You’ve just left work and have five minutes to run into the food store to pick up some string cheese before you have to be at little Johnny’s Soccer Tournament of Champions. You run in the store, run down the cheese aisle and go to grab it when you suddenly realize the cheese aisle isn’t the cheese aisle anymore. It’s now the Stationary/ Paper Goods aisle. Where did the cheese go? Why did they change it? It’s your turn to bring the team snack, and string cheese is perfect. It’s low fat, high protein, easy to eat and not messy … you need your string cheese! You now have to search for the string cheese. You’re now annoyed. Suddenly your five minute quick stop turns into a twenty minute harried hunt.
Change - some people like it, some people don’t. Sometimes it’s for the better, sometimes it’s for the worse. And then sometimes, even though it’s really for the better, it appears to be for the worse. Don’t let this be the situation with your Web site.
We design and create a lot of Web sites for our clients. When we do this, part of our process is to ask all sorts of genius-caliber questions and one of them is, “How are you planning on marketing this change to your users?” I am usually greeted by silence or asked, “What do you mean? We’re making it better, so why do I need to tell them?”
Human beings are funny about change. Tons of psychological studies have been done on how people react to it, and why. Just like the food store example above, your web users are used to certain things being certain ways and in certain places. When you switch on them, even if it’s for the better, they may feel negative about it, even with something as slight as a new background color (just ask eBay). They have to take the time to relearn your site. They get disoriented. They get frustrated. And they leave. Here you’ve spent time/money to make your site great and your users are abandoning it.
So what can you do?
- Tell them when it’s coming. You don’t even have to use an exact date, but let them know changes are on their way. “Look for our new design in November 2006!” Post the news on your site, include it in your enewsletter or email campaigns. Spread the word!
- Tell them why it’s coming. Point out the benefits they will reap from this change, and be specific where you can (e.g. “… a shorter checkout process, 360 degree product views”). If you’re making changes based upon feedback from your users, tell them this!
- Show them what’s coming. Give them a preview of improved functionality, the cool new design. Not only will this help your users get an idea of what to expect, but it can help you gain some champions who will spread the word, which leads to my next suggestion …
- Get their support. When we built a new application for one of our clients, we conducted some user testing using leaders from the group of employees the app was being built for. Not only did they provide us with great input, they felt like they had a part in making it great and became internal evangelists, driving excitement and making the acceptance cycle much easier and shorter.
- Give them support. Offer them tools that assist them in getting used to the new setup. Use a demo, a special HELP section. Provide redirects for pages, remind them to set new bookmarks. Deliver in-person training. You get the idea.
- Give them the reins. If you can, (this often depends upon what types of changes you are making), let them choose when they want to switch over, or add the changes in using a phased approach. The feeling of control or time to adapt will go a long way towards acceptance.
Not only will these suggestions help your users, they also offer you great additional marketing and branding opportunities as well. But that’s a topic for another time …