While Web sites are becoming increasingly complex, customers are developing extremely low tolerance levels for confusing site interfaces. Christopher Calisi, CEO of eHelp, feels that in the rush to create eye-catching, attention-grabbing Web sites, too many e-commerce companies have forgotten to make those sites usable and accessible.
According to a recent survey conducted by Forrester Research, 67 percent of consumers abandon Web sites without completing a transaction, 63 percent say they can't find desired information, and nearly 40 percent of buying attempts fail because users feel that a site is too complex.
"You are caught between a rock and a hard place," said corporate Web-site designer Victor Monyez. "My high-end e-commerce clients want a sophisticated site that boasts all of the bells and whistles. The perception is that plain sites make a company look cheap or backwards, something that does seem to play out in the surveys we've done of user opinions. At the same time, we all know that the more features a site offers, the easier it is to get lost inside it."
So Monyez was happy to discover DynaHelp, a server-based help tool that not only steers users through a site, gently assisting them when they become stuck or confused, but also gathers data on particularly troublesome interface and usability problems and reports the problems back to webmasters.
DynaHelp is a proactive customer assistance solution for transaction-based Web sites. Like its elder sibling, RoboHELP, a program that provides help to roughly 70 percent of the desktop self-assistance market, DynaHelp has the typical self assistance center that allows users to input their queries in natural language, says Jerry Cardinal of EVenTures consulting.
"But DynaHelp shines in its ability to thoroughly incorporate itself throughout a Web site and become a seamless part of the user's browsing experience. If a site visitor gets confused or needs assistance, he or she can access help from any page on your Web site, as well as see little pop-up windows that offer more information." The idea, says Cardinal, is to make Web sites more userfriendly while increasing online sales by making answers available immediately, providing an uninterrupted shopping experience.
"You don't want your visitors wandering off to call tech support or a customer rep because they get frustrated. If they have to switch to a new train of thought to get help, you may have lost them. I really believe that DynaHelp will assist in cutting down the number of those abandoned shopping carts," says Cardinal.
But DynaHelp is more than a guidance tool for end users. Oddly, it's a solution that's so smart it might eventually render itself superfluous. As Cardinal puts it, the more you use DynaHelp, the better your Web site gets, and the less you need the product. "Which would seem to be a recipe for failure, if it wasn't for the fact that so many new Web users need basic help in getting around a Web site, no matter how usable that site may be," added Cardinal.
Or, as CEO Calisi says "This is help, but it's not your father's help...it's very different."
DynaHelp uses Ehelp's ALURe specification. ALURe--Aggregation and Logging of User Requests, is an XML-based data format that gathers data about usage trends so that site owners can locate and eliminate their site's trouble areas--the sections that are confusing or frustrating to visitors. ALURe can create real-time reports on a Web site's usability by interpreting data collected from Web-based customer assistance systems, transcripts of real-time chat conversations, e-mail messages and online discussion forums. Cardinal pointed out that any data mining and analysis tool that recognizes XML can use the information gathered through ALURe.
DynaHelp's database makes a record of every user request for assistance and sends reports on these problematic areas back to the webmaster, explains Steven Jacobs, a Web-site designer and consultant on usable design. " A DynaHelp site gets more usable the more the site is used," said Jacobs. "But you don't have to frustrate your customers to find out how not to frustrate them. The product also includes iPredict, which forecasts the areas where customers will get lost or aggravated. You can redesign these segments or rely on the targeted help DynaHelp has ready and waiting to be served up."
American Airlines recently rolled out DynaHelp as part of their initiative to provide the highest quality online customer assistance in the airline industry. "Increasing online customer satisfaction is critical to AA.com," said Elizabeth Crandall, American's managing director of personalized marketing. "We strive to maintain and continually improve one of the Web's largest e-commerce sites, and DynaHelp provides us with an innovative solution that will optimize our Web-based customer service."
The solution was implemented too recently to have firm figures on its benefits, said Crandall, but she feels the product has been a positive addition to AA.com, and has made it easier for users to navigate through the many options presented at American Airlines' site.
DynaHelp is a server-based software that typically takes two to three weeks to integrate into a Web site fully. The package is priced per configuration on request, and is designed for use in complex commercial sites.