Build Desirable Online Experiences — Please!

A couple of analysts on Forrester’s customer experience research team, Kerry Bodine and Ross Popoff-Walker, just published a great new research report called Desirable Online Experiences: Taking Web Sites Beyond Useful And Usable. The document starts with a clear picture of today’s Web experiences:

Consumers are spending more and more time online, seeking out experiences that are relevant, engaging, and personal. However, many Web sites make users struggle to complete simple goals, have little to no emotional punch, and fail to embrace the diversity of consumers’ wants and needs.

The document discusses the three elements of an experience — useful (offers value), usable (provides easy access to value), and desirable (appeals to emotions). They note that since firms tend to struggle so much with the first two items, desirability takes the backburner. (Note: Take a look at an earlier post: Lessons Learned From 1,001 Web Site Reviews)

To overcome current lackluster online experiences, Kerry and Ross recommend three tactics for cultivating desirability:

  1. Provide engaging content and functionality. Consumers often visit Web sites with specific transactional goals in mind – like purchasing some throw pillows, booking a hotel room, or transferring money from one account to another. Increasingly, online consumers also have more exploratory online goals – like looking at photos or browsing their favorite blogs.
  2. Focus on aesthetics. The Web is a delivery channel for providing content and functionality, but it is also an aesthetic communication medium. Look and feel can’t be tacked on to the surface of an experience – an aesthetic blueprint needs to be integrated at its very inception.
  3. Incorporate elements of game design. Online gaming is a popular activity – 50% of US online households play online games. And the appeal cuts across age and gender lines. Some firms have tried to tap into the fun by adding games to their Web sites. However, site owners can take a subtler approach by infusing their sites with elements of game design.

My take: Kerry and Ross are right — companies need to make online experiences more desireable. It’s interesting to think about what firms are required to understand before they can deliver useful, usable, and desirable experiences. To make something useful, firms need a functional description of the task — which can be developed by a business analyst who knows very little about the customer. To make something usable, firms need to understand what customers know about the task and follow established usability standards. But to make something desirable, firms need to understand what motivates customers.

So desirability will require an even higher degree of customer insight (most likely from ethnographic research). That’s good, because that knowledge can also help firms make things more usable (as firms refine their understanding of how customers accomplish tasks) and more useful (as firms uncover requirements for functionality to fulfil unmet and latent needs).

The bottom line: Companies should shoot for more desirable online (and offline!) experiences — and they’ll likely become more useful and usable as well!

Written by 

I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and Emeritus Chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (, a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

2 thoughts on “Build Desirable Online Experiences — Please!”

  1. I actually also read an article recently that said that in game advertising is increasing 12 fold, yearly. So it is REALLY important that you have a good game experience so advertisers get a good advertising imagine.

  2. A major computer company spent $20,700 on usability work to improve the sign-on procedure in a system used by several thousand people. The resulting productivity improvement saved the company $41,700 the first day the system was used.

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