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Acknowledgement matters

6983916617_d476e373cc_zIn face to face interactions we are programmed to recognise the importance of feedback. As we move many previously physical interactions online, are we in danger of forgetting just how important it is?

When you walk into a shop and buy something, a plethora of tangible and intangible signals reassure you that all is proceeding as planned. You have the goods you purchased. You probably have a printed (or emailed) receipt. You may have change in your pocket. The cashier actually interacted with you, whether with a cheery smile, calm efficiency, or brusque disregard. You leave, clear that something happened.

Most online services, of course, recognise that it’s important to maintain these cues; even when buyer and seller are continents apart. Amazon confirms a transaction on-screen, and then follows up with an email to acknowledge your purchase. It then sends further emails when goods despatch, and offers a variety of methods to track the process from ordering to delivery. In this, it is far from alone.

And yet, now and then, I come across online businesses which fail to grasp the importance of feedback, information, and acknowledgement. And, every time, it jars. Why, in 2014, are otherwise good businesses failing to recognise that they’re dealing with human beings, and that those human beings are programmed to expect interaction, reassurance, acknowledgement?

The latest online business to — apparently — ignore this important aspect of the human makeup is A few recent projects have been for clients that have started to use the well-funded online payments and accounting service. For them, the service may well be great. It may do everything its marketing suggests, to streamline the process of receiving, processing, and fulfilling invoices. It may offer them great tools, and a great user experience. For me, submitting an invoice, the process is dreadful.

The initial premise is good. Simply email an invoice (in my case, generated automatically by FreeAgent) to a * email address. No client-specific Excel spreadsheets to complete. No nasty Salesforce kludge, which looks like its UI was designed by a distracted toddler and their bad-tempered teddy bear. Just an email address to receive an invoice that my own systems are all geared up to create and track. This, I thought, is going to be great. The future of billing has arrived.

And then the wheels fall off. Nothing. Absolutely nothing happens. No emailed acknowledgement of receipt. No ability to track where an invoice is in the approval process. No email to say that payment is coming. Tens of thousands of dollars invoiced, and you know nothing for weeks; until the money eventually shows up — unannounced — in your bank account.

The first time this happened, I assumed that my client had perhaps failed to select an option to have email acknowledgement sent. They were, I knew, new to They might not have it all set up correctly.


Apparently not. Apparently it’s a good suggestion. For future updates. Really? For a company that’s been trading since 2006? Surely the electronic equivalent of the smile of acknowledgement, the grunt of recognition, the closing of the loop is rather more fundamental than that?

Are we really meant to drop out of this shiny,  futuristic and time-saving automated process to contact the client?

Hi. I just submitted my invoice for that project. Can you please confirm receipt?

How does that help anyone? It’s more work for me, it’s more work for them. And all the stupid computer had to do was send an email to let me know mine got through. A handshake, if you will. In both the networking and the real-world senses of the term.

As we move more and more online, we still need to acknowledge, reassure, report. doesn’t, and it should. A human being at manages to do it on Twitter, obviously. Shouldn’t the same response to human beings’ need to feel engaged with be baked deep into their product?

Image by Flickr user vkanaya



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Paul Miller works at the interface between the worlds of Cloud Computing and the Semantic Web, providing the insights that enable you to exploit the next wave as we approach the World Wide Database.

He blogs at

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