Posted by: communicationcloud | September 16, 2011

Information is valuable

Giving people the information they want and presenting it in a way they can use increases revenue from websites. This doesn’t feel like a particularly insightful statement, but a 2010 report by Forrester on research commissioned by Adobe illustrates that it’s one that not all businesses manage to act on.

The report includes examples of where websites were hampering customers researching their product, through navigation, types of information, layout and general quality not being optimised – with the result that the companies were losing sales. Improved information resulted in improved sales:

  • A company that simplified descriptions of subscriptions and billing options in its subscription process increased conversion by 300%.
  • A merchant that added an online tool to let users browse products by fit saw orders increase by 160%.

You can get the report here: (http://cem.solutions.adobe.com/forms/002567_004; free to download, but there’s a form to fill in)

Interestingly, the research found that not only is the likelihood to purchase affected by poor customer experience in this research phase … but also the likelihood to recommend you or buy from you again. So what information you give, and how you make it available have an effect that’s much wider ranging than just the point at which the customer is first finding out about you and your products.

The research phase

From a customer experience point of view, I find the research phase interesting. In many cases, your “customers” aren’t actually customers yet – they’re still just potential customers – and yet they’re making judgements about what it’s like to be a customer of your business already. They might know of your reputation for fantastic customer service or have a recommendation of one of your products already. Then again, they might not. So the information and tools you present them with at this stage of trying to understand your product are going to form and important part of the judgements they make about whether yours is a company they want to do business with.

The Forrester report confirms that product research is a crucial phase in dealing with customers. And yet the information and tools available to customers at this stage are usually designed to maximise persuasion … often with accidental adverse effects on clarity. The result? Mixed-messages for your potential customers?

How does your product information reflect your values?

So, what do the information and research tools you make available to customers researching your products say about whether you’re trustworthy, whether you value your customers, and whether you are committed to high quality service?

I’m not suggesting that somewhere at the top of your site you should be making statements about these values. That’s not uncommon at all, and I’m afraid I have no insight to share on whether it’s a successful tactic. What I’m trying to get at is: Are the words you say about how usable/high-quality/fantastic your product is – and how much you value your customers – backed up by the experiences your customers are having of understanding your product?

For example, if you are committed to high quality service, then make your knowledge base available and accessible and make sure your “contact us” page actually tells customers how to contact you. If you’re trustworthy, then be clear about what your products can – and can’t – do, instead of hiding them behind flourishes of adjectives and jargon.

I found Clued In a useful this book for starting to think about this.

The basics of information design…

Information design begins by considering the context and purpose of the information. To support customers in the research phase, you need to think about what your customers are trying to find out … and design information and tools to enable them (n.b. this might be different from your purposes for the information – e.g. to persuade ). All the usual basics of information design apply – though your thought processes need to extend beyond single pieces of information, out to all the touch-points your customers have with you and your products in this phase.

And while I’m on the topic of online information, a personal rant: your customers are NOT going to read every word on every page of your website or whatever other literature you present them with. Unless your site only has 100 words, perhaps. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t provide detailed information on your site … just that you should be realistic in your expectations about who will read it, and when. (If you’re not convinced on this, here’s a summary of some research that confirms it: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/page-abandonment-time.html ) Rant over.

The value of your information

Researching products and services involves customers in a complex investigative process, filtering and scanning to find what they want. And along the way they’re making plenty of value judgements and responding emotionally to the experience they’re having of dealing with this interface with your business. The Adobe/Forrester research suggests there’s a lot of value in companies rethinking what they’re doing to support customers with this process.

[Update: there’s an interesting article about how McKinsey are currently thinking about the role ifn information in the purchase process here: http://www.michielgaasterland.com/pr-2-0/smarter-marketing-don%E2%80%99t-advertise-help-inform/]

[Another update! More thoughts on the role of learning in the purchase process: http://www.alistapart.com/articles/the-ux-of-learning/]

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