A Measure of Success

This is an "interactive" column where you, the reader, can participate in surveying the usability of self-service systems across 10 industry categories. The idea is to provide monthly highlights on companies that score high in the Sterling Audits Usability Index. This index is a new, standard methodology for rating the usability of Web sites, voice response and automated portions of the contact center.


More about the Sterling Audits Usability Index

As one of the founders of the independent research firm, Sterling Audits, I have been working on a standard methodology for benchmarking the usability of self-service systems for several decades. One of the biggest challenges I have encountered in developing such a standard is the variation in self-service approaches and channels. Consider, for example, semi-automated chats and e-mail in the call center, voice response and Web-based self-service to name a few. All of these touch points are manifest in commercially available systems. But customers don't always relish the self-service experience. And that experience is often disjointed between the voice response system and the Web site. What's escaped our industry is a way to leverage best practices in usability across all of these touch points. If we can figure this out, it will enrich the customer service experience.


Enter the Sterling Audits Usability Index - the industry's first standard methodology for scoring and weighting these self-service touch points. More importantly, the details of this methodology are being published in the form of books, almanacs and workshops - so the specifications are not proprietary. This column will be an important part of sharing how usability benchmarking can be put to work.


There are five critical success areas that make up the Index. They are:

  • Navigation
  • Content
  • Usability
  • Interactivity
  • Credibility


There are more than 200 questions that roll-up to these five critical areas, and the methodology includes specifications for how to score and weight each question. Each is worth 20 percent for a total possible score of 100 percent. In subsequent installments of this column, we will publish the results of fresh data collected from readers and the staff of Sterling Audits. These data will concentrate on surveys conducted between each publication date - and specifically those companies who score the highest on the index during that period.


Why Measure Usability?

Advances in technology such as speech have bolstered the use of self-service systems. Now, especially with new CPU-based price models introduced by Microsoft, there is an economical means to provide self-service to callers and Internet users. While initial deployments of these systems show a favorable return on investment, many implementations of the technology are typically frustrating for users. This frustration degrades task completion and equates to a high percentage of users deciding to speak to an operator rather than continue with self-service. And that can cost millions - especially for larger enterprises.


Poor usability has a negative impact on enterprise infrastructure and telecommunications costs. The research team at Sterling Audits has hypothesized two chief causes for less-than-optimal performance in self-service systems:


1)                   Due to an initial uplift in operational savings upon installing these systems, managers take the approach that the project is "over and done" and therefore seek no further improvement.

2)                   The majority of customer service professionals and IT managers who operate these systems are not trained in benchmarking the usability of their systems.


It is our belief that the Sterling Audits Usability Index and associated auditing methodologies provide a means for any company to improve their operational efficiency, and most importantly, to do it on their own without costly consulting or research contracts with third parties.


The Big Idea

The basis for this column is to get feedback from the readership in the form of completed usability surveys. The instrument for conducting these surveys is Web-based and on the Sterling Audits Web site (www.sterlingaudits.com). Everyone is qualified to sign up as a researcher on the Sterling Audits Web site. Everyone is qualified because all of the survey questions deal with everyday observations on how we all deal with the usability of systems. There is an online glossary of terms for some of the questions, but for the most part, the survey seeks to find out what your personal experiences are with self-service systems. Here, you submit research projects for approval and then complete an in-depth survey for these projects. Sterling Audits will pay you a stipend of $10 for each completed survey.


What Companies To Choose

The best way to choose companies to survey is to consider companies you do business with - not the one you work for. Simply put, you can do a survey on your local utility, state tax board, mortgage company, car lease company or healthcare provider to name a few.


What to Expect Each Issue

Before the deadline for each of these columns, we will compile all of the surveys and tabulate the results using the Sterling Audits Usability Index. The top performer from that batch of surveys will then be highlighted in this column. You will see: A) The scores for the top company and the name of the company, B) the median scores (an average of all of the scores from the batch) and C) the "bottom of the barrel" (worst performing scores). To protect myself from death threats, I will not be publishing the names of the "bottom of the barrel" companies. Feel free to contact me if you need any help on the survey questions.


Usability Scorecard Example    

What will the Usability Scorecard Look Like?


Please see example at the top of the page.

Just log on to the research portal at http://www.sterlingaudits.com/research.html. Sign up as one of our researchers. Use Speech Technology Magazine as the company name so we can tabulate the scores properly. Submit a few of the companies you do business with as projects. Once approved, you'll get a notice to go ahead with the survey the next time you log on. You get a $10 stipend for your trouble. (Cheap, yes, but you'll get your voice heard).


Industry Types included in Usability Scorecard


Here is the way we will be grouping companies for the column:


1.                   Communications: service providers such as phone, mobile, Internet, outsourcers

2.                   Financial Services: includes banking, portfolio management, mortgages, credit card, etc.

3.                   Government: local, state, and federal. Also includes non-profit organizations

4.                   Healthcare: these are healthcare insurance providers, not hospitals or clinics

5.                   High Tech: these are Web portals, software and other high-tech based offerings

6.                   Insurance: life Insurance, car Insurance - all but healthcare insurance

7.                   Manufacturing: this includes food, computers, cars, networking equipment and surfboards

8.                   Retail: this includes stores, florists, retail catalogs, u-bid, Amazon and e-Bay

9.                   Transportation: shipping, trucking, airlines, hospitality and travel services

10.               Utilities: power, water, gas, etc.

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