11: Usability as Common Courtesy
Krug acknowledges that he is stepping out of his area of expertise to talk about things that users find upsetting or offensive about their online experiences. A site can be entirely functional, and even easy to use, but there are other qualities he's noticed along the way that cause people to experience negative feelings about an online experience.
This is important from a business perspective, because a brand is built on its goodwill, and every negative incident diminishes the goodwill people have to the brand, hence their willingness to interact with it. When customers seem to get steamed by something simple, it is usually the cumulative effect of many "little" things that drives them away.
He uses the analogy of a reservoir to describe the positive emotions customers have toward a brand. People generally approach an unknown company with some level of positive expectations (if they did not. They would avoid unknown brands altogether) that is increased or decreased by their experience.
When their reservoir is filled, it runs over - they spread the news about the positive experiences they've had. When it falls below the "default" level they give to any unknown brand, they are open to the idea of doing business with someone else. When it is exhausted, they march away from you in disgust, and it will be difficult ever to win them back.
He shares a few specific qualities about goodwill:
- Idiosyncratic. Every person has their own approach - some are suspicious by nature, others are trusting, and they will react in different ways and to different degrees to the same experience
- Situational. The way a person feels about a brand depends on the context in which they interact with it, with a great deal of carry-over form recent experiences. They may be irritated by a recent experience with a competitor, and bring that to your doorstep.
- Mutable. The reservoir is no fixed in its volume or capacity, and the things they experience can fill or drain it, or increase or diminish the size (that being, their expectations of you).
- Erratic. The degree to which the reservoir is filled or depleted is not always in proportion to the experience. Sometimes a single mistake that seems trivial can empty it instantly.
Things that Diminish Goodwill
A list of some of the things he has observed to be detrimental:
- Hiding information that customers want. Companies will hide things to attempt to control behavior (refusing to provide a telephone number because they don't want people to call) or things that would be embarrassing (they hide shipping costs because they know the customer will realize the full cost of buying from them). Manipulation and deceit destroy trust and goodwill.
- Making things difficult for the user. For the sake of efficiency, businesses want customers to do things their way - even little things, like entering a phone number or credit card in multiple fields. Customers (rightly) expect to be served and accommodated, and when a firm seems more interested in maintaining its procedures, it's a sign of disrespect.
- Demanding unnecessary information. Some customers are skeptical, and balk when a firm demands that they provide information that does not seem necessary to a task. Others merely find entering unnecessary details to be noisome.
- Being insincere. Firms that make false claims or try to put a positive spin on shabby treatment are not fooling anyone. The customer is well aware that they are on hold for 20 minutes because the firm is too cheap to hire enough operators to handle calls promptly - and telling them "you call is important to us" is plainly disingenuous.
- Being precocious. Sites that are junked up with art and animation that is not needed not only make tasks more difficult, but communicate an attitude of narcissism and arrogance.
- Being amateurish. A sloppy, disorganized, or poorly-crafted site makes users think that the firm doesn't care about the people who will use it.
Krug acknowledges that the last two are a balancing act: there's a sweet spot between being shabby and being too ostentatious which works well for users, gives them a sense of dealing with a professional and attentive firm, but not an arrogant and self-obsessed one.
Things that Increase Goodwill
A list of some of the things he has observed to be supportive:
- A clear path to what is wanted. This communicates the competence of a firm that knows what customers want and how to serve them. The three most important things should be plain - and people who are looking for things like job openings realize this is not the main purpose of an ecommerce site and don't mind hunting a bit.
- Full disclosure. When a site is up-front about shipping costs and additional fees, it demonstrates its candor and honesty, and earns trust from users.
- Convenience. Saving the user steps when you can (like providing a link directly to an order status from a confirmation email rather than making them hunt) is courteous, and shows that you put effort into helping users achieve their goals.
- Put effort into it. By this, Krug seems to mean providing complete information that will satisfy the user's needs, rather than making a half-hearted attempt to simply make them go away.
- Predictive. An FAQ is mentioned as a way that companies demonstrate that they understand the needs of their customers and place information that many want in a convenient location.
- Additional details and features. Making pages printer-friendly, providing links to helpful information, and other conveniences that do not relate directly to the immediate task of selling a product shows concern for the user's interests.
- Helpfulness. In particular, when the user makes an error he should never be stranded even if it is his fault. A well-made site coaches users back to the right path to get what they want, and they are grateful for it.
- Apologize for inconvenience. When you know that there is something that is inconvenient or annoying and you can't fix it, at least be conciliatory for putting users through it.