What Makes A Good User Experience?

Does the right arm know what the left arm is doing?

Today in my blog, I digress from my usual Solaris technical talks to something a bit more difficult to quantify, but nonetheless, critical to system users; What constitutes a good user experience?

I don't normally talk about personal experiences in my blogs but this one example was just too good (well bad really...) to not share. This example isn't related to using any software at all, but it is an example that I think will show what a bad user experience is.

I recently traveled to China for work.1 I was in China for approximately two weeks and during the time I was there I had my usual cell phone number which is enabled for use in China, as well as my personal and work long distance calling cards. My long distance carrier for my home number is also the provider for my personal and business long distance calling card access. They have my cell phone number as an alternate phone with which to reach me (This is an important piece of data for later in this little saga...). During non-work hours, while in China, I used my personal calling card a lot to call home; specifically to call my son who was at home by himself and as a result I was secretly worried the house would burn down while I was gone :-). Luckily, nothing major happened at home while I was away. (Well at least that my son would tell me about).

I travel a fair amount out of the United States, and have always used my personal calling card while traveling. It should not have been surprising to my long distance carrier that I was using my card, yet again, from a foreign country. But, apparently it was surprising to them, and that is where my bad user experience began. Also, just for another tidbit of data...I use my business calling card to call China for at least one meeting every week in the evenings from my home. Yet another clue that I actually could have been in China, from where my personal calling card was being used.

When I got home from my trip, I started to wade through two weeks of mail, and much to my surprise I had several letters from my long distance carrier. Each letter described concern about my recent calling card use, basically asking "was it really me who was using the card to make calls from China"? It was me obviously, but I didn't know there was an issue since I was in China and was not reading my mail at home. Since I did not respond to the letters, again because I was actually in China, they decided to suspend my usual long distance plan, for both my home phone and personal calling card, and charge my account ~$700 for the calls I made while in China using my personal calling card. I am not sure what the expected outcome of this decision was but needless to say I was surprised to receive this information upon arriving home. 2 The company did try one time, the day before I got home, to call me on my home phone requesting that I call them. Of course, I was not there to receive the call.

I called the company the day after I got home from my trip. I was told that because they could not verify it was me using the calling card from China, and their subsequent change to my long distance plan, which caused the large bill, they had my account flagged because it was considered a 'high balance' account. Although, they caused the 'high balance' in the first place. I let them know that it was indeed me using the calling card from China and asked them to reinstate my usual long distance plan and to modify my account balance accordingly and remove the high balance flag from my account. Getting this all fixed was not as straightforward as you might think. They had to route me first to the long distance folks, have them get me 'signed' up again for my 'original' plan, then I was routed back to the folks who apparently put the high balance flag on my account to have them retroactively adjust my charges based on my 'new' plan. I was put on hold for over 10 minutes during the routing between departments and in the end had to answer every question about my 'new' plan (which was my old plan until all this happened) with a verbal yes for acceptance of the 'new' plan. But, wasn't it my original long distance plan in the first place I asked? Yes, it was, but they still had to go through the defined procedure for setting up a 'new' plan. Then, after all of that, they still had to call me back at my home phone number to verify it was really me that had just called and asked for the 'changes' to my account. Sigh...

You might be thinking right about now.... if my long distance carrier for my home, my personal and business calling card services is the same company, and if they had my cell phone number on file, why couldn't they call me on my cell phone, or email me at work(data they also have since my business contact email is on file with them as well), or even call me at my work extension which I had forwarded to my office in China, to really verify it was me that was using my personal calling card? They obviously have all of this information about me in their database(s) somewhere, right? Does it make sense that they sent me a letter at home to inquire about my usage from China, really expecting if it was me who was using the calling card from China to respond? On top of them stopping my usual long distance plan as a way to stop any illegal use of my calling card even though I never responded to them regarding their inquiries?

I was thinking the exact same thing. This was a horrible user experience. I was penalized for using the service I signed up for, and apparently within the same company who provides me this service and the other services, they couldn't get enough data on me to actually try to contact me except via a letter. The long distance department couldn't figure out my cell phone number or my work number even though I am sure though my name appears for all three of the services I use with this company. Why wouldn't the department who had concern about my calling card usage from China have access to my other contact information? The data is obviously stored somewhere, but somehow is not accessible together? This kind of thing, having to move from one data source to another to get or set information is just silly. And very frustrating for the end user.

This experience got me to thinking about Solaris users. It has to be just as frustrating for users to move from one application to another to configure or get data regarding your system. Why, if it is all on the same system, should you have to use one application to get the data regarding, say for example, what devices are available on your system, and then go to another application to configure these devices for a filesystem or use in a volume manager? You shouldn't have to do that. It should all be integrated for seamless interaction and execution.

In Solaris 10 we have made many strides toward integration of what used to be disparate utilities and services in to one coherent and cohesive user experience. There are many examples of the enhanced usability, and thus the enhanced user experiences, of Solaris 10. Here are a few:

  • Solaris Volume Manager(SVM) integration with Solaris Install and Upgrade makes it much easier to configuration volumes during installation. SVM is also integrated with Flash and the Solaris Dynamic Reconfiguration(DR) utility.

  • Service Management Facility(SMF) in Solaris 10. This utility enables users to view system-wide service status, manage services not just individual process, specify dependencies between services to allow Solaris to self-heal when a service with dependencies stops.

  • Fault Management Architecture(FMA) in Solaris 10. FMA provides structured log files for telemetry data. It also provides live diagnosis updates without reboots. Fault messaging is now standardized. No longer does the user have to sift through the system syslog to find system messages that indicate symptoms of a problem.

Obviously, there is more we can do with Solaris regarding the user experience. We are continually working on this and are open to real life user experiences with Solaris. Have thoughts or ideas? Feel free to comment to on this posting. Soon, we will have an OpenSolaris Solaris approachability community available as well for your comments and suggestions.

Thanks for listening....

1Just to prove I was really in China, here are a few photos from my trip...

\*This first one is a gazebo in the Forbidden City, Imperial Gardens in Beijing

\*This one is a picture of the 'mask' dance. A traditional Chinese dance I went to see at the Lao She Tea House in Beijing. In this dance the performer changes masks almost instantaneously before your eyes. It was really amazing...

2 I know what you are thinking... that this was just a ploy to get me to upgrade my long distance plan. That thought crossed my mind too. But, if this is true, this is the worst way to get someone to sign up for more service.


You could save yourself a ton of angst by checking out VOIP there is a deluge of solutions out there that you could use to call China, Europe, Australia, Canada and not pay a cent more than your basic monthly fee. You phone also travels with you and if you choose to you can use the video option and see your son every time you are away from him. (Disclaimer)This is not my business, I just use it and love it.www.5linx.com.

Posted by Obi Nwachukwu on October 01, 2009 at 07:34 PM MST #

It happened to me in the Phillipines, I dropped the company and went with skype!
Good Blog

Posted by John Ward on April 22, 2010 at 05:35 AM MST #

It happened to me in the Phillipines, I dropped the company and went with skype!
Good Blog

Posted by John Ward on April 22, 2010 at 05:46 AM MST #

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