Project aims to lift internet experience

March 2, 2001

Design, engineering and computing researchers have teamed up with British Telecom to look at how people are responding to businesses on the internet.

Nicola Millard, manager of BT's customer contact futures project, said: "Customer expectations of e-business are rising, but reality is not matching the expectation."

The researchers from Bournemouth University and Ms Millard's team said lengthy download times and poor navigability top the list of complaints about the internet, and companies should take care to prevent both when designing their websites.

"If people have problems on the internet, they do get angry and, in the future, the competition is going to only be a click away," she said.

Ms Millard said that the current lack of human contact could be putting off many potential customers from shopping online.

"Certainly, for high-value products people feel more confident if they have talked things through with a salesperson," she said.

The availability of a high standard of after-sales service is another concern for consumers. "Which is why bricks-and-mortar retailers are coming out fairly strongly on the internet at the moment, because you know who to complain to."

Combining e-business with older technologies such as call centres was one way of giving the internet a more human face she suggested. Personalising the experience by keeping track of individual users' buying patterns, name and credit card details, and whether they prefer to go directly to buying rather than be distracted by other things, was another way of obtaining customer loyalty, Ms Millard said.

"One of the most intriguing questions in human-computer interaction is why are computer games so addictive? We have been looking at the psychology behind computer games and at their interface design, and seeing if we could use this in a business context," she said.

BT's new motivational user interface was outlined at the British Psychological Society's recent London conference. The MUI, which BT has been developing with Linda Hole from Bournemouth University, was originally designed to motivate their call centre staff. But Ms Millard said some features of the interface such as information about products appearing as a series of text bubbles that the user can "burst" when they have finished reading them, would be just as effective in encouraging customers to return to a website.

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