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Beyond Usability
Usability. Big buzz word these days, and if you ask me, it’s about time! It’s just amazing how many sites get it wrong, and by how much - and that includes new sites going up every day. If you plan to succeed out there, you gotta pay attention to usability, and there’s a TON of great info out there now (so shame on the people who keep ignoring it).


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After being neglected for years, suddenly people are talking about it like they’ve found the Holy Grail or something. It’s become the latest new tune on the block, “Get usability right and all your e-commerce problems are over.” Hate to break it to ya, but usability is not the end; it's simply a big step in the right direction. Usability by itself only reduces your customers’ frustration level. That’s important, of course, but still a far cry from guiding your customers into doing what they want to do and you want them to do: buying. Try getting Usability to say, “May I take your order?" or, “What colors do you prefer?” or, “Would you like to use VISA or MasterCard?”

For all the stuff on “usability this” and “usability that” these days, it actually it isn't all that easy to find a definition of usability out there. I guess some writers think we're just supposed to know what it means. Internet Business Network does offer a definition. Succinctly, "Usability means ease of use." Connecting Online offers a more value-laden meaning: "the quality of enabling your users' productivity." To be sure, Connecting Online understands the online business world's general confusion when it comes to usability:

Many businesses today look at Web site usability like a foreign object that crash-landed from outer space into their backyards [hey, lots of great things come from outer space! -The Grok]. They've poked and prodded at it, trying to figure out just what it is. Most businesses aren't accustomed to adapting their communications to how their audiences interact with them.ii

Make your website easy for your visitors to use, and they'll become more proficient users. But if you want them to become customers, you have to think beyond usability. Think of it like taking a road trip. Usability gets rid of the obstacles to driving: the potholes, the bad signage, the dead ends. It makes it easy for your customers to go places comfortably, smoothly, with minimal interruption, but it can't intrinsically tell them where they ought to be going much less how to get to where they want to go in the quickest, easiest way.

You don't just want your customers to take any road. You want them focused on a destination: buying. And you want them to take the road that leads them to, and through, buying what they want in a way that is not only quick and easy but also comfortable and delightful. To accomplish this, you not only have to remove the obstacles, you must also guide, encourage, persuade, influence and motivate your customers in a specific direction. That you accomplish through Information Architecture, layout, choice and function of graphics and icons, applying your understanding of consumer psychology, embodying a systematic selling process into your site design, remembering AIDAS (see our archives), and at least as important, choosing powerful and compelling words. Your web copy matters a whole lot more, and your web graphics matter a whole lot less, than most designers and developers would have you believe.

So do your usability stuff, and do it well. But you can’t stop there or your customers will cruise around easily but aimlessly, until they finally leave. You still have to do one more thing: sell them!

i Internet Business Network, <http://www.interbiznet.com/capabilities/form.html>
ii "The Future Just Ain't What it Used to Be: Innovation and Usability." Connecting Online, <http://www.connectingonline.com/articles/980617a.html>.

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E-Business the Old Fashioned Way?
The other day I made a not-so-nice comment to someone, and the guy was none too pleased. My buddy Bryan nudged me, winked, and said, "How to win friends and influence people, huh, Grok?" I raised one of my many eyebrows questioningly. "Dale Carnegie. 1937," came his reply. Turns out it’s not simply one of those sayings that have entered mainstream speech; it’s the name of a book. A runaway best seller, in fact, since its first publication. The granddaddy of people skills books.

At our offices we talk non-stop about "e-business the old-fashioned way." What we mean is that success in e-tailing depends on building solid relationships with live human beings, just like in the real world. We are fanatical about this idea (you have noticed, haven't you?), even though it’s hardly revolutionary. You see, Carnegie wrote about the same stuff 63 years ago with an understanding that will never be outdated.

So I got to musing on how Carnegie's thoughts could improve how you manage your web business.

How to Win Friends and Influence People has sold over 15 million copies worldwide. It’s been translated into a bunch of other languages (I’ve offered to do the Martian translation - expecting a callback any day now), and it’s still in print, as timeless now as it was when it first came out. Read it!

Carnegie believed financial success was due 15 percent to professional knowledge and 85 percent to "the ability to express ideas, to assume leadership, and to arouse enthusiasm among people." That's the stuff of retail dreams and the goal of any e-business. You don't just want someone to arrive at your site. You want them to arrive, experience a sensation of "Wow! Oh boy! At last!" And you want every tiny bit of your site to reinforce their sense of delight at having discovered you. Think of seeing Disneyland or walking into a Sam's Club for the first time. Awesome, huh? That's what you want to shoot for when it comes to arousing enthusiasm.

