11 Tips for Improving Customer Experience and Driving Conversions

Struggling to drive conversions?  The issue might be with customer experience. After having worked with several brands, big and small, I can assure you that you don’t have to make sweeping changes to drive better results. Many times even small changes and little bit process can lead to happy customers and big impacts. In this post I have complied 11 tips that you can use today. If you need help then don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

  1. Easy to fill forms – How many times have you come across a form field where you don’t remember what the field was about?  Many designers/developers use the default text in the form filed as the filed label. Once you tab into that field, the default text is gone and now you can’t figure out what that field was about.  That is a very bad design which will likely cause customer frustration and kill conversions.
  2. No more unnecessary form field formatting and validations – Other than Captcha validation, you are likely using form field validations in your online form to make sure visitors/customers enter the correct data.  You might also use validation to ensure that the format of the data fields such as email, phone, etc. is correct. Many of these validations are absolutely required to ensure data quality. However, some validations put unnecessary burden on your customer/visitor leading them to abandon your forms/checkout process. A lot of data formatting can be done via client side JavaScript or backend processing without putting the customer through a lot of pain. So go through your own forms, see if all form validations are absolutely required. If not, then remove them, also remove any validation/formatting requirements that you can handle via code in the front end or backend. Check out my post on Form validation and conversions.
  3. No more convoluted captcha – Captcha are great to stop the spammers, bots and spiders from filling the forms, but some Captchas are so bad that they not only create a undesirable customer experience but also kill the conversions. Make sure you critically evaluate the captcha on your site and if it seems like something you yourself don’t want to encounter on another site then kill it. I wrote a blog post on Captcha, you can read it at  Is CAPTACH eating up your conversions 
  4. Easy Promotional Code and Discount Code redemption – Promotional Codes also known as Promo Codes, Discount Codes, Coupon Codes, Offer codes etc, are supposed to drive sales, right? However, they can have a reverse action and can actually kill your conversions, if not properly used.  In my post “Promotional Codes: Conversion Killers?, I showed one such example where Promo codes can hinder conversions.  If you are going to announce a promotional code on your site, in a ad etc. and you know that the customer clicked on the link to arrive to your site then go ahead and automatically apply the relevant promo code don’t make a customer think and take extra steps.  Godaddy is a great example of a site the automatically apply any relevant promo codes.
  5. Consistent experience across devices – Customers expect consistent experience across browsers and devices so don’t mess with their expectations.  Broken experience can lead to customer dissatisfaction and defection. I wrote about one such example in my post, 2 A/B Testing Lessons Learned from Amazon Video.  Read more: 2 A/B Testing Lessons Learned from Amazon Video
  6. Easy to find customer support number  – Yes, phone support is expensive but bad customer experience is even more expensive.  If you do your cost analysis, you might find that phone support is actually profitable. A phone call provide you an opportunity to hear your customer and convert a dissatisfied customer into a satisfied customers. Make it easy for customers to contact you rather than complain on social media.
  7. Connected Channels, Customer Service, Support and Marketing – If I get a marketing material and I call the number listed on that then person picking up the phone on the other end should be able to answer question on that material. I have several experiences where customer support is not in sync with the marketing and customer has to waste his/her time. I talked about one such case of disconnected experience in my blog post titled, Are you Optimizing the Wrong Steps of the Conversion Process?
  8. Easy to Find subscription cancellation link – Have you ever tried to cancel a paid App subscription on iPhone?  It is pretty bad. I always forget where the link is and have to spend several minutes to look for it. Not a good experience.  It might work for iPhone and Apple but likely won’t work for you. If customer wants to cancel a subscription, then go ahead and make it easy for them to find the cancellation button/links. I am not saying you let them go easily, you should have top notch experience, service etc, to make it hard for them cancel but hiding an option to cancel is not the solution.  If they can’t find that cancellation link the they are going to leave you bad reviews about you in social media. Use data to figure out how valuable the customer is, understand why he/she is leaving and provide proper personalized offer/incentive for them to stay.
  9. Easy to Unsubscribe from emails and other communications – Don’t end up in spam folders because your subscribers can’t find an unsubscribe link in your email. Spam complain will hurt more than the unsubscribes. If you do send relevant messages then unsubscribe should not be a big issue because people only unsubsribe from irrelevant stuff. Follow email best practices, send relevant messages and provide a link to unsubscribe.
  10. Ongoing Testing – Customer preferences change, their behavior changes and you site has to change to. The best way to change your site is to keep evolving and always trying to find out what works best for your customers. This is where ongoing testing (A/B testing, MVT testing) helps. Before rolling out a feature, page layout etc., test it and see if your customers like it.  If not, then try something else. As Bryan Eisenberg says “Always Be Testing”.
  11. Personalized experience I started writing about personalization ever since I started this blog, back in 2006. I wrote extensively about privacy and how marketers should address it to engage in personalization. Consumers are now more at ease with online purchases, they have moved past initial privacy concerns of online tracking and now expect personalization.  Personalization is no longer optional. Many marketers don’t realize that personalization does not have to be complex. You can start simple and build on it.  Reach out to me if you need help.
Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Need Help?  Contact me at batraonline at gmail or fill this form http://anilbatra.com/analytics/contact-me/

