Five Rules for Improving the Customer Experience in Web sites

I started working in the software development industry 24 years ago. It didn’t take me long to realize why many tech projects fail. We made progress since then. But the sad thing is, that 24 years later, I see too many digital projects that are not as successful as they should be.

Web development is more complex than ever. Current technology seems to make coding easier but the real challenges in Web development come from what you do with the technology. Your Web site must provide value to capture people’s attention.

Building a Web site involves more than proper HTML/CSS coding and creating a good-looking design. Nowadays, a Web site is part of an ecosystem fuelled by social media. It is part of an even growing digital marketing universe. Visitors use different devices to access it. People have higher expectations of what your site should do, less patience and more choices to choose from. The list can go on. With so many possibilities and interconnections, it is easy to lose focus and to forget the things that would bring success to your digital business.

By focusing on user experience, I came up with five rules that guide every decision I make. These key principles keep in mind the big picture of what you wish to accomplish while telling you when you should look at the details.

1. Simplify the life of the users at every touchpoint.

You are nothing without the users. It’s better to make sure that you delight them every step of the way by providing an overall experience. Before designing any interface, think about why, when, where and on which device your users will be when they perform a task.

Don’t forget to help them spreading the word about your business. I am still amazed to encounter big digital campaigns that don’t fully take advantage of social sharing features. It is not hard to configure social sharing tools to include your Twitter handle, a hashtag or to configure a link on Facebook to display relevant information.

2. Understand First, Code After.

All the years that I passed as the link between the programmers and the users taught me that they don’t speak the same language. You need an interpreter between the two.

Users also have the tendency of exaggerating the importance of their most current problem. I do it; you do it. You must assess how often the problem happens, the impact of it and where it fit within the big picture before assigning a priority to it.

You can avoid unnecessary delays, wasting money and a lot of frustration for everyone by asking the right questions, go deeper to find out what are the real problems that you need to solve and to validate whether or not you have found the solution.

3. Rapid Prototyping for Concept, Mood and Usability Testing.

Getting feedbacks from users enables you to build a site that they are more likely to adopt. The added value is that many discussions are cut short when you present statistics that back one design or one feature versus another.

You can keep development costs down of a new service or offer by validating first its appeal with potential customers. Rapid prototyping, A/B testing or having a pre-launch purchase campaign can tell you if people will use your new services or not.

4. Fitting All the Pieces Together.

The project must be viewed as a whole. Someone should be responsible for making sure that all the pieces will fit together. It includes how you will reach users, how you will validate your concept, what are the key features, how you will bridge customer service online and offline and how you will measure success.

5. Proper Testing.

Quality Assurance might have become the job of all team members but you still need a proper testing team. It is no secret that the earlier in the development process that you find a bug, the cheaper it will cost to fix it. The biggest reason for proper testing from day one is user satisfaction and trust in your site.

Testing is undervalued in the Web development world. I’m saying that not just because I have a bias towards quality assurance. I started my tech career as a tester and doing user support before I became the head of the Quality Assurance department. Many tests are performed by good Web developers as they code. Which is great but you need at least another pair of eyes to make sure that the Web site does what it is supposed to do and to advocate the needs of the users.

Not convinced? Would you recommend to your friend, a site that is buggy or where you just had a poor user experience?