Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Exceptional Web Experiences 101

As I continue to prepare for Lotusphere 2012, I am reflecting on my experience last year at the conference in 2011. At Lotusphere 2011 there was lot of attention on providing an “Exceptional Web Experience” to the customers. And rightly so. At the end of the day, it’s all about making the customer, the end user, the client (or whatever they are called) happy. There can be a lot of misconceptions in the User Experience space about the concept of “web” experience”

So I asked my self this question: Is an iGoogle Page (that I view every single day) a good web experience?

Sure enough, the iGoogle page provides me with the information that I need. But to get the information, I had to enter my zip code 5 times and my address a couple of times. And none of the snippets or widgets of information talk to each other. Is this what you would call “Exceptional”?

This year, I participated in a few IBM Social Roadshows last year and I decided as part of Prolifics commitment with IBM I would talk about the whats and hows of this social experience and also present some trends in the space.

So what exactly is an “Exceptional Web Experience”? How do you achieve it?

When I looked up the meaning, I found the following answer: “it’s about how a person feels about the system”. To me that said it all, but the real question is how do you design the user experience (UE) so that it makes the end user feel good about the system? How do you attain the level of excellence?

According to me, these are some of the key drivers in creating a great User Experience
1. It’s about Relevance - Create highly personalized customer interactions

2. It’s not only just about the product - Design experiences, not features

3. Go beyond the desktop or laptop - Having a mobile presence is a must

4. Earn the trust of the customer - Improve customer loyalty and relationship by enabling “Social”

5. It’s about Web 2.0 and beyond… Web 3.0 - Visual Appeal + Ease of use = Wow customers. Keep the UI Simple, Interactive and Responsive (SIR principle)

For over a decade, IBM WebSphere Portal has led the web 2.0 space in providing a seamless web experience. But now with the help of its accelerators (Social, Collaboration, Mobile etc) it’s poised for providing greater results in the enterprise business and social space. IBM WebSphere Portal delivers greater flexibility by creating personalized web experiences that seamlessly combine back-end applications, commerce solutions, social media sites, and cloud-based services.

Speaking of Social, there is phenomenal potential in the power of introducing “Social” into day-to-day business.

I have observed some trends in how customers and clients are using the power of social to engage customers.

Social Trend #1 - Engage the Customer on the Site

This is the single biggest focus of most customers and clients. Two questions that normally arise in a UE discussion are: how do we keep the user engaged on the site? How can we have share information with users and between users?

Answer: Leverage Social. By Enabling Users to Socialize:
  • Share conversations and information between users
  • Wikis, blogs, forums, communities
  • Ratings, commenting, tagging
  • Shared bookmarks, files, activities for work & ideas
• Based on profile: expertise, projects, responsibilities, and interests.

Customer Service
• Enable customers to get problems resolved quickly with click-to-chat functions.Provide them targeted results

Social Collaboration
• Improve brand awareness by syndicating content across the web, into other online properties, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google etc.

IBM WebSphere Portal provides a great point solution to start your social initiative. Concepts like tagging and rating are essential components for developing collective intelligence about the site/product. They have also proven useful in engaging customers on the site and creating a trust and a sense of community between the end of users. Out of the box templates like Blogs, Wikis, Newsletters, Communities have made it very easy for clients to share information with the users. (Requires no development, only customization). Tools like click-to-chat, integration with RSS feeds from external sources like Facebook, Twitter, Google etc have added a great social dimension to Portal which was always perceived as “single point front end solution to IBM SOA framework"

Now if your business is ready for a more mature Social strategy IBM Lotus Connections is the right solution. To highlight some of the key features that product presents
• Profiles – Find people and expertise in your social network
• Community - Connect with people of common interests to share ideas
• Forum - Start discussions to solicit feedback from end users
• Activities - Dashboard of to-dos and activities within your network
• Files - Share variety of artifacts with your individuals and groups

Social Trend #2- Expand Beyond Traditional Web

There are 4.6 Billion mobile customers. To me it means 4.6B reasons to expand the outreach of your products to beyond traditional desktop. Having a mobile presence does not mean that users can access your site via a smart phone. But a true mobile experience comes from having a site to adopt the rendering process based on the smart phone. UI elements like themes on the portal pages, the navigation schemes should be able to differentiate between an iPhone or a Blackberry or any other smart phone.

Keep in mind the following consideration for developing a mobile strategy

  • Create a device agnostic presentation
  • Utilize common business logic and services
  • Cater to device specific requirements (iPhone maps, geo location etc)
  • Create lots of screen presence despite limited real estate
  • High Response time despite broadband limitations
  • Leverage one common theme

There are several questions in this space. What sort of a mobile strategy should customers adopt? Should I create a native iPhone app? What about a mobile website? What’s the buzz about HTML 5?

Consider your requirements before choosing a solution. Here are some options

There are several other options for non-Portal, non-IBM based customers as well, such as using one of the open source mobile and HTML 5 based frameworks.

Social Trend #3- Optimize the Experience with BI Analytics

One of the focus areas in social business is optimizing the experience based on real-time data, site usage and social analytics.
  • What drives BI Analytics?
  • Who is coming to my site?
  • How did they find it?
  • What are they doing?
  • What did they search for? Did they find it?
  • What are the most popular areas?
  • What are the most popular topics/content?

Leverage analytics to:
  • Improve user engagement by measuring and then fine tuning the customer experience
  • Intelligently manage your marketing resources
  • Make better decisions faster
  • Exceptional web experiences engage, attract, satisfy and retain customers and partners.
  • Being nimble and agile is required to keep web content fresh, engaging and relevant.
I look forward to seeing how these trends have evolved since Lotusphere 2011 and discover new trends to look for in 2012. Click here to see what Prolifics has in store for Lotusphere next week, including information about our 4 speaking sessions.

Niral Jhaveri is the User Experience Practice Director at Prolifics and has extensive expertise in the IBM Lotus, WebSphere and Rational family of products. He has played a key role at several strategic clients by providing technical leadership. Niral has an extensive background in the design and development of IBM WebSphere Portal, SOA and Web 2.0 applications with a proven track record of consulting and architecting solutions for several industry verticals like Finance, Retail, Insurance and Technology.