2 A/B Testing Lessons Learned from Amazon Video

2-33-720x356It is no secret that Amazon is a data driven organization.  The culture of testing is ingrained into pretty much everything Amazon does. However, a company like Amazon also makes mistake as I learned from my recent experience with Amazon Videos.

I have two Amazon Fire TV Sticks, one attached to each TV that I have. Both are tied to the same Amazon account.  Using my Amazon Video account, I started watching a movie on one TV, turned it off halfway through and then a day later tried to watch it on the other TV. Guess what? I could not find that movie in any of the obvious menu options. I was expecting it to show up in my stream or at least in the same place where I found it last time.  Nope.  Amazon changed the order of movies on me. It’s not like it added new movies to the lineup and this movie got pushed down. They just reordered the existing movie selection. It appeared to me that some kind of movie display sorting experiments was going on. However, that experiment, ruined the experience for me as I spent a lot of time looking for that particular movie.

In another instance on Amazon Video, I found the movie but as I soon as I clicked on it, it vanished and the movie list was reordered. Weird, right? Again, my suspicion is that some movie sorting/ordering algorithm experiment (A/B test) was going. So, what can you learn from this experience?  There are two A/B testing (experimentation) lessons that you can learn from this mistake by Amazon:

  1. Keep version consistency across devices – Everybody uses multiple devices these days, multiple TVs, Tablets, Phones etc. Make sure you provide same version of your layout/algorithm to the same user across devices. Which means that you must do testing at the customer level instead of session or visitor level.
  2. Do not change customer experience midstream – Make sure all touch points are in sync and you’re A/B test does not change customer experience as customer interacts with the interface. In this particular case, if the movie was right in front of me on the home screen then pressing the button on the movie should not have triggered a test that rearranged the order of the movies displayed on my screen. The ordering/sorting should have been done before it was presented to me.

Questions? Comments?

Need help with A/B testing and Personalization? Reach me at batraonline@gmail.com.

5 Reasons To Use Google Experiments

Google Experiments is an A/B testing tool that is available within Google Analytics interface.  This post is not about what A/B testing is, why you should conduct A/B tests and what other tools are available but really to make a case for using Google Analytics as your testing platform.  I am not getting paid to write this or have any affiliation with Google. This post is in response to a question I received from a reader of my blog.

