Probably eight out of ten clients start out asking for customization of some kind. Usually, the customization broken into two categories:
- Give users a page like My Yahoo! or iGoogle. Let them add portlets or widgets at will and let them customize the portelts themselves like we do with weather or stock
- Let users define their interests in their profile page so they can receive targeted content and feeds
Let me tackle the second item first. If you have users you know well enough to let them define things like what products they want to follow, whether they should be notified of new invoices, lab results, etc; then yes you should give users the option to update it. I would make it part of the profile and I wouldn’t push it hard. In other words, make it easy to update but don’t force your users to do it. You can also make it easy to follow a page or topic by letting them click a follow this link, a star , or some indicator on the page in which the content resides. Of course, if you don’t know your users all that well, perhaps you should complete some user studies or hook up some decent web analytics before you dive in. That way you won’t push them away because you completely misunderstand what they want.
What about My Yahoo! or iGoogle like functionality?
OK, this is the fun one. Whenever a client asks for that functionality for their users, I ask the following important question, “How often do your users login to the site?” If they answers with once a month or twice a month then I tell them it’s a waste of time. These are users who login to do some very specific things. They want to see their explanation of benefits or to view and pay their invoice. They don’t care if you allow them to add a portlet that does some whiz bang kind of thing. They want to get in and get out. Don’t get in the way of their transaction or information.
Imagine the worst case scenario if you do customization wrong. You are a utility, you let a customer create a completely customized home page the first time he or she logs in. You may even force them to do that. They really only care about checking their invoice and paying it but in setting up their home page, they leave out the invoice portlet. One month later they login and it’s nowhere to be found. Of course, your customer already forgot they customized the page. They can still customize their page to add the invoice portlet back but they aren’t thinking, “I want to customize my page?” They are thinking, “Where can I find my invoice?” You now have an angry customer who didn’t pay his or her invoice on time and your DSO just went up.
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Now take users who live in your portal. It may be employees or it may be your power users who use your service to monitor usage and things like that. These people want more features. To them, your portal is an application. At that point in time, you should be thinking about multiple levels of customization including:
- subscribe to content changes
- notifications and alerts
- customize a home or work page
- Customize a results list so they can see the columns that matter
How do I create a personalized experience for infrequent visitors
For that person who only logs in once a month, you can still create value for them while gaining equal or greater value from the customer. You want to take what you know about the user and treat them differently. Here are a couple ideas that use either a personalization engine or a rules engine:
- Our local store is having a special and it’s only 5 minutes away from where you live
- We see you are having an knee operation. Did you know that if you use this facility, it will cost you $5,000 less
- Bad weather has closed the following facilities or this click here to get to the Hurricane Andrew page to hear what’s happening. Target this by location of the user.
- I see you use this service of ours and we just introduced a companion service
- You might be interested in a new article about the Bahamas or Jamaica because you own a property there.
- We just updated a new product and with it comes a whole ream of documentation you will need to service is Mr. Partner
You can use personalization in all kinds of ways for customers, partners, and employees…….but you get the picture
So here’s my shortened version of what I just wrote:
- Before allowing customization, understand your user. If they visit your site infrequently, then don’t allow customization.
- If you allow users to customize a home page or my work page, don’t take away other paths to get them to key content or functionality
- Make it easy to customize. Drag and drop is nice. Textual lists not so much.
- You can and should allow users to update their profile with interests.
- You can and should let users follow content or make a portlet part of their favorites so they can easily find it later
- If you won’t allow customization, you can still use a personalization or rules engine to create more value for the user or to target them with products or information they may find useful.