I provide this rating system as an end user. Businesses always asking my feedback, here it is systematically. This is what I look for. This applies to everything from brick and mortar stores to websites. This is largely technology driven.
1. Minimum Technology
Technology can enable efficiency, but it often does the opposite. I am an engineer. I can figure out your technology – but I do not want to. Do not give me a job when I’m trying to spend money with you. Do not explain your tech to me. If your tech is not self-evident, you have already failed.
2. Version Control
Misinformation is worse than no information. One calendar, one web page, a web page instead of an e-mail. We do not need more information. We need the right information, concisely, current, dated, clear, verified.
3. Identifying Me
I do not want another number, account, password, etc. You know this. My name is unique. Use that. My e-mail is more unique, use it. E-mail is better than using my phone number, which is better than using a tracking number, which is better than a QR code, which is better than having me sign up for an account, which is better than having me sign up for an account with ridiculous password requirements. Use the ID that exists already. Start with my name!
One that works is better than two or three or however many failures.
UPS, 1 star. You have to go out of your way to get 1 star. UPS goes out of its way
- Minimum tech? No. I don’t need an account, a QR code, and a bar code to receive a single brown package with $200 worth of stuff in it.
- Version control? Multiple blatant failures. One package includes two addresses 1. my home where I know I will not be at noon for the delivery attempt and 2. the UPS Access Point. One package includes three methods of identification 1. a QR code, 2. a tracking number, 3. an “InfoNotice” number. The UPS Access Point had hours posted on the store partially in one location and completely in another less-visible location. An extra address, two extra package IDs and an extra partial hours posting. That is five strikes against version control. FIVE. Abysmal.
- Identifying me? UPS, you know my address (you know where I live!!), and my e-mail address. Ask me for my phone number and I will give you that. ID me with any of those things. Nope. You need me to create an account. Fail.
- Simplicity? No. All you have to do is deliver a package to a human being. It is not complicated – but you manage to make it so.
How can you succeed? My package enters your system and you e-mail me the tracking number and the address / hours of the UPS Access Point where my package will arrive. No home delivery. No “InfoNotice” bar code. No message saying, “Shocker! You weren’t home today at noon!” No QR code scavenger hunt. No running down a brown truck. No “out for delivery.” Get it close at a stationary target, tell me where it is, give me a deadline, and I’ll do the rest.
Organizing Online Events and Conferences
When people attend an in-person conference, they want to know the address, possibly where to park, where the sign in desk is, and a calendar of events with locations perhaps room numbers. They want to know the following for the conference and each sub-event:
- Who: event name / who is hosting the event / presenter’s name.
- What: subject of the event / presentation.
- Where: location.
- When: date and time.
- Why: because.
I don’t make this list because the information is usually lacking. The information is usually available somewhere. I provide this list because there is usually so much extra information that attendees can’t find these basic requirements!
The online / virtual version of this is currently Zoom meetings. Attendees need the following information and no more! For each presentation:
- Who: single web address with the most current information / name of the conference / name of the host / name of presenters.
- What: subject of the event / presentation.
- Where: the Zoom access code / meeting ID.
- When: date and time in Zulu or always with a specific time zone.
- Why: because.
If the event can be conducted without attendees registering that is best. If the attendees must register, let them use their e-mail addresses for a username.
Do a run-through the day prior with a friend or colleague who is not in on the planning. If he / she cannot attend withing 5 minutes then your system is a failure and you probably need to delete extraneous instructions and eliminate steps.
Information, Categories, Items
Pretty much all information falls into categories. Each item within a category has the same questions associated with it. For example, if you are a university and you list degree programs along with the number of years of study for the degree program and even just one of those degree programs is part-time instead of full-time, you absolutely must list “full-time / part-time” for all the degree programs – or you have left doubt and failed to communicate.
Therefore, for all categories, you list the possible questions for each category and your site is not complete until all the answers are available for each item within the category. Example:
- Degree Program category:
- Full name of degree
- Years of study to complete
- Full-time / part-time
- Which campus if multiple
- Credit hours with units of measure of credit hours
- Language of study if there could be doubt
- Link to course list / curriculum
- Prerequisites for study
- Start date(s)
- Application process including deadlines and associated decision dates listed by type of applicant or explicitly stated “for all applicants”
- Tuition information or link to tuition information
- Motivational video for the program as applicable
- Testimonials as applicable
- Contacts such as dean, admissions, student ambassadors, etc.
