Your User Experience Matters

I’m leaving Gearhost. I’ve been a Gearhost customer for years (since at least 2008), and I’ve always been impressed by their excellent customer service and willingness to embrace new technologies (they were one of the first to put ASP.NET MVC beta on their servers, and they did it just because I asked them nicely).

I’ve since used them for my personal websites and as a demo playground for any consulting work I’ve done.  Whenever I’ve had a problem, it’s been really easy to get someone on the phone or in email to help me fix it.  Tickets have been resolved in hours, and sometimes minutes.

Once, after they had migrated my site to their “CloudSites” technology, the site went down randomly.  I emailed them, and within an hour someone called me back to personally apologize and let me know what the problem was. He even threw up a static page for me while the site was being migrated.

They really do have the best customer service I’ve ever seen from a company, bar none.

So why am I leaving them?

Their user experience is horrendous.

I visit Gearhost once every six months or so, and it’s usually not on the computer I’ve used previously with their site.  Like most techies, I have 6 separate devices I use to get work done on: My work PC (Dual boot Windows/Ubuntu), Home PC (dual boot), Laptop, iPad, and my iPhone (normally for urgent things).  That means that I can’t just bookmark a page and be done with it, but even more than that, I don’t bookmark sites any more. The ones I visit I remember their URL, or they’re in my internet address bar auto-complete.  So when I want to log into Gearhost, here’s what I have to do:

Click on “Customer Portal” (1 click)

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Then, find how to log in:

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Hint (it’s in two places, the dropdown under ‘Account’ (2 clicks) or the button in the lower right hand corner (1 click):

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This takes you to a new page to log in (1 click):

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Once you’re here, you’re still not finished. You now have to find what it is you’re looking for. In a normal use-case, changing settings for a site I already own.  Now, is that under ‘Domains’ (What I own) or ‘Services’ (What I bought?)? (2 – 5 clicks)

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Oh, it’s under services:

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Now that I’ve found my service, I have to log in, again. Guess where that is? “View Details” (1 click)

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Oh. That didn’t log me in, it just showed me the page where I now need to log in to my cloudsite.  Helpfully, it shows me my username and password for the cloudsite, in plain text.

Once I click “Launch myCloud”, The system will log me in (1 click).

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And finally, I’m somewhere with penciled drawings that make it appear I can do things (1 click).

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Huzzah! I found my sites!

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It takes a minimum of nine clicks to get from the front page of gearhost.com to the reason I visited their site in the first place: to administer it. If I screw up (as I’ve done half a dozen times on half a dozen computers), then it takes around 13 clicks to do the same.

That’s way too much mental effort to visit a site I only need to visit every few months, at most.

No desire to make the experience better for users

I’ve spoken with Gearhost representatives on the phone before about their user experience (a little over a year ago), and when I talked with them, I told them what problems I was encountering with their user interface, and I expressed a hope that they would take it into consideration when improving their site.

More than a year later, that hasn’t happened.  If anything, the status quo has become entrenched.  In my most recent support ticket, I once again brought up the clunky interface, to which they responded:

Second, just to smooth misunderstandings here, we have three portals for a good reason, granular control. While I appreciate that you may not be utilizing some of the compartmentalized features, we separate the customer portal because many of our users require more than one type of service (Virtual Machines, Shared Hosting, etc) to build the hosting environment they’re looking for. Sometimes there are reseller environment configurations as well, and this configuration allows these users to manage the services they provide while still adding additional administrative access to the Support Portal for tickets and service needs. This is also why domain renewal and domain hosting are handled separately.

There are a lot of issues here. Too many to go into long detail for each. Here are some bullets:

  • “Shared Hosting” – If you look at the screenshots, there is *nothing* that tells me I’m a shared hosting client, nor are there any headers that alude to “shared hosting”
  • Compartmentalized Features – Gearhost knows what service every person who subscribes has. They know whether or not that person has domains, shared hosting, VMs, or anything else. By not showing me information I know they have easily, they’re making it hard for me to use their site.  “Compartmentalized features” is a minimum viable product — a way to get the product out the door and say, “We know this is a sub-optimal interface, but we need to launch”.  There’s no technical reason to keep it that way more than a year later.
  • “Billing and Support separate” – There are multiple ways to provide authorization without needing multiple usernames and passwords. Custom tokens, OpenID; Single Sign On through other methods;  There’s just no need to require multiple user names.

Which brings me to the final reason why I’m leaving Gearhost:

Three Separate logins

Gearhost requires three separate logins to interact fully with their site: The gearhost login; the technical support login; and the ‘myCloud’ login.  That’s two logins too many. One of those logins is also stored in cleartext (or at best, encrypted using symmetric encryption, which is also a security no-no).

I’ve only got so much time to waste on website administration. With sites out there like WordPress.com for blogs, and Heroku for easy deployment and spinning up of new sites, there’s very little reason go through this much headache just to maintain a blog and sandbox.

 All of this is a long explanation for a very short truth:

Your User Experience Matters

User experience is not an intangible thing, it’s something that can be measured, quantified, and studied.  There’s even a really popular book out there about it.

You don’t have to have the best user experience in the world — there are lots of sites out there that are successful despite their appearance (Craigslist being one), but you can’t actively throw roadblocks in your users’ path.

Before you launch your next product, take a moment and think about your user experience. You may not be able to have an amazing experience out the door, but five minutes with a customer should show you what you need to fix the most.