Creating Remarkable Customer Experiences Online

I am currently a member of the Entrepreneurs Organization and it never ceases to amaze me how much I get out of being a part of their network. One of the small perks is receiving Octane Magazine which is chock full of interesting and informative articles relative to all facets of business. Recently my new LinkedIn friend Angela Randall (from EO Houston) wrote a great article about user experience that I felt obligated to share (with her permission of course). She says some pretty basic and very smart things we sometimes lose sight of and I think it makes for a quick and interesting read. Enjoy!

Want to know what really ruins a web site’s user experience?

Bending over backwards in an attempt to please each customer. Many eager Business owners conclude that the only way to satisfy a customer is to cater to his every whim. The result is ambiguous, be-everything-to-everybody customer experiences. Product teams try to incorporate every feature ever requested, while service teams try to be so flexible in their offerings that it’s no longer clear what the company specializes in. Of course, this ends up being counter-productive.

1. Reduce the amount of choices:
Choices give customers the illusion of being in control, but they’re actually a cognitive burden. having to decide between too many choices becomes work. Here’s an example: A design-it-yourself shades and blinds company couldn’t figure out why so few customers chose their feature-rich product line, when their competitors offered far fewer customization options online. After investigating, we found that the sheer number of available options overwhelmed and intimidated potential customers, making the competitor’s simpler experience more manageable. Removing the least-used options and hidings others under “Advanced Features” on their Web site helped the company streamline its offerings.

2. Tell your customers what to do:
Seriously order them about. When I tell my clients this, they look at me funny. Thing is, most people know what to do in a store, but on the Web, it’s not always obvious how to take the next step. Don’t expect customers to hunt around on your site for a phone number or e-mail. that’s too much work. instead, take the work out of navigating by using clear calls to action like “Learn more,” “Request a free evaluation” and “Buy now.” One of our client, a continuing education provider, didn’t understand why people weren’t signing up for their coursed. We added a prominent “Register now” button to the course-description page. Problem solved.

3. Observe, don’t listen to your customers:
What customers want and what they say they want are two different things. the only way to learn the truth is to watch their behavior. Basic analytics software will tell you you which of your site’s pages people visit most and how long they spend there. there are also more sophisticated tools that track user’ movements to give you an idea of what people are reading on your site, and where they’re getting stuck in forms. ultimately, sitting next to customer performing prescribed tasks on your Web site or application is the best way to discover reasons why users call customer support instead of searching the documentation, or why so many of them quite on the las step of the process.

For example, an African national oil company had built an oil-trading application that was intended to track US$160 billion worth of oil annually…but nobody used it. Since the users had meticulously described their workflow, the developers assumed the problem must be technical– “We need more servers!” User testing revealed, however, that the users’ workflow wasn’t really sequential as they had described. instead, they saved up all their orders for entry in a single batch at the end of the day. After modifying the interface to facilitate batch, adaption skyrocketed.

Of course, we would never advocate treating customers with anything less than dignity and respect. but we realize that an entrepreneur’s primary role is to be a steward, not a butler. We don’t pander…we lead. Customers will follow.