eCHANNEL: Turn Online Buyer

Posted: 11/2002

Turn Online Buyer
Frustration into Instant Gratification

Optimizing Online Sales
Part 2

By Dr. Bonny Brown and Dr.
Anthony Bastardi

three-part series, telecommunications sites suffer from classic usability
problems in that they often are not designed from the end-user’s perspective.
While site designs often achieve high aesthetic standards, they fall short on
clear communication and usability.

This usability shortfall is
evidenced by failure and frustration exhibited by panelists participating in
Vividence Corp.’s research, as they attempt to complete standard tasks on
telecommunications Web sites. Following are a collection of recurrent customer
frustrations that can be addressed through improved customer experience research
and site design efforts.

Frustration: Poor Communication.
Telecommunications sites often use vague language and marketing hype to describe
service offerings. They also have a tendency to use jargon that can only be
understood by those inside the company. Instead, they should clearly communicate
to the user the specific benefits of the offerings and any other relevant

* Concrete Language. First
and foremost, Web sites should use concrete language in guiding customers
through the site and in describing all tabs, links and headers on the site. The
Web is not a place for clever marketing verbiage that takes extra time to
decipher. People are not viewing a Web site passively, the way they might view a
piece of advertising; they are using the Web to accomplish a goal of finding
specific information. Anything that slows them down or distracts them from this
pursuit is likely to be experienced as a frustration. For example, rather than
having a tab vaguely labeled with "Get the scoop," a concrete label
such as "All about 3G" is much more helpful in directing the user to
the end goal of finding information.

* Comparability. Customers
use the Web for comparison shopping, and the more proactively a site can present
the relevant information in ways conducive to comparison, the more likely a
consumer will see the advantages that a company has over competitors.

* Organization. The easiest
way to compare plans, offerings and phones is to see bulleted lists of features
and concrete benefits. People are scanning for this information and often are
frustrated at the extra effort required to find and organize the information

* Comprehensiveness.
Customers often express that they see a company’s Web site as the ultimate and
official authority on a product, and feel it should be the most up-to-date and
most comprehensive information the company offers. Web sites are a scalable way
to present all of the critical details that are important to consumers. Yet,
often details that would make a difference are not spelled out to the customer.
Through hypertext, levels of detail can be hidden until needed or presented only
at the time questions regarding them would come up in a consumer’s mind. For
example, details such as how billing for "anytime" minutes are handled
for different time zones, or what kind of home wiring is required for
self-installation of DSL are critical and need to be available on the
appropriate product pages as well as through a search engine query.

Frustration: Lack of Online
A frequent reason given by consumers as to why they would go to
a company’s Web site is that they want to see if there are any special online
promotions not available in stores. Despite this, many customers report
difficulty finding, comparing and signing up for special promotions. Promotions
should be easy to find from the home page, and should also be clearly delineated
while researching specific plans/comparisons on the site.

Frustration: Product Bundles That
Don’t Match Customer Needs.
A recent development in telecom offerings is to
bundle various information services that have previously been sold separately,
such as local, long-distance and high-speed Internet access services. The
benefits of bundling these services need to be clearly communicated to
consumers. People assume that they will get price breaks or added convenience to
consider purchasing such bundles, and they are turned off if they find out that
there are no financial or convenience-oriented benefits.

* Clarity. The main benefit
to bundles that consumers see is the convenience of one bill. However, a common
customer complaint is that they find the online billing options confusing. For
example, customers have viewed "auto pay" features with suspicion,
rather than seeing it as an easier way to manage their accounts and avoid late
fees. If convenient billing is one of the major benefits of bundled services,
then the site’s billing features must deliver this value.

* The Right Combination.
Bundles need to be thoroughly tested to determine whether they meet the needs of
the targeted market segments. Generally, people prefer product bundles since
they serve to organize various features into packages that are easy to compare
and contrast. However, the bundles need to make sense and provide appealing
value/price trade-offs. The value of comparability is maximized when bundles
show a straightforward progression of increased overall value, such as
"basic," "gold" and "platinum" type packages. The
values of simplicity and comparability are lost, however, if the bundles are
organized around lifestyle themes, such as "business professional,"
"staying in touch with friends and family," etc., and offer a complex
research challenge for target customer segments to determine whether the bundles
truly satisfy their needs.

* Built to Order.
"Create-your-own" options allow consumers to create their own bundles
from an a la carte menu of features and offerings. These options are popular
when customers are researching packages because they provide a way for people to
determine whether the fixed bundles represent price breaks. People tend to
explore the various packages to better understand the value of various options,
and to create a plan that consists of options that are important to them and
void of services they will not use. Again, the more the Web site can help users
understand the value of the offerings and how they can get the best deal for
their needs, the more likely consumers will find the information they need to
make a purchase decision.

Frustration: Inadequate
Self-Service Capabilities.
One area that can capture users and keep them
coming back to the site frequently is the convenience of online self-service
features, such as paying bills, checking account balances, checking minutes
used, and contact database storage and transfer. These capabilities must be easy
to set up and use, or customers may never discover the convenience of these
added features. Once self-service capabilities are established and users are in
the habit of coming to the site frequently to manage their account, such
features will discourage customers from switching to competitor services because
they have invested themselves into the features of the site.

Although these services promise
great convenience, unless well implemented they can prove frustrating and can
potentially cause additional costly customer support phone calls. For example,
passwords are notorious stumbling blocks for customers. Automatic logins and
easy password-retrieval processes can reduce frustration and help deliver a
positive customer experience.

As with all Web design, the only way
to know whether the site is meeting the needs of the customers and effective in
furthering company goals is to evaluate the site with current and potential
customers and get their feedback. In part three, we will look at establishing a
Web strategy checklist.

Dr. Bonny Brown is director of
research for Vividence Corp., a provider of customer experience management
solutions. She is an experimental social psychologist with more than 10 years of
experience in both qualitative and quantitative research in psychology and human
computer interaction.

Dr. Anthony Bastardi is senior
research scientist for Vividence, overseeing quantitative analytics. He is an
experimental psychologist with more than 10 years of experience conducting
theoretical and applied research in cognitive and social psychology,
specializing in statistics.




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