Monthly Archives: September 2007

My OZ-IA presentation

I’ve been asked for the slides from my OZ-IA presentation. Not sure how much sense these will make without the audio, but I think the podcast of the presentation will soon be at the OZ-IA site.

Is length still an issue? PDF (2.3Mb)


Information scents rule!

I spoke at the OZ-IA conference yesterday and added my thoughts to the Long Pages Rule! and associated discussions (such as Millisa Tarquini’s article Blasting the Myth of the Fold at Boxes and Arrows).

It is information scent not long pages that rule. If you set off with the objective of designing a page so that it is long, you’re heading in the wrong direction. In my presentation I cited the example of Norway’s tabloid newspaper Vg. The homepage of Vg clocks in at a staggering 10,500 pixels. If you set off with the objective of creating a long page (because long pages rule) then Vg is what you could end up with.

Instead of focussing on length per se, I prefer to focus on the information needs of users. What is required on this page so that users can confidently step closer to the information they require?

Increased page length is often a by-product of creating stronger information scents, but it should never be an objective in itself.

The quantitative and qualitative research, and anecdotal evidence provided by Milissa Tarquini, Jared Spool, ClickTale, EyeTrack III and others all point to the fact that scrolling is becoming less of an issue for users. Lets take this as an opportunity to design better navigation pages with stronger information scents rather than longer pages simply with more ungrouped content and imagery.

My previous article about information scent can be found at

Car stereos

I’m currently spending a lot of time in borrowed cars as I make my way around New South Wales conducting research at a whole host of schools. Sitting in the passenger seat as NSW’s many kilometers click by can be a tad dull – and I’ve found myself fiddling with the car stereo quite a bit.

I was very taken by the Loud button on this stereo inside the Ford we were driving.

Loud button

The label reminds me of Nigel Tufnell explaining why his guitar amp goes up to 11 in This is Spinal Tap (“it’s one louder”).

I did a straw poll in the car as to what they felt the button might do. The suggestions were:

  • It will kick the bass in like a “Mega Bass” button like handheld stereos sometimes have
  • The people who want to use it will know what it is.

I am not so keen on the second answer. I pressed the button to find out what it would do and hey presto nothing. We tried turning the bass down really low and then pressing it, but still nothing.

I investigated the manual. This is the only reference to the Loud button in the manual.


Ah – so Loud means loud. The richness of insight offered is truly overwhelming.

The only conclusion we could draw is that the button wasn’t working!

I’m talking at OZ IA

I busily pulling together my talk for the OZ IA conference on the 22nd and 23rd September in Sydney. Full details of the conference can be found at the OZ-IA website.

I’ll be talking on what I thought was going to be the fairly prosaic subject of page length. But following some research and discussions with ex-colleagues, I think I could have a lively (ish) talk on my hands.

If you’re in the neighbourhood come and say hello.

No? Yes? Both!

I was registering my new phone yesterday on the Nokia Owners site when I encountered this little gem.


Not that serious in this context, but still a truly ridiculous Yes or No question. I would have thought better of Nokia.

iPhone: experience matters

In an attempt to calm myself from my experiences with Virgin Mobile, I am was pleased to read Phil Barrett’s posting about his experience of the iPhone, iPhone: A whole new chapter in customer experience.

I had the chance to play around with a colleagues iPhone a couple of weeks ago and can only echo Phil’s sentiment – it offers a truly different user experience.

So many interactive devices are merely “me-to” copies of competitor products, or a thin veneer on highly complex, un-user focussed functionality. The iPhone actually made me smile. The way new screens bounce into place, the way it moves between landscape and portrait views, I could go on.

Having just bought a new phone, you could ask why didn’t I buy an iPhone – sadly they aren’t available in Australia yet! But I will be seriously envious when they are.

Virgin Mo-bile: getting cross at cross-channel inefficiencies

I have just had one of those customer experiences. You know the one that goes on for days, sends your blood-pressure sky-high and makes you feel others should know (and learn from) your experience.

I bought a Nokia N73 at the weekend. The phone is great – I have no problems with the phone, but Virgin Mobile!!!! That is a different matter.


  • I bought the phone on Saturday at 1pm and was told by the really helpful person in Virgin Mobile store that they would port my number across from my previous network, Vodafone, and that my new phone would be active with my new number in 1hr.
    At this stage I was Virgin Mobile’s biggest fan. One of the most painful aspects of changing network is either losing your number or facing that long phone call in which your previous network desperately tries to convince you not to change supplier!
  • By 3pm when the phone still wasn’t working (i.e. I could make no out-going calls, receive no incoming calls, but I could play around with the N73’s features), I thought I’d call the Virgin Mobile helpline. The helpline immediately warned me that the current call time was over 5 minutes and that the Virgin Mobile website had lots of answers to common questions. I’ll give it a try I thought.

