Too often, businesses and governments approach the development of e-services as if it they were any other service, ignoring the inherent complexities of self-service technologies. The adoption of an e-service, by its very nature, is affected by users’ intrinsic attitudes and beliefs towards technology as well as their bias towards current ways of doing business. In addition, a brand new e-service often changes how an industry or sector does business, which affects all stakeholder groups, not just end users.
CORE SOLUTIONS supports the development of e-services through a systematic, phased approach that maximizes long-run user satisfaction and market acceptance. Our Six Phase Approach has a number of data gathering and consensus building steps, and while not all are appropriate in every situation, they define a best practice development process. The phases are iterative, each providing input for the next.
We begin the process of designing an e-service by conducting stakeholder interviews and workshops. Stakeholders include those who will interact with the technology or influence adoption, such as the product development and management teams, executives, industry leaders and influencers. The purpose is to identify needs and expectations for the e-service from the perspective of key influencers to the process. The interviews and workshops are also used to provide input to the communications strategy and e-services design requirements. An added benefit of this step is achieving buy-in to the process from key stakeholders.
At the onset of development, it is critical to validate the design requirements for the e-service from the end users’ perspective. The requirements can be in the form of a concept description and feature list, storyboards, or a prototype site. We will often test the requirements in focus groups to ensure they meet users’ needs and expectations from the e-service, and often, new or different requirements are uncovered in talking to users. This preliminary step saves programming time and money by preventing the development team from wasting resources on unnecessary functionality. It also helps set priorities by identifying which requirements are “core,” that is, necessary to have in place at the time of launch for the e-service to be viable.
In addition to validating the requirements, the research also gathers users’ initial perceptions of the e-service to aid in communications strategy development. This is important since there are often a number of barriers to adoption of a new e-service. In many cases, new e-services are replacing a traditional process that many users are quite comfortable in using, and understanding the benefits of the new e-service helps in communications and change management strategy planning.
Once the requirements are validated, the product development team designs a pilot of the e-service functionality for testing. Users are invited to review the pilot and provide feedback on the functionality through follow-up focus groups or depth interviews. This gives users a chance to see the execution of their requirements for the e-service and comment on how well it meets their needs and expectations. The look and feel, navigation, and content are included in the evaluation of the pilot. Users are able to experience the pilot on their own computers to mimic a real situation, which helps them provide feedback on how the system will affect their lives and current processes. As with the previous phases, this feedback can be helpful in communications efforts as well as design.
From the feedback collected in the pilot testing, the product development team refines its plans and completes the build-out of the e-service. The full functionality undergoes final testing with users in the form of usability testing. The purpose of this stage is to make refinements that ensure maximum efficiency of use. Testing may identify minor changes, such as labeling, instructions, and navigational tools, to major issues in organization or positioning that can make or break the service.
The most common form of usability testing we utilize for clients consists of one-on-one interviews with users completing specific tasks using the new e-service. This is often followed by a group discussion with participants to uncover more strategic issues. After one or more rounds of revisions to the design and functionality, the e-service is ready for launch.
The availability of a new e-service and its benefits need to be communicated to key stakeholders and end-users through a comprehensive communications and change management plan. A new e-service requires users and stakeholders to embrace a new way of achieving a goal or doing business, which may be difficult if current processes work adequately. Therefore, the project team must work to change the mindsets of users and stakeholders to achieve adoption of the e-service. If they fail to do this, the e-service may never reach the critical mass that makes it worthwhile to visit the online storefront.
Through previous steps in designing an e-service, much information is gathered on users’ perceptions and potential benefits to them. This information can be directly incorporated in the communications and change management strategy. To assist in developing and refining this effort, a communications tracking survey is useful to measure program success over time. The research helps the communications team set goals and address themes helpful in the communications and change management process.
It is useful to collect a baseline measure of the audience’s awareness of the new e-service, perceived success with current processes (that will be replaced by the e-service), and its perceptions of the new e-service prior to launching the functionality and communications efforts. The baseline helps measure the impact of initial efforts to communicate the benefits of the e-service to the audience.
The final phase in implementing an e-service is to monitor user satisfaction over time. The purpose is to troubleshoot problems and identify areas for improvement. One of the more common approaches we use is to capture users’ experiences with the new e-service at the time of their visit to the site, collecting data through an intercept web survey. Areas to cover include reliability, perceived functionality, navigational ease, security and clarity of information.
After an e-service is launched, management should monitor market perceptions and satisfaction over time, continually incorporating feedback into marketing and development efforts. Taking the time to complete these six phases when designing an e-service helps ensure that users and key stakeholders free themselves of their current processes and embrace a new way of doing business.