Good Product Manager has a good article about delivering customer value versus delivering a lot of features.
I’m going to go one further: sometimes it’s about a lot of small features instead of doing one large feature.
Example: when I was working at Escrow.com, the application was receiving a lot of bad reviews by the users, and the customer service department was working 20 or so overtime hours a week. I did an analysis of the customer service emails, and found that a full 20 percent of the emails and calls were related to the URLs in the emails — they were too long. All we had to do was design shorter URLs.
Two days of work by the developer, and in three weeks, the overtime was gone.
Over the next few months, we did a lot of small changes, like rewriting the customer service emails, making small improvements in the application, making small user interface tweaks. None of them took more than a couple of days, but over the long haul, we saw month to month improvements in both conversion rates and revenue generated. The return customers doubled, because they found the site to be easier to use.
This was all done without spending any marketing dollars.
We did do a redesign four months later, but the design was based on the small changes and user feedback collected from emails and focus groups selected from our more frequent users. They told us to make small changes, because it was the details that made it a better user experience.
Think small, then big. If you have to think big, there should be a big reason to justify it.
What are your success stories?
TechCrunch has a really good article about the FaceBook platform, one year later.
It’s a rather long article, so I’ll summarize for the reading impared.
MySpace is actually doing a good job on limiting some of the issues that FaceBook never learned from — it’s not as easy to spam on MySpace because they are throttling the commenting and messaging — so being the second mover isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The applications are also a better fit for MySpace because it’s “teenager’s bedroom” nature of the design and user interface.
A few articles of note:
I flew Virgin America on the advice of a friend, and it was the best decision I’ve made in a while.
Everything was a great customer experience — I was able to upgrade my seats easily through their customer service department, the flights were great, they were on time, the food was off the charts (okay, it was First Class, but I’ve flown First Class before, and they never had anything like what they served), and best of all…
I forgot I was on a plane. I hate flying not because I don’t think it’s unsafe (I think it’s very safe), but because the experience is such a nightmare. Crowded seats, limited entertainment options, the feeling that I’m just wasting a few hours of my life, none of that was happening here.
On top of it, the media entertainment system is great. I had actually seen it years ago before they launched the airline through a friend, so I had a good idea of what they were doing, but still, it was really easy to use, and provided some great options without me having to reach for a credit card. They got it.
Thank you, Virgin America, and I’m not just saying this because you can follow their twitter feed, either. I will fly you again, and tell all my friends.
This is more or less in response to comments about the limits application developers are having to deal with in building for the MySpace platform. As outlined in a few posts that were out there during my vacation, some of the application developers are providing “incentives” to users to spam their friends through bulletins and the like. Seriously, it’s annoying, because some of the inboxes of accounts I have for testing over there are filling up.
After talking with some of the MySpace platform folks (I’ve designed some MySpace Applications, and was/still am involved with the developer platform yo a certain extent), it’s dramatically increased the amount of mail being sent through the system, and end users are complaining in a big way, because there’s been no stop to the torrent of messages from applications.
This is a message to the developers: if you want the applications to be viral, build great applications that people want to use and spread.
Buy Your Friends is a good application, but it was (and still is) abusing the system. Still, it’s fun, and they’ve done a good job spreading it. Offering enticements to get more people to install it is not the best way to play fair.
Somehow complaining about the rules seems pointless because MySpace’s objective is extend the platform, not extend the spam. They’re looking for developers to come up with great ideas that will turn MySpace into a better site and, in turn, generate more ad views. The whole point is to keep users there longer, and if it’s done with some of these applications, the objective has been satisfied. If there is an application that provides real value, they’ll give you a bit of leeway.
So far, it’s worked. They’re telling me that traffic is way up. You can also bet they’re also working on ways to share the wealth (I would at least hope so) so the application developers will go beyond the usual “poke me” applications and build something better. I know we’re working on better applications.
But somehow complaining about the rules being too restrictive because you are trying to take advantage of the system is the same as saying to a police officer, “hey, I know I was speeding, but everyone is doing it.” It’s not a valid complaint.
The point: Don’t abuse it if you want it around for a while, especially if it’s a free service.
I’ve been trying to install Yahoo! Music Unlimited on a friend’s computer for quite a while now, and finally, we just gave up. We found out that Yahoo! was discontinuing service soon to Canadians (the friend is Canadian), and figured it was time to move to Rhapsody, even though Rhapsody’s a few more dollars more. The point is, it was a rather frustrating experience, and part of the reason why Yahoo! is doing poorly — most of their services are rather frustrating.
There are no screen shots because I couldn’t install the software. Additionaly, there was no clear indication that the service was going to be discontinued for her.
Here’s what I would have done to make the service easier:
Tested the software on many platforms with many states of other application installs. One of the mistakes that many Windows developers make is they never test if for a typical install — which is when users install tons of applications, many of them of suspect quality, before installing your application. The developers always insist on a clean install of Windows, and how many of us have a clean install?
