ChannelLife NZ - Online relations: the user experience

Warning: This story was published more than a year ago.

Online relations: the user experience

We’ve all heard about the recession, haven’t we? In fact, we’ve been beaten on the head with it,  ambushed by it jumping out from under the bed, even doorknocked by it trying to give us a Gospel – there’s no escaping it... or is there?

When the going gets tough, you need to identify the competitive advantage. One way to escape the recession, or  at least sidestep it, is to sell online more than last year, because the costs of selling online are lower. By paying  attention to your customers’ online experience and making it worth their while to interact with you  online, you can make another dollar for less than before.

The user experience segment of the industry, which advises businesses on how to do a better job  communicating with their customers and business partners, has therefore done fairly well out of that damned Recession.

‘User experience’, or ‘usability’, refers to the way an understanding of how people interact with a product or a  system can enhance the quality of their experience. ‘Usability’ is how easily people can learn to use a product like a website to achieve their goals, and how satisfied they are with that process.

We all know that a successful web presence is an important indicator of economic growth in the emerging  knowledge economy. It is increasingly true that getting your business wrong in cyberspace means getting it  wrong, full stop. And user experience is particularly important online, where your customers can soon be in  someone else’s store with a click of their mouse button.

So despite the recession, there seems to be plenty of interest in improved transactional interfaces, online  inventory management, B2B and B2C selling, and investor relations communication. These are the aspects of  competitive business advantage where the online environment really can make traditional ‘stuff’ cheaper.

But don’t take my word for it.

Peter Merholz is one of those clever-clogs that the internet is stuffed with. He’s the one who coined the term  ‘blog’. He works as an experience strategist, no less, and he clearly knows what time it is. So much so that he recently blurted out on his own blog on the Harvard Business Publishing website something that I’ve suspected  for some time: “It’s in difficult economic times that customer experience matters most”.

Merholz cites as evidence a New York Times business news story, in which we learn that Sprint Nextel is the  third largest wireless internet provider in the US and surprise, they’re losing customers; 1.3 million in the last  quarter, in fact. That’s because there’s a recession, right? Wrong. Because we also learn that the number one  and two providers, AT&T and Verizon, gained 3.5 million customers between them at the same time.

Merholz found his explanation in Forrester’s 2008 Customer Experience Index. This survey ranks 114 large firms by means of customer evaluations of their usefulness, ease of use and ‘enjoyability’; in other words, their ‘user experience’. Consulting this index, Merholz found that Sprint enjoyed a ranking of 108th of 114, while the  other two are a respectable 59th and 64th. Voila! The recession is clearly no obstacle to companies who  take their customers seriously.

Bruce Russell lectures at Christchurch Polytechnic, where he is the program leader in the Graduate    Diploma of Information Design. Heconsults on user-centred design with Wired Internet Group.
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