approach transactional monitoring, it needs to be a part of every performance monitoring strategy in some capacity – every online business has at least one critical transaction that needs to be available 24/7. My own story shows that the easiest way to lose customers is to prevent them from completing their purchases – charging customers for transactions that supposedly didn’t go through just adds insult to injury.
The moral of the story is that while transaction monitoring can’t be considered the be-all-end-all, it’s a major component of maintaining a positive user experience for the customer. It not only keeps tabs on the performance of business critical transactions, but also identifies and alerts organizations so that performance issues can be addressed before customers and revenue are affected. Additional factors to keep an eye on are the overall design, layout and performance of retail pages – all of which can dramatically affect user experience. This is especially true of mobile sites.