UX failure during the COVID-19 pandemic

Spoilers! I ended up calling every time I used a website

Since my lay-off in April I experienced some companies UX completely fall apart. Or I now see how bad it was to start with.

These are my experiences. Yours may have been different.

ODJFS - Unemployment

With the surge of people losing their jobs, almost all at once, it is little wonder this service had problems.

The website is old to say the least. No responsive design. To read a notification you have to choose a radio button, click a button, and either it downloads a PDF or takes you to another page.

For the first couple of weeks this returned an error, and nothing more. Online chat disabled. Telephone numbers were either engaged or had a message to go online then hung up.

I got 3 weeks worth of unemployment money over a month after my initial claim.

CIGNA - Claiming prescription costs back

As I live and work in America my health insurance is tied to my employer. When my employment ended, so did my coverage. Meaning at midnight I now had to pay full price for medications, doctors visits, etc.

Exactly what you want during a pandemic, right?

There is a thing called COBRA. This lets you pay what your employer was paying to continue the same coverage. I did this and had to then claim back the extra we paid for a prescription, through my provider-CIGNA.

After logging in I couldn't find it on the website. Online chat disabled. After calling a couple of times I get through. I then have to convince the operator I can actually claim this and give him the details of the COBRA coverage. The PDF he directs me to download has instructions to fill in the form online, which has been removed.

Again, all the "time saving" online measures were either broken, disabled, or obfuscated. Ended up mailing scans of receipts in with a printed version of the PDF.

Frigidaire - Broken fridge

Ah yes. Our fridge/freezer broke after we both lost our jobs. It was over a decade old, so not great timing but it served us well. I bought same make/model, but new.

Not a week after delivery it stops working. Where do I head? The manufacture's website of course.

Online chat removed. Email form has no selection options for "I've lost 2 weeks of food because the new fridge died!".

Call the number and I get a message "due to overwhelming call volume go to the website" then hangs up.

I persist and finally get through to a human. A week later I get a reply to the email form.

But its unprecedented

The pandemic? Yes. The break down of the experience? No.

Companies tend to fall back on the same things:

  • Online chat, and now AI chatbots
  • Phone trees
  • Contact forms
  • Unsearchable PDFs

In every instance I tried the online approach first. Every instance it failed. And most people I speak to recently have the same shared experience.

Very few had a place to put messages about the problems they were facing. Or a way to change their content to reflect closures, adjusted hours, etc.

It still came down to trying to speak to someone.

Going forward

Eric Meyer & Sara Wachter-Boettcher wrote the excellent 'Design For Life' which talks about when online fails us in times of stress. It came out 4 years ago, and is not the only book to address this, but little of what they spoke about seems to have been adopted.

When we design from now on let's push for ways to respond quickly.

  • Notification and messaging systems should not be a 'fast follow'
  • Clarity of language is a must
  • Include user stories of people under stress
  • Don't rely on your Facebook/Twitter/Tik Tok marketing account to relay information

Learn from this. I know I have.