But “Wow on arrival” is hardly enough. Everything about the shopping process, up to and including service after the sale, must continue to knock your customers out. Remember, this is a sales environment where the customer is completely in control. Talk about the need to influence!

The wise Mr. Carnegie observed, "Remember that a man's name is, to him, the sweetest and most important sound."

"Personalization" is a big deal these days. Humans are far more likely to open personalized e-mail, are more likely to open these messages first, and are more likely to read the content (presuming it has something of real value to them and is well-written). But that’s true only if the use of their names makes sense in context, and is a name the person would normally respond to. Since you can't get face-to-face with your potential customers, including their names seems a reasonable marketing compromise. But suppose a visitor fills out information that includes her name (Ms. Samantha Frances Jenkins) and then starts receiving personalized promotional stuff or newsletters that start with, "Dear Ms. Samantha Frances Jenkins." How warm and fuzzy does that sound? Not very. Especially if nobody except the guy behind the counter at Motor Vehicle ever calls her that. The end result to you (if you are the culprit here) is that unless your site is phenomenally spectacular, Ms. Samantha Frances Jenkins is going to be repelled by your phoniness, which will most likely influence her never to return.

If you subscribe to this newsletter, you might have noticed it arrives in your inbox with your name included in the subject line. Hopefully, it catches your attention because it is a name you like to be called. How does that happen? Because the clever folks who manage my mail have asked you how you like to be addressed. This may seem like small stuff, but it is one of those things Carnegie says makes a huge difference in the pursuit of Winning-and-Influencing.

"Talk in terms of the other man's interests." Another of Mr. Carnegie’s nuggets of wisdom.

Folks around here call it, "Your favorite radio station: WIIFM," or "What's in it for me?" (Check out the archives - I have a whole article on this.) Carnegie says you can make someone want to do what you want them to do by looking at the situation from their point of view and "arousing in the other person an eager want." You are dead in the water if you can't do this with your online customers. Why? Because e-commerce by definition is consumer-centered. You may think you call the shots, but that's an illusion. Your customers do.

As you’ve heard me say before, the average conversion rate of e-shoppers to buyers, well, sucks. In the bricks-and-mortar world, where no one assumes expertise on the part of the customer and everyone focuses on the sales process and making the environment shopper-centered, conversion rates run about 48%. On the web? It’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.75%. That means at least 98% of your visitors leave without making a purchase (and by the way, about 75% of them tried to buy from you, but got frustrated, bailed, and will never come back.). And of those who do buy, only 10% return to buy again. Can you say, “Big losses”?

To make a success of your web-business, you have to Win-and-Influence by turning your This-Is-How-I-Run-My-Business-Like-It-Or-Not equation around. Give your visitors what they want; it’s the only way you can get what you want. And remember, people rationalize their purchases based on facts, but they make their purchases based on feelings. Plus, shoppers aren’t just bodies carrying credit cards. They are “holistic” beings whose experiences, beliefs, and values have a big influence on when, what, and also from whom they will buy. You can provide the missing link in e-commerce by engaging your shoppers' values and feelings and create a HUGE win-win!

"Let the other man do a great deal of the talking."

One of the coolest things I’ve noticed about humans is that they always have opinions. And they usually aren't shy about expressing them … they want to express them! So don’t just give them the opportunity via the teeny type at the bitter bottom of your web page that says "Send comments to whocares@notus.com.Encourage feedback. Provide a forum for it. Ask questions that require more than yes/no answers. Get them talking. They’ll do it anyway, whether you like it or not, so why not support it and learn from it?

Not only does this help you discover areas that need improvement and also get some great ideas, but it also means your potential clients will feel less like they've been talked into anything (even if they have). More important, this strategy touches other deep-rooted psychological needs like wanting to feel part of something. When we ask for and use their feedback, we "let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers." Helping them feel they are partners in the process promotes lots of good will.

You are looking for that competitive edge in the web-world, right? So think about what achieving that edge entails. And don’t forget: you're a customer, too! How do you like being treated? How do you like being addressed? What gets your engines revving with excitement? Between your own understanding of the consumer experience and the priceless wisdom of geniuses like Dale Carnegie, you've got the critical elements for winning friends and influencing people even on the web. Can you say, “Nice profits”?

click here for a printable version of this whole article 

GROK is taken from the landmark novel "Stranger in a Strange Land", by Robert A. Heinlein. It is a Martian word that implies the presence of intimate and exhaustive knowledge and understanding. Our "GROK" is a keen observer of the world around him and he takes a particular interest in the World Wide Web. The folks at Future Now like him a lot because he's taught them that "sometimes the price of clarity is the risk of insult."

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