  1. Free –There is absolutely no cost for the Tool. You can’t beat Free, it is a great way to start with A/B testing and learn about how testing works. I strongly recommend that you try this tool before moving to more sophisticated paid tools. Additionally, if you are just trying to make a case for Testing within your organization then cost does become a barrier and this tools removes that barrier.
  2. Easy To Setup – Easy to use wizard allows you to choose the pages to test and setup test parameters.
  3. Easy Implementation – Once you are done with setting up (point 2 above) the page(s) you want to test, you have to implement some code on your site.  It may sound daunting but that code is very easy to implement. Google provide you the code after your setup is done and all you have to do is stick that on your pages.  Since you already have Google Analytics installed, you are already half way through. Easy setup makes it easy for you to cross the IT/development team barrier.
  4. Setting up Objective– If you have already defined the Goals in Google Analytics, you can use them as the objective of your test. During your setup you can pick a goal that you have already defined in Google Analytics as your desired optimization objective. If you have not defined them already then you can quickly define them while setting up your test.
  5. Segments – Many tools just gives you the final results based on the data of entire population or based on some predefined segments.  In case of Google Experiments, you can pick Segments that you have defined in Google Analytics and see how each variation is performing for each of your segment. Since not all segments behave in similar fashion this kind of analysis helps you drive even more conversion by understanding which variation of your pages(s) work better for which segments.

Keep in mind that no matter how good your conversions are, there is always a room for improvement and A/B testing helps you with it. As Bryan Eisenberg would say, Always Be Testing.

Email Personalization Not Working? Read This.

I am a big believer in targeting and personalization and have written extensively about it in this blog. However, targeting and personalization is not “set it and forget it” strategy. It needs to be continually tested to make sure that it is working and driving value. Sometimes you have to test and see if “no-personalization” will yield better results than personalization.

To make my point, let’s take an example:
I get a weekly promotional email from a prominent marketing company. They personalize the email subject line (good so far).
Here are few subject lines

  • How [XYZ Company] Should Kickoff New Clients
  •  Ensure that [XYZ Company] delivers great PPC campaign
  • The rules of online branding that [XYZ Company] needs to know

Note: Instead of [XYZ Company] they use the name of the company I used to work with.

However there is an issue with the way they do personalization. Do you see the issue?

The issue is that they use the name of the company I USED TO WORK FOR. I left that company over a year ago and the subject line is so irrelevant to me that I don’t even open the emails. Though rest of the subject line may be relevant, adding personalization (company name) just makes me ignore that email.

This is a perfect example of why personalization fails.

This can be easily avoided by analyzing the data to figure out which subscribers are not responding to these personalized messages and test a different kind of personalization or completely drop the personalization.

Company names, titles, associations, job roles etc. change and your personalization needs to change when that happens. The key is to actively analyze the data and test.

Do you have any other examples of Failed Personalization? If yes, I would love to see those.

 

Also see: 7 Ways to Create Relevancy in Emails

Underline the Clickable Text and Link the Pictures

Sometimes there are things that you know are not right and need to be fixed immediately rather than testing and waiting for the result. Such was a case that I recently encountered and the results were amazing.

Recently, I was working with a client who sells people expertise (I am purposely vague here because I don’t want to reveal the name of the client). The “Expert” search is the start of the process and then “Expert Search result” page is a second step in the process.

On the expert search page, each expert is listed with a small blurb and the name of the expert was linked to the next step of the “checkout process”.

When analyzing the “checkout” process we noticed that there were 2 things missing

  1. The name of Expert was not underlined – it was linked to the next step in the “checkout” funnel but not underlined. Also, that was the only call to action on that page i.e. to click on the experts name to go to the next step.
  2. The picture of the Expert was static and had no link whatsoever.

Recommendation

Usually I recommend doing A/B testing before making any changes to a page/process but I also do rely on best practices from time to time. In this case underlining the Expert’s name (“product name”) to get more information and to link the image to either next step or the enlarged version of the image with more info made total sense. I was confident that I did not need any test (I sound like a HiPPO, right?). So
So rather than waiting to conduct an A/B test we went ahead and made those changes.
(of couse a clear to call to action link or button might have worked too but that was not an option)

Result

  • Exits from that page dropped from 38% to 33%
  • Funnel conversion rate went up from 40% to 47% (Though 40% conversion was amazing considering there was no highly visible way to get to the next step of the process).

I am sure if you look at your own site you will find plenty of such opportunities for improvement.
Thoughts? Comments?

