Don't let password forgetfulness lose the order

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With concern that I might begin to sound like Andy Rooney or even Hershell Gordon Lewis, may I bring attention to several challenges to providing excellent online service through my own experiences?

It used to be easy to order things online: just decide what you want, type in a credit card number and hit the purchase button. Now it seems that most online marketers have listened to marketing types like me and ask new customers to go through an account opening process.

Asking customers to set up online accounts is sound marketing strategy. But the frustration that can be added to the customer experience can lose orders and should be monitored. Although direct marketing training is to always gather customer purchase data, the first priority is to complete each sale.

Provide an option for customers to simply make their purchase. Sometimes customers simply want to make a quick convenience purchase and not be bothered with a login request. It can be frustrating to attempt to make a purchase and then receive a prompt, "You have an account, please login."

To access the account, a user ID and password is typically required. If the customer is responding to an outbound

e-mail, frequently the user ID is provided. The challenge is, how many passwords and for how long can the public be expected to remember? Scott Samios of San Francisco based Offermatica said: "[It's] very important to monitor click-through rates during the online checkout process, [but] if you ask potential customers to open an account before they are committed to placing the order, they may they bail out."

Make it easy for customers to retrieve their password. It doesn't matter how routine the purchase, needing to set up an account to buy movie tickets put me over the "tipping point." Many online marketers do a good job of immediately e-mailing back a password or question clue that can help provide access.

Sometimes customers find it easier to simply open up a new account. But doesn't that negate all of the Internet's power to collect data, enabling informed purchase recommendations and rewards to be offered?

Stamford, CT-based based consultant Jane Weber said: "Keep the annoyance factors down. Consumers have choices. An online account or cookies frequently provides customers with benefits such as collaborative filtering of product offers, but make it real easy for them to retrieve passwords."

Maintain account history by supporting password reset options. Amazon.com sends me frequent e-mail offers based on the several orders a year I place for business projects and teaching. A feature of Amazon that I really like is the "Wish List," which allows me to note books of interest that might fit into a future order.

Seldom do I visit the Amazon site when I don't designate titles of interest, which adds to Amazon's ability to make relevant recommendations. I also like to give books as gifts and find it very convenient that Amazon keeps the addresses that have previously been shipped to.

These are powerful account features that support brand preference and pricing. Not being able to quickly access an account with these benefits is a frustration.

Joe Anthony, program director at IBM Tivoli Integrated Identity Management, said: "Companies should consider offering challenge-response questions for password reset options to help with the forgotten password frustration. This would extend the account registration process, but provides some additional tools in the identity theft battle.

"However," he said, "make sure to only capture information that is needed, and securely protect it. Questions that include mother's maiden name, social security number and other similar items should be avoided."

Terms and conditions may need to be presented. Having spent much career time in the financial services industry, it is certainly understandable that Web marketers may want to have their terms and conditions reviewed and approved by new customers. Perhaps this can be done by a "click through" rather than requiring an account to be opened.

Attorney David Carlin of Reed Smith LLP in New York said: "Many Web marketers are concerned about liability, enforceability of their sales terms, fraud prevention and copyright infringement issues. And, of course, anyone appealing to minors must conform to requirements of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act."

Accommodate multiple e-mail addresses per account. My relationship with Amazon was going great until one recent Saturday when I tried to order from my home computer using my personal e-mail address and could not get into my account. The prompts asked for other e-mail addresses I may have used but this didn't help. So I opened a new account based on my personal e-mail address to place an order.

Later, I searched many Amazon Web pages to find a "Click to Call" button to reach call center customer service. The service rep could not provide access to my primary account, move past purchase history into the new account, or even accept a telephone order. Nothing seemed to work.

Super service will help retain

customers. Despite the best efforts to assist customers through online means, some orders should be handled as exceptions, especially for established customers. Although security issues can crop up, experienced customer service reps should be empowered to handle exceptional needs and requests.

This can help maintain the loyalty of frequent customers, even if like me, they have trouble remembering their passwords.

My story does have a happy ending as I gave Amazon customer service another try and a very polite service rep found my primary account, provided access to my 30-book wish list, and worked out a new password so I could go back and use the stored data in that account.

I am so happy to not have to go back to searching bookstores.

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