I hate Recaptchas

This was going to be a rant against reCaptchas, but quickly escalated into a lot of different things, as I noticed failures on several levels.

As a company, it is always important to think about how your user support is structured and check for any scenarios which might lead it to give your customers a poor experience. And, this means examining the pieces and asking yourself what it might be like for your users if everything fails.

I have been working on a plan to create a channel on Zello which members of my community would be able to use to stay in touch during the pandemic and stay-at-home period. I chose Zello because it works a lot like a CB radio, where you can at least listen in if you sign in from a mobile device or computer. This seemed to be the quickest way for people to say hello, especially when compared to a phone or audio call.

As I remembered, I needed to log into my account in order to grab the code which allows me to embed a widget for the channel on a website. This is what I wanted to use when I display the information on my news website. The Mid Michigan Journal. But, this is where my troubles began.

I’ve been signed on from my phone, but its been awhile since I logged in from my computer. When I tried logging in with the password I saved, nothing happened. The page blinked, so it seemed to take my credentials, but I wasn’t being shown my user profile either. It was as if the website was rejecting my information, but there were no error messages to confirm this. I went through a password reset anyways, aware that this was going to mean I’d need to update the apps on my mobile devices. The email arrived, I clicked the link, changed my password, and then attempted to login.

Still nothing. I thought that perhaps something had happened when I entered in the new password, so I tried again. Request reset, enter email address, click link in email, reset password, copied password to be sure this time, submitted, then attempted login.


So, now the reCaptchas start to appear, and I have to say that I really hate these things. Put simply, I don’t want to find the hydrants, the streetlights, or the cars. Especially when the pictures themselves are unclear. Do buses count as cars? I never know, I just make my best guess, and either my answers are accepted or a new puzzle appears.

I understand why reCaptchas are used with forms, and normally I’m fine with them if they are just one quick step in an overall frictionless process. But, I happen to be very aware that the reason the reCaptcha was triggered was because I was repeatedly entering in my login information, like a bot. But, I was only trying to login and then getting no on-screen help from the page. It’s as if I’m being punished for the bad design of Zello’s website.

I thought that maybe I could circumvent this whole problem by accessing their listing of public channels without being logged in. But, when I try to view that page, I am bounced back to their homepage. Is logging in required? It’s not clear.

They have a little tech support widget that I can open up, and maybe use to chat with someone about my issues. I expand the widget, and begin responding to its automated questions. Name? Jon. Email? Here you go. Then it asks if my question relates to a personal or business account. Personal account. Next, I’m shown some categories for my question. Yes, I am having trouble accessing my account.

At this point, the bot directs me to a page in the company’s knowledgebase, and then terminates the thread.

The article the link points to is a description of the steps one should go through if they need to reset their password, something I already knew about and had tried.

I thought maybe there was a way to choose a “misc” category in the chatbot and reach a human being. I ran through the sequence of questions, then clicked “other.” The chatbot told me it did not know the answer, and pointed me to the knowledgebase again.

So, now, my small problem has escalated to a barrier which is keeping me from completing my goal, and forcing me to question my entire plan. My gut is telling me that Zello is either unable to support me, or doesn’t want to support me unless I have a business account. And, there is nothing wrong with treating paying customers with more respect, but when a company provides support for their product, it should at least be helpful.

I’m not sure what the deal is with Zello, but this is an example of an experience you do not want to give your online customers. And, they will only stick with your site for so long before giving up.

When I assess user experience flows, I try to think about a user attempting to complete a process on a website under the worst possible conditions. In the room with a screaming child, or while using their cell phone on a noisy subway car. I loosely refer to this as looking at an interface with “beer goggles.” People will not always be thinking clearly when they attempt to use a website, and they most likely will not be thinking clearly if something on a website goes wrong or doesn’t make any sense. This only means that the user support needs to be sharp enough to get them on track, but if that fails then you risk losing them altogether.

As for me, I might be heading back to the drawing board, because in the back of my mind I can’t help but wonder how else Zello might let me down. And, ultimately it is about competency and trust.

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