Lately over here at the Surplus we’ve been focused on a lot of internal development to better streamline our processes, interactions with customers and suppliers, and other types of projects that add value to us as an organization but remain invisible to our customers. However, we have been looking ahead to this year’s development projects and have plans to do a lot of work on what we call “Customer Experience”.
With this focus, I’ve been poking around, looking for ideas and the technologies that may support some of the cooler features we may want to implement. In a post Web 2.0 world, we are looking for things that really add value to the customer, not just every cool little gadget, widget or flashy thing that might look cool.
Take, for example, a familiar concept I’m sure you’ve seen and used yourself, what we call the “Product Selector”, where a user can choose a high level product they want to purchase, such as a bathtub, and using various slider bars, checkboxes, and other mechanisms, narrow down the result set to see the products that match their filtering criteria. BlueNile.com has used this for their diamond search for a long time. Product selectors like this are often very helpful and kind of fun to use. It increases customer retention and gives customers the ability to really find what they are looking for, or better yet, shows them a range of products that meet their criteria. However, there are drawbacks to the product selectors, including the inability for Google to crawl your products that are only accessible through the selector, the inability to have direct links to filtered results, and the ability to build a tool that the customer finds intuitive and helpful.
One big problem web-developers face in this post web 2.0 world is finding the balance between cool and functional. There is a fine line between enhancing a customer’s experience and frustrating the heck out of them. What is intuitive for a developer may seem obtuse to a customer (I’m pretty sure the developer is right though).
You can make a web page take you through 5 steps to create an account, choose your options, confirm your purchase, and agree to the terms, all in one single, seamless AJAX-enabled application. That is, until they realize they want to ship it to Aunt Gertrude instead, click their browser’s back button, and lose all the information they’ve entered, frustrating them to the point of abandoning the process.
Many of these new technologies break the expectations of the browser’s back button and bookmarks. Often these technologies can completely block search engine’s ability to find relevant data on your site. Often a page refresh or other unexpected action can cause the user to lose their place and what they were doing.
As a fan of emerging web technologies, I am looking forward to tackling some of these challenges in the coming year. However, I will be sure to be on the lookout for the unexpected consequences of clever web development.
So stay tuned, keep hitting F5, and look for some new features coming soon!