VKI Studios is now Cardinal Path! www.CardinalPath.com
Learn more about Cardinal Path

Is it Okay to Flip-Off People We DON'T Want as Customers? (User Experience on eHarmony.com)

A friend read my recent post on online dating, in which I was critical of eHarmony.com. She had a story to tell me...

Having been separated for years, she decided to give eHarmony.com a whirl. On the 1st page of the sign-up process, she was asked her marital status. She answered honestly:

She finished and submitted the first page. The system accepted her information, then gave her their interminable questionnaire — 12 long pages, a mixture of multiple choice and short-answer questions.

It took her a good half hour to fill it out. (In my confirmation test, it took me closer to 45 minutes. I can easily imagine some people taking over an hour.)

When she had FINALLY finished the tedious process, she clicked submit and...

THEN eHarmony told her she wasn't eligible for their service. You have to be widowed, divorced or never married. "Separated" isn't good enough, regardless of the duration.

She was choked. Not because they rejected her, but because they wasted her time. They knew she was ineligible as soon as she submitted the first page, and could easily have told her so then. But in a flagrant disregard for her time, they made her slog through 12 more pages of questions before telling her to get lost.

This raises an important issue: Do we have a responsibility to optimize the user experience for people we don't want as customers?

It's a question that applies well beyond online dating, to lead-generation sites. Should we make our screening process as painless as possible, even for those we're screening out?

If you take cynical "it's just business" approach, then perhaps from eHarmony's perspective, you don't care about the user experience for separated people: You don't want them as customers anyway, so giving them a bad user experience won't hurt your sales.

But I think this approach is more than just rude. It's also incredibly short-sighted. After all, a lead who doesn't qualify today, might very well qualify in the future.

Karma Works!

People have long memories for being slighted. When my friend's divorce comes through, she'll remember how eHarmony.com added the insult of wasting her time to the injury of rejecting her. And she'll take her business elsewhere.

We should optimize the user experience for all visitors, including those we don't currently want as customers. It's not just good manners. In the long term, it's good business.

Comments (Comment Moderation is enabled. Your comment will not appear until approved.)
this is a fine example of "If you're not a customer who is buying, then you're the product being sold." 12 pages of information is rather valuable to collect.
# Posted By Barry J | 11/25/10 9:15 AM
Good point! By collecting all that information they're increasing the value of their central product. You enter your info, and instead of telling you off the bat that you're not eligible, they drag you along, pulling more and more information out of you before giving you the boot.

The word we usually use for that is "scam".
# Posted By Saul Goodman | 11/25/10 9:31 AM
As a copywriter (dutch) I specialize in online texts only. Making this obvious to anyone who enters my site doesn't cost me any customers. But it may gain me customers that are friends of the people that did not contact me, but were impressed enough with my service and the experience to tell them about it.
# Posted By Patrick | 11/25/10 9:38 AM