I often find businesses that put far too much emphasis on driving traffic to their website and far too little emphasis on the user experience once someone reaches their site. This is backward thinking that fails to address the importance of converting online traffic into customers. Think about it. If you ran a store where your average sale was $100.00, would you rather have 100 people in your store if only 1 out of 20 made a purchase, or would you prefer to have 20 people in your store with 1 out of 3 making a purchase? In the first instance, you would look very busy but would be realizing only $500.00 in sales, whereas in the second instance, you would be generating more income while giving your customers greater attention and tremendously reducing your sales overhead.
Businesses that are engaged in online commerce have their fingers on the pulse of their customer base, easily detecting the difference between active customers and dead bodies. They know that, right until that last confirming click, a shopping cart may be abandoned and an order lost. For that reason, they know that they need to do everything possible to ensure that the end user experience is as smooth and flawless as possible. Any and every little hindrance along the way takes the customer one step closer to bailing out and shopping elsewhere.
There is a rule of thumb in the website design business that says “three clicks and they’re out”. This means that, if somebody enters a website and cannot find what they want (whether it is merchandise or simply an answer to a question) in 3 clicks or less, they are increasingly likely to leave the site … often never to return. On the same token, if a user is attempting to make a purchase – or make a reservation – but encounters roadblocks along the way, I believe that the same “three clicks and they’re out” rule of thumb applies. It is simply not as easy to monitor as an abandoned shopping cart.
Other than shopping carts themselves, probably the most frustrating online content involves pages that contain forms. Let’s face it: we all dislike filling out forms. Do you like going to your doctor’s office and being asked to complete the same 4 or 5 forms every time you have an appointment? Well, it is time to stop running your website like a doctor’s office! All campground websites either have or should have some type of reservation request form, but try to be sure that your forms are intuitive and follow some basic common sense rules.
- Do not ask for non-essential (or even intrusive) information. For example, I often see people asking for a “home phone number” at a time when about half of the population no longer subscribes to a landline telephone service
- If input is required for certain fields, let people know in advance (typically with an asterisk), not with an error message after users click “submit”.
- Design your forms to adapt to user preferences instead of demanding that users adapt to the forms. For example, if somebody enters their phone number as (123) 456-7890, they do not want to be told that they were wrong and must re-enter it as 123-456-7890 or 1234567890.
- Every form submission should be followed by some sort of receipt or confirmation. If you respond to a form via e-mail, use an address to which the customer can reply with any subsequent questions, never using a “do not reply” address.
- Personalize your responses. I recently placed an order with an online merchant who sent me a series of e-mails, all with the “Dear Valued Customer” salutation. Fail!
- Follow up on promises. If you tell people that you will respond to their inquiries within 24 hours, follow up on that commitment. The same merchant who addressed me as “Dear Valued Customer” had prominent notices throughout its website that promoted “Free Next Day Delivery via FedEx”; however, after placing my order, I received an order confirmation telling me that I could expect delivery in 7-10 days. Do you think that I will ever purchase from that company again? Not a double fail, a triple fail!
Keeping in mind the “three clicks and they’re out” rule of thumb, try not to violate these common sense usability rules. It is time for you to evaluate your website not as the business owner but as a potential customer. How many customers has your website driven away today? If your webmaster is not on board, fails to understand, or is anything less than fully committed to the end user experience, it may be time to shop around.
This post was written by Peter Pelland