Friday, March 13, 2009

Less online hurdles = more egovernment customers

The complexity of screens and the registration and sign-in processes for some Australian egovernment (online) services disturbs me.

In the commercial world I lived by a simple rule of thumb, on average each hurdle I erected between a customer and their goal reduced the overall number of customers who reached their goal by 30%.

To visually demonstate,

Percentage using

This mean that if I started with one million customers and had ten hurdles, only 28,248 of them (3%) would be willing and able to jump all of them to use the service.

If I cut this to six hurdles, this would increase usage to 117,649 customers (12%) - or four times as many - a 400% increase in usage!

If I could cut it to only three hurdles, that would raise the number of customers able to use the service to 490,000 customers (49%) or another three times as many - 300% increase from the six hurdles figure or a massive 1,700% increase from ten hurdles.

In other words, removing hurdles can dramatically increase usage. While in reality it is never as linear as this, remove the right hurdles and the number of customers using an online service will soar.

When engaging customers online we already have built-in hurdles people have to meet to use and interact with our egovernment services:
  • Access to a computer
  • An internet connection
  • Comfort with using the above
  • Mandatory registration processes (even for simple transactions)
However there are often additional hurdles that organisations erect such as,
  • No sales pitch for services - explaining by video/animation and audio how a service works and what benefits it provides customers
  • Difficult-to-find services and registration/sign-on links
  • Overly complex registration/sign-on processes
  • Unnecessary information collection - to the extent of asking customers information they are unlikely to have access to
  • Badly written service, security and privacy information
  • Poorly constructed workflows with unnecessary or out-of-order steps and no clarity on where the customer is in the process (how many steps remain)
  • Error messages in bureaucratic or tech-speak that dead-end the customer (no way forward)
  • A lack of appropriate acknowledgement when steps or transactions are correctly completed
  • Forcing customers to switch channels in the middle of a process without warning or when tasks could be completed entirely online
  • A requirement for complex and non-intuitive password and usernames
  • Difficult password and username retrieval processes (if a service is used less than weekly, most customers will forget their password at some point)
  • A lack of tutorials, contextual help or step-ups to live online interactions with customer service officers (such as Avatar-based agent interactions, or actual staff interactions via text chat, voice chat or video chat)
  • Services that require the use of plug-ins, older web browsers or are not friendly towards mobile devices
There are approaches to reduce or negate many of these hurdles already implemented in the commercial sector.

Most of these can be adopted by government without compromising security or privacy and all lead to greater usage and satisfaction with online services.

Some of these 'hurdle-repellents' include:
  • Upfront video demonstrating what the service does (the benefit) and how it works (ease of use)
  • Larger and more prominent registration/sign-on) buttons, with less clutter on pages to distract customers
  • Use of plain english in all instructions and error messages, generally in informal language
  • Extra large form fields (12pt or larger) for easier reading
  • Simpler workflows with less steps and clear progression bars explaining the next step
  • Customer-defined usernames and passwords (or use of email address as username), with visual aids to maximise security (such as password strength indicators)
  • Secret questions (some user-defined) to provide a second line of support for customers who forget their passwords
  • Clear and simple 'forgotten password' processes which do not require customers to switch channels (to call)
  • Contextual help integrated into every screen
  • Video or text and graphics tutorials for each workflow - clearly accessible within the workflow and before a user authenticates (double as sales tools)
  • Live online help, potentially with co-browsing (where the customer service officer can see what the customer is seeing)

There are other commonly used approaches to reducing the hurdles for your customers when using egovernment services. Try out some commercial sites and you'll quickly gather more ideas.

So why reduce the hurdles for customers - potentially at a cost to the government?
The benefits for the government agency include faster outcomes, lower cost transactions and greater customer satisfaction. There's a side benefit of more timely and accurate reporting as online transactions can be easier to capture and report on than those over a counter or phone.

The benefits for customers include less stress when transacting (therefore more likelihood they will keep using the same approach) and faster outcomes.

The downside? Government will need to invest more in our online infrastructure to make it easier and faster for customers.

I reckon that trade-off is well worth it.

So what is your agency doing to remove online transaction hurdles for customers?

1 comment:

  1. I could not agree more.

    I administer a wiki hosted by a govt department. the wiki has two-levels of password, intendfed to assure users who were nervous about wiki idea and secrecy/security of information.

    The 2-level password is in practice a major hurdle. Many forget that there are two, so they inevitably fail if they do attempt to log on.

    Curiously it was the intended users who, when consulted, had insisted on there being two passwords.

    Consultation does not always produce wisdom.