- Date of last update.
This is one list for one category for one type of site. This type of list applies to all sites that present information at all, which is almost all sites. Do not start your Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page until you have created your list and systematically answered all the questions for each item within each category. Especially do not e-mail me for feedback. This is my feedback right here. Do your job. Anticipate your users’ questions and provide the appropriate information no matter how obvious you believe the information to be.
Units of payment must always conform to the following rules or you have failed to communicate:
- Payments always include the currency.
- A one-time payment is assumed if not stated. However, if there can be doubt as to whether a payment is one-time or periodically repeated, it is always called “one-time.” There is no exception. There is no substitution for this phrase. No other wording is appropriate.
- Repeated payments always
- include a period stated in an amount of time
- explicitly state a beginning and an end
- explicitly state what period the payment applies to.
The tuition is 10,000 dollars per year and is paid in monthly installments during the time you are studying. The academic year being 9 months, you make 9 equal monthly payments per year that lead the month of study and total to the annual tuition. Other taxes and fees apply, see the list at this link for taxes and fees.
- The word “fee” is typically reserved for something that is extra or unusual. For example, “tuition” already implies payment, so you do not say “tuition fee,” or use the word “fee” under the heading of “tuition.” “Fee” makes it sound extra or unusual. You should say, “the annual / monthly tuition is…,” Writing “fee” is redundant and confusing.
- “Fee” can be added on to a word that is not automatically a payment, such as registration. For example “registration fee.” This says it is a payment and that the payment is for registration.
- A “registration fee” would almost never be a repeated payment because one only registers one time. Once registering, you are registered and don’t keep registering.
Time and Time Zones
I don’t care how smart you think your website is. I don’t care if your website thinks it knows where your visitor is and therefore “conveniently” tells the user in his personal time zone. No matter how smart your website is, the internet is still global. You could be using my IP address for location and I could be using a VPN. My GPS location could be erroneous. There is one simple rule for posting times:
Post the time with its associated time zone, including whether it is daylight savings time, and including the +/- relative to Zulu.
This especially applies to sporting events. I see times given properly less than 10% of the time for sporting events. If pilots suddenly became this bad at global time communication, the world would come to an instant standstill with aviation accidents, delays, missed flights, etc. Follow this rule and you have properly posted a time. Do it not, and you have failed to communicate.
This feedback assumes you want your visitors to leave your site informed. If your goal is that your visitors click around your site looking for information you purposely hid or omitted, then this does not apply. If you are trying to force users to contact you if they really want to know something, then by all means ignore this and keep playing your games. I am not a marketer and I know some counter-intuitive strategies work when it comes to selling to people. This feedback applies to those whose goal is to honestly inform site visitors.
Impetus for this Post
Unfair as this may be I am picking one site that finally drove me to write this post. Their site was actually pretty good but as usual lacked basic information that I am fairly certain was omitted or hidden inadvertently. I clicked around London Business School’s site for probably an hour trying to confirm which courses were full-time and which were part-time. I never found it. I sent them feedback but I am tired of submitting basic feedback like this. I feel like I work for free giving feedback while companies constantly spend money to change and update complicated sites that fail at the basics – and then spend more time and money requesting my feedback. Here it is! Here’s my feedback!
When LBS, a top business school, clearly does not follow the basics outlined in this post, the post needs to be written because they, if anybody, should be good at this. Now it is written.
If Your Product Costs More Than $1000
I pick $1000 for an arbitrary cut-off. The point is, this feedback always applies to sites for products that could be considered an investment like, for example, real estate or education. Investments are life decisions and clients need solid info to make a decision.
You aren’t selling a pack of gum. Answer all questions. Is the course full-time or part-time? Maybe it’s obvious to you. Maybe I should know and be able to assume. Maybe I should have contacts within your school who can tell me and if I am not resourceful enough to find the info then you don’t want me anyway. Fine, but if you wanted me informed to make a decision and consider your school, you failed. I left confused, alienated, and ultimately decided against business school (OK I was leaning against biz school anyway not trying to be too dramatic). Now my last memory is the frustration of your website that could have been avoided if you had heeded the basic advice on my humble individual blog here.