Saturday, May 26, 2007

AOL Doesn’t Care About What You Think Unless You Pay Them

AOL just unveiled a new online email client a couple weeks ago. It was a lot more application-like and had some very useful new features, such as showing me my address book on the right hand side in a floating layer. I was really enjoying the new experience they created. The only bad part, which was kind of big, was that it always crashed my Firefox browser when I went to go to another site. To fix the situation, I had to pull up Windows Task Manager and kill the old instance before opening a new one. It was annoying and really ruined all the good that came from the new design. I would trade all the good new features for access to the old one that didn’t crash my browser.

I wanted to share this with AOL, so I looked around the page for a feedback mechanism. At the bottom was a link that said, “Contact Us” so I clicked on it. I was shocked to get the awful message, “Service support is available to AOL members only.” I’m sure there must be another mechanism somewhere else on their website, but why would I bother looking any further? I don’t want to pay them $9.95 just to tell them that their new email design crashes my browser. I will use IE instead and don’t need support.

If I spent a lot of time and money on a major redesign of my web email client, I’d want feedback from customers. It would have to be explicit and very visible. It would be easy for AOL to create two links at the bottom of the screen, one for customer support and one for providing feedback. I think the creation of this would entail one developer and the time to drink two cups of coffee.

Companies pay people to participate in usability tests just to garner valuable feedback. The inability to provide support to all their customers should not create this scenario. I’m still a customer because they are getting paid by their advertisers when I visit. To treat me as a different class of user makes me feel as if my going to their website is not valued.

All of this, because there wasn’t a measly feedback loop.

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