Strategic Web Usability

When Is Usability Bad for Business?

Falling ProfitsFirst off, for anyone new to this blog, let me assure you that I'm a big proponent of website usability. As a professional, though, I've worked with a lot of small companies, and I find that we often have to balance the needs (and demands) of the client with the needs and desires of their end users. Achieving this balance isn't always easy, to say the least.

Below are a few scenarios where usability and business can clash:

Transparency

One of the buzzwords of the Web 2.0 era is definitely "transparency"; transparency in business practices, product information, customer experiences, etc. I'm a believer in transparency, but it's often a hard sell to small companies, especially when they have a lot of competitors.

Of course, end-users want to know everything they can about a company, and the ideal is to have a clean slate for everyone to see, but that's not always the reality. Sometimes, usability has to be balanced with reputation management and competitive interests.

Customer Reviews

An offshoot of transparency: more and more customers expect to see product reviews and the opinions of other customers. I've encountered many small companies who were afraid to add these features and hear what their customers had to say. What if, to put it bluntly, your products suck?

Honestly, this is an area where I've often found clients' fears to be overblown, and most of those who allowed feedback found it to be constructive. It's an understandable concern, though, and releasing control of website content to your customers can be a scary proposition.

Pricing

More and more customers want the ability to search and navigate on price and access to price comparison tools. These are often great features, but making price searching easy can also drive your customers to a bargain-hunting mentality. I've run tests where a more flexible price search increased conversions but drove customers to lower-priced products, in some cases driving down short-term revenues.

Think Long Term

Ultimately, I'm not arguing against any of these features or practices. I think we have to educate our clients on taking a long-term view. Sometimes, pleasing users can hurt the bottom line in the short-term but will increase loyalty and revenues down the road.

It's important, though, to see the big picture and try to understand clients' legitimate concerns. As a specialist (in any area) it can be hard to know when to hold to your ideals and when to step down from the ivory tower, and we need to recognize that our decisions can have a very real impact on our clients' success or failure.

Steven Bradley

 · Friday, January 25
Interesting Pete. These are clearly issues not so much about usability being bad, but clients not understanding enough why it's good.

I've run into the same objections from clients myself. I have A few stubborn clients who have a hard time accepting new things. Customer reviews can be a hard sell for a client who feels the need to control the discussion. Same for transparency.

The price one is interesting since it will take someone who can see beyond the short term.

Dr. Pete

 · Friday, January 25
@Steven: I have to admit, my title was a little bit link-baity. As you said, it's often an issue of helping clients understand the long-term impact. Pricing is certainly tricky, though; I have had to vote against the end-users in some cases, based on test data indicating a negative impact for the client.

It's interesting even in that case, though, as I think there can also be a usability component. Once visitors have open-ended pricing options, they tend to bargain hunt, which sometimes means they don't see all of the options available (some of which may be higher-priced but also much higher quality). Some features that users want aren't always even good for the users.

DigiKev Digital Media

 · Saturday, January 26
Pete, I have just written a post which picks up on some of the topics you have raised here, namely clients fears of embracing social media. In my opinion we need to talk clients around to the fact that all feedback is good even if customers are saying the product/service sucks. Conversing with customers and finding out the problems they have with the product/service and making corrections from this feedback is going to raise the clients profile, show that they care for their public and want to improve services. It may be a knock back in the short-term but put a good spin on it and the bigger picture looks brighter.

DesignForProfit London

 · Saturday, January 26
Nice to see a consideration of the possible downside of all the web 2.0 hoopla. I agree with what you say in your comment that sometimes you have to vote against end-users in the interest of the ccompany.

I would go further and say that in some areas, end-users don't even want the option of having a say. How many websites are there with forums to discuss the company with four posts in two years?

Dr. Pete

 · Sunday, January 27
@DigiKev: It's a difficult balance; on the one hand, I think transparency is good for most companies, and listening to customers is essential. On the other hand, I think clients are right to be hesitant. Social media has taken on a certain mob mentality at times, especially for large brands. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates can't sneeze without an army attacking or defending them online, and it's understandable if that atmosphere creates some defensiveness among clients.

Dr. Pete

 · Sunday, January 27
@London: Your comment got me thinking about how, circa 2000, I was trying to talk clients out of building forums. They all wanted "community", but they had no idea what that meant and everyone took a Field of Dreams mentality ("if you build it, they will come"). Now, I'm trying to convince clients that community is important. I'm not sure if times have changed, or if I'm a hypocrite ;)

DigiKev Digital Media

 · Tuesday, January 29
[...]Dr. Pete had mentioned some barriers that were being thrown up by small companies in opposition of user feedback. With my view that negative can be constructive and spun to a positive, I decided to leave Dr. Pete a comment on my thoughts.[...]

DigiKev Digital Media

 · Tuesday, January 29
[...]Dr. Pete had mentioned some barriers that were being thrown up by small companies in opposition of user feedback. With my view that negative can be constructive and spun to a positive, I decided to leave Dr. Pete a comment on my thoughts.[...]
©2014 User Effect, Inc. · Home · About · Services · Contact · E-book · Blog · Archive