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I continue to say we are only two percent of the way into what the Internet has in store for us. It isn’t the technology — its the gap between expectations and results. What we expect and what we get. You would think by now that major e-businesses would have pretty slick ways to satisfy our expectations yet even the simplest of things seem to elude them. Today I received a reminder in the mail to renew a software package that I use. Not from a fly by night software and services company but one that is valued at more than $10 billion. The renewal notice said I could renew this particular software by fax, phone, mail, or online. Have it your way — this is good. I entered the link in my browser and the renewal form popped up immediately. I thought this was going to be a snap. Not so.

The first text box wanted my customer number. That should be easy — just look at the paper renewal reminder form. It contained my correct name and address and a “certificate #”. It also had another number on it that was not identified but it wasn’t my customer number. I tried both and both yielded error messages — “no such customer in our database”. They obviously know my customer number. Why didn’t they put it on the renewal reminder?

I rummaged through some paper files and found a document that had my customer number on it. I entered the number and up pops a form with all my information. Great, I’ll be finished in another few seconds I thought. Ha. I have moved since last year so I had to update my address. I got to the phone number field and, since no example of the desired format was shown, I entered it as xxx-xxx-xxxx. I glanced up at the field and noticed that the number wouldn’t fit. Had to go back and take out the dashes. Then when I got to the zip code field — having just learned about dashes — I entered the zip code as xxxxxyyyy. No dashes. Then I checked the box that said my shipping address was the same as my mailing address and submitted the form. Error! They caught another stupid customer. The zip code field required a dash in the zip + four.

I fixed the zip code and resubmitted. Error! A really stupid customer. The form requires a shipping address. When I fixed the zip code the server didn’t remember that I had previously checked the “mailing = shipping” box even though Cookie Pal was showing that the server was sending multiple cookies to my browser. Back for another iteration and finally I was finished.

What is going on here? Why would this $10 billion company allow one of their web applications to frustrate their customers? Who tested this application? Has the ceo of the company ever used it? Is it technically difficult to have made this total process one that would take a matter of seconds? Is there some new technology needed? Could the application software on the server (or even javascript in the web page) accept xxx-xxx-xxxx or xxxxxxxxxx or xxx-xxxxxxx or xxxxxx-xxxx and figure out where the dashes go and submit the data to the server database in whatever format it wants? Is that breaking new ground in software? Does this require a top MIT computer science expert?

We all know the answers to these questions. It isn’t just this particular company — unfortunately it is just one example of many. This is all a matter of Internet attitude, and the lack thereof is causing the gap between what we all expect from the Net and what we actually get. Institutions of all kinds need to hurry up. Their competitors are less than a second away on Google.

P.S. My web site isn’t perfect either but every week I try to improve some aspect of it. I get feedback from readers and take action on it — immediately if possible. I have the feeling that some companies are focusing on the big issues — integration, taking their site to the next level, etc. but are frustrating their existing customers in the meantime. My advice is to start simple, iterate like crazy, listen to the customer and what they are trying to do on the web site and constantly make things easier for them — one simple step at a time.