Archive for the ‘Customer Service’ Category

Creature from the Blog Lagoon

November 6, 2007

It’s six days into NaBloPoMo, and already we’re five posts short. It happens.

Honestly, when I realized that we had missed the first few days of posting, I kicked myself, then slapped my forehead, then gnashed my teeth, then pulled my hair and begged forgiveness from the blogging gods.

I’m lying. I didn’t do anything but shrug my shoulders and think, “Eh, I’ll post something today.”

While I really like the idea of NaBloPoMo – and its more literary counterpart, NaNoWriMo – I don’t like the idea that a blog should be a big, scary burden hanging over your head and making your life harder.

Social media – and I count blogs in that group – are supposed to make your life easier and more enjoyable. They’re the digital versions of the campfire, the dinner table, the corner bar and the Main Street beauty salon all rolled into one.

Social media offer a meeting place, a place to connect with people who are important to you, and a place to find out what’s really going on in the world.

Not every organization should be using every social media tool. I mean, maybe my plumber is on Twitter, but it’s probably not generating a bunch of conversions for him. On the other hand, if he had a blog and he posted genuinely useful information such as how to solve easy problems that don’t really require his expertise (and are not a big moneymaker for him) or cool new products or what to do when your 2-year-old flushes a doll’s head down the toilet, I would go to it.

Would I subscribe? Maybe not, unless I were building a house and wanted really good product information. But I sure would go to it if I saw a headless doll floating on the guest bathroom floor.

And the fact that just having a blog increases the chances of your organization coming up in an organic search means everyone should have something.

But over and over we hear clients say they’re afraid to launch a blog – afraid of adding something extra to the workload. Afraid someone is going to make them sign up for NaBloPoMo.

Social media may be new. They may require a small learning curve in order to start using them. But they’re not scary. It’s just another way to offer your clients or customers something of value – and to remind them that you exist.

If you want to know more about starting a blog, using social media or how to remove a doll head from a toilet, contact me at etb@grafiqa.com or 607.433.8837 x206.

What Baby Strollers Can Teach Us About Web Site Usability

September 18, 2007

Not long ago, I was standing in a Babies R Us, searching for a travel stroller for my daughter. There were a lot to choose from but I managed to narrow the list of “contenders” down to the two that met my specifications for functionality, design and price.

The first stroller was a well-known “it” brand for well-heeled parents everywhere. I have to admit that it was slick-looking, and light. The only problem was that I couldn’t figure out how to open it. I spent 10 minutes trying to flip every lever, and find the page in the multi-lingual instruction book that supposedly told me how to do this. Finally I gave up, disgusted.

The second stroller, though still reasonable, was a less-popular brand and definitely less slick. Unlike the first, however, it was completely intuitive. Without reading any instructions, it was easy to figure out that the two little lever “thingamajigies” (technical term) on handle made the stroller fold down and from there, all one had to do to make it truly tiny was to fold it again in thirds.

I bought the second stroller.

Web sites are a lot like baby strollers when it comes to usability.

How often have you visited sites that are beautiful and technical…and impossible to use? You know the sites I’m talking about – the ones that contain navigation so technical that you can’t figure out how to make it work, or navigation names so clever that you’re not sure what to expect when you click on them? The worst offenders contain elaborate Flash movies, content or other elements that actually get in the way of your accessing the information you came to the site for in the first place.

The typical user, when faced with the challenge of having to figure out how to use a site in order to get what she wants, will abandon the effort and move on to the next site.

What’s a Web site owner to do? Here are a few quick tips:

  • Identify users’ goals for coming to the site. Why are they there? What do they want to accomplish before they leave? Note: This is not the same thing as what you want users to do on your site. Be honest with yourself and if you don’t know, try informally polling some of your typical users.
  • Make a clear path to that information or activity. Don’t make people think too hard (thank you Steve Krug) to find what they’re looking for and don’t present them with obstacles to overcome in order to access the information.
  • Conduct some informal user testing. Invite your mom, your yoga instructor, or better yet, a typical user (think, customer or prospect) to sit down and try to accomplish a task on your site while you silently watch. In fact, invite several people to do this. If you have usability problems, you’ll know right away.

While following these suggestions won’t solve all of your Web site’s problems, they’re a great first step to creating a site that’s easy to use, and ultimately, good for business.