Plugging Holes in the Experience, Sort Of

Jared Spool

January 3rd, 2009

Back in Holes in The Experience, I talked about what happened if you asked UPS about a package that your e-commerce vendor has readied for shipment, but hasn’t given UPS yet.

Originally, you got a dialog that looked like this:

Original UPS Tracking Dialog

This looks like an error because that’s how UPS treats it. While the e-commerce vendor has assigned a tracking number, it’s not in the tracking system yet, so it gives a not found error, asserting the user has typed it in wrong. (Interestingly, most of the time, the user hadn’t typed anything—the e-commerce vendor tapped into UPS’s API and automatically generated the error.)

But, UPS has learned. Today, you get this dialog instead:

Revised UPS Tracking Dialog

It’s better, since it doesn’t treat the tracking number like a mistyped error. The UPS system acknowledges that they know a package exists and they even report important details, such as the destination and ship date.

Yet, from the perspective of the e-commerce customer, there’s still a hole in the experience. Stating that the status is “Billing Information Received” still requires the recipient understand UPS’s internal workflow structures. They have to understand that billing information is automatically transmitted through the UPS software that the e-commerce vendor uses to generate the package delivery request. They have to understand that they, the package recipient, isn’t being billed—the e-commerce vendor is.

Anyone want to take a stab at redesigning this to better communicate to the package tracking user what’s really going on?

9 Responses to “Plugging Holes in the Experience, Sort Of”

  1. Daniel Tunkelang Says:

    Seems pretty clear that, if UPS intends this page for package recipients (particularly e-commerce customers), it should offer explanations from their point of view, which is basically UPS Awaiting Shipment From Sender. The tool tip could explain that the sender has sent UPS details about the shipment but not the shipment itself.

    Bigger question: does UPS care? Is an improvement to this experience likely to have any impact on their bottom line? In particular, will it affect the decisions of ecommerce sellers to use UPS? And can those sellers work around the poor experience by offering customers custom interfaces to track packages?

    That said, I wonder how much UPS spends on customer service, fielding calls from customers confused by this interface.

  2. Vivienne Woodhead Says:

    “Does UPS care?” The impact of improving a customer’s experience may not be directly measurable in terms of $¢/time for UPS, but for the customer ease of use is not only a matter of customer time = customer money. Their feeling about UPS being bad or good at understanding and communication affects their likelihood of using it again. A good user experience is like good ads, good Customer Service, it’s a tad touchy feely but it affects a company’s bottom line if they are a pain to do business with, and appear not to care about the customer’s convenience.

  3. Jared Spool Says:

    @Daniel brings up a good point: “Does UPS care?”

    The UPS designers have aimed the new design at their paying customers—the shippers. The recipients don’t pay UPS, so it could be that they aren’t really that interested in making that audience as happy.

    However, as @Vivienne points out, this is a touchpoint for a future potential customer. UPS has a big business delivering packages from individual customers. People who receive things are likely to someday be people who ship things. Since the UPS logo and brand elements are all over the status page (which, in itself is interesting—why not brand it with the shippers logo and be invisible?), people will associate their experience with the UPS brand. A bad experience here will create bad juju (the technical term for weakened brand engagement) with these potential customers.

    But, wait, there’s more. High end retailers, like Williams-Sonoma and Lands’ End use UPS as their delivery agent. If, in the process of servicing their orders, UPS creates bad juju, some of that juju rubs off on the e-commerce retailer.

    @Daniel asked how many calls UPS gets? I’m wondering how many calls the vendor gets when the UPS interface is inscrutable. It could be that if the retailer feels UPS is running up their support costs or hurting their brand, it’s worth reconsidering their shipping partner.

  4. Frederic Says:

    I guess, as a customer, you want to know that something positive is happening somewhere on the chain. Potentially, a simple way to plug this hole would be to have the system say something like: “xxxxxxx has informed us that your order is ready for shipment. We’re taking care of it and you will receive it shortly”

    The process is the same but the message is different. That can be the difference between a positive or incomplete experience.

  5. Gary Franceschini Says:

    The page looks to me to be very close to what I, the customer, need.

    However, I *would* remove the text in bold (it was the last thing I read – on the second reading) and change the Status line to read something like: “Verifying information with vendor. Check later for updated shipment status or contact shipper for details.”

  6. Michael Zuschlag Says:

    Looks like a classic case of the content written in terms important to the _writer_ not the _reader_. Getting billing information from the shipper matters a lot to UPS, but not a hoot to the user. What matters to the reader is when they will get the shipment. If UPS can’t determine specifically when they’ll get the package from the vendor, they can at least say something like “[Vendor] has notified UPS that this shipment will be ready in the near future.” Maybe even include text to the effect of “If the shipment is included with the next pickup from [Vendor], the package should arrive at your door on [Date].” That at least sets a lower bound on when the reader can expect the shipment.

  7. erova • UX Remix: UPS Tracking Screen - erova notebook • a user experience blog by Chris Avore Says:

    […] Spool’s January 3rd, 2009 Plugging Holes in the Experience, Sort Of questions the layout, language, and design (and ultimately the audience) of UPS’s package […]

  8. Chris Avore Says:

    I’ve been driven nuts by this ridiculous tracking process for years. While I agree the updated tracking screen is better, I still feel like I’m looking under the hood at some technical process I probably shouldn’t have access to, based on the choice of language, codes and the like.

    I’ve taken a few minutes to re-prioritize the layout and posted the new mockup here:

    Another uhh, interesting, UI choice the UPS guys have made is the Log In button right next to their search box. I wonder how many search logs reveal usernames…

  9. Pete Williams Says:

    I would suggest that UPS effectively have two tracking numbers, one for the shipper and one for the recipient. This could be as simple as adding a given letter to the front or end of the existing number to identify it as a recipient’s enquiry.

    This would allow them to tailor the interface and associated terminology/statuses to the correct audience. As mentioned billing information isn’t relevent to the recipient, so their status would simply say whether it has been received by UPS or not, and if so where it’s got to.

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