Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ask 20 Questions to Build Customer Empathy

Flickr Photo Credit: horiavarlan

This morning I wanted to write a post providing a quick start guide for Customer-Centered Web Design. The main principle of this technique is to build empathy for your customer before designing your website. When you empathize with your customer, you will understand their goals. When you design your website to meet their goals, you will achieve your business objectives. (The term customer is inclusive of all visitors to your website, including prospects and leads).

Creating provisional or ad-hoc personas (user profiles)[1] was one direction I started with. This would involve brainstorming your customers’ goals, motivations, outcomes, pains and emotions. But as soon as I started that blog post it just didn’t feel quick enough! I’ll keep that for a future posting.

So here’s the super quick start guide for Customer-Centered Web Design:

List 20 questions your customers are asking about the problem they are trying to solve.

Simple, yes? Let’s break this super quick start guide down.

Why questions? At the end of the day that’s why people are searching on the Web. There are even websites dedicated to answering questions such as Yahoo! Answers[2] and Stack Overflow[3]. They are trying to solve a problem. “How do I solve this?” “How do I do that?” “Why is this happening?” Your website should answer the questions your customers have. If it doesn’t, then your customers will go somewhere else.

Why twenty questions? Years ago, I attended a Brian Tracy program called the Phoenix Seminar. In the program, Brian recommended generating twenty ideas when brainstorming. Typically the first ten will be easy, while the last ten will be more difficult. But often the most valuable. Was the first twenty easy? Well try another twenty. No, I’m not being mean. It’s amazing what happens when you start thinking beyond the obvious.

Over the last few weeks I have been assisting with several graphic design and communications companies on proposals. The proposal process always starts with “what shall we do for this website?” For me that always feels like the wrong starting point. The website becomes ego-centric or design-centric (design for designs sake). Quickly brainstorming twenty questions from the customer’s perspective helps build empathy and achieves a website that will be successful for your business.

[1] About Face, Alan Cooper

[2] Yahoo! Answers

[3] Stack Overflow

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Want a simple way to get more out of your time? Try the Pomodoro Technique

About one month ago I started using the Pomodoro Technique, a simple time management tool. The process is simple: pick a task to focus on, set your timer for 25 minutes, and go. The idea is to avoid any other distractions as possible. Don’t check your email. Don’t answer that telephone. If something comes to mind, write it down and return to your focused task. Of course, if the fire alarm starts ringing, I suggest your change your focus.

Once the 25 minutes is up, walk away, take a five minute break and return for another 25 minute “Pomodoro”. After 4 Pomodoro’s, take a longer break (15-30 minutes).

Why am I so hot on this technique?

  1. More mental energy throughout the day: working in 25 minute increments, and taking a five minute break I find that it creates a sustainable pace. Coding does drain the grey matter, well at least for me, but using this technique extends my productive hours later in the afternoon than without it.
  2. Reduces procrastination and anxiety: don’t want to start something? Just try it for 25 minutes. Starting something new or difficult can be accompanied by procrastination and anxiety. For example, writing, hence blogging doesn’t come naturally to me. But break it down in 25 minute chunks makes it hell of a lot easier. Of course getting started is the killer, but I know I can do something for at least 25 minutes. And once I’m started, it’s normally a breeze.
  3. Improves visibility of how you spend your time and track interruptions: being a freelancer, selling my time, obviously time tracking is important. But it also gives me a good feeling that when I’m billing the client, I have given them focused, uninterrupted time. When interruptions occur, these are also tracked and reviewed at the end of the day. The goal of course it to do as many uninterrupted Pomodoros that make sense, and devise strategies to avoid interruptions.

For more information checkout the website. There is also a book written about the technique. While the technique itself is super simple, the book “Pomodoro Technique Illustrated” does give you some insights into why the technique works and dives into topics such as the mental cost of context switching.

There is also a free book in PDF format available online written by the creator.

Oh, and you are probably asking yourself, “Why Pomodoro?” The creator of the technique, “Francesco Cirillo”, used a kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato.

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