Significance of Statistically Significant Results in A/B Testing

You are running an A/B test (or multivariate test) but are in a hurry to make a decision to pick the winning page. Should you pick a winner based on initial few days of the data before your tool has actually declared a clear winner? This question comes up quite often during the conversations with the clients.

I always warn against such an approach and advice to be patient and get statistically significant results before pulling a plug on an underperforming variation o declaring a winner. I wanted to share few graphs with you to illustrate my point.

The following example is from a test that I am currently running.
First Two Weeks: If you make a decision without completely getting through the test, you will pick “Yellow” as the winner while declaring “Blue” a loser.

Month Later: There does not seem to be a clear winner.

Few More Days Later: Seems like “Blue” is trending higher. Should you pick “Blue” now?

Finally: We don’t have a clear winner yet.

As you can see, picking a winner or dropping a loser in the early stages of test, without having a statistical significant result, would have been a wrong decision.

Comments? Questions?


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Are Form Validations Invalidating Your Conversions?

Form validations are a great way to ensure that the data you collect from your users is clean and in the right format. However form validations can also frequently lead to lost conversions. CAPTCHA is one such type of validation.

Some validation put unnecessary formatting burden on your customer/visitor leading them to abandon your forms and go to your competitors. A lot of data formatting can be done via client side JavaScript or backend processing without putting the customer through a lot of pain. I am not suggesting to remove all required data and data formatting requirement, all I am saying is that be if you can handled formatting with scripts/code then do not make your customer do it. Let the users finish the form.

Your analytics tool will show you the abandonment rate of your forms. What it won’t tell you is how many of those abandonments were a result of form validations. Most of the analyst/optimization specialist will suggest reducing the number of fields and/or conducting A/B testing with a different layout to decrease abandonment. But if you validations are a problem then A/B testing will not help you. You need to get your validations correct first before your jump into changing the number of fields, layouts etc.

Below are some examples of the fields that might require special formatting and are generally the cause of data validation errors:

  • Social Security Number – If you do collect social security then do not force the user to add the data in XXX-XX-XXXX format, i.e. do not force them to enter “-“ between the numbers. If you do provide one box for entry then either let them enter the numbers in free format or provide 3 input boxes with character limit of 3,2, and 4 receptively.
  • Phone Number – Do not force the users to enter “(“ , “)”, “-“, or spaces between the numbers just because that’s the format you want to store the data in. You can do all the formatting in the backend or front end code before the data gets submitted to your database.
  • Account Numbers – I recently came across a site that manages my new 401K plan. The form asked me to enter the company account number, which was provided to me by our payroll department. I entered the account number into the appropriate field, clicked on the “Submit” button and got an error that something was wrong with my social security, last name or account number. It did not tell me which exact field was the problem field. I checked everything and tried it again and then again. Finally I got frustrated with and called their toll free number. It turns out that I was required to enter “-“ after the 2nd digit. What a waste of time and cause of frustration that was. Since it was my 401K plan I had no choice but to call the phone number, if this were a shopping cart form I would have quit immediately.
  • Email Addresses – Email address format is universal and most of the customers/visitors know that they have to enter an “@” and a “.” Enforcing such a formatting rule in the form validation is expected. However one validation that I recently came across was totally unexpected. My business email address has a “.us” extension and not a “.com”, but a not so “wisemarketer.com” rejected the “.us” domain. According to them “There are some e-mail domains and patterns that, in our experience, are more difficult to communicate with than others.” Apparently “.us” domain falls under one of those blocked emails domains. Really??? You got to be kidding me. “Wisemarkter” lost a valid conversion.

Showing the Error Messages

People do miss required fields or enter data in the wrong formats leading to errors. If an error occurs it is the site owner’s responsibility to make sure that the proper error messages are shown to the users. Two things that you need to keep in mind when showing error messages to the users (or visitors or customers):

  1. Clearly state the error message – Make sure to highlight the fields in error and let the visitors know exactly what is required. Cryptic or generic error message is not going to help. Be sure to provide “prescriptive guidance”. Wisemarketer does not make the error clear, users have to click on the “Why” link to see the description of the error message.
  2. Show the error message where the customers can see them – What’s the point of showing an error message if the visitors can’t see them. Many sites forget this simple principal. If an error occurs automatically scroll to the error message so that the visitor can see the error message. One of the offenders of this is mighty “Google”. The following form on “Google Website Optimizer” has an error but it is hard to see that error message on the screen.

