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As a helpdesk engineer I'm offering support on a rather big Belgian E-commerce website.

While we have a vast number of users there are also many users whose account is deleted automatically after 1 year (due to being inactive during a year).

Users can request their username and password through the site by clicking on a "password forgotten" link. Upon this request users get an e-mail with their account, and a temporary password, which they would need to change.

However, users who don't have an account, or got their account deleted get the following notification

"Sorry, we could not process your request. Please correct the following: Email Address: this email address is invalid."

I added a screenshot for visual aid, text is in Dutch. enter image description here

As from our point of view (Helpdesk), this is a very "stupid" notification to give to a customer. We are getting a lot of extra work because of this and we are trying to get the support groups to change this to something more clear for the clients. However, this would need an alternative approach to let users know they don't have an account (anymore).

Additional info in reply to the comments:

The customer has no way of knowing wether his/her account has been deleted. We as Helpdesk have a Customer Administration application where we can lookup the client and see if an account exists.

They are now planning to change the time of account deletion towards 2 years (instead of 1 year) on our request and lobby'ing.

Why they are actually deleting accounts rather then preserving them on the DB I don't know. I'm guessing it will have something to do with either bad design 10 years ago, or because of the costs.

What would be the best way to do this from a UX point of view?

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1  
Is there a way to reactivate the account once it is "deleted" due to inactivity? –  Majed Dec 9 '13 at 15:36
    
Majed, there is not. The account is permanently deleted from the database. –  ThomasSt Dec 9 '13 at 15:40
    
Is there a way to know that an account was deleted? –  Majed Dec 9 '13 at 15:48
4  
Is there a legitimate reason to be removing an account from the database? This sounds like bad DB design, as it can cause orphan records if there are no foreign key constraints in place to prevent them from being removed. If there are proper constraints in place but they're set to cascade, you could potentially be losing a lot of information. –  cimmanon Dec 9 '13 at 16:12
    
What is the purpose of deleting inactive accounts/records? Is it this that could be changed? Users have a reasonable expectation that computers do not forget them. –  RedSirius Dec 9 '13 at 16:29
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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

How about something like:

An account registered to this email address could not be found.
- Please check your email address for errors.
- Please note that inactive accounts are removed after 1 year.

You can register for a new account on our registration page

Adjust pleasantries to taste.

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"Sorry, we could not process your request because the account has been removed due to one year of inactivity."

?

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2  
If the record has been permanently removed, there's no way to distinguish between "You never had an account in the first place" and "Your account was removed due to inactivity" –  cimmanon Dec 9 '13 at 16:13
    
Agreed, we can't give a definitive answer until we know that detail. –  Majed Dec 9 '13 at 16:56
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