Final Decision: No Potato!
Somewhere near DCA (aka Washington Reagan Airport) a round room is missing its patient…
I am not sure which psychiatric facility it is but I can tell you, with 100% certainty, the patient is working in the US Airways terminal for TSA.
I hate all the DC airports but I dislike DCA with a passion. For me, everything goes wrong in DCA. Not just a little wrong, but comedy-of-errors, I-want-to-kill-someone wrong. Take the other night for instance.
After landing HOURS late (a frequent occurrence), I had less than thirty minutes to catch the last plane out. I was starving. Not the usual “just a little hungry” female-type starving, but absolutely “I will chew off the person’s arm next to me if I don’t eat” stark-raving ravenous.
Because it was late (almost 9), there was nothing open except a Ranch something-or-other and a Cinnabon. The Ranch whatever-it-is has a picture menu with more than half a dozen chicken choices. Unfortunately, they were “out of chicken.” (How a chicken restaurant can be bereft of all poultry is a story in itself, but I’m leaving that escapade for another day.) After a six-minute heated debate with the illegal-on-many-levels teenager at the counter, I finally negotiated a baked (in name only) potato with broccoli. Knowing that I didn’t have much time to spare, I grabbed a plastic spork and some napkins and dashed to the shuttle bus that would take me from one side of the US Airways terminal to the other – only to find the shuttle was “not working.”
Aaargh…. I had to high-tail it out of the US Airways wing I was in, GO BACK THROUGH AIRPORT SECURITY, and run to my gate. Please tell me which rocket scientist designed that train wreck of a system. I have some frequent fliers who’d like to invite him to dinner at Hannibal Lecter’s house. (If the bus actually worked more than 50% of the time, I wouldn’t complain but I am now convinced that the bus doesn’t operate any longer and nobody has informed the gate agents yet.)
Frustrated as all get out, I ditched my overpriced bottle of what is probably tap water disguised with a chi-chi-la-la label and dashed to the next security area. I took three bins and started undressing. My shoes, My belt. My jacket. My sweater. All of it came off. Then, I placed my laptop in one bin and my purse in the other along with my prized baked potato. I zipped up my computer bag and placed everything on the belt, precariously balancing my boarding pass under my right arm. (I didn’t have time for the 4-minute lecture they give you if you hold it between your teeth as you do the prisoner walk through the metal detectors.)
I rushed through the metal detector (not that it would have mattered if it had gone off, the guy was so busy flirting with the girl pushing the stack of bins that he wouldn’t have noticed if I had a gun.) And then I waited. And waited. And waited.
“Ma’am, I can’t allow you to bring this in with you.” The checker guy said somewhat sheepishly as he rumbled through my belongings.
“What?” I asked trying to hide my annoyance. I fly hundreds of thousands of miles a year. I’ve learned what to bring and what not to bring the hard way. Boys can bring stick deodorant, but heaven forbid, you try to get through with half an ounce of lipstick. Mothers can bring enough milk to feed all the starving children in Ethiopia, but please don’t let a diabetic through with more than one needle.
Interrupting my evil thoughts, Mr. TSA replies: “The baked potato. You either need to eat it outside the security area or you need to toss it.”
You’ve got to be kidding. How in God’s name was I going to turn a baked potato into a weapon? Steve Spangler (@stevespangler), I am not. (If you don’t know him, you’ve got to check him out. I saw him speak at NEMOA and he is/was fantastic. Not only is the guy brilliant, but he gives new meaning to fun.) Steve could come up with an ingenious way to kill someone with the potato. Unfortunately, at the time I could not. (I’ve since come up with several devious murderous methods…)
“Sir,” I said, trying to be as polite as possible. “I don’t understand… What’s wrong with the potato? It’s not a liquid or a gel.”
“You must have butter on it.”
“No, no butter, but even if I did, it certainly wouldn’t be a quarter of a pound.”
“Huh?” He asked, obviously afraid of math equations. Converting a quarter of a pound into ounces would most likely require a computer and ten more of these brain surgeons.
“There’s no butter. There’s no cheese. It’s just a potato and some broccoli.” I said.
“You don’t have any toppings? It’s just a PLAIN potato?” He retorted with a confused look on his face. Einstein he was not.
“Yes, it’s a plain potato.”
“Why would you want to eat a plain potato?”
I looked around….. I was thoroughly convinced that there were cameras around me recording this for Airport’s Funniest Videos or something. At that very moment, I realized I was going to have to dump my potato. Didn’t anyone know that this could result in a lifetime in prison? I mean, last I looked cannibalism is a crime and I REALLY needed that potato in a POW sort of way.
“I didn’t want a potato. I wanted a salad. But they had no salad and they had no chicken. Can you imagine? A chicken place without any chicken? The kid was just so lazy. Kids are just so lazy these days.” I babbled on incessantly. (Yes, I know. But sometimes the crazy female strategy works.)
“Ma’am. My decision is final. No potato.” For some reason, the Judge Wopner wannabe ruling on my potato, sent me over the edge.
“Your decision is final? You are kidding right? Where in your big book of rules does it say that I can’t bring on a flipping partially-baked potato? I appreciate that you’re trying to save the world one 3.4 ounce bottle of shampoo at a time but what exactly do you think I am going to do with this potato? Was there a potato bomber that I didn’t know about?”
