August 2015 ~ Rule #1 - Respect Your Customers
August 2015 ~ Rule #1 - Respect Your Customers
What is the definition of a business? Answer: Someone with a customer.
Without customers, no business can survive. Many have tried and many have failed. Even with all the information about business success widely available, some businesses make the same mistakes over and over and over.
We have recently been reminded of the importance of respecting customers and listening to them. Companies who don’t listen do so at their peril.
When making major technology changes, there are good ways to roll out changes and not so good ways to roll out changes.
Well managed projects do things differently than not-so-well-managed projects. Well managed projects make changes based on the needs of their customers, keep customers well informed about changes, what is coming, when it is coming and what to expect. There are no unpleasant surprises for customers when the technology changes.
Not-so-well-managed projects roll out unfinished technology to their unsuspecting and unprepared customers, without respecting the needs of their customers. When companies do roll out unfinished software, customer backlash is a normal and expected reaction. That also makes the technology conversion process more difficult and lessens the customer's respect of the company. These are well-known and well-documented facts about technology projects.
Doing it right the first time is much less costly. One estimate says: if you fix a problem in the technology design stage, it costs one dollar. If you have to fix a problem at the testing stage, it costs $1,000. If you have to fix a problem after it is implemented, it costs $10,000. It is much better and cheaper to learn from the mistakes of others and do it right the first time.
The Washington Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) used to have a website that was organized like many government websites – by functional department. Customers had a hard time understanding where to find things on their website.
In 2002, a project was initiated to redesign their website to focus on the needs of their customers. "L&I embarked on this project after a study that indicated up to 75 percent of the people visiting the site couldn’t find what they were looking for." (*) Website usability experts were brought in to train the agency’s staff in usability testing techniques before the redesign started.
Usability testing usually involves several key components:
This process showed clearly how the customers were thinking and their expectations of the website as they tried to perform their tasks. Several rounds of customer testing were done to make sure the proposed design was understood by customers who would use it. After each round of testing, the website was changed to better fit the customers’ needs.
As a result, the final website design (www.lni.wa.gov) allows customers to find what they are looking for much more easily than the old website. Since the redesign, usage of the website has increased greatly.
In addition to providing much better use for customers, the redesigned website won the "The People’s Voice" Webby Award in 2005 — the leading international honor for websites — also known as the "Online Oscars." In addition, L&I’s web site received awards from the Society for Technical Communications and the site was honored by the American Association of State Compensation Insurance Funds. (*) More at http://ipma-wa.com/newsletter/ipma-news-august-2005.
In addition to website redesign, L&I started a project called "Plain Talk" – a rewriting of all rules, regulations, forms and letters to make them clearer for customers. The Plain Talk initiative was later adopted at the state level and is now the standard process for all Washington state government agencies. The rewards have been significant to the state as well as to customers. USA Today did a feature article about the benefits of this initiative in 2006. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2006-12-10-washington-plain-talk_x.htm
"Ancestry.com LLC is the world’s largest online resource for family history with more than 2 million paying subscribers across all its sites. Since starting as a publishing company in 1983, we have been a leader in the family history market for over 30 years and have helped pioneer the market for online family history research." [http://corporate.ancestry.com/about-ancestry/]
Ancestry.com is a paid subscription-based website-based service that allows people to create and maintain their family trees, and to search more than 16 billion digitized documents such as census records, vital records (birth, death, marriage, divorce) and many other family history related documents such as immigration and military records, city directories and many more.
In early 2015, Ancestry announced a major web redesign project. They asked for customers who were willing to test the new site as it was developed. Many people signed up for that. So far, so good. They started out right.
Where they went wrong was to switch new customers over to the new design, which didn’t yet work well, without preparing them for the sudden change. They also started touting the new website design to existing paying customers without revealing that it was still an unfinished product and that many important features don’t work. Many existing customers switched over to the new site design without understanding what they would encounter. Many customers are not able to do the work that they are paying for on the website. They feel very upset when their personal family tree was changed in ways they didn’t expect or they can't do what they need to do on the site. And, many customers don't know how to get back to the old design, which is still available.
Some of the customers comments are very strong in their upset over the changes. User comments on the June 5, 2015 update page run 116 pages as of today (July 29, 2015). Comments on the July 15, 2015 update run 30 pages as of today. Unhappy customers far outweigh those who like the new design. There is even an online petition created by customers to stop the changes.
Ancestry has asked for feedback, which is good, and they are now starting to spend more time and effort in explaining what they are trying to do. That could have been done much better before the changes, not after people discovered they were being forced to become unwilling beta testers and that many features were not working as they should. Ancestry has announced their plan to roll out the design to everyone, like it or not, at some undefined time in the future, further agitating unhappy customers.
According to reports posted by people who signed up as beta testers voluntarily, many of their suggestions and problem reports were ignored when the new design was pushed out to unsuspecting customers.
Ancestry’s website redesign may or may not turn out to be a good one. Where they stumbled badly was in surprising paying customers with a flawed product without warning. Many customers have said they plan to cancel their paid membership subscription as a result of this.
As we said at the beginning of this article, fixing a technology problem becomes more expensive the later in the project that it occurs. What has been lost by the mistakes in this website design effort are a great deal of customer loyalty and trust, as well as some paying customers.
It is still too early to predict the ultimate cost of the mistakes. Maybe someone will learn something important so that it doesn't happen again and again.
It takes 20 years to build a business and five
minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things
Resources – about the examples mentioned:
Resources – about business success and failure:
Resources – about usability testing and good website design:
Books - Disclosure: We get a small commission for purchases made via links to Amazon.
Related newsletter articles:
Dilbert cartoons by Scott Adams:
IT Software Feature List http://dilbert.com/strip/2001-04-14
Results of Beta Testing http://dilbert.com/strip/2009-07-01
About our resource links: We do not endorse or agree with all the beliefs in these links. We do keep an open mind about different viewpoints and respect the ability of our readers to decide for themselves what is useful.
Page updated: October 16, 2023
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