Why do customers come to your website? To find information? Not exactly. They come to complete a task. They are trying to do something. Now ask yourself, have you designed your website around these tasks? The real answer might surprise you.

We Do It Wrong, By Accident

Yesterday I attended Gerry McGovern's Masterclass: Task Management: A new model of management for websites. What I learned spoke volumes to why so many organization's websites fail to attract and keep customers. What's interesting is that we don't intentionally sabotage our efforts at building effective websites, we just really need to unlearn a few things and adopt some new strategies.

Customers come to our websites to complete a task. If they are unsuccessful, there may be two reasons why:

  1. We don't really know who they are and what they want, or
  2. We see things differently than we do things.

If you don't know your customers, you're in trouble and that's a whole other class you need to attend. But it's the second one that catches you saying, what? McGovern explains it very well. The reality is that we are too close to the problem at hand. We think we know what our customers want, what they need and in many cases we do ask them. But therein lies the problem, we ask them. McGovern says we need to know our customers in a way that is different than asking them -- because they don't answer the way they really act. 

Identifying Top Tasks

We all know that simplicity is next to godliness. Make it simple for our customers and they will be happy. Oddly enough, we don't tend to build our websites with simplicity in mind. Because the truth is, sometimes to make something simple for the customer, we have to make it harder for the internal employee, and that's not well received. 

If simplicity is the key, then the question becomes, what do we simplify? We need to identify the top tasks that users come to our websites to do. And then we need to identify how they are performing.

Here's what's interesting. We have no real problem producing content and publishing it. What we have problems with is deciding what to take away. Most web teams don't have the authority or the knowledge to take away from the website. But takeaway we must, and offer only the top tasks our customers need, in as simple and straightforward a way as possible.

Test and Measure

The heart of website management is observing. Observing the behavior of our customers. Remote testing is a new way of testing that is better and faster. McGovern said that traditional usability testing has its role, but it's not the whole story. 

If testing is the heart of website management, then measuring what is tested falls neatly behind it. We aren't talking traditional metrics, like traffic, here. Traditional metrics tell us what's happening, but they don't tell us why it's happening. For that we need to measure completion rates.

It's important to be testing all the time as well. We need to move from a "launch and leave" mentality to a "continuous improvements" mindset. 

Keeping the Customer Top of Mind

McGovern provided a strategy for identifying the top tasks for your website, as well steps to create the best test questions, how to recruiter your testers and how to analyze and communicate the results. He also walked us through the best way to manage search, including how to make it a better experience for users.

It was a day packed with interesting case studies and great advice. I think the biggest takeaway I had was that we need to look at website management differently. It's not about how to make the publishing process easier for our internal users. It's about making the website simple for our customers by focusing on the top tasks they are trying to accomplish and getting rid of everything else. That's not going to be an easy thing for any organization to do, but I think it would be a great challenge to accomplish.

As a side note, being the Canadian that I am, I wanted to tell you that there is another opportunity to attend Gerry McGovern's Masterclass on Task Management if you are in the Ottawa area tomorrow. It's not too late to sign up and spend a day learning how to think like your customer.