Saturday, February 28, 2009

The User Experience Gap

You see the statistics and reports about how more companies are increasing their online ad budgets. You see the incredible growth of social media. And you see the high-levels of time spent online by all age groups (even among seniors!)

But what you don’t see are the steady improvements in Web site experiences you would expect considering these trends. For instance, last June Forrester Research published one of its many “Best and Worst” of site design reports.

This particular report focused on 16 B2C sites of companies across four industries: airlines, banks, department stores and MP3 manufacturers. All of the companies were brand names such as American Airlines, Apple, Bank of America and Macy’s (large companies with considerable resources).

Like most usability testing methodologies, Forrester’s approach evaluated basic site variables like presentation, content, functionality and task flow efficiency. What was remarkable about the test was that all 16 sites failed. And this wasn’t an anomaly, at least when using Forrester’s approach. In March 2007 Forrester submitted 16 different B2C sites to the same usability test. That time around 15 of 16 of the sites failed.,7211,45718,00.html

Which raises the question: if the Web is becoming more important to people in terms of the products they buy and services they use why aren’t companies committing the resources to deliver experiences that are commensurate with this growing prominence?

The short answer is that a lot of organizations are investing in improving their consumer sites but are finding that delivering exceptional Web experiences isn’t easy. This leads us to the long answer which is a bit more complicated.

In my opinion there are several reasons why companies fall short in this area. Some are related to organizational barriers and misguided marketing practices. Others have to do with the failure of some teams to use site design best-practices when planning their Web initiatives.

Organizational Barriers – many times the way a company is structured makes it difficult to generate consensus on a Web strategy and even more difficult to sustain it once implemented. Some common barriers include:

  • Highly distributed companies without a strong centralized corporate communications or marketing function
  • Companies with multiple lines of business with different value propositions and consumer audiences
  • Highly silioed organizations

Misguided Marketing Practices – many companies insist that customers are their most valued asset but some don’t walk the walk when it comes to planning their consumer facing Web sites. This is a result, I believe, of marketing practices that sometimes cause managers to focus on the wrong things:

  • Product features as opposed to consumer benefits
  • Product differentiation as opposed to consumer relevance
  • The assumption consumers are purely rational decision makers
  • Downplaying the emotional aspect of how consumers consider and evaluate brands
  • Underestimating the experiential dimensions of how consumers interact with brands on the Web

Failure to Use Web Design Best Practices – frequently Web teams short-cut critical activities that can make the difference between a decent and a great site. Sometimes this is because of tight timelines or limited budgets. A common result is a Web site that doesn’t meet the expectations of its visitors and is not set up for long term success:

  • Design personas to define the needs of various visitor “archetypes” that will come to a site. They are critical and help Web designers create experiences that are based on visitor, not organizational, needs
  • Cross-channel scenario maps to help Web planners consider the full context of how a site will complement other media channels and information sources as a consumer moves through a decision making process
  • Governance models to ensure a controlled approach to a site’s design, content and management as it evolves - without governance there is no way to say what changes should or should not be made to a site

The gap between consumer expectations and the state of most B2C Web sites presents an opportunity. To seize that opportunity managers need to take a hard look at consumer sites under their charge and ask themselves whether they deliver a unique and valuable experience for their intended audiences. If the answer is no it’s also likely that they are not adding much value to their brands and business stakeholders either.

No comments:

Post a Comment