“Your search for “disappointment” produced no results, other than yet another indication of your tendency towards failure… (As if you needed more.)”

– Despair.com, in response to my vain attempt to find a clever quote to begin this week’s column.

As participles go, “excited” is a bit too strong, but “interested” is too limp.

I’m trying to describe my reaction to the email I received from a major air carrier, letting me know I was only a couple of hundred miles short of a first-class round trip ticket to anywhere in the United States. And if I had no immediate travel plans that would take me over the top, I could buy enough miles to cover the spread.

The minimum miles purchase was 2,000 for $59. Not too bad, so I clicked where I needed to click and arrived at the checkout page, which informed me that in addition to the sixty buck price tag, I’d also have to pay $35 in administrative fees.

My wife used to shop at Herberger’s. No longer, because Herberger’s is no more. One reason, we’re convinced, is that we weren’t the only customers who, attracted to the store and website by the many discount coupons they sent us, were annoyed to find that the coupon we held at any given shopping moment could not be used to buy the merchandise we had in hand.

The terms and conditions associated with Herberger’s coupons put your average end-user license agreement to shame.

Which leads to this conclusion, which in turn will lead to the point of this week’s essay: When it comes to structuring any sort of promotion, keep stupid out of it, and empathy for customers in it.

In the case of my first class ticket I can imagine the discussions that led to the $35 admin fee: “Deal momentum” would carry enough customers through that the net revenue gain outweighed the net reduction in total sales volume.

The math probably works. But the psychology doesn’t. All things being equal, the next time I travel I’ll do my best to avoid the airline in question. It’s an entirely predictable outcome, which would have been avoided through the simple expedient of concealing the $35 admin fee … an utterly preposterous number … within the purchase price, just as e-tailers that offer free shipping do.

Which gets us to the point, which is software quality assurance.

No, really.

Increasingly, as part of Digital this and Digital that, businesses are paying far more attention to the customer experience than they used to. As part of this effort, they’re creating mechanisms to understand how customers feel about their interactions with the company.

For telephone callers, it’s standard practice for companies to record calls so as to measure how well their call center staff are handling customer requests and complaints. Web and mobile apps are tougher, but methods for evaluating the customer experience in these environments are rapidly increasing in accuracy and sophistication.

It’s what internal IT would call UAT — user acceptance testing, which, done well, includes end-user suggestions as to how to improve overall usability.

Paying attention to the (real, paying) customer experience on the web and through mobile apps is admirable. I’m in favor of it.

What I suspect receives too little attention, though, is that unlike internal applications, the web and mobile customer experience includes more than layout, design, and functionality.

It also includes matters of more substance, such as the $35 admin fee I’m griping about here, coupons that are (or, in the case of Herberger’s, weren’t) redeemable on e-commerce websites and mobile apps, and, for a third example, requiring shoppers to establish userid’s and passwords before being allowed to buy merchandise.

Those who think in terms of organizational charts are likely to divide aesthetics, functionality, and substance into separate testing regimes. As with so many other forms of business dysfunction, this misguided use of the org chart is a likely step on the path to, if not perdition, at least suboptimalism.

This is because unlike everyone inside your company, for whom the org chart might be sacrosanct, Real Paying Customers don’t care an infinitesimal fig about who reports to whom or how responsibilities are divvied up.

They (which turns into “we” when you and I go home and shop for something) just find all of the above annoying.

Annoying, that is, is for Real Paying Customers a collective gerund, not a decomposable one. Which in turn means that customer experience testing should be collective as well.

KJR’s readers are increasingly being pulled into Digital initiatives of one sort or another. If you’re among them, promote this thought process:

The customer experience is holistic. We have to pretend we are, too.