The Insighter

May 2008

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Neo Insight's e-newsletter on Customer Experience topics and techniques.
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In this issue

Upcoming events

June 16-19, 2008 UX Intensive, Adaptive Path, Minneapolis, MN
June 16-20, 2008 Usability Professionals Association conference, Baltimore, MD
June 16-21, 2008

Usability Week 2008, Nielsen Norman Group, San Francisco, CA

July 8, 2008 Free Gerry McGovern webinar - Government/Public websites, 10 am EDT

Four principles to improve your customers' experience

1) Help people accomplish their goals

Ensure the top tasks on your website are easy to find and do. Ideally, your customers should be able to start one or two of the tops tasks directly from the home page. For example, travel sites such as Air Canada and Kayak are continually refining their home pages to help people quickly book a flight. They do this by presenting an uncluttered page, using appropriate defaults for many of the fields, providing familiar calendars for selecting departure and return dates, etc. If any help is required it is embedded at the point of need.

To be successful, it is critical to observe your customers interacting with your website. Optimizing your customers’ experience with your website depends upon how well you can identify your customers’ actual needs. But often people are not able to articulate these needs. Obtaining their opinions is great but there is an abundance of data to confirm our experience that asking people what they would do in a given situation is a very poor predictor of their actual behaviour. Find ways to observe your customer experience on a regular basis. Even just one day of observing users carrying out tasks on your website can generate a wealth of valuable data.

For your website to be useful it has to fulfill a core need simply and quickly. People want to engage, interact, accomplish their goal, and move on to something else. They do not care about whiz-bang technologies or fancy graphics. They just want to get things done.

2) Don’t waste people’s time

The web is about 24/7 access to information and services. People are impatient on the web. Waste their time and they quickly go somewhere else.

Nothing is more valuable than people’s time. More people say they don’t have enough time than those who say they don't have enough money. In fact, we often spend our hard earned money to buy us time – have someone cut our grass, wash our car, or cook our meal.

Have you ever received speedy service from an automotive repair depot or a dentist’s office? Aren’t those the kind of positive surprises you share with family and friends? Which would you prefer: people talking about how well your website let them get things done or complaining about the constant roadblocks your website threw in their way? Make it fast for users to accomplish their tasks and eliminate anything that slows them down.

3) Keep things simple

Maintaining a clean, clutter-free design ensures people are not distracted from their goals. Resist the temptation to keep adding. Remember that for each new thing added all existing content and functionality becomes more difficult to access and use. Make those decisions very carefully.

Feature creep is rampant on many websites, suffocating the core functionality. The best designs expose only those features needed for people to accomplish their main goals. Power and eloquence come with simplicity. Google has maintained people’s respect by almost religiously keeping the search box on their home page unencumbered.

Focus on your core competencies. Stop trying to be all things to all people. Customers don’t want or appreciate being bombarded by weather information, local movies listings, and stock market tickers when they are trying to order a book. Most websites could benefit by removing 50% or more of their content and functionality. The evidence you gather in user observation is your main weapon. Use your usability test results to vigorously defend those areas of your website which allow your visitors to accomplish their main tasks.

4) Build a lasting relationship

To build an enduring relationship with your customers you have to create a great first impression, keep things simple, and maintain trust. The challenge is how to delight both the novice and veteran.

Create a great first impression by ensuring visitors can quickly find what they are looking for and accomplish their goals. Give them a sense of understanding, a sense of confidence, and a sense of accomplishment. Don’t overwhelm them with so many options and complexity that they are confused, intimidated, and fail to achieve their goal.

Keep things simple at the surface level but allow more experienced visitors to delve more deeply. Provide them with additional options, customization, and power – but only as they are ready for it. Let people grow with your website and continually make positive discoveries around each new bend as they are ready to explore. Isn’t that the making of a great relationship – one that is supportive, makes you feel comfortable, but also pleasantly surprises you from time to time?

Maintain trust by preventing negative surprises. Let people easily reverse their actions. This will promote an environment conducive to exploration and discovery. Keep the terminology and interactions consistent so learning is transferrable. Take into account people’s experiences with other websites which adhere to best-practices for usability. Adopt industry conventions for website interaction (e.g. provide a search box at the top of every page). Only innovate in those areas which clearly add value and simplicity to the experience.

