Customer Feedback: The Critical Factor in Benchmarking Websites

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Customer Feedback: The Critical Factor in Benchmarking Websites

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by Kelly Stallard | June 06, 2017


Customer experience metrics measure the experience when visiting the websites and is critical to determining the value of those sites. Without website customer experience measurements, agencies cannot be certain of how well their websites are supporting them in accomplishing their missions.

In a recently released report, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation recognized government websites as one of the most important ways that the U.S. government provides Americans with access to government services and information.

In their report, ITIF summarized the results of a detailed analysis of 297 of the most popular federal websites. This analysis showed that many federal websites are not meeting requirements that have been set forth by the federal government or even basic industry standards for web development. Being a technology focused organization, ITIF conducts their analysis on technical metrics related to page load speeds, mobile friendliness, security, and accessibility.

While these requirements are very important and arguably represent minimum requirements, metrics related to the customer experience when visiting the websites is critical to determining the value of those sites. Without customer experience measurements, agencies cannot be certain of how well their websites are supporting them in accomplishing their missions.

Why Visitor Opinions Matter

Load times and accessibility are important, but they don’t speak explicitly to how effective a website is in meeting the needs of those who visit the site. Questions about visitor satisfaction with their experience, such as whether they could find what they were looking for and what difficulties they had, is vitally important feedback. Without it, arguably the most important measure of success is missing.

If Americans are not able to find the information they need for interacting with government in meaningful and successful ways, the websites are not serving to fulfill the missions of their agencies and are not providing taxpayers with the return on their investment that they deserve. Moreover, agencies who fail to optimize their websites to satisfy to citizens will drive them to use more expensive channels such as local offices or call centers to get the information and service they need.

Ways in Which Visitor Opinions are Measured

There are any number of ways that agencies can obtain visitor or user feedback on their websites. In some cases, qualitative information is gathered using focus groups and individual interviews. In other cases, quantitative surveys are used collect data that facilitates statistical analysis to identify what is going well and what areas need improvement. Many believe a combination of both is needed due to the unique perspective that each approach provides.

Focus groups and interviews can be especially useful in getting detailed comments regarding the helpful characteristics of a website and the challenging ones. During group sessions or individual interviews, professionals can assign tasks to participants and watch them interact with the website being tested to gain firsthand knowledge of what the experience is like for visitors. When visitors get stuck or begin to struggle, inquires can be made about why they are having difficulty and what they are thinking about as they navigate their way through the site.

Among that advantages of this type of approach is the opportunity to observe visitors interacting with the website and find out how and why people respond to the websites the way they do. This type of approach can be particularly helpful during the design phase of a website or during a redesign.

Quantitative surveys provide a different perspective on the user experience. While focus groups can help identify and dig into specific difficulties users might be having, they don’t provide a means for measuring how many people might struggle with the same issue or whether the experience of the person or persons participating in the groups or interviews are representative of the typical user.

Determining the prevalence of issues and their impact on site effectiveness requires quantitative survey data collected from larger groups of website visitors. Another advantage to quantitative surveys, especially those administered during or shortly after the website visit, is the opportunity to get feedback from users while the experience is still fresh in their minds.

Additionally, feedback on how well the site met their specific need (rather than how it performed during an assigned task) provides a real life, “in the moment” perspective that is different from an experience that is based on a specific set of instructions or a stated goal. This approach also has the potential for uncovering reasons for visiting and visitor expectations for content that may not have been considered when building the site.

The Need for Continuous Measurement

In addition to considering different approaches to understanding how visitors feel about websites and how well they are meeting visitor needs, it is important to realize that measuring once is not enough. Like the need to update and improve your site on a regular basis, it is imperative to obtain feedback regularly to make sure the site is continuing the meet visitor needs and expectations.

Unfortunately, due to the fast pace of technology, meeting expectations is and will continue to be a moving target fueled by the likes of Amazon, Alibaba, Priceline, and eBay, just to name a few. These online giants and others continue to push the limits of customer service and heighten customer expectations for what great service looks and feels like. Thus, agencies will need to continue their efforts to improve over time and obtain feedback to guide those improvement efforts.

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