The error occurs when you miss filling data in one of the fields and then click on the “Continue” button. The error occurs but the page does not scroll to where the error message is displayed. To the user it looks like that nothing happened, no error and no form submission. The user has to scroll to the top of the page to see the error message.

Have you come across a form validation that drove you nuts? Send me the link. Comments?

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Is CAPTCHA Eating Up Your Conversions?

CAPTCHA acronym for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart” is a way for sites to block spam. According to Wikipedia it is

“A CAPTCHA or Captcha (pronounced /ˈkæptʃə/) is a type of challenge-response test used in computing to ensure that the response is not generated by a computer. The process usually involves one computer (a server) asking a user to complete a simple test which the computer is able to generate and grade. Because other computers are unable to solve the CAPTCHA, any user entering a correct solution is presumed to be human. Thus, it is sometimes described as a reverse Turing test, because it is administered by a machine and targeted to a human, in contrast to the standard Turing test that is typically administered by a human and targeted to a machine. A common type of CAPTCHA requires that the user type letters or digits from a distorted image that appears on the screen.”

Below is an example of a CAPTCHA on craigslist.

Though CAPTCHA is a great tool for blocking spam it could be coming in the way of user experience and resulting in a lower conversion than you would have had without it.

I have come across many sites where CAPTCHAs are totally illegible. Such CAPTCHAs not only deter SPAM but also valid human visitors. Even if the CAPTCHA is totally legible it adds one extra step between a visitor and the conversion. Sometimes it takes few refreshes of the CAPTCHA before a visitors gets it right, resulting in a very frustrating experience.

You can spend all your time doing A/B and Multivariate testing the form layout, images, text etc. but probably won’t move the needle if your CAPTCHA is the culprit.

If you have CAPTCHA on your site then I suggest following 5 checks to ensure you have a good CAPTCHA on your site.

  • Clear – Is it clear to your visitors that you have to enter the CAPTCHA before the form can be submitted? Some sites don’t make it clear and leave visitors wondering why their form is not getting submitted. Make sure there is help available on CAPTCH if the visitors get stuck. Also make sure that there is a refresh button to refresh the CAPTCHA image incase visitors can’t read it.
  • Readbility – Check all your CAPTCHA images. Can you read them? Will you visitors be able to figure out what your CAPTCHA reads?
  • Accessibility – Visually impaired visitors should be able to fill the form else you will loose them at CAPTCHA.
  • Time – How fast is your CAPTCHA? If it is slow to load or validate you might be loosing conversions.
  • Protection – Do you have a huge SPAM problem (that you need a CAPTCHA or did you put it because everybody else is putting them too? Keep in mind that event a CAPTCHA might not completely protect you from SPAM.

Is CAPTCHA hurting your conversions?

I suggest you conduct A/B testing to understand how CAPTCHA might be affecting your conversions. Create a version of the page that does not have CAPTCHA and test it against the control version (your current version with CAPTCHA).

Analyze the results. You should analyze the conversions you get from each version. Deduct any SPAM when calculating the conversion. Calculate true conversions per month/year from both versions. Make sure your results are statistically significant. Most likely you will see lower conversion from the version with CAPTCHA and higher SPAM from the version without CAPTCHA. Considering the impact of SPAM on your form, determine if the efficiency (clean data) gained by having CAPTCHA on your form outweighs the gain of extra conversion when you remove CAPTCHA. If CAPTCHA is doing more harm than good then remove it.

Examples of CAPTCHA


This CAPTCHA is hard to read but has help and accessibility built into it


This CAPTCHA is hard to read and does not have accessibility


This CAPTCHA is easy to read and has help and accessibility built into it

Have you seen a bad CAPTCHA that caused you to leave the site? Send me the link.

