How to flim-flam your users

Cards being shuffled in an unusual way

Flim-flam: to trick, deceive, swindle, or cheat.

It's only September. Or perhaps I should say, it's already September. Either way, many of us are tired. Time flies, but we aren't having much fun. And the work keeps piling up.

The secret, apparently, is to avoid doing the work. This week I share with you some methods to trick your users so that you can do less.

These methods are all tried and tested. I know that, because I was the unwitting user who tested them.

Some quick background

This week I had to do some of those tedious tasks that we all hate. The kind of tasks that involve government or insurance or banking or big companies. This being 2021, I expected to be able to do them online or, at the very least, telephonically.

You already know the punchline. I didn't accomplish what I needed to do. But the flip-side is that someone got out of doing the work. And I discovered more ways to annoy your users.

The not-sure approach

Everyone wants to do as much as they can online, right? So show you care by providing an online form where your users can get help.

When your user submits a request via this form, do nothing. If you must, display a brief online message that is suitably ambiguous. Make sure the request is never logged on the server.

Now the user isn't sure if the request went through. Maybe there was an internet glitch. So she will probably wait a day or two, and try the form again before phoning. That gives you at least a day of peace and quiet. And if you're lucky, someone else is responsible for telephonic requests.

I unwillingly tested this for a government department and a large bank.

The yes-no approach

This is a more aggressive version of the not-sure approach.

Once again, provide an online form. When your user submits the form, go one step further. Send an automated response to reassure the user that her request was been received, and will be attended to shortly. That's the "yes" part.

Once again, make sure the request "disappears" from the server. Ignore the user. And when she phones to find out why her request has not been actioned, deny ever receiving it. That's the "no" part.

The advantage is that the user will wait longer - perhaps even a week - before following up. And then you can tell her she has to start the process again. The risk is that she has an email record of receipt. But hey, it's automated. You can blame it on system error again.

FYI, this one worked for the Office of the President for 8 months.

The play-dead approach

Eventually, the user will pick up the phone. So this is the approach you use to avoid those pesky calls.

First, make sure that an automated system answers the call. The usual "Press 1 for ... ". It's even better if you don't provide an option to speak to a consultant or the operator.

After the user makes her choice, go silent. No on-hold music. No beep-beep sounds. Just dead silence. The user will assume she has been cut off and try again. And again with another option. And again. And again. If you are lucky, the user will never hold long enough for the call to actually go through to the right department.

This approach is used by the Compensation Commissioner. I discovered it by accident. The 8th time I phoned, I had my phone on speaker and forgot to end the call when the line went silent. I assumed I had been cut off again. And then, to my surprise, somebody answered!

It helps the economy

When your flim-flamming comes to light, show how it benefits the economy. The extra data and call costs. And while you might have lost a customer, that customer probably needed something to offset the frustration. In my case, a lot of chocolate. So the local supermarket got a bit of a boost.

P.S. You are intelligent enough to know that I'm not actually recommending any of the above. In case you weren't sure: don't flim-flam your users.

P.P.S I'm sure I'm not the only accidental tester of bad systems. I'd love to hear about your experience.

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