Put a “download software here” link somewhere on the site. If you go to Yahoo Music Unlimited now, there’s no explanation of what software you need to make it work — they just have a bunch of links to try this software now, which is entertaining, because they are about to kill the offering completely. The answer is that you have to download the Yahoo Music Jukebox, which I assume is a fine piece of software, except…
If the software doesn’t install, there should be an easy way to contact customer support for help. There was no install log, no click here if the software isn’t installing. Finding any answers at all on the Yahoo! website is a frustrating experience, and it took me upwards of two days to figure out that I should be contacting customer support. Additionally, there are seemingly three or four separate customer support contact screens, further confusing the issue.
Browser experiences are hard enough, but especially with applications, usability of said application is very important, especially when it’s an install of a paid service. Open source or shareware software, I could see less support — however, this is Yahoo, and the assumption is they are making some money off of this.
Q: How many usability people does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Four and a random third person. One to complain about the bulb, one to complain about the light-holder, one to complain about the way the bulb has to be changed and one to write a note stating how the next person entering the room should change the light-holder, which bulb to use and how it should be done.
Stolen from WebWord.
A few from Alexis Antonelli:
So for some of you out there, you are probably wondering why the Twitter update box is the last thing you see on the right. Twitter has been having scalability issues lately, so thousands of blogs (like my own) have been showing a big blank space.
I’m not particularly upset about it, because it’s a free service, but reading some of the updates from friends, they are.
Well, what do you expect? You aren’t paying for it.
We should never complain about a free service. We should complain about stuff that we pay for (i.e. software). It’s like talking about how much MySpace’s or Facebook’s user interface doesn’t support the user. Of course it doesn’t support the user, the site is for the advertisers.
That begs the question — would you pay for Twitter? Those servers and text messages cost money, so someone’s paying for it. And that’s the big question most of the “free” services have: how do you make enough money to keep the doors open without pissing off your constituency or driving traffic to competitors, some of which have figured out a way to be smaller but more profitable.
Read: Google Maps vs. MapQuest.
Google Maps is sort of free to a certain level, because advertisements display and they don’t charge to use the API unless you generate a ton of traffic like Yelp (note to developers, add that to your business plan).
MapQuest isn’t free, and they make more money even though there isn’t nearly the traffic as Google.
Free to the user isn’t a business model in all cases, and in some cases, a more usable product is actually a less profitable product.
Honestly, I’d pay a couple of bucks a month to keep twitter going because I like the idea of it being a web service. There really is no advertising model there, because the messages are so short, and since it’s mainly a web service, it shouldn’t have too much advertising.
Nick Dynice has a great rant about design and usability, and some of the points — like we should expect more — are rightfully so. Read on…
A quote from a comment to the post: “The price customers pay for software and the level of usability they get with that software is inversely proportional.”
Flash is overused, but this is a good article on the best uses of Flash. Some of the points are pretty much, “duh.”
Look at the Caller ID on your phone, and don’t recognize the number? Caller Complaints is a community policed database of phone numbers that are basically telemarketers. The Digg style complaint rating is very, very cool.
I’m going to start reviewing the applications of MySpace I come across that I think have some value. Most of them have a serious fun factor — did you really think any of them were going to be actually useful — but there are a few of them that truly extend the profile.
Not all applications are about usefulness: Pokey is this great little animation of your own little pet on your home page. The dog fetches frisbies, digs up bones, needs to eat. There’s a definate fun factor here, and the animation is one of the best I have seen for a while.
Don’t pay enough attention, the dog barks. Go away for a long time, the dog sleeps. Feed the dog, and a bag of dog food appears (I hope they are charging Science Diet for showing the bag and logo). It’s cute, but I don’t think it has a ton of lasting power.
It’s easy and fun to use, but there are no viral functions to the application — it just seems people just add the application through the application gallery, and you would think they could use the dog to send messages.
There are no monetization applications for this now. We’ll see where it goes.
Application rating (1 to 5, 5 being highest):
One of the forgotten facets of User Experience is that User Experience is everything on the website — the writing, the usability. It’s also if the site works from a functionality standpoint, and if there are system issues that don’t allow the user to complete a task, that’s a poor User Experience.
I ran into an issue at the Virgin America site — I tried to upgrade a seat from a premium to first class at check-in (which, by the way, is only a $50 upgrade on the day of the flight). My friends have been recommending the airline, so I decided to give it a try, because the price wasn’t much different than Alaska.
The issues were:
Testing of a site is especially important if the site is an e-commerce site, like Virgin America, because it directly hits the bottom line. It’s all about ROI, baby.
The one usability issue I saw with the site was the color of the buttons (actually, the lack of color):
That continue button is really hard to spot. I would have made it dark gray (all the positives that color), to move the user along). The placement of the buttons was correct (positive to the right).
I do know that this site was designed by an agency (they were probably built the site also, and most agencies don’t have a lot of technical talent). Sometimes the look of a site should not take precidence over the usability of the site, especially when it comes to buttons.
On a good note, Virgin America honored the upgrade and did a wonderful job with their customer service, and the website had one important link — a mail to — so I could email the issue to their web team. I commend them for doing things the right way!
Patrick Neeman is a Sr. User Experience Director and formerly a UX Instructor at General Assembly in Seattle, WA.
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