Portals: Navigation and taxonomy

This post is the eighth in a series about building portals for teams and groups to interact with customers. If you’re interested in reading more please follow us on twitter or subscribe in the right-hand margin of this blog —>

Before search, the internet was pretty simple. You either knew someone who knew where to look for thing, or you knew where to look. Is your portal the same way? Is tribal knowledge required to find the right things?

Without search, it’s difficult for users to find what they need. Since search is much simpler technologically than ever before, this is pretty much a no-brainer. Enable search.

Okay, so now search is turned on – what’s next?

Make sure search works well! Does it find the things people want? Can you watch what people are searching for and landing on? Maybe what you call your “ERP system” is what most users call “The Dom” or “MyApp” or something else – enable search to find the right thing when these terms are searched!

Once search is working well – look out for other nonsensical “browsing” type taxonomies. This would include the ever-terrible categorization of things. What makes sense to one user may not make sense to another.

Again. TO THE USERS!

Personas allow you to present the right things to the right people. And if you ask the people, they will tell you the right time to present them.

Portals with personality are the best thing on earth. Yeah – amazon is great at suggesting things related to what I have purchased, but what if they could also change the navigation, browsing and prioritization of product presentation based on who I am?

This is one place where you have a major advantage over Amazon. You can know your people much better. You probably also serve a MUCH smaller market. Take advantage of this differentiation to know your customer and delight them.

One of my least favorite features of Amazon.com shopping is “departments”. You might know about this seemingly nonsensical categorization of products.

It does have a place. Some categories (like apparel) will have sizes. Some others (like computers) will have speed attributes you want to search and filter with.

So I’m not totally against it – however, do not force your customer to use something that doesn’t make sense to them. Unless you have the millions of products and services Amazon does, there may be no need to categorize all the things.

Put your categories/departments and various views in front of customers and see if they can tell where to find things. Time them. Then give them search. Time them again. Which one wins? Is there a use-case where the customer wants categories? Can you segment that experience? Maybe it’s for group conversation, or batch ordering – can you give that access to a select set of customers?

This basically covers most navigation needs – there are other non-product and non-services navigation items to consider. Things like profiles, shopping cart (if you have one), information, FAQ, contact and other secondary content should be accessible with navigation.

In short, navigation impossible to get truly perfect. Simplicity is usually the key.  If your portal software doesn’t have a default, consider hiring great designers and get constant feedback from customers. Do a bunch of user research. It’s going to take a lot of work to even get close to appealing to customers.

Otherwise, steal from something that works (gmail, twitter, whatever).

Portals: In your pocket

This post is the seventh in a series about building portals for teams and groups to interact with customers. If you’re interested in reading more please follow us on twitter or subscribe in the right-hand margin of this blog —>

Team Leader: What do we want?

Team: Supercomputers in our pockets!

Team Leader: What do we got?

Team: Supercomputers in our pockets.

If you’ve made it this far in your journey toward a comprehensive customer portal: CONGRATULATIONS! You now have a system of customer engagement. This is a goal many brands fail at many many times before seeing success.

So – you know where I’m going next right? The customer. What do they want now? You’ve given them a voice, and enabled powerful access to your data and services.

What could customers possibly want besides everything?

Easy; they also want it all times and places.

They want this new system of engagement to be with them at all times. I’m working at 2am on my 23rd cup of coffee. I’m excited and inspired to make our company’s next new product.

Take the opportunity to delight your customers by fulfilling their needs at the time they need.

“Oh hey, I should tell finance about this material shortage that is predicted by our research partners” – goes to finance portal on iPhone.

“I need to order 300 pounds of rubber.” – goes to procurement portal on Android.

“I like Peter. What’s his email address?” – looks up employee info on a web browser on his child’s internet connected pillow.

These are the realities of today. These are not predictions. Your colleagues and co-workers deserve the right to work freely and to do so when it’s convenient to them and on their terms.

Does your portal require Internet Explorer 11 so that business rules can be enforced? Terrible.

Does your portal require a mobile version and a desktop version? Stupid.

Gone are these old perceptions of web development. Now there is only disruption, connection and communication. The rest is just a check-box on a management system.

Get every customer engagement on mobile to keep them as a customer.

Else; you may as well close the door on over half of your users, half of the time.

Portals: Opening the lines of communication

This post is the fourth in a series about building portals for teams and groups to interact with customers. If you’re interested in reading more please follow us on twitter or subscribe in the right-hand margin of this blog —>

At this point you’ve got a website up, and your communicating to your customers, which is adding value and improving their experience.

