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US Vaccine Appointment Websites Create Mass Online Confusion

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Brooke Lynch


Technology can offer solutions to some of our most complex problems, but it can also act as an infuriating pain point. With the emergence of social media and the adoption of online shopping, people are spending more time online than ever before. When technology fails, then, it’s not only a personal annoyance but a reflection on an individual’s entire customer experience. 

This concern is becoming a modern reality and can be identified on a massive scale with the introduction of vaccine registration websites. In the most recent case, NYC launched a city ‘vaccine finder’ to allow eligible New Yorkers access to the service. The tool was met with confusion when users began working through the separate scheduling systems that prompted access to at least five different government websites. After launching the new finder tool, the government preserved the existing Health Department and NYC Health + Hospitals and their independent vaccine sign-ups, leaving customers unsure about the recommended and correct reservation method. 

New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer took to Twitter to highlight some of the major flaws of the service rollout. In a series of tweets, he noted that the system has an initial verification requirement and a six-step process to set up an appointment with as many as 51 fields to fill out along the way. To compound this, many vaccine centers are each using different websites and scheduling services, with seemingly no mutual connection, to book appointments.

The most concerning issue, Stringer noted, is that even young people are struggling to utilize this scheduling system. Many eligible vaccine candidates, including individuals 75 and older, are receiving help from younger relatives and friends to assist them in setting up appointments. If younger, more tech-savvy generations are having difficulties, how can more tech-challenged individuals access these services?  

New York isn’t the first city having issues with vaccine appointments; websites in Texas and Florida have been adjusted after initial volume overload. The Houston Health Department, which initially processed call-in appointments, had to offer on-site registration after receiving 250,000 calls per day and filled all slots within the first two days.

This appointment overload isn’t unexpected; scheduling limited appointments for thousands of eager recipients is obviously a daunting task. But this also represents an incredibly high stakes, time-sensitive, and emotional project. Technical issues are not just annoying in this case, eligible recipients are seeking protection from a deadly disease; their inability to speak to an agent or use a scheduling service can feel distressing.

Although this case of confusing technology is obviously quite extreme, the pandemic has cultivated an online environment with consistent massive influxes of volume. This scheduling problem will likely only get more difficult as more individuals become eligible, and it represents the inevitable challenges that come with technology failure. In this case, customer effort is high, they have to input sensitive, personal information and there’s potentially little reward; they may have to reenter information multiple times - all to maybe not even get a coveted appointment.

With all of these technical problems, the burden then falls on the customer support agents to provide necessary information to concerned callers. Without the resources to field upwards of 250,000 calls per day, in Texas’ case, individuals are left with no options or support. Although this represents an unprecedented and sensitive case, it is useful to understand how technology can interfere with a services bottom line. 

In the digital age, convenience is ingrained in the customer experience; we’re used to one-click ordering and increasingly personalized technology. Ease of use consistently acts as one of the top drivers of customer satisfaction, so confusing and misdirected systems like this leave eligible participants understandably frustrated and upset. 

Additionally, when customers are unable to utilize technology properly, businesses must ensure easy escalation. Self-service and digital channels offer a convenient way to absorb some volume, but there must be a way to reach live agents. When dealing with sensitive issues, customers need some level of support even when the technology is functioning successfully. 

As we continue into 2021, we’re likely to maintain the immense increases in both call volume and online inquiries. Companies need to remain aware of these worst-case scenarios; 2020 highlighted the value of contingency planning and increased volume is now something that should be expected and planned for. Solutions, ultimately, need to hold up under every aspect of the customer journey and obstacles like high volume and difficulties with use in less tech-savvy demographics should always be accounted for.