We are all experts in using digital products, such as websites and mobile apps, to perform many types of tasks. At a bare minimum, we use websites to learn about, accomplish, and/or communicate something to others. But we don’t always appreciate why we gravitate towards the sites we use and why we keep returning to the same ones over and over.

All too often organizations build products that are merely functional, without truly understanding why their customers keep coming back (or not). The site or app may enable the customer to do what they need to do but the relationship ends there. If the organization doesn’t take the time to understand the “why,” they are missing opportunities to ensure customers keep coming back and get a true return on investment (ROI).

When I help an organization build websites and apps to achieve that ROI, I am often enabling their customers to complete work more efficiently and effectively. Accordingly, I am tasked with changing the customers’ behaviors and facilitating the successful user experience the organization hopes for. To meet this elusive goal, I focus on six facets that help customers work more effectively.

1. Establish Credibility and Likeability

Have you ever heard, “I hate this site!”? Pretty strong words, but websites do have the ability to incite vehement reactions. How likely are customers to trust a site they hate? How likely are they to follow through on the task they came to complete? How ready are they to call customer support and give them an earful or just ditch the site altogether? This is not welcome news for an organization that spent thousands of dollars on a site.

The organization can get ahead of this frustration by taking the time to understand the customer. Yes, the site must function well and facilitate the task at hand, but it should also act as a proxy for the organization. If your organization can foster a sense of humanity, even through its software, customers are more likely to engage with it.

Like persuasive people, persuasive websites draw customers to them. And the first step to establishing that kind of appeal is to be:

  • Credible
  • Authoritative
  • Familiar
  • Respectful of customers and their time
  • Likable – a small dose of personality lets customers know there are humans behind the website.

To assess improvements to a site’s credibility and likeability, perform heuristic reviewsthroughout the design and development process. This helps answer questions like, “What are customers thinking when they come to the site? Is the site connecting with them at all?”

2. Facilitate Success

In under one second, customers judge whether an organization’s mobile app can help them with their task. Style trumps substance and people do judge a book by its cover. That means customers must immediately see what they need – whether they know what they need or not! They must instinctively appreciate the benefits of using an app as well as the disadvantages of not using the app.

When making design improvements, conduct customer research and understand the kinds of “signals” that give them confidence in your mobile app. How do customers know they can get the job done? What would persuade them to commit to completing the task on the app? Answer these questions and you have a better chance of understanding why customers might trust and use the app.

Help reduce the cognitive load (brainpower required to perform the task) on your customer by considering the following:

  • Limit the number of paths a customer can take that lead to very specific results
  • Create clear calls to action along the path of least resistance
  • Facilitate decision making and avoid creating analysis paralysis
  • Insist on plain language
  • Reinforce the customer’s progress and let them feel that they are succeeding
  • Never leave a customer hanging

Some of these tactical improvements may be easier to implement than others, so choose wisely. At the end of the day, any of them will help your app stand up to scrutiny when a customer makes that first judgment.

3. Use the Spectrum of Engagement Methods

Not everyone comes to a website with the same intention or need. Some customers come to a site to get just the basic gist, while others come for information so they can act on a decision. With that being said, there are seven general levels of customer engagement:

  1. Aware of the site
  2. Getting acquainted with the site
  3. Motivated and wanting to learn more
  4. Deciding whether or not to engage with the site
  5. Confident and trusting that the site can facilitate the task
  6. Acting in the short term to get the task done
  7. Maintaining a longer term relationship

Your organization should engage with customers across this spectrum to capitalize on their range of needs. For example, a web page that provides information engages on several levels: it has a headline (#1), descriptors (#2), authoritative images (#5), and calls to action (#6 and #7).

Organizations that do not engage with customers across the spectrum run the risk of losing them at any level. Imagine a customer coming to a site to complete a task but they are not given enough information to make a decision (#4). Or it’s not clear where their information will be sent (#5). Or they don’t understand how they can accomplish the task at all (#6). Without these key engagement levels, they are highly likely to abandon the site for good.

A word about “Deciding whether or not to engage with the site”: Customers often make decisions based on an impulse driven automatically by emotion and bias. Simultaneously, they assess the options and make logical decisions based on the information provided by the site. Therefore, if your organization can appeal to both impulse/logic-driven decision-making at different levels of engagement, you will have more success maintaining engagement with your customers.

In Part 2, we’ll look at ways to learn if your customers are truly succeeding with the tasks they set out to perform. Knowing this, you can start making improvements to your digital products that achieve the return on investment your organization deserves.

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