Now they want more – what’s next?

Again “it depends” and I certainly have my opinions, but consider your users first and ask questions (as noted in the second post in this series).

Let’s tell a story.

You’re a customer of a company. They missed your garbage pick up this week. You go to their website. On said website there is a big banner or pop-up that says “We are experiencing a one-day delay in garbage pick ups” and offers the number to customer service.

What do you think about this experience? Pretty good right? This is basically where a portal begins; one-way communication with the option to initiate further. It’s a stepping stone to two-way communication.

There’s a reason this exists – because communication is a two-way street. So usually, I recommend giving your customers a voice. It makes them feel valued and listened to.

Now, depending on your culture, needs, audience size and web platform this could take many forms. Maybe you add a chat option so that users can chat with agents or fulfillers or staff directly. Maybe you need a webform? Maybe you just display a phone number call.

Something, anything that allows two way communication will greatly improve the portal’s value and demonstrate compassion for customers.

The chat option is the most advantageous because it also provides a universal “out” for customers who are stuck, can’t find something or just have a simple question.

Remember to design this for the customer. Test out multiple methods of conversation, and continue the dialog and feedback loop.

Next post will be about content! Subscribe in the right margin or follow us on twitter for updates!

Portals: How to get started?

This post is the third in a series about building portals for teams and groups to interact with customers. If you’re interested in reading more please follow us on twitter or subscribe in the right-hand margin of this blog —>

When we look at the common needs of users of portals there are always trends, fads and basics. I prefer to start with the basics and keep options open.

Remember that the goal of a portal is to make people happy. So how do we start doing that?

Most portal projects jump way ahead into the future. They go straight to “we want to be like amazon” or some other phrase like this.

The reality is, you can’t afford to be like amazon AND unless you’re in retail, your goals do NOT align. Your number one priority should be happiness for your customers and your providers. I’ll use these terms going forward to describe the people viewing your portal, but do keep in mind they can be the same.

The most obvious and noticeable feature of all portals is communication.

This is even true for amazon – as soon as you go there, they tell you buy something.

What does your portal say?

We often don’t communicate well as a group because communication is difficult and people delude themselves into thinking it’s simple. Portals start like a mouth, or a brand. This may be the first time anyone sees or notices your group exists, the first interaction they’ve ever had with your team!

So what do you want them to think?

You know what I want and are ready to give me what I want.

If you can convince your customer of this, on their first interaction; congratulations, you have reached success.

How did you get here? Understanding the customer. How did you understand them? By listening to them (most likely) – or maybe you were one once. That last one is a doozie – don’t let your experience cloud your vision. Always go back to the customer and base your decisions on data.

So, the easiest way to start a portal is to get a webpage set up. And post a message to your customer. Something along the lines of:

Hi, we’re (insert group/team/person name here),

You’re here for __________, and we have ____________.

Here’s how you get __________:

And that’s it. Follow up with instructions on how to get it.

No fancy technology. No $3m project. No integration, no automation… nothing.

And already your customer has value.

Next post: adding value to a simple portal.

Portals: Why do we need them?

This post is the second in a series about building portals for teams and groups to interact with customers. If you’re interested in reading more please follow us on twitter or subscribe in the right-hand margin of this blog —>

Whenever I see a problem or hear a solution I love working it backward. I think it’s why I loved consulting. I think it’s the inner 3-year-old in me who just loves to ask “why” until someone goes bonkers.

So why do we have web portals to teams, departments and companies?

Easy! So our customers and partners can connect with us.

Why?

So that they can get what they want, how they want to get it!

Why?

To make it easier to deliver it to them!

Why?

So they can be happy and we can be happy.

And that’s good enough for me – don’t get me started on the four types of happiness, but this basically is the goal. Keep people happy. There are a multitude of other benefits. Revenue, cost savings, scalability, governance etc etc. However, to achieve these goals faster than your competitors you need teams that can operate, innovate and move quickly.

This brings me to the most overlooked part of every technology project: the people.

You basically have three main customer groups for every portal. The user, the provider and the provider’s partners. And each of these three categories have a TON unique characteristics. From competency to goals there are many misconceptions and assumptions that can be made of the user. There are also universal givens that can be applied since they are people and they are using the portal.

Now’s where the general basics kick in. Most people want (in all three groups):

  1. Easy
  2. Clear
  3. Fast
  4. Powerful
  5. Freedom

These universal desires were stolen from an article I read about libraries. LOL. But they are fundamental elements of humans search for solutions and information; things that will make them happy in the moment they are using your portal.

