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Enhancing the User Experience
By Damian Bazadona   Printer Friendly Version

An important concept is emerging out of the interactive arena that I would like to call "enhancing the user experience." This concept is redefining the rules of traditional advertising on the Internet and opening a whole new realm of interacting with your web site visitors. Branding, in its traditional sense, is being redefined by this concept and has taken on a new role within the interactive world. According to Forrester Research, "As users interact with Web sites in real time, these experiences--not advertising-induced perceptions--will drive brand attitudes. As a result, marketers will shift their focus to crafting user experiences."

Enhancing the user experience on the Internet can be done in a number of ways depending on your line of business. When I say "enhance," I mean make the user's experience as productive or enjoyable as possible, while eliminating potential frustration factors. We all have gone to web sites and left with a frustrated feeling. Long download times, poor content, lack of identification and poor functionality are just a few examples of how web sites can be counter-productive. The core of the enhancement must be specific to your line of business and what your target audience is seeking.

Know Your Audience!
Each web site is different and the enhancements needed will vary according to your visitor base. The web is a very unique tool in that it allows you to understand what your customers like and dislike. It allows you to monitor the interactivity and see where a communication breakdown may be. This marketing information is extremely valuable in developing the experience you would like your site visitors to have. Furthermore, this information can be valuable in developing customized experiences for return visitors.

Know Your Business!
If you are selling books on-line, then you may want your site visitors to have the ability to locate the books of their choice or books relating to their interests in a timely fashion and for their purchases to be made in a secure environment. If you are a community of interest, you may want your visitors to have relevant, up-to-date information and the ability to be active in the community through open channels of communication. Being a partner in Cyber-NY, a full service interactive agency, we want our visitors to understand our creative insight and business services in an enjoyable atmosphere. We do this by utilizing high-end flash animation to create a fun, friendly environment with our "corporate mascot"--a N.Y.C. subway rat. To add substance we incorporate "the Rat Report," an extensive guide to Internet trends and statistics.

Exceeding Expectations
With the holiday season in full steam, businesses involved in selling their products over the Internet have a golden opportunity to gain valuable market share in this young e-commerce market. While you must satisfy the essentials of delivering the goods you are selling in the promised time frame, many e-commerce companies have sought to exceed expectations and attempt to further "enhance the user experience." For example, during the holiday season a company may charge a fee for wrapping the products a customer is purchasing and then waive the fee when the customer receives the invoice. Another example would be to promise delivery in five business days and then ship next day or two-day air at no additional charge. These gestures not only enhance the user experience, but may make the difference between a one-time purchase and a repeat customer.

Enhancing Your Enhancements
Simple navigation, a clear layout, relevant content and feedback mechanisms will certainly enhance a user's experience. While these pieces may be in place, there are additional enhancement tools that can instantly make your web visitors experience both more productive and enjoyable. For example, Artificial-life has recently developed a virtual sales representative that can answer questions from web site visitors. With this tool, a visitor seeking to purchase a product can ask the virtual sales representative a question and receive an answer immediately. This tool enhances the user the experience by allowing users to get the answers they want and at the time they need it.

There are many creative tools that will boost your web site's effectiveness including personalized entry pages, audio/video enhancements, interactive tools (e.g., calculators, chat rooms), etc. Which tool is right for your web site depends on your target audience and line of business. I encourage you to push new technologies since there are numerous ways to cater to those with older technology (e.g., browsers) through the use of detection scripts and mirror sites.

The Importance
The continual growth of the Internet and the nature of the medium will only raise the importance of enhancing the user experience. The Internet has put the power back in the hands of the consumer and if you can't deliver what your site visitors are asking for, chances are your competitors will enjoy your misfortune.

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