In the beginning there was text...
Remember when web pages were purely text? Today, increased bandwidth means pictures and video are the dominant force in communication.
Technology however - like time and tide - never stands still. With the internet such a vital part of commerce it is uncumbent on us all to keep abreast of develpment. Are we seeing the next evolution: interaction becoming the most important element of web-based communication?
Interaction has many guises: a search or a filter through to many subtler arts. But the purposes of web pages and hence the objective of interaction remain in pursuit of three simple things:
- To communicate
- To get leads
- To transact
The most basic principle of adding interaction is to move from tell to discuss. It allows the visitor to give information about their own circumstances and achieve a more worthwhile exchange. Interaction can be classified into three groups:
- Used to operate functionality
- Offered as a reward
- Capable of enriching the experience
Interaction to Operate
The most ubiquitous operation is to search. To describe it more precisely the user provides an instruction to a machine to undertake a previously defined operation. Some argue that giving commonly used search patterns is enrichment i.e. to add knowledge to that of the user to enable a better outcome. However in truth these are merely extensions of the instruction and not an attempt to validate its propiety.
The second hugely common interaction is selection. Category filters are an integral part of most retail shopping websites e.g. selection of a brand, or product (variant) filters like size or colour. In B2B a dedicated selector offers a specific set of choices for an individual product category. This means that a unique decision tree can be created and only viable alternatives displayed.
The third very common operator is the use of links to enable navigation by jumping from one related topic to another.
All of these operators have the same function and limitations. They are tools to enable self service and are dependent upon and limited by the users knowledge and understanding of the subject.
Share and Reward
The principle is to encourage a visitor to give input for a reward.
The simple and most obvious trade is register to receive an offer or more generically put, provide requested information to access gated content. This relies upon generating sufficient engagement to overcome the barrier of provision of data. Gate too early and visitors are lost, gate too late and data is lost.
An alternative share and reward strategy is the application of gamification such as achievement of increasing status or recognition by an ongoing interaction, often with competitive elements introduced e.g. you rank 4th in your area as a trip advisor reviewer!
It takes little imagination to understand the power of share and reward to facilitate the progression of commercial aims.
Some would view enrichment as the only category that is true interaction.
Delivery of enrichment means visitors get more from the experience than without. The nature of enrichment is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The creation of this 'added value' requires some form of understanding.
The earliest mechanism to achieve enrichment was the implementation of live chat to connect a live agent with a website visitor. This coined the concept of assisted self service and the development of machines that could deliver the same gains.
To understand enrichment, first be clear which interactions are not. Some examples:
- A chat bot answering frequently asked questions is nothing more than search
- A 'virtual fitment' is a digital try-on more akin to share and reward
- A 'configurator' is just a filtering method
However, there is a tipping point of sophistication when the interaction becomes enrichment. There are some recurring patterns.
Firstly, achieving understanding of a visitor's needs from their words and re-expressing them in expert terms enables matching with solutions. This is the paradigm of visiting your local GP. Symptoms are described in one set of language. The doctor's expertise frames appropriate questions to identify undisclosed detail. Diagnosis is given in expert language together with appropriate solutions.
As with the work of GPs, a huge amount of expertise and skill is needed for such dialogue. The process of information exchange is similar too. Compare buying an unfamiliar item with a child being treated in an emergency room - a question followed by prompts of options to respond is highly efficient. It provides fast orientation and guides quickly to responses that will progress the dialogue.
What the future holds
Put 'artificial intelligence' on one side for a moment, the next level of digital capability is being developed. The use of sophicaticated interaction means visitor experience can be enriched to the point where anyone could buy anything across a website. If you can conceive a sales representative visiting a customer and through discussion achieving an order, then that very same result can be achieved digitally. And this includes the specification or even design of bespoke items.
If you are interested in how this may be applied to your business, contact us for a discussion on how we can enrich your website and convert more visitors to buyers.