Since your team is unique and provides a unique service or product – I can’t provide much more advice than these very general keys.

For instance, if you’re a hospital exposing self-service check ins #3 is probably more important than #5. And if you’re an IT shop numbers 1 and 2 are probably more important than 5.

And this is where your challenge starts. Understanding the users – ALL the users. From the customer, to the people on the queues to the people they pass the work to. Each of them wants to be heard and influence the design and execution of the portal.

This doesn’t mean you can take each person’s input into consideration. Group consensus doesn’t really work that way. Instead, you must use this information as research into the design.

If you’re not into design or have experience with this – it’s bigger than a blog post. I can’t give you all that with some words. It really comes from understanding design. If you’re not ready to learn about user research and design – I highly recommend hiring someone with the experience. It is invaluably successful.

2017 is the year

We believe that 2017 is going to be a big year for knowledge workers.

We have seen many teams become more flexible and innovative. Many of our larger clients are forming small yet highly effective teams.

Teams that are flexible and innovative require tools that support their unique needs. Get started now, iterate, improve and review later.

This is easier said than done. Teams are holding discussions about work in many different channels. And so often these ideas, work and initiatives don’t get off the ground because they are gone, lost or never got started.

If these teams have cross-team dependencies, they are inhibited quickly. Do we take on this new teams tasks without current tools? Limit the team to the same tools as others? What’s most important?

We believe that 2017 is the year this paralyzing cycle simply stops.

We believe that 2017 is the year we get to work without over-planning, over-thinking and the paralysis that inevitably ensues. Do employees dream of doing better? Often.

How often are your best teams highly productive?

We believe that 2017 is the year your team can plan, do, check and act without the confusion, fear and uncertainty they experience today.

We believe that 2017 is the last year you manage projects and tasks in your email.

Disagree? Don’t believe us? Let us convince you – sign up for our news on this topic. Or subscribe to our blog in the right hand margin –>

Don’t like email (can’t say I blame you) – follow us on twitter or RSS!

No bull KPI

There is one place where you can look to see what teams and employees value; their calendar.

When I have something I need to check EVERY week. I put a reminder on my calendar. When someone else is supposed to do something every day, I put a “check if” on my calendar.

This is done for a myriad of reasons.

Primarily to make sure it is done. If it’s on my calendar, it’s likely that the company image, brand or perception is influenced. And those things are my responsibility.

pexels-photo-28094
Where is their attention? That’s what they value.

Secondarily to make sure there is a deadline. If we don’t do it by a certain date, we see slippage of projects or other related goals.

Then there are other benefits like planning out-of-office coverage or letting my replacement know what’s important to do regularly. It can also be a great way to share with teams and leaders what is important and necessary to keep out company operational.

Let me provide a counterexample.

In order to maintain our business relationship with an analyst firm, we hold regular meetings (bi-weekly). Once it is off my calendar, I’m no longer making time for that relationship. 

So how do you do this?

At my company, we make a practice of sharing our calendars openly. Want to see the things they value? Simply scroll ahead a couple months and see what’s still there. 

Take the challenge:

Does your calendar show what you’re making time for? Share how you streamline everyday work by commenting below!

Designing Great Forms

I posted an example last week of a form I encountered that really stuck out to me. It really shocked me how good it was.

Awesome_Form_Design

Can you spot what stood out to me?

There are standard good things about this form:

  1. A graphical representation of where I am in the process
  2. Simple entry fields with clear field name
  3. A submission button that is clear

Yeah, yeah… it’s a form. I expect all those things.

What struck me about this form was that it didn’t care about me! It was asking for my child’s name, not mine. The credit card holder.

So what Matt?

So what? That’s my daughter! She means the world to me. No surprise there either.

So why is this so good?

Later in the process, as I’m discovering their services and receiving communications this form gives them an edge. They now have the power to influence my experience in a way you couldn’t without my daughter’s name.

Matt, did Lucy like the kit we sent?

We’ll be sending Lucy’s next kit this week!

This subtle data gives this company the ability to reach me emotionally EVERY time they want to interact with me. They know something their competitors do not; my daughter’s name.

A well designed form is easy to use and has a good entry experience. A truly great form does all that, and empowers business processes to be exceptional.

What can you change in your forms to delight your customers later?

Are you able to test your theories?

If you want the flexibility to build great experiences, empower employees and customers while improving business outcomes you should really check out Kinetic Data today. Don’t want to check out another company in your free time? Send your app dev pros to our developer site, or email us and we’ll check you out instead!