Up until this point I can’t fault the customer experience – yes the phone should have started working in the first hour as they promised, but I’m a forgiving guy (honestly!).

  • 3.05pm, the Virgin Mobile website has little but marketing and sales information on it. Even after logging in I could find nothing to help me with my “why isn’t my phone working” query.
  • 3.06pm, back to the Virgin Mobile helpline. Again I’m warned that the average wait time is over 5 minutes. How much over 5 minutes I wonder?
  • I was still wondering at 3.35pm when the phone rep took my call. He took my details and after a couple of moments assured me that my number had successfully ported over from Vodafone and that my phone should be fully functional. “But it isn’t”, I informed him. “Give it another hour, and it will be working fine”. Skeptical, but faith not lost yet, I put down the phone and made careful note of the time.
  • 4.35pm, still unable to make outgoing calls or receive incoming calls, but I notice that my old phone has stopped working and that when I dial my old number I go straight through to a Virgin Mobile voicebox. This at least seems promising.
  • 4.36pm, I call the store from which I bought the phone. I explain the situation to them. They look my details up in their system and inform me my phone should be fully functional. “But it isn’t” I slightly wearily inform them. They advise I call the Virgin Mobile helpdesk as they will be able to look into any “porting issues” that might have occured.
  • 4.40pm, back to the Virgin Mobile helpline. Again I’m warned that the average wait time is over 5 minutes. How helpful it would be if they actually gave me a more realistic sense of time. I appreciate that an exact time would be impossible, but what about “you are currently 153rd in the queue”?
  • 5.05pm, I start to wonder if I am paying by the minute?
  • 5.08pm, I have heard the same message informing me that I should visit the Virgin Mobile website about twice a minute for the last 28 minutes – I am prepared to kill!
  • 5.11pm, through gritted teeth I explain my problem. I am told that the phone should be working fine!!! “But it isn’t!”, I screech. Somehow I let the phone rep get away with telling me that he will get one of the technical operators to look into it “It should be sorted in 15 minutes”.
  • 5.26pm, the phone doesn’t miraculously start working.
  • That evening, I decide to register my experience by emailing the Virgin Mobile email contact team.


  • I had a busy day on Sunday. After waking up to find that my phone wasn’t working and that they hadn’t responded to my email, I got on with my other business until the afternoon.
  • Sunday afternoon, I call the Virgin helpdesk. There is no message informing me how long it will take – am I going to go straight through to a phone rep? Six minutes later I spoke to someone. They were amazed that my phone still wasn’t working. They told me that as far as they could see the phone should be working, but that they would get one of their technical operators to look into it. “They are normally very good”, he assured me. Frustrated and approaching the end of my tether, I forced myself to believe him.


  • 9.01am, phone still not working. I have a morning full of meetings and any number of potential clients who could be trying to call me. Currently dialing my mobile number goes through to a message saying something like “Mmm, it seems this Virgin Mobile Voice Mail hasn’t been set up. Try sending a text message, or try again later”.
  • 12.15pm, I finally get out of my meeting and get to the store from which I bought the phone. I explain the problem and as the sales rep goes through his trouble-shooting routine, I continue to explain my experience. “This isn’t very easy when people don’t stop talking” he informs me. At this stage I could have exploded, but I decide to let it go. “How long do you want?” I ask him. “3o minutes”. “Fine”.
  • 12.44pm: It works! It was a faulty Sim card. Something that probably couldn’t have been identified remotely. Why wasn’t I told earlier to go into a store? Why didn’t anyone respond to my email?

Lessons learned

  • Virgin Mobile’s support staff don’t work in an effective cross-channel way. At no time did the phone representatives suggest that I return to the store to see if they could diagnose the problem. This may be because of the highly franchised nature of the mobile phone outlets, but as a customer I shouldn’t suffer because of the company structure.
  • Don’t direct people to websites if the website offers no support – a self-help strategy is effective at reducing the cost of servicing a customer query, but it can only work if you have the content.
  • Customer experience matters. Have a good experience and you tell some people, have a bad experience and you tell everyone!

Obviously I suffered what I assume is a pretty rare experience, but one that serves to show the glaring holes in the cross-channel customer support service offered by Virgin Mobile. I am sure that they are no better, nor no worse than other networks.

Virgin Mobile: customer experience consultant for hire

If anyone from Virgin Mobile wants someone to help analyse the cross-channel customer experience they offer for a range of customer tasks, just leave a comment and I’ll get back to you very quickly!