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When to “Create an Account”

We all have too many online accounts and passwords! Depending on your volume and level of sophistication, you may have elaborate ways to manage all of them. Perhaps you use your Facebook or Google accounts to log into various places to ease the burden (though, connecting accounts with a single ID has its downside - for a good scare, read this). I think we can all agree that there is no perfect solution yet and that accounts are somewhat burdensome. CampBrain just adds to the hassle, asking parents to create another account! The purpose of this post is not really to analyse the question of account or no account. I think the benefits of having a parent account are pretty clear in the camp software space:

- return to make changes, register for something new, make a payment, print a receipt

- avoid having to re-enter data each time you register (within same year or next season)

- combine things like photo galleries, sending email, viewing newsletters, etc.

- helps to avoid duplicate records

In other words, parents have a close enough relationship with camps to warrant an account. The alternative is having a simple online form that does not save anything, assumes you are a new person every time and treats each transaction as the beginning and end of the relationship. Not so great.

The purpose of this post is to bring up the question of WHEN the account gets created. There are probably 3 realistic options: 1) at the beginning; 2) in the middle somewhere; 3) at the end. It is a pretty tough trade-off with a few important points to consider. Creating an account can be a deterrent to the customer proceeding forward - ideally, one wants to remove any possible roadblock between the customer and their "purchase", particularly a NEW customer. If you don't create an account at the beginning, how does someone "save" their info? Thinking of a previous post, we looked at in-progress applications (ones that are partially completed but not submitted). Without creating an account at the beginning, reviewing and managing in-progress applications becomes a lot harder, if not impossible. So, unless the person submits their registration or creates their account, whichever comes first, you don't really have a way of tracking the person.

When designing the flow of our web-based version, we struggled with this idea. We wanted to remove roadblocks and make it as easy as possible to have a camper registered...but we were not really willing to sacrifice the ability to have the system constantly saving the registrant's info and the ability to track in-progress applications. So, our compromise was to have account creation at the beginning but make it as pain-free as possible:

  • we did not send the parent to another screen for account creation - it happens right on the main entry screen
  • we kept the number of fields to an absolute minimum - name, email, password - that's it!
  • we did not present the privacy policy and terms unless they chose to click through and see them

I did a demo with a prospective customer this week and it made me think of this very issue (which is why I am writing this post!). Her current system does not have account creation at the beginning. The camp is serving children with special needs so they have long forms. She has received many irate calls from parents, after they lost their work because nothing was saved as they went along (I am guessing they timed out - watching a TV show or walked away to look up a piece of info they needed). 

There are many examples where you don't want someone to have to create an account as the first step (e.g. buying a book, renting a car, buying an airplane ticket) but I think registering for camp is an intimate enough "transaction" to warrant creating the account at the beginning.

What do you think? Other ideas?

rob@campbrain.com

Love your Software,
Rob
rob@campbrain.com