Monday, March 22, 2010

Guest Post: Customer Experience Gets Trumped

Thanks to Mark Krumm for recounting this experience for us!

I've been interested in the trend of corporations online efforts to fund local community projects as means of attracting attention and building good will and audience. PepsiCo is a great example of a company who does this well – see the Sunchips® and National Geographic “Green Effect” and the “Refresh” project. Both projects allow visitors to vote for ideas that prospective award recipients have submitted for consideration and funding. It’s easy to vote, it’s interesting to see the different ideas. And, most importantly, people tell their friends to vote for their favorite ideas.

Then there’s Liberty Mutual’s “Responsible Sports” project… an example of how not to engage audiences. I have two boys participating in their high school sports programs and recently the boy's coach emailed me along with all parents and urged us to go to Liberty Mutual's site and vote for the school's sports programs to get a grant of $2500. You can click through the steps too (if you are a really patient person!) here's the link:

The experience and a critique:

Landing on this page, I thought I would find a specially-created page just for first-time visitors, and that it would be simple to it to vote my support. Wrong. I found sixteen navigation choices, two of which were labeled “Community Grants”, several others that were closely related enough to make me wonder exactly where to click. I found my way eventually, but why not create an easy-to-navigate landing page for the first-time visitor?

To vote, I had to first take a test on parenting and sports. There was an online study guide I could have read to prep for the test, but I skipped that. Four clicks to get to the test and ten multiple choice questions later, I scored a 90%. Pretty good? Yes, but not quite good enough. They wanted a perfect score and sent me back to guess again on my missed question. (Is anyone really this desperate for a chance at $2500?) If I had not been just plain curious about how hard I’d have to work to vote, I would have abandoned at the failing grade of 90%. But I continued, just for my own education. Next step? I had to register with name and email. And, as expected, they needed to send a confirmation email to me to insure I’d given a real email address. I started writing this blog post while I waited for their email because it said it could take up to 5 minutes to get my verification. It took just three. Oh, and more required info about me before I could verify my email... just three more survey questions, two of which were “required”, neither had to do with my vote. How many people would have abandoned this by now? I don't even expect that any of you are still reading this account it's so long!

Okay, I got to vote. And then, of course, the kicker: "Share this." Ahh, finally we reach the heart of the promotion. But are there links to Facebook or Twitter or any other social media tools? No. They will however accept my excel spreadsheet of my soon-to-be-former-friend’s email addresses -- or just hop into my various email clients to harvest all addresses for me. Or, I could enter my friend’s email addresses manually. They also interrupted their own mission with a pop-up survey opportunity – just in case I was not diverted enough. To their credit, they did have those social media options for sharing elsewhere on their site -- but not on the page where they asked me to share.

Wow. The “good” news, my vote is sure to count for a lot since it's so hard to cast a vote. But I'll have to give this a failing grade. Old techniques, hard to use, questionable value, and having completed the task, I feel anything except warm and fuzzy about Liberty Mutual! And there was no emotional attachment. Go back to the PepsiCo programs: the rules required contestants offer ideas and they responded with how lives would change for the better if they earned a grant. This was nothing more than a popularity contest. The most votes win money.

Lessons? We all know them -- make it easy (they didn't) make it of value (a random shot at $2500 is not very compelling), make me want to share it – and give me control over who I share it with… and make me care.

More lessons from the editor:

  1. Mark's experience was not unique. While he was laboring over this post, his wife asked what he was doing. When he told her, it drew another "rant" about her own experience there--presumably equally satisfactory!
  2. When I went to the site to get the screen capture, I got a pop-up survey. I was curious, so I started to fill it out. Look at the instructions for yourself. Isn't it perfectly clear that if you cannot think of any companies, you can leave the boxes blank? Yet, when I did, I got an error message and my progress to the next screen was blocked!
What's going on here??? Two things strike me; one is responsibility run amok. You don't need to give parents a "responsibility test" in order to let them vote for their kids' projects--in fact it strikes me as an insult!

Second, have the designers of this project ever heard of website usability? They clearly didn't do any usability testing of the site itself, nor did they do a careful review of their pop-up survey.

When I wrote about Liberty Mutual earlier, I pointed out that customer experience is the function of satisfaction at all customer touchpoints. Liberty Mutual just blew it with this one!

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