My name was being last-called for the second, perhaps third, time. I had to leave for no other reason than if I didn’t I would have to go back to DCA the next day to get a flight out and that was just more than I could handle. I thought about spewing something incredibly melodramatic like “I’m very hypoglycemic (true story) and I hope I die on this plane so you’ll have to live with the guilt” but I knew he couldn’t care less so I looked at him and I said “This is my baked potato, I want this baked potato” and I threw a couple dollar bills into the bin as I walked off. Perhaps I couldn’t have my baked potato but at least I wouldn’t be filling out reams of government paperwork for abandoned property.
Did I really need the potato? Hardly. Mary Kate Olsen (or is it Ashley?) I am not. But I wanted that baked potato and the reason why I couldn’t get it wasn’t logical. (In fact, there was a complete absence of rationale.) The weird thing is that we do the same thing online everyday.
Users comes in looking for a quote. We make them jump through ten hoops only to let them know a salesperson will call — a salesperson who will undoubtedly make them repeat all the information again. We advertise live chat only to say that it’s “temporarily unavailable” (temporarily meaning fifteen hours or the entire weekend). We get them all the way to the cart and then we ask them to go find their catalog codes — not nice but especially cruel if they are coming in from a PPC ad and don’t have a catalog.
The list is endless. Below, I have included eight things that you can do to streamline your site — to make it a faster, easier and overall more successful experience for your users. I recommend you look at them but also go through your own site, step-by-step, from a user’s perspective, to see if there are any abandoned potatoes….
8 TIPS FOR IMPROVING YOUR “LOGIC”
(from the User’s Perspective)
1. Do not ask any irrelevant questions. Relevance (or lack thereof) is determined in the users mind, not yours, which means you need to ask only things that you think will matter to them (read: seriously the things you desperately need and can get away with).
Don’t get me wrong, if you really can’t figure out where they heard about you (meaning you aren’t sensing referring URL’s and only asking those that don’t have one), you can ask them but do it after you get the inquiry or order, either as a follow-up confirmation screen, pop-up or e-mail.
2. Include temperature (aka status) bars. Art directors usually don’t like temperature bars because they think they are “ugly.” Users love temperature bars because they give them a gauge of where they are in the process and set their expectations.
Don’t know what a temperature bar looks like? Check out hellodirect.com. Put something in your cart and then “go to checkout.” (They have a nifty perpetual cart in the upper righthand corner so it’s easy to find.) Along the top you’ll see a bar with a little cart to the left of it that says “view cart, welcome, billing, shipping, payment, review and submit.” Every time the user completes an action, the cart moves along the temperature bar letting users know precisely what their status is – what they’ve done and how much they have left.
Don’t have a cart? Temperature bars work on inquiry and quotation forms as well.
3. Include your phone number at least once in all four quads. Yes, that’s redundant and yes, it’s also necessary. In your cart and lead forms, you should have complete contact information on the righthand side and at the bottom too. Typical companies (B2B and B2C) get about a quarter of their leads and orders over the phone and fax.
Don’t want to give your contact information? Be prepared to lose at least half of those orders. That’s right. About half the people who want to order over the phone want to order over the phone and only over the phone. If you don’t provide the number, chances are good you aren’t going to get the order.
4. Use pictures. Search engine spiders and algorithms see things in copy and text. People see things in visuals. When you are designing a site make sure each of your pages has a visual.
What does that have to do with logic? From a user perspective, pages that don’t have visuals are “broken.” There’s nothing to see, so it’s almost like they don’t exist.
5. No dead-ends. Yes, I know. In this day and age, you’d think one wouldn’t have to talk about speed, but the hard reality is that sites have statistically gotten slower over the past sixteen months.
In places/pages like your cart, search function and lead forms, it pays to be zippy. If you can’t be quicker than a bunny, be sure to use the appropriate wait screens. (The travel companies are best at wait screens – wait screens are the pages that say things like “we’re still searching for the best deal in the universe just for you, please be patient, it will only take another 18 (or whatever) seconds.”)
6. Be cognizant of your clicks. I look at sites each and every day where to quickly (and drastically) improve their conversion they’d only need to do one thing – reduce the number of clicks it takes to make a purchase (or an inquiry).
Do you really need to take them from your entry page to a category page to a micro-category page with a couple choices to the product? Probably not. The faster you can get the user to the place where they want to go, the better your conversion will be. Period.
7. Link-check. This is another one of those things that everyone says they do but, very few people do. You need to make sure that all your links are working.
You also need to ensure that all of your up-sells and cross-sells are in stock and available to be ordered. You can test it on your own site, but I can save you time and tell you that users really don’t like it when your suggested cross-sells are backordered or your up-sell items are no longer available. Don’t believe me? Try it yourself and watch your abandons increase. It really only takes a teensy, tiny thing for users to abandon.
8. Offer availability and shipping status. This is another little thing that goes along way. Are 99% of your items in-stock and shipped that day? That’s great but you still need to tell the user on each individual item – “in stock and ready. Ships same day.”
P.S. There were six passengers on the plane and the flight attendant had a huge bag, overflowing with at least 50 packages of pretzels. I did something I never do: I asked her for an extra one. We’re talking eight mini pretzels for a girl who spends literally millions on tickets each year. She looked right at me and said “if I have enough.” Bet you her husband works at TSA.