Monday, August 5, 2013

*Head Desk*: A Lesson in Humility

Two week ago I received an email from my bank that my checking account fell below my low balance threshold.  “Low balance” was defined by me. I set it up to get notified when something unexpected was happening with my bank account.  This email meant something unexpected happened.  I logged in to discover that I had a negative balance.  I’ve been balancing my checkbook before the Internet existed...I have an accounting degree…this should not be happening to me. 

I reviewed the transactions and immediately saw the problem.  The bill I paid to a department store was 100x bigger then it should have been.  Apparently I didn’t type in the decimal.  *Head Desk*  I called the bank (yelled representative many times at the automated phone system) and found the money was already in flight and there was nothing I can do about it. 

I’m still unwinding this, but I put my product management hat on and started thinking about usability.  My bill for this department store is delivered to my bank and the bank knows the amount due to the biller.  The bill pay system not only allowed me to overpay without a warning but also allowed me to overpay by exactly 100x the bill amount.  On the flip side there is a confirmation page when you pay a bill that I apparently didn’t review.  But seriously – who looks at that any more – I see confirmation pages so many times that I don’t review them – I simply click submit.

The right answer is to have greater intelligence around these types of transactions.  If I pay my water bill two times within a day of each payment and for the same amount – should it warn me?  Maybe.  Is that answer different if instead of my water bill its my mortgage payment?  Probably. But the more of these messages I receive- the more likely I am to ignore those messages too.  The product manager in me also knows it’s a trade-off – introducing this type of checking reduces value that can be delivered in other areas. 

I think the right answer is this level of error checking should be commensurate with the level of risk, confidence level that it’s a mistake and knowing that risk is going to be different based on the user persona.  As sucky as this experience has been – it would have been much worse for the 25-year-old version of me. 

In any case, this also is a good lesson in humility. I've been using computers for 75% of my life and made the most basic mistake.  While I’m not my product’s user, it is still good experience to have in the back of my head when making product decisions and building requirements.    

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