Posts tagged “confirmation”

The dangerous power held by the interviewer

A recent episode of This American Life tells a fascinating and horrifying story of a murder confession gone wrong. The story is a reflection from the retired detective who seems to have sincerely believed the woman in question to be guilty. He realizes in his reflection that he was open to hearing what fit his theory and dismissed information or cues that didn’t support his theory (this is known as confirmation bias). This is a real concern for people doing user research who have preconceived notions about people, their behavior, their desired solutions, etc. One tactic is to develop greater self-awareness and learn to hear your own biases and assumptions.

Even more disturbing in this story is how the suspect began to provide details of the crime that supposedly only the person who committed the crime would know. In fact, this woman who would want to clear her name, responded to the questioning by shifting to please her interrogator, looking to provide the “right” answers. While the police didn’t realize it, she was picking up clues from the documents they were showing her and presenting them back as if it was her own knowledge. She wasn’t trying to confess, she was trying to succeed in answering the questions, even though it was significantly against her own interests. This is also a crucial concern for user researchers, where participants will want to please them and will work hard to figure out what “pleasing” looks like. The way you ask questions (e.g,. “Do you like doing it this way or would you rather have it happen automatically when you enter the store?”) has a tremendous influence in how they are answered.

The New York Times offers this summary

He tells about a woman who confessed to killing a man. She knew insider things like that the victim was wearing his wedding ring when he died, and that his credit card had been used at a People’s drugstore and a Chinese takeout place. Case closed.

A few weeks go by, and it turns out the woman has a strong alibi. Charges are dropped.

Years later, with the case still officially open, Detective Trainum went back to the file because he still suspected that the woman had gotten away with murder. He discovered that he and the other detectives accidentally videotaped the whole interrogation — not just the confession. That’s when he found out how an innocent person could know unreleased details of the killing.

At one point during the interrogation, they were trying to get her to admit to using the dead guy’s credit cards, and said, isn’t that your signature on these slips? And they showed them to her. So she read the name of the drugstore and the restaurant.

At another moment, they showed her the crime scene photos. In one, the left hand of the corpse was prominent. You could see the wedding ring.

So they had accidentally fed her all the incriminating details that she returned to them in the confession.

Communication Confusion over Confirmation Confusion

Andrew points out that Kyoto and Osaka are near each other and that was probably behind the offers from Expedia that I had complained about. Helpful info that I didn’t have, but unfortunately, it got worse.

A few days later I received email from Expedia

To: Steve Portigal
Subject: Steve, here is your itinerary confirmation for your 01/02/08 Osaka trip
[deletia that makes reference to our Osaka trip multiple times]

Even more concerned than before, I wrote them and received this message

Dear Expedia Customer,
Thank you for contacting us.

We regret that your experience with was not satisfying. Comments such as yours are read by numerous people within Expedia and help shape our policies and practices as we learn and grow.
If you have further questions, feel free to reply to this e-mail or contact Expedia customer services at 1-800-397-3342 and reference case ID 36793797.

In other words, I submitted a complaint and they aren’t going to act on it, unless I submit it AGAIN. Okay, I do that.

The next message is even worse.

Dear Expedia Customer,

Thank you for contacting us.

Kyoto, Kyoto-fu (Change name) itinerary number: 121380781812

If you have further questions, feel free to reply to this e-mail…

No actual communication. Is anyone out there? I try again.

Dear Expedia Customer,

Thank you for your immediate response.

Please accept our apologies for the misunderstanding with your hotel reservation. We regret any inconvenience this may have caused you.

Your itinerary serves as a confirmation of your purchase, and we’ve sent an updated copy of it in a separate e-mail. You can also access your itinerary online at any time. Here’s how:

Again, no one is addressing my key question: why does my Kyoto reservation keep getting referred to as my trip to Osaka? Once more into the breach…

Dear Steve,

Thank you for your reply.

Please accept our apologies in regards to the misunderstanding with your reservation. We regret any inconvenience that may have occurred and would like to assure you that every reservation is important to us.

Your problem may stem from incompatibility between your browser and our system. We have already escalated this technical issue to the appropriate department.

In the interim, your hotel reservation at the Hotel Monterey Kyoto is confirmed while the “OSAKA” tag line have caused you such inconvenience, the printed itinerary of your reservation is still binding and a confirmed reservation for a hotel in Kyoto, Japan and not in Osaka.

So somehow my browser is causing them to send me email messages about a different city? The crucial piece of info (thanks, Andrew), that these are nearby cities, never appeared, and a spurious technical issue was blamed (it’s not a browser issue; perhaps they want to blame the model of car I’m driving for the emails they are sending?) but at least a human being intervened and confirmed that what I thought I bought was indeed what I bought.

Great job, Expedia people! Ridiculously poor support to go with a rather silly system! Let’s hope we don’t have an actual problem at any point.

Confirmation Confusion

We’re sorting out the accommodations for our Dec/Jan trip to Japan, and I noticed this distressing bit of interaction with Expedia.

After booking our hotel in Kyoto, we get an itinerary named (loosely) Kyoto, and details of the hotel (including its name, which has the word Kyoto in it), and just generally good confirmatory feedback.

Further on down the page comes the upsell.
Osaka? But we’re not going to Osaka?! This caused a definite brief panic verifying the rest of the information in the itinerary to be sure that Expedia didn’t just put us in some other hotel in some other city.

Tip: if you provide automated upsell information that appears to reflect some contextual understanding of your customer, make sure it’s right, or you will cause them distress and extra work, reducing confidence


Booking the hotel for our event at the IASummit I found this rough edge on the confirmation screen.
Circled in red, about halfway down. “Need copy.” Yes, you do still need the copy there. Sad that you launched this with the memo-to-self still intact. It’s smart to use a different tool for marking up content, lest the markup gets confused with the content itself. Proofreading can catch some of those mistakes, but not all of them. And here, we the end-user get a small reminder of the hands at work behind the scenes.

More Reasons to Hate Amazon

I am pretty fed up with how Amazon conceals information in order to eliminate or reduce customer service complaints. Not to solve problems, but to disempower the customer to actually do anything about it.

I ordered a used book (i.e., Amazon Marketplace). It came with some bent corners. Now, when I ordered it 2 weeks ago, did I pay the least amount for an “Acceptable” condition book? Or did I pay more and get a “New” book? I can’t tell from the book itself, so I go to the web. I look at my account info, I look at the confirmation email they sent me, I look at the detailed order page.

Nowhere is the promised condition indicated. I looked and tried and clicked. One of the links in the confirmation email even went to a dead page.

I guess it could be somewhere incredibly buried and I’m too much of a stupid user to find it, but I suspect rather that they don’t want to deal with this class of problem, so once you make the purchase, they delist the item and that info is gone-gone-gone.

I’ve written them to ask, but I don’t expect much from Amazon’s help, given past experiences.

Not a good day for e-commerce here at any rate – an eBay seller sent me the wrong item, so now I get to go through that whole hassle in resolving that. Sigh!

Update: Amazon wrote me back and in fact this info is available. Instead of looking at the recent orders in your account, you have to do the following from the main account page
Click “Your Auctions & zShops account” in the right-hand margin.
Click on “Amazon Payments: View all recent purchases.”
Ater logging in, enter the appropriate search dates to find the order you want.


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