Magazine article Information Today

One Last Nag ... or Two ... or Three

Magazine article Information Today

One Last Nag ... or Two ... or Three

Article excerpt

It's the last chance this year for vendors to take my advice: Put users first!

Here we all are, tiptoeing into the 21st century together, and what do my shocked senses perceive? People ignoring my advice! In fact, the practice seems so prevalent that one might almost catalog it as a bad habit, even a vice. Well, I'm sure none of us want to face our Maker or the Future with such stubborn villainy on our consciences, do we? I didn't think so, especially when readers consider my fabled talent for always being right ("occasionally inaccurate, but never wrong"). Ignoring my advice could lead vendors into next-millennial experiences so unpleasant that the special effects for the TV movie Y2K would seem like a picnic in the park.

Actually, the consequences of reactionary resistance will diminish in the next millennium in one narrow respect. As of January 1, 2000, I will grant complete amnesty to anyone who has injured, offended, or even resisted me any time in the 20th century. (This issue of Information Today won't come out until early December, right? I wouldn't want to encourage a last-minute rush of villainies from bad guys trying to beat the clock.) However, the date on that amnesty policy leaves this column as my last opportunity for bilious carping on issues already raised. So here goes nothing.

Was It Good for You?

My all time favorite omission from the online scene? Feedback mechanisms. In this era of "You have mail," of instant chat rooms, and of Lands' End television ads boasting of live operators on call to customize the e-commerce experience, the traditional online industry still charges high fees to knowledge-worker markets without ever seeing the need or prudence to ask for customer reactions and suggestions. Oh, sure, most of the new Web sites carry Webmaster addresses or Contact Us options. LEXIS-NEXIS has even opened a listserv, and hats off to them for that move forward. But none of them provide forms at the end of every search or send out e-mail pleas for feedback after every transaction. In fact, most of them don't even collect the e-mail addresses of users.

Clearly the technology is in place to do any imaginable amount of feedback gathering. In fact, such courtesy and consideration for customers have become standard in Web-based commercial transactions. E-commerce sites typically remind consumers of where to send any complaints or suggestions with every confirmation of an order. One Net newbie makes a business out of questioning consumers about their e-commerce experiences with sites. It then rates the sites and posts winners on its own site. One assumes that the original e-commerce site gets a private report in return for introducing the newbie to its customer base. Some traditional services have even begun using technology that has better manners than their staffs do. The latest post-Boolean search software often uses feedback monitoring to improve search retrieval, suggest new strategies, and add new content.

The consequences of not supplying feedback forms for every search has reached beyond shortsighted, counterproductive failure to acquire critical information for building better, potentially more lucrative systems. At this point, it has become somewhat dangerous to the vendor. Digital clients, especially end users, have become so accustomed to vendors slavishly seeking their opinions and reactions that they may feel somewhat insulted and even suspicious when not asked. ("Why don't they care? Don't they plan to improve this system--ever?")

If vendors asked customers for feedback, what responses would they get? Let's make some guesses. Many people would not respond, but they Would still appreciate the gesture. And what's the benefit to the vendor? A good image at no particular cost. Some users would have specific problems that need specific advice from customer support or help documentation. Customer staff could respond to these questions via e-mail or advise users to contact their representatives. …

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