Jackson Fish Market
Posted on November 14, 2011 by hillel on User Experience

The Power of “I don’t know.”

So many times, when designing a software user interface, it’s helpful to ask yourself if you would enjoy interacting with a human being who talked to you the way the software did. If the answer is “no” then you have more work to do. Inevitably, this exercise gets turned on its head when user experience experts spend time dealing with actual human beings. Is my call to the sales or support staff of a company any less of a user experience than my interaction with their website or their app?

But often it seems like there is even less care given to the experience customers have with live human beings at a company than the interaction they have with the software. Nowhere is this more evident than the incredible aversion that many customer service personnel have to saying “I don’t know.” – which for bonus points can be preceded by “Good question.”, and followed by “Let me find out for you.”

I don’t think someone is dumb, or a company is awful when someone doesn’t know an answer to one of my questions. What does make me borderline insane is when they try to bullshit their way through an answer that I know is simply not true. And of course, once they start down this path, things can only get worse. If I gently give evidence that their answer is without a doubt wrong, it just makes them stick to their guns even more. Now that they’ve claimed to know, the only course of action is to back up their claim at all costs. And now, for disagreeing with the “expert” I’m the asshole.

Attention customer service departments and any business group that has people speak or interact with customers in any way. Rule #1 should be, it’s ok to say “I don’t know.” The customer may not get their answer immediately, but at least they won’t be subjected to some nuttiness that just wastes their time.

And while we’re at it, Rule #2 should be: if you ask a customer for their credit card number after they just typed it into their phone, you should be shot.

That is all.

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    November 15, 2011 at 10:47 am

    Do you think there’s a corollary to blog posts with zero information? In both cases the overall usefulness of the relationship is worth the occasional time wasting event.

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