A user friendly interface matters!

This is more of a personal rant than anything else one regarding an issue I experienced recently using a local e-gov system. It highlights perhaps one of the reasons why some people still shun using online services, if anything because the simplest of tasks turns out to be as convoluted as it can possibly be. Nevertheless here it goes.

So, a couple of months I got served with a police ticket. Naughty me I know but at the time I was visiting my son who was in hospital and since parking in Malta has become something of a nightmare, it really was a matter of “desperate times call for desperate measures”. But I digress.

The point of the matter is that you can settle police issued contraventions online by visiting the https://www.les.gov.mt/ website and choosing “Pay Contravention”.

les1

You’ll be probably asking yourself what’s with the “Search for a contravention” sub-heading and the essay displayed mid-screen.

Anyway, so far so good, well kind of. I reluctantly take out my credit card and the police issued ticket and proceed to pay my dues. I can’t find any contravention number printed on the ticket, so I reckon that maybe the system will accept the ticket number instead. Nope. No such luck!

Here’s a pic of the actual ticket with some information blanked out just in case. The ticket number is the one shown in red.

IMG_20151226_100636

On the main page you’re invited to click on Help, if need be, but there’s no such thing except for an FAQ link at the bottom of the page. Maybe I’m being pedantic but as far as I know you don’t call a dog a cat and a cat a dog just because they both happen to have four legs if you know what I mean. Surely enough, clicking on FAQ brings up a help page. Hint no 1 – How about changing FAQ to read Help or vice-versa and/or including an embedded hyperlink in the main text? 

les-help

Below’s the bit that explains what constitutes a police ticket and a little thing called summons, which at the time I completely missed not entirely out of my own fault as I wrongly assumed that the logical thing to do would be to have the system accept police ticket numbers instead. I’d like to believe that nowadays we have the technology to pull out information from disparate databases and present it as one. But, I’m running ahead of myself.

les3

In the meantime I sent 3 emails to the designated helpline email address and to my dismay not only did I not receive any acknowledgement of receipt but each and every time my email was completely ignored. Hint no.2: If you include a help email address, make sure that the person being paid to read and reply to said emails actually does so! Yep, and before you ask, their email system works just fine. I never received any NDRs when sending out emails to their help address unlike the one received for an address I made up.

Final-Recipient: rfc822; noone@les.gov.mt
Original-Recipient: rfc822;noone@les.gov.mt
Action: failed
Status: 5.5.4
Remote-MTA: dns; 192.168.92.25
Diagnostic-Code: smtp; 501 5.5.4 Unrecognized parameter

In the meantime, two and a half months pass by during which I completely forget about the ticket. Come boxing day, which happens to be today, and I find the summons little thingy sitting pretty in my mailbox. Lo and behold, it includes a contravention number, that missing piece of information which once inputted allowed me, again I must add reluctantly, to pay the ticket. The first field in red is the contravention number. The second is the ticket number which as you see matches the one printed on my ticket pictured further up.

IMG_20151226_100702

Now to be completely honest, the FAQ section I referred to previously does say that you have to wait for delivery of the summons letter before being able to pay the contravention online. So if that is the case and the main function of the page is to allow users to settle tickets, why the heck not just say so on the main page instead of burying and obfuscating it in an faq? Hint 3: How about including a one liner on the main page something on the lines of “you will not be able to pay a police issued ticket unless you have received the summons letter first since this includes the contravention number which is otherwise missing on the ticket itself …”

The point I am trying to make is that an information system may be using the latest cutting edge technology, be lightning fast, fully redundant, etc, etc but it all goes south quickly the minute the user experience turns sour. Couple this with shoddy assistance, which in this case is seemingly nonexistent, and you can be sure that a user or prospective customer will never return to your website.

Arguably, this may not have been the best example to cite to prove my point. In this case, the user definitely has little choice but to settle the contravention regardless if he does so online or elsewhere. So maybe this is why the designers have cut corners. The same modus operandi would certainly fail in other circumstances.

Happy holidays!

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