However, this strategy comes with an important caveat:
Broken buckets will not earn you brownie points. Or revenue.
Today I was adjusting my 401k contribution. Here’s the broken buckets I saw when I logged in to the financial services website:
See, here’s the problem. I have 3 favorite restaurants (“what’s your favorite ___?” security questions are all useless to me), I’m not a pet person, I don’t remember what kind of car I first drove, I lived in 20 different places by the time I was 18, I didn’t have just one best friend in high school, and I don’t have a security keyword that I reuse.
None of these buckets works. But I had to choose one, and I couldn’t log in to the web site (even to send a note about my dissatisfaction to customer service) until I did.
I have a similar beef about parental controls on Netflix. Last time I checked, there was a slider that gave you 3 positions: no controls, “older teen”, and “kid”. So what if I’ve got a teen who’s not interested in Sesame Street and My Little Pony, but who has childhood trauma as an orphan in a third-world country, and who thus needs to not be offered certain movies in the “older teen” category? What if I’m sick of the promo images for raunchy R-rated movies, but I want to watch an occasional PG-13 thriller? What if I want to watch a show which is unrated (and therefore available only the most wide-open adult setting), but I can’t risk leaving Netflix in wide-open mode all the time (since a kid profile can switch to its parent profile without a password)? I could solve this bucket problem if Netflix gave me a whitelist and/or blacklist feature–but apparently the all-wise, childless 20-somethings who wrote the parental control features at Netflix thought three buckets was plenty. What could listening teach them?
The true sin
I’m grumbling about my choice of buckets, but in the end, it’s not the bucket menu, in and of itself, that bugs me. Like I said above, I get why developers might need to simplify. You can’t please everyone.
No. What really bugs me is that software with poorly chosen buckets also tends to be software that–either by carelessness or intent–provides no way whatsoever for its creators to find out if they’ve got the buckets wrong. The financial services company with the dumb security questions doesn’t consider itself a software company, and probably thinks of security questions as a necessary evil that it can forget as soon as it’s paid a “rock star” contractor to implement them. I guarantee they don’t have any process to triage helpful software feedback from the humans they serve. And I dare you to find any way for a Netflix customer to contact the dev team or product manager that owns parental controls. I tried and failed.
Seth Godin recently blogged about how different corporate cultures approach customer interactions differently–and why that makes a world of difference. He was nice and non-controversial; he didn’t take a strong position on whether certain approaches are unethical.
I’m going to be less diplomatic. As the Conscious Business Ethics Manifesto says, we have a duty to provide real value to those who pay us for our goods and services–not merely to provide a glitzy facade. If we’re going to force users into buckets, let’s give some careful thought to the buckets we offer–and let’s make sure we have a way of discovering and tracking whether our buckets are useful.