Contact us to explore these and other ways to improve the customer experience on your website.

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What's wrong with the Government of Canada's Common Look and Feel (CLF2)

Neo Insight has done usability testing of many Government of Canada websites over the years and we keep seeing the same usability issues emerging as a result of Common Look and Feel (CLF) constraints. Don’t get us wrong. Most of the Government of Canada's Common Look and Feel guidelines are excellent and have had a positive impact on overall usability and accessibility. However, we’d like to explore a areas which go against current industry best practices for use of screen real estate, columns, and left navigation.

Inefficient use of screen real estate

The CLF2 header area, as specified, takes up 170 pixels of vertical space on every page. For almost 50% of visitors this equates to between 25-35% of their browser window height.

There are very few websites in the private sector using more than 125 pixels and many use less than 100 pixels for their branding and top banner. Apple has no banner at all and their top navigation bar weighs in at a mere 55 pixels. Gaining access to 10-15% more vertical screen real estate would significantly reduce the amount of scrolling and ease scanning of web pages.

Horizontal use of screen real estate is similarly poor. Yes, CLF2 increased the page width from 600 to 760 pixels but that means almost 22% of the available area remains unused on the most common screen resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels. If you add the banner area, there is barely 50% of the screen real estate available for content. Why handicap people in this way?

Many non-government sites have adopted a fluid design which adjusts to make best use of the available screen real estate. This is especially advantageous for those with larger resolution displays. In January of this year, 86% of people were browsing using a screen resolution of 1024 x 768 or larger and almost 35% were browsing on screen sizes greater than 1200 x 800 pixels. On these larger displays, the CLF2 content often occupies less than 20% of the area available.

The UK government’s website Directgov provides a good example of a website which reflows to maximize use of any horizontal width from 750 to 1680 pixels and beyond. Try it – drag out the window size to see how the site reflows to fit the new area.

Overly constrained use of columns and left navigation

The CLF2 specification calls for use of 3 columns on the home page and all sub-site menu pages. Since most government websites cover a diversity of content and functionality, it is desirable to direct visitors down the correct path as quickly as possible.

Most best-practice websites have the flexibility to support their most common tasks right on the home page and, if not, to direct people into specific areas with one click. Each company segments their home page in ways appropriate to the nature of the content and functionality. Why would one think that the layout needs for applying for a passport, filing taxes online, or obtaining health information would be the same?

Worse yet is the requirement for a common navigation bar to be maintained on the left side of just about every content page. Once a visitor has clicked on Exporting on the Canada Business website or Housing on the Service Canada website why is 20% of the page used to constantly display all the links the person didn’t click on. Isn’t that distracting them from their goal?

Although many websites maintain one bar at the top with links to major landmarks within the website, best practice websites use the left navigation bar for local navigation relevant to the visitor’s area of interest. For example, on the BBC website, once a visitor indicates their interest in Sports, all the navigation is oriented towards different types of sport. Once they click on Football, everything changes to focus just on football but you can still get back to the Home page in one click.

Try this experiment. Go to the Canadian Amazon website. Click on Jazz Music on the left. Not only do you not see Books, DVDs, etc. but you don’t even see Country, Pop or Rock Music. You are focused on Jazz and the left navigation is there to help you navigate this specific area of interest.

If you have comments on our CLF2 observations, please email us. We’d love to hear from you.

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Free Gerry McGovern webinar – Government or public body websites – July 8th

Hear Gerry McGovern speak live on how you can deliver better services and have more satisfied customers and citizens by better managing your website.

This FREE webinar from Customer Carewords takes place on July 8, 2008 at:
10:00AM Eastern Daylight Time (EDT)

Register at:

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Quote of the month

When a reporter asked Thomas Edison how he had endured 1000 failures before creating a successful light bulb, Edison is said to have replied “I didn't have 1000 failures. I learned 1000 ways not to make a light bulb.”

Thomas Edison, 1879

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