Monthly Archives: April 2008

Amazon: a messy alternative to tabs

It feels like a momentous occasion in Internet terms – and long overdue in my opinion. Amazon‘s latest redesign has got rid of those tabs!

As acknowledged by Amazon themselves in their explanation of the redesign, the expansion of their product range made it difficult for navigation tabs to support the breadth of their product range.

Despite applauding their move away from tabs, I am less than impressed by the navigation solution they’ve ended up with. The expanding navigation requires mouse dexterity that will leave many users frustrated, and this is further compounded by the fact that the department headings are not themselves links.

It is fine to use expanding navigation, it enables users to get greater context of the contents of an area before clicking, but you should always make the navigation label a link. This enables less dexterous users to progress without having to perform mouse gymnastics.

Amazon say the redesign is a result of much customer consultation, I only hope they get some usability testing done with users with average to poor mouse skills sooner rather than later.


5 ways to improve customer service in call centres

Over the last few years I’ve conducted a number of contextual research studies in call centres. It is an interesting environment in which to conduct contextual research. Generally I’ve double-jacked in to calls, observing how the customer service consultants address the queries, and then asked a few questions of the customer service consultants.

Common call centre problems

Although there have been specific issues in each call centre I’ve conducted research studies, there have been a number of common issues. Namely:

  • The customer service application is not used during training. Instead training teaches the consultants to take and rely on hand-written notes. They become familiar and trusting of these as a quick resource for addressing queries. This is an issue for a number obvious reasons; paper doesn’t get updated, their notes may not even be accurately recorded, etc.
  • Consultants have no mechanism for suggesting improvements and updates to the system. If customer service consultants know one piece of information to be inaccurate, it undermines their trust in all other information on the system.
  • Staff are commonly incentivised to complete calls in the shortest amount of time. Besides a whole heap of other issues that this form of incentivisation may lead to, it also encourages consultants to go with the quickest way of finding an answer to a customer query. Encouraging speed rather than use of the information system increases the risk that customer service consultants will provide inaccurate answers.
  • For the reasons listed above, printed reference materials abound within call centre environments. I even once found a printed reference guide titled “Things you won’t find on the intranet”! Rather than ban printed materials and send these underground (as many call centre management do), I wonder if there is a way for management to ensure that printed materials are up-to-date and accurate.
  • Management are oblivious to any of the above and find it a real kick in the stomach when I deliver my research findings.

5 ways to improve customer service

From these common findings I’ve extracted 5 ways in which most (if not all) call centres could be improved:

  1. Use the customer service information system during training.
  2. Encourage suggestions for improvements to the information system, and resolve the suggestions quickly and publicly.
  3. Incentivise new staff by use of the information system, not time to complete calls.
  4. Use colour co-ordinated official print-outs that are changed as regularly as your environment requires, this enables management to at a glance check to see what versions of print materials staff are using.
  5. Management should walk the floor regularly, but not in an intimidating way, and double-jack in to calls for a period of time is a great mechanism for seeing what really goes on.

Tobii eye tracking

I was given a demo of the Tobii T60 eye tracking software by James Breeze last week. Eye tracking software has come a long way since the last time I investigated it. In laymans terms, the T60 is a clever monitor that has uses beams/sensors to monitor where on the page you are looking. There is absolutely no funny head-gear required!

Although a very slick and impressive presentation, I was left with many questions and concerns about using this for usability testing.

It only works when the participant is close to the monitor

The T60 relies on you being within a specific distance of the monitor. Although vastly superior to old-school eye tracking, this felt awkward when I used the product and certainly restricts the use of the product to “lean forward” interaction experiences (despite what they may say about using it for “sit back” experiences such as watching videos, etc).

A colleague mentioned that other eye tracking products, such as faceLAB, are far less restrictive in terms of movement and proximity to the sensors.

I can imagine that this distance limitation could be problematic and require the facilitator to constantly remind the participant to “move closer”.

The heatmap produced by the product is misleading

The heatmap produced by the product was, in my opinion, very misleading. I am not sure if this is a deficiency in eye tracking heatmaps in general, but a colleague spent approximately 2 minutes attempting to complete a task. He gazed nearly all over the webpage until, after around 1:45 minutes, he fixed on the correct area of the screen. He then spent approximately 15 seconds gazing at the correct area of the screen before being confident enough to click.

My laymans interpretation of observing this interaction was that the website failed my colleague, yet the heatmap produced by this interaction showed the correct area of the page as single biggest area of the user’s attention. The suggestion of the heatmap was that the website succeeded.

(This observation is likely to be directed at heatmaps in general rather than the Tobii T60’s heatmaps in particular)

The “think-aloud” protocol interferes with accurate eye tracking data

James mentioned that pure eye tracking should be conducted without interrupting the participant, i.e. without using the “think-aloud” protocol. Apparently use of “think-aloud” protocol has been shown to interfere with the results produced from eye tracking. So to get accurate results from eye tracking you require a sterile test environment.

As someone who has conducted usability testing for many years, I would be highly reluctant to lose the valuable insights that come from using the “think-aloud” protocol. Even though the product enables you to quickly review the video footage so the participant can reflect upon what they did and why, after the event reflection is highly likely to miss out on many valuable insights and lead to the user blaming themselves as they watch video of them failing a task. Also this requires people to watch themselves, something I have found research participants almost universally unhappy about.

If I had to pick just one research technique…

As any good research consultant will tell you, to get accurate insights you should use a variety of research techniques. But the reality is that few clients have the budget or time to allow for multiple research techniques to be used.

This means that during a particular research project I will get to use one or two different techniques if I’m lucky. Given that reality, I am not sure whether the gloss and glamour of the data and videos produced by eye tracking is enough to make me want to lose the valuable insights offered by techniques such as “think-aloud” usability testing. I appreciate that it doesn’t need to be either/or, but the grim reality of many commercial projects is that you don’t get the opportunity to do both.

That together with the cost of the product ($$$), my conclusion is that there is still some way to go before I’ll be recommending eye tracking for anything other than clients with plenty of spare cash.