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Widemile Optimize: A/B and Multivariate Tool

In my post titled “A/B and Multivariate Testing Landscape”, I reported on a variety of tools that marketers and analytics professionals were using for A/B and multivariate testing. As I’ve predicted the interest in testing and targeting/segmentation continues to grow. This was also validated by the Web Analytics Association’s “Outlook 2009: Survey Report”.

I just got through a good discussion and demo of the newest release of Widemile Optimize with Bob Garcia, VP Business Development for Widemile. I’m impressed with the new release of Widemile Optimization product that he demoed; this is the first Widemile release for corporate users. Widemile had released an Agency Edition of the solution last fall and the new release includes advanced segmentation and a refined user interface.

You might be wondering who Widemile is as they don’t have the same brand recognition as Optimost or Omniture Test&Target. Widemile has been around for several years and was one of the vendors listed in “A/B and Multivariate Testing Landscape” survey at eMetrics. I started working with them last year as they were rolling out their platform for agencies.

Widemile’s new release should help more marketers get started with testing as they’ve focused on simplifying the process while still offering more advanced users a lot of flexibility. Their new segmentation wizard makes it easy to create and manage visitor segments based on visitors browser information, Geo information etc. Bob showed me how you can clone a test run and set up a new test against specific segments in less than 5 minutes without any tagging changes.

Widemile uses fractional factorial methodology which allows for tests that use a subset of the combinations used in full factorial tests. Using a fractional factorial methodology allows the tool such as Widemile to reduce the amount of time required to get statistically significant test results.

Widemile must have read my A/B and Multivariate Testing Landscape post I mentioned earlier, which cited lack of budget as an impediment to doing testing, as they also announced an aggressive promotion (up to 50% off) for the first 20 customers that sign on. In closing, if you’re investigating your options for a professional testing solution Widemile should be on your short list.

Feel free to email me if you need help to figure out which testing solution will work best for you or need help in getting your testing going.

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Market and Optimize Responsibly

We, the people in the business of marketing and optimization, know (I hope) that certain images, text, ad copy etc. work better than others in driving user to convert on our sites. We continuously test (A/B and Mult-variate) to see what works and what does not work for our visitors/customer on our sites and then optimize our sites/banners/emails etc. accordingly. In order to make users click we test headlines, text, testimonials etc. making certain claims about our services, and products in those headlines, ad copies, emails etc.

In making those claims we need to think responsibly. We need to make sure that we do not go over broad and make false claims, promises or exaggerate the results. Yes, those claims might give you higher click through rates and higher conversions but there is one more KPI that you need to keep in mind i.e. the KPI that measures responsibility (both ethical and legal). We need to all think ethically and legally about all the claims we make. Think about how we will feel if another company made such claims and we fall for it, will we feel cheated or not? Think about the potential of lawsuits.

Classmates.com is being sued for allegedly making false claims in their email. According to Media Post


“The plaintiff, Anthony Michaels of San Diego county, alleges that he signed up for a free membership to the site last Christmas Eve, but then upgraded to a paid one after receiving e-mail ads stating that other schoolmates were trying to contact him. Those statements turned out to be false, according to the lawsuit.
Michaels’ lawyer, Brian Kabateck, said his client had no way of verifying whether his former schoolmates were actually seeking to contact him on the site, short of signing up for a one-year membership.
“The e-mail said: ‘So and so’s trying to find you, and in order to hook up with him you have to join and become a gold member,'”

Media Post further reports that Reunion.com also faces a lawsuit by members complaining about the site’s marketing efforts. In that case, filed in federal district court in San Francisco, the members allege that Reunion.com sent e-mails that appeared to have come from specific friends, but were actually sent by the site.

We might (or might now) find out if the claims by classmates were false or not. Either way this lawsuit provides a great lesson for the marketers – Market and Optimize Responsibly.

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Technical Consultant for Internet Marketing and Web Analytics at Unica (Waltham, MA)