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October 16, 2006

Remove the pain from your site

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Over at Creating Passionate Users, Kathy Sierra argues that reducing fear is the killer app and presents photos of two different dentist offices to make her case. One depicts your typical cold and sterile looking reception window, while the other shows a warm, “spa-like” office that we’re told smells like a glorious combination of cookies and coffee beans. Kathy asks: Which dentist would you rather go to?

Personally, I say neither. [I'm with you. Coffee and cookies at a dentist's office make me think they didn't learn anything at school. Wonderful ways to destroy your teeth. --Susan] — No, we’re not allowed to agree! On anything. Ever. One of us is sooo fired.

But I’m in the minority. Kathy says most users would agree the second is the more inviting office and would opt to go there. Okay, I understand where this is all going, and 9 times out of 10 I am in complete agreement with Kathy, but I think this time she stops just short of the real issue.

Fear isn’t the problem here, it’s the symptom.

I’ll be honest; I don’t go to the dentist, but it’s not because I’m afraid. I could care less if the office is cold and sterile or if it has Coltrane, Monk and Miles playing in the background. The reason I don’t go to the dentist is because the last time I did he put a giant needle in my mouth and used tools solely designed to rip my teeth out.

It’s not fear that’s keeping me away; it’s the pain. It’s not normal to freeze my face so hard that someone could bounce a quarter off it without me ever feeling it, and I’m not about to let him do it again. However, if you removed the pain (and the face numbing), I would consider going back, maybe.

I agree with most what Kathy is preaching, but I think we’re looking it from two very different angles.

If you want customers to use your service, buy your product or visit your site, you have to make the process and the product pain-free. It’s not about the fear. Sure, your site should be easy to find, be more approachable to the end user and be visually more appealing, but there’s more to it than that.

Your site or product needs to do three very simple things for me to have a painless user experience. It must:

  • Make my life easier, not harder – Are you going to save me time, money or both? It better be at least one and you better be able to show me that quickly.
  • Do something – Whatever you’re going to show me, do it. I don’t want to wait for you to explain in long paragraphs, nor do I want to wait for your page to load. Do something and do it quick. Otherwise you’re hurting me.
  • Make me feel smarter, not dumber – Most people feel dumb enough on a daily basis. They don’t you need your help. Make your customers feel like they “get” whatever you’re trying to sell. Make the user’s decision to trust you seem smart and the user smart by association. If you don’t, you’ve just kicked them in the shins and should not be surprised when they don’t return.

And perhaps more importantly than just doing all these things, is to do them seamlessly. If I had to work to find what I was looking for or if it took two minutes for your site to load, you’ve caused me an undesirable amount of pain and I’m not coming back.

Site owners can create a pain free site by first identifying where customer pain originates. Are they afraid of losing time or money? Do they need to be made to feel safe or in control? Do they want to feel like they’re being bold and ambitious or that they’re business is stable? Do they want you to make them feel smart or do they want you to make them feel pretty?

Your customers, though not identical, probably have similar goals, values and ambitions. By identifying them you can give them exactly what they’re looking for. Do it, but don’t let them know you’re doing it. Super stealth, remember?

When your customers do convert or perform some other desired site action, reward them in a way that makes them feel part of your site. If they’ve just made a large monetary or time investment, let them know it was a wise business decision on their part and that their business or their person will be more successful for it over the long-term.

There’s a lot of pain involved in life and in business. People don’t want to get hurt. If you can ease my fear and promise me a dentist that won’t hurt me, maybe I’ll agree to get in the chair. If I go and come back with a toy and no tears, then that dentist has a client for life.

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