Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dentists and a Useless Form

After putting it off for far too long, I went looking for a new dentist the other day. I started with the website of my insurance provider, which gave me the name of a dentist office near me. From there, I went to the website of the dentist office, which actually has several branches in the Metroplex and a couple in Austin. I hate calling to make an appointment because I’m always at work during the typical office hours and it is inconvenient. But this website was different. This website had a form for people to fill out if they wanted an appointment or more information. Since it was Sunday evening, I filled out the form, believing that they would contact me the next day. They did not. I waited another day and on Tuesday I filled out the form again. This time, I asked the question in the more information field, “Is anyone responding to this form?” Still no response. I ended up taking time out of my workday, just to call and schedule an appointment that could have been done using the from they provided.

Whoever put this form on their website had a great idea. I’m sure I’m not the only person who would rather fill out a form during the off hours than to wait until after 9AM on a weekday, call the office, be put on hold by the receptionist, be transferred to someone else, give out information over the phone, hoping that they get it right and finally get a scheduled time. Had the website been implemented well, there is no reason why I couldn’t have scheduled an appointment with no interaction with the workers at the office. But instead, it left me frustrated and gave me a bad impression.

We all start off with good intentions that don’t always pan out like we think they will. We have great ideas for our website that turn out to be more trouble than we anticipated. We run into situations where a form is ideal for allowing the user to provide us with information without any interaction from us, but we need to be careful that we don’t imply that a form does something that it doesn’t. Suppose there is an author who provides a form that site visitors can fill out to receive a copy of the author’s book. After a while, the author terminates the offer, but rather than removing the form, he just ignores any requests that come through the form. The visitor will not think anything about it, if the form doesn’t exist, but if the form is there and it is ignored then it will provide a source of frustration for the visitor. We should look for the sources of frustration on our websites and remove them.