Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Why forms need to be easy enough for the dumbest boss to complete

When was the last time you set a novice loose on your Web site and watched what happened? We wrote recently about Jakob Nielsen's latest usability study.

He found it was easy to improve conversions, sales, etc., by 83% by improving a site's usability (the ease with which a prospect can perform a task, like completing a registration form, or finding a product.)

Last night, I wished Nielsen had been hired by UPS.com. He would've saved me an hour and a good deal of cursing like, "What the heck!" ( Only joking, us Aussies have never sworn so politely.)

It took me forever to navigate the maze so I could send my cracked laptop back to our corporate head office. I had to create an account and then send the parcel. It took long enough that I would've had second thoughts about using UPS again except their delivery people are so nice.

Please talk in a language prospects understand

One thing that annoyed and confused me were the ugly error messages below. I've written some plain English suggestions on how they could be rewritten.

UPS: "Shipper Address Extension may contain numbers only. (UPS: 41506)." Me: "We're sorry but please do not use letters in the box for the telephone extension. This box only accepts numbers. If you can not fix this problem, please cite this reference UPS 41506. Thank you."
Note: I blame the darn confusing asterix. It hovered between phone number and extension implying both were mandatory fields. I wrote "none" in the box for telephone extension. My big mistake.

UPS: "Package 1: Weight is required. (UPS: 80221)." Me: "Have you forgotten to put the weight in the box? We have circled the box that needs completion. If this doesn't resolve the problem, please cite reference ..."

Why not put a big red arrow next to the problem area? When a prospect is confronted by an extremely large form, with many different fields, it can take ages to work out which one is causing the problems. Later, I went round and round in circles with other stuff, like e-mail notification of delivery, etc. Turns out, I wasn't entitled to it anyway because I was paying with a credit card. Why didn't they say that first?

Forms like these always get easier with experience. But why make the pain threshold so high? It isn't like having a baby where you get something really wonderful at the end. And in their case, shipping isn't an add-on but the core business. This is what they are selling.

Take away: Ask someone new to your business and isn't a real technical whiz or me (someone who is notoriously bad at forms) to buy something from you, to complete a registration form, download a white paper, or ask for something to be shipped. You never know, it could boost sales and loyalty.

You shouldn't need a doctorate in form completion. You never know, one day your prospect's boss may have to fill out his or her own online form instead of handing it off to Shipping or an assistant. Then you may never hear the end of it.

Our advice: Make forms easy enough for the dumbest boss to complete.

Posted by Internet Marketing Report editor, Julie Power, Tuesday February 12 at 10.30 a.m.


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