Friday, March 14, 2008

Closing the Communication Loop

Usability testing needs a feedback component ...

"When our online service channels fail to meet the needs of our customers, if we’re lucky, customers will resort to an alternative channel to get the assistance they need. In doing so, our customers offer us the potential of gaining rich insights into their needs and mental models. Feedback forms, complaints, call center logs—all of these tell us valuable information about customers’ failed interactions.

It’s in the nature of user experience work that we really begin to understand the success of our designs only after a project goes live. We minimize the risk of a complete failure by using iterative design methods and carrying out usability testing at various stages of the implementation. Whether we follow user-centered design or activity-centered design or even agile development methods, there is a certain element of uncertainty about the quality of the finished result until it hits the production servers.

What usability testing won’t necessarily tell us are the ways in which an application fails to meet users’ expectations—whether by way of missing information, missing features or functions, or things that simply fail that most pragmatic of tests: could users be bothered?
Lessons Learned for a Site Redesign

A few years back, I was involved in the redesign of a Web site for a consumer electronics company. The existing site was considered to be a success, but had passed its use-by date. Internal stakeholders felt the site was visually tired, but otherwise working fairly well to support the company’s offline activities.

During the initial research work I undertook on the redesign project, I had the opportunity to interview the customer service manager in charge of the company’s call center. She told me how busy the call center had become over the previous two years, as the sales of the company’s product lines increased. They were handling just over 300,000 calls a year at the time of my research.

I was interested in learning what sorts of problems had triggered so many phone calls and set about reviewing a month’s worth of call issue logs to look for patterns. What turned up was surprising. Approximately 40% of all calls derived from one of two questions:

* Where can I purchase X product?
* I have X product. Where can I get it repaired?

A further 15% of calls related to requests for copies of operating manuals, lost during a house move or thrown out by mistake.

When I brought these issues to the company management, they were surprised. They maintained a database of retail outlets and authorized service centers that the call center used in answering customer enquiries. Similarly, the company’s technical officers maintained a repository of manuals and other documentation. What was more surprising to me was that all of this information was already available on the company’s Web site. It was just very, very hard to locate. But instead of improving the site’s information architecture, the company was increasing the call center’s staff.

As a short-term measure, the company decided to add a message to the on-hold music on the call center phone lines, informing callers that information about where to buy its products and the location of its service centers was available through the Web site. However, rather than reducing the number of phone calls, the incidence of complaints increased as frustrated customers took the opportunity to vent.

Taking a step back, it was painfully clear that the audience for the site was looking for the information on the site, failing to find it, then picking up the phone as their fall-back. So promoting the visibility of the company’s retailers and authorized service centers became priority number one for the site redesign project.

The redesign resulted in a reduction of around 25% in the total volume of calls to the call center—despite increases in product sales. A review of page view data and database query logs highlighted the success of this project, showing a proportional increase in traffic to the areas of the site containing these high-volume information targets."    (Continued via UXmatters)    [Usability Resources]

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