Mobile & Online Payments UX

Is self-service all it’s cut out to be?

Is self-service all it’s cut out to be? Image by Jakkarin chuenaka,
Written by Chris Skinner

It’s a great age of self-service, says Chris Skinner, until you screw up online. Then it’s a great world of pain and torture.

I find it amusing to think about this age of self-service, where we take it for granted that it’s cheaper, easier and more personalised to your own wishes if you book it yourself. And, for most of the time, that works well. Except when you mess things up, like booking non-refundable flights on the wrong dates or ordering that big, shiny outfit on eBay that turns out to be designed for your Barbie doll.

I was reminded of this when three incidents occurred in the last few days, each of which made me more and more frustrated with this digital world.

The first was a note from my laundrette, saying they’d just dropped off my suits and I owed them £23.90. I send the money. Later on, I actually read the text in full (I had been travelling and only saw the first part). The second half said: “Oh and by the way, I’ve split up with Shawn so please send the money directly to my bank account below, love Cheryl.” Shoot. I text her back and say that I’ve already sent the money to usual account. Turns out that’s Shawn’s account, her ex’s. He won’t talk to her. Messy.

I ring the bank and explain that I’ve sent some money via faster payments to the wrong account – can they get it back? “No sir. Once you make a payment via faster payments, it’s irrevocable.” Thank goodness it was only £23.90 and not £23,900. Eventually, we get the thing unravelled – Shawn pays Cheryl – but it could have been difficult.

The second thing happened a day or two later. We have a holiday booked in August, where you have to pre-book and pay for any additions, such as hiring bicycles, buggies, dinners, spa treatments, and so on. I add a load on to the booking and notice that there are no bikes booked. Strange, as I thought I’d booked them. So I add on two bikes to the order only to find that they were already booked the last time I went on the website. They just don’t show these items on the main booking area, but at the very bottom of the screen. Darn it. I cancel the two extra bikes booked and get charged £5.70 for cancelling two credit card payments. Bummer. Especially as I think it’s their website that’s at fault here.

Endless musical wait cycles

But the third incident takes the prize for worst experience ever. I use TripAdvisor a lot and quite often their hotel offers are cheaper than other online services, so I use their booking system. In a recent incident, I was booking online and they referred me to something called Tingo. All well and good until I see the confirmation screen, and I see that I’ve booked a non-refundable room for two nights when I wanted only one night. I ring Tingo. They tell me this has to be referred to the escalations team, and that they’ll come back to me.

Bearing in mind that I rang them the minute I saw the confirmation screen, I was surprised when they came back four days later to say that the booking stands firm for two nights, because it was non-refundable.

I’m fuming, and call the credit card company to challenge the payment and reject it. I also send a nasty email to the hotel, telling them that they’re rip-off merchants and that they won’t have a happy customer. The hotel calls me and says that they’re happy to make it a one-night booking, but can’t do that because it has to be done by Tingo. I tell Tingo this, and they go “OK”, and change it to a one-night booking. Wahey. Life is cool again.

Oh no. The next day I get an email from Tingo saying that, because the credit card company are investigating the payment, they have to cancel the whole booking. I’m annoyed by this but hey, life moves on so I book another hotel for one night on another website.

A week later, I get a note from the credit card company that says the website has proof that I made the booking, so the charge stands. Irritation levels boil over again. Even more so when I see that the original payment for two nights was taken, yet Tingo only reimbursed half the charge. I call them and tell them they cancelled the booking, so why are they only reimbursing half the amount? “Oh, because it was a non-refundable booking,” the call centre oik tells me.

Now I could go on (and on and on and on and on and …) about this, but the net:net is that it’s a great age of self-service until you screw up online. Then it’s a great world of pain and torture, hanging on telephones and endless musical wait cycles trying to get a simple one-second mistake rectified. Typically, I find those mistakes cost me two hours or more each of telephone calls and emails.

So a brief word from the idiot who doesn’t check his online booking info well enough: caveat emptor, buyer beware. Always check the i’s and t’s to make sure they’re dotted before you press pay now, just in case.

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– This article is reproduced with kind permission. Some minor changes have been made to reflect BankNXT style considerations. Read more here. Image by Jakkarin chuenaka,

About the author

Chris Skinner

Chris Skinner is an independent commentator on the financial markets through the Finanser, and chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club, which he founded in 2004. He is an author of numerous books covering everything from European regulations in banking through to the credit crisis, to the future of banking.

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