We want to pay you!

One of the golden rules of business is to make it easy for your customers to deal with you. This really is what we at Optimal Workshop are all about, I guess. I mean this both in terms of the tools and services we provide and the reason that our customers are using our tools; to make things easier.

In my role as Accounts Manager I work hard to ensure that our customers can pay us efficiently. If we extrapolate this out just a little to include "want to pay us" I often find myself involved in user experience design projects along with the rest of the team from the support desk to the public website, the tools themselves and even the payment gateways and background processing services.

As a user researcher you want to understand how to help your users to find you easily, access your products or services easily, and here's the big one for many (at least from my perspective): pay you easily. No friction. When I'm shopping online there is nothing more satisfying than a frictionless transaction. Sensible navigation, concise information, big clear "Buy Now" buttons and intelligent payment forms. Boom. Happy shopper, happy shop.

On the flipside there is nothing more frustrating when I'm shopping online and barriers are put up to make payment difficult. Confusing navigation, complicated information, unclear process and unfair or unapparent limitations and surprise transaction rejections. Slap. Sad faced shopper, poker faced shop.

Recently, I tried to reactivate an old subscription with an online software-as-a-service tool but was stunned to find that I couldn't simply upgrade online and that my only option was to call them. Inconceivable! Reluctantly I sent an email with my account details stating that I wanted to upgrade to the plan I had previously used. I got a reply asking for my phone number, so they could discuss plan options with me. I am Gen Y and the last thing I want to do is talk to someone about plan options when I've already told them the plan I want to be on. Too messy, too convoluted. Boring, repetitive, tedious; you get the idea. I know what I want, I've already told you what I want, and I want to buy it right now.

This experience lead me to cancel our account altogether (which took several emails) and to use one of their competitors (who I'm happy with). If there had been a simple “upgrade now” button they'd be making $299 per month from us. I hate to think how much they're losing from other would-be customers like me. Actually, I'm also afraid to think how much they might be making from people they upsold over the phone!

At Optimal Workshop we too have experienced difficulties offering easy forms of payment that suit our customers. I present to you my experience a while ago setting up AMEX as a payment option:


This should be simple, right? Just another credit card. Complete a form, load it up, done. Uh, not quite. After eye-gauging month after month of form filling, anti-money laundering documentation, notarised copies of passports for all directors (who were, of course, in 3 different countries), and of course additional fees, we received our first AMEX payment in November 2012. Eleven, (11, ELEVEN!) months after we began the process! Of course this isn't all AMEX's fault entirely, the most time consuming hurdle was finding someone in Cambodia who could notarise a passport copy. I'm still having nightmares about it.

Despite this lengthy administration process it has ultimately been worth it as this payment option now brings in about 10% of our revenue, most of which appears to be additional revenue rather than simply an alternative payment method.

Manual invoices

Before all this we did actually accept AMEX indirectly, via PayPal, if you requested a manual invoice. Of course this can sometimes take a day or two if I've got a lot of email to get through, or over weekends. Paypal appear to randomly disallow transactions from time to time and it seems that lot of US companies have rules against using Paypal for business purchases while only issuing AMEX cards to staff. So we had to start accepting AMEX more directly.

Incidentally, if your company prefers to pay on invoice you can still request a manually generated invoice from me. If you supply a Purchase Order Number I'll even treat it as a Promise To Pay and get your account activated right away. I don't want the internal cogs at your organisation to hold up the research!

Do Not Honor

Recently, I've seen several "Do Not Honor" messages pop up in our payment system. A "Do Not Honor" message does not mean insufficient funds, if this were the case I'd see a "Declined" message, but instead for some as yet unexplained reason either the card holder's bank or company is not allowing the transaction. They don't seem to be stolen cards (who'd steal a credit card and then go buy some user research tools anyway?). Although I'm yet to get to the bottom of this issue I have noticed it is only happening with US credit cards (so far) and I believe it could be due to either the bank's or the company's own rules about purchasing over the internet from far, far away vendors like us. Sigh.

So, you can see that helping people pay you, particularly if you are a non US company operating in a global marketplace, is still fraught with tricksy payment issues that have to be monitored and mitigated. In this rambling post I've only scratch the surface of this issue, of course there's an endless list of things to consider between awareness and purchase!

I welcome any feedback or comments, particularly if you have suggestions about how we can help you pay us!

Published on May 03, 2013
Anna Colton
  • Anna Colton
  • Anna Colton previously worked at Optimal Workshop.

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