Naming is a good example of how revision can help both the communication and the product. Let’s take the example of buying a book on Amazon.com. This is a transaction process. But who is the seller, the buyer and when is a transaction completed? Is it when you pay for the book by entering your card number and clicking “place my order”? Is it when your screen says, “Thank you, your order has been placed”? (Hey Amazon! The former “sentence” contains a comma splice!) Or is it when you get this email:
Thank you for shopping with us. We’d like to let you know that XYZ store has received your order, and is preparing it for shipment. (Hey Amazon! That comma before “and” is unnecessary!)
“Thank your for shopping with us” turns out to be a misleading first sentence. It implies that the transaction is complete, but it also ambiguous. That’s because most people would put it in a “transaction completed” basket of their mind. Isn’t that what “thank you for shopping” at our store usually means?
Yet Amazon then backtracks, saying that “XYZ store” is now responsible for completing the transaction, shifting the role of “seller” after claiming to have been the seller . Yes, most people would have known that they were buying from Amazon as a reseller, but Amazon (for obvious reasons) wants to hold on to the role of seller, as evidenced by that first sentence: “Thank you for shopping with us.” The desire for keeping the seller role conflicts with the reality of what is happening in the transaction.
A few days later, an “Amazon shopper” might receive this message:
Because shipment of this order has not yet been confirmed by the seller, your credit card has not been charged and we are not able to provide you with shipment details.
If you would like to ask XYZ store for more information about the status of this order, including the expected ship date, you may contact them directly
Thanks for shopping on Amazon.com.
Now wait a minute. The “seller” has not confirmed shipment, but I’m again thanked for shopping on Amazon? Who was the real purveyor in the transaction? People hate a “bait and switch.” Yet isn’t this what just occurred in “shopping with Amazon”?
To be fair, shortly after the “not yet confirmed” message, Amazon has this message in its process documentation:
Because shipment of this order has not yet been confirmed by the seller, your credit card has not been charged and we are not able to provide you with shipment details. If you would like to ask XYZ store for more information about the status of this order, including the expected ship date, you may contact them directly.
And then a third email:
We’re writing to inform you that your order has been canceled. We’re sorry for the inconvenience this has caused. In most cases, you pay for items when we ship them to you, so you won’t be charged for items that are canceled.
Note that these last two communications are no longer mentioning that the seller was Amazon, nor that the buyer was “shopping with Amazon.”
So, how well did Amazon the document this common process path in its dealings with the customer? Was it clear, correct, complete and concise? I’d give them a B- on this. The whole confusion is a classic example of a disconnect between the online process, its documentation and what really happens to the user.
I’m willing to bet that the application developers considers the transaction complete when the buyer clicks “Complete your order.” The fulfillment people knew better, but the marketing or customer services communications people ruled the roost. Amazon held on to the seller role when the facts didn’t support that coveted “positioning.”
This is a classic example of “silo” thinking and too great a push to maintain “center stage” in the mind of the customer. If the team building the online process, the fulfillment people, the technical documentation team and the marketing people had done a better job communicating, the explicit and implicit messages to the buyer would have been revised once the totality of different transaction paths were clear.
Yes, “thank you for shopping with us” and its framing of Amazon as the central purveyor may have been lessened, but fewer buyers would feel that Amazon pulled a bait and switch. And, always, it’s better to be clear about a transaction—it terms and its players—up front rather than creating a resentment in the buyer’s mind.