During a darker period in my life I held a Customer Service position in the call center of an antivirus software provider.
While the benefits of my position were few (time spent in the bathroom was included in call metrics, analyzed by a Quality Assurance Group, and discussed during performance reviews – I’m serious) I was frequently exposed to the fragile psyche of the American computer user.
The 90 to 120 calls I answered each day translated into a beautiful rainbow of neuroses that constitutes the mass mind of our nation’s computer owners/operators.
While I can produce no statistical data, I can infer from experience that a marked percentage of people using computers are terrified. Terrified of viruses. Of “destroying” their computers by hitting the wrong key. Of the Internet in general.
Being trapped in a state of blind terror, they develop a mythological concept of computers and computer safety that approaches religious fervor.
For a while, the myth of the computer virus that actually caused your hard drive to catch fire was popular. Were I a social psychologist, one not attempting to quell user paranoia while maintaining an acceptable call length average, I’d have been fascinated.
A personal favorite was the man who was convinced that computer viruses could travel through his new computer’s power cord. Therefore, he was hesitant to plug it in and turn it on to load his antivirus software.
Against regulations (I should have sent him to tech support–a toll call) I gave him some advice:
“No, sir; that’s untrue. You can plug in the computer. Further, you can turn it on. Further, there is no way you can get a virus if you’re not connected to the internet or are loading files from an infected computer. When you load your software, you’re going to be safe even when you’re on the web.”
I got him up and running, but severely screwed up my call-length numbers (we were supposed to keep calls under 2.5 minutes; this one took forever).
Then we reached the topic of virus updates, and that, in a year, he’d have to pay for them. To pay for them, he could go online and securely enter his credit card info.
After another ten minutes of sheer speaking-in-tongues panic he essentially stated that there was no way in h-e-doublehockeysticks he’d ever put his credit card number in the computer.
He even asked if he could just give it to me, now, and then get the updates automatically sent to him in a year.
For all he knew, I could have been serving time for check fraud and identity theft, working in an outsourced prison call center. But he was way more comfortable giving me his data than entering it into that infernal machine.
So, my plea to ecommerce site owners is simple: do a little hand holding.
* Make sure your site’s purchase process is completely secure, and that there are no holes in that security, such as duplicate non-SSL-encrypted purchase pages. Take care of your customers’ data as though it’s your own. It’s like a baby, this data.
* Even though some of them will never believe it, let your customers know their personal data is secure – display your SSL certificate proudly and blatantly, and live up to your secure status.
* Remember that there are still people out there who think their computers can cause them physical harm, and that these potential customers are hearing internet horror stories on the news. You’re going to have to do some convincing, but it’ll be worth it.
Now let me tell you about the time a guy fell, somehow smashed his face through his laptop, and insisted I replace all his software for free… Ah, the salad days.