Don’t forget the French!

I still regularly think about a project that I worked on where we – without even realising it! – completely excluded a huge portion of our potential users. The project was a reasonably complicated registration and payment gateway for an online product: users purchased an account to use the website.

After launching a version of the project in Canada, we began receiving emails about problems with the registration almost immediately and could not work out what was causing the problem. The users were doing everything right and then the application would simply stall at the payment section and refuse to proceed with the transaction. We checked all the fields to submit the transaction and couldn’t find any errors from our side at all. We tried using false postcodes or incorrectly formatted Canadian phone numbers and found that the system was able to return a helpful validation error each time.

What was the problem? Why were so many potential users stalling within the process? Why were we getting so many angry emails in French?? Céline and François were emailing us, but John and Anna were not. Was our application form discriminating against French Canadians?!

I tried putting through a transaction for one of our emailers using only dummy credit details and it all worked. So, it wasn’t the payment that was stalling it. What was it?
Then I saw that I had anglicised the name. Celine instead of Céline. Add the accent back in and… failed transaction. So, our application would not accept an acute. Or a grave,  a circumflex or a cedilla.

It turned out to be a simple developer fix to upgrade the application to accept foreign characters, but it taught me a valuable lesson: don’t forget the French.

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