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Customer Carewords is a management process
The Customer Carewords process is more than a usability process; it's a management process. Above and beyond producing hard evidence of users' priorities and tasks, a Customer Carewords project generates focus and commitment from key stakeholders to a customer-centred website management strategy.
The process does that by generating real customer data, precise and statistical, from a unique voting process. Data that can be used over and over again to counter strong opinions and turf-wars in strategy and planning meetings (“The Minister wants his photo on the home page”, “The President thinks her welcome message should be prominent”, “We need to promote this product”, and so on). Data derived directly from customers; data not about their feelings and opinions, but about their top tasks.
Every website has a ‘long neck’ of top tasks
In all of the nearly 100 Customer Carewords projects that Neo Insight, Gerry McGovern, and our partners have undertaken, we always – always and without exception – find a ‘long neck’. And it doesn't matter whether it's a public website or an intranet, whether it's a commercial, government or education website.
The ‘long neck’ is the very small set of ‘Top Tasks’ that visitors want and need to carry out quickly and successfully, time and time again. We find that around 5% of top tasks represent more than 25% of a site’s value to its users. The 'long neck' of Top Tasks is where the business case of a website is.
The chart below shows the results of one poll of intranet tasks, from an organization of more than 30,000. Over 2,000 employees voted on and prioritized their top tasks, from a list of over 100. As usual, an overwhelming number of the votes went to a small handful of tasks (For example, ‘Find a person’ is almost always the top task for an Intranet).
This is where the power of Customer Carewords data comes from. Real customer data, showing unequivocally not only what the top tasks are on any website, but just how important they are relative to all the other tasks. We often find that the top 5-10% of tasks gets around 35-45% of all votes and in a few instances they account for more than all the other tasks combined!
Focus on Top Tasks is the key to successful web management strategy
One of the key challenges to strategic thinking is a lack of focus – having too many initiatives, trying to please too many people, serving too many masters, failing to communicate a clear vision to staff, and so on. We see too many senior managers and organizations struggling with a lack of strategic focus for their public web presence and intranets. Managers cannot build strategic momentum if they lack evidence that will compel stakeholders. They need hard evidence of where to focus, as well as where not to focus. As Michael Porter points out:
“Strategy renders choices about what not to do
Customer Carewords data enable laser-sharp focus
Customer Carewords data enable a laser-sharp focus on the top tasks that deliver value to your users. It’s usually an amazingly small number of tasks. That’s just the kind of focus needed in order to allocate resources to the strategic value of a website.
This sharp focus will lead to:
Your website management strategy in one slide
So, what’s that strategy, what’s that chart we talked about earlier? Here it is:
Simple, huh? Just two elements:
You need to get your team focused around ensuring customers achieve ‘excellent’ performance on Top Tasks. You first need to discover and measure how well customers are able to perform now. Then set tough but achievable targets to improve performance to ‘excellent’, including:
OK, this may be a bit radical and - intentionally - provocative. But, if you want those big wins, and to pull your web strategy out of the mire that we see in so many organizations, you may need a short-term plan as radical as this. Maybe this is the kind of chart to jolt your management team awake at the next strategy meeting.
We see so many organizations with large websites struggling with strategy. After 15 years of 'cheap' publishing to the web, their strategy has become overwhelmed. Unless you have a very clear business model that incorporates the 95% of lower-priority user tasks, the risks in trying to deal with them are:
We're essentially saying that, for many organizations, the most effective web strategy is to focus only on users' Top Tasks. Once those are working well you can move on to the next priority tasks. We're saying 'Ignore the 95% for now', and 'Ignore the 95% except as they affect performance on the Top Tasks'.
But we can't ignore those other tasks!
In truth, it's impossible to ignore the 95% of lower-priority user tasks completely, so in part 2 of this article we shall refine this web strategy - but still on one chart!
Related articles and references
Ten years ago, Jakob Nielsen identified 'Anything that looks like advertising' as one of the top ten web design mistakes. In his research, he had found that users were ignoring content that appeared to look like advertising. In a recent usability testing project, we found this same behaviour was seriously reducing top task performance.
We always advise clients to bring their top tasks onto the home page so that users can start those tasks right away. In this project, the client’s redesigned site appeared to meet those criteria. Links and content to start top tasks were right on the home page. Yet usability participants were slow to complete or couldn’t complete those top tasks. They went off into the menus without appearing to even SEE some of those home page items.
Sometimes, the usability participants would exclaim in surprise when they finally noticed those links on the home page. When we probed on those exclamations, some users said that they had categorized those design elements as ‘marketing’ – others didn’t know why they hadn’t noticed them. Our participants’ avoidance of ad-like content was so ingrained that they weren’t even conscious of it themselves! Without usability testing, the design team couldn’t have predicted this behaviour because they knew the purpose of the links and thought the links were highly salient.
On our client’s proposed home page, those top task links were located in a narrow column on the right side of the page. Think about where ads appear on most sites, and you’ll understand what was happening. We’d already tried out an effective solution to that problem in an iterative round of testing with another client. That solution is simple: wider columns.
The links in that right column were also located inside brightly-coloured boxes. Attention-getting colors and graphic boxes tend to be associated with … you guessed it. .. advertising. So the top tasks now had a double-whammy – they were on the far right – and in coloured boxes. In our testing, we've seen that graphic boxes have a negative impact on usability. Task performance usually improves when the colour and box-effects are toned down, and the links themselves get the focus.
In addition to the top tasks in the boxes on the right being ignored, the client’s site had another usability problem. They needed their members to support top projects by sending in petition-like forms. To draw attention to those top stories, the design had a large photo in the center, with a text link to the story. Sounds good, right? Except that there wasn’t just one story, there were two. So the photos were animated – after a few seconds, the photo rolled off to the right and the other moved in. Video recordings of the usability sessions show the cursor moving over the photo as participants wonder aloud how they’ll find the story. Animations are one of the ad-like design elements that Nielsen identified ten years ago, and based on this study, that association still exists today.
These kinds of usability issues are not identified by showing web pages to people and asking them for their opinions. They only surface when you ask users to carry out real tasks on your website in a usability test. With our experience, we can also identify most of these types of issues in our Expert Reviews, which we recommend prior to a usability test.
If you need help identifying or improving the usability of your top tasks, give us a call at (613) 271-3001 or 1 (866) 232-8522.
Related links & articles
World Usability Day is November 12th. To celebrate, the experts of Neo Insight offer you a confidential, FREE one-hour expert review of your website, application, or product!
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Quote of the month
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of many of the things we haven’t done as the things we have done.”
If you have any comments on The Insighter, or ideas on usability topics you'd like to hear about, send us an email.
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