I’m fascinated by human psychology, and in particular online human psychology. What makes a user complete one action while ignoring another. How changing some text can double the number of desired actions, or changing the layout of your page can increase your profits exponentially. And so I’m also fascinated by User Experience (“UX”) and trying to apply online behavioural study from the user perspective.
So this post will (almost) totally ignore SEO, and focus purely on some small changes I would make to the website of the Vhi, Ireland’s dominant private health insurance company, in order to improve UX by 100%.
Vhi – Voluntary Health Insurance (vhi.ie)
As a long-time Vhi customer I’m always delighted with the friendly customer-centric approach of their staff. Whenever I call their landlines the vibe and response of their call centre staff is quite inspirational. Seriously – I’ve never had a bad experience calling these guys.
But does that translate to a great online experience?
Replicating the Offline Experience to your Online Channel
Unfortunately for me the simple answer is no – I always find the UX on their website far less compelling. So I’ve put together 5 simple actions I would take to improve the online experience. My top tip is so simple, but incredibly the issue it fixes is quite likely losing Vhi sales. I’ll go in reverse order, keeping the best till last:
If it’s a button don’t tell me to ‘click here’…
I did say ‘if’. This is a pet hate of mine, but I think many people would agree. If you have to tell me to ‘click here’ so I know an element is a button then the element isn’t doing its job:
Click here.. oh it’s a button?
4. I’d love to talk…
These days there is real global push on business efficiency. And many companies are directing support and customer service to more effective communication channels. Judging by the Vhi site they must feel that email is more efficient than the phone line. How can I tell this? The phone number is buried 2 clicks from the homepage. Here’s what you see when you click the ‘Contact’ utility link in the header:
VHI Contact Page
Firstly – no phone number. Instead a form. Something that’s been borne out again and again through testing – users are put off by longer forms. I have a question about my policy and I’d like an answer now. Filling a (long) form doesn’t give me confidence that I’ll receive a timely and accurate answer. In fact, in my particular case I came to the site to find their phone number (as I’m sure many others do also). But I cant easily see any phone contacts. I’m certainly not being pushed into a phone session am I? (One thing I do like about this form is the ability to find my policy number – maybe I’m the exception to the rule, but my policy number is something I never have to hand.)
Without wanting to give away my next tip, there are in fact some further links to phone contacts. There not exactly screaming out however. Let me suggest a small change:
Using underline style helps links stand out
And again with some further styling changes:
Using conventional blue underlined links
And that leads me nicely to my next
3. Stick with convention – let the links be themselves
Over the past few years I’ve grown more and more convinced that convention is a good thing. When I land on a web page it’s great to easily and quickly identify either what I’m looking for, or how to get there. In the case of the latter using conventionally styled hyperlinks can be a real plus.
Here’s a page from Vhi’s Mutlitrip Insurance section:
Vhi Multitrip Insurance Homepage
And here’s another page one click deeper, the ‘How to Contact/Claim’ page:
Vhi Mutlitrip Insurance Contact and Claim Page
So can you tell where the hyperlinks are? OK – I did shrink the page to fit my blog, but even at that size you’d easily be able to see a blue underlined link. Here’s the last page, but this time using conventional styling on the links:
Example using conventional hyperlink styling
Did you notice that both original images used bulleted lists? But did you realise that one of those lists was actually live links while the other was not? That, in my opinion, confuses users. And confusion, or to be more correct, avoiding confusion, is one of the primary reasons I’m a convert when it comes to convention styling on links.
I know that occasionally blue links wont fit with the theme of your site, but I don’t think you should ever use purple non-underlined text hyperlinks. This is doubly confusing because, by convention, purple is the colour conventionally used to signify a visited link. It appears however that the styling used on Vhi.ie is purple non-underlined for links the user has already visited (did you notice that on the ‘Phone’ link in Point 4. above?). Not ideal in my view, and trivial to fix even for a large site like Vhi.ie (the joys of CSS!).
So there’s Tip #3 – within body content use conventional blue underlined text for hyperlinks, purple for visited links.
2. Show me where I am
Here’s the Vhi’s Multitrip Insurance page:
Multitrip Insurance Page – where I am within the site?
But if you landed on that page would you have any idea where you were on the site? Can you see any indication of your location within the hierarchy? There are some relatively simple ways to do this:
- Use a current class on primary and secondary navigation – active class styling on the Products link in the main navigation, and similarly, on the ‘Multi Trip’ link in the secondary navigation.
- Use a Breadcrumb to indicate current location – simple but effective tool that helps ‘ground’ users, and assist with internal navigation (and search engine optimisation)
Here’s what a breadcrumb device might look like on that page:
Use a breadcrumb to indicate current location
So my pen-ultimate tip – give adequate indication of current location. It helps ground the user, and facilitates vertical navigation.
1. Where are you vhi.ie?
Here’s the biggest flaw, and also the easiest to fix. It still stuns me when I find this flaw, even more so for a large corporate site which is a profit-center in its own right. I’ve written about this issue previously for nch.ie, and here it is again. (And just in case you don’t think this is widespread – for months http://iedr.ie showed the same behaviour. This has since been fixed though.)
Requesting http://vhi.ie (non-www) resolves to a blank page
Here’s the link – try it for yourself
Now generally I would advise serving content on either www or non-www, but not both. If you do serve on both then you should ensure that each is the same.
This case however is the worst possible schenario – consider the number of Internet users who do not know the technical difference between www and non-www. Many less-savvy web users will not know to re-try www.vhi.ie when they see that blank page, and it should be a simple configuration change to ensure that both URLs resolve properly.
Given that www.vhi.ie is a transactional site fixing this issue will increase sales for Vhi.ie. Absolutely no doubt in my mind.
So there’s my #1 tip – don’t serve a blank page on http://vhi.ie
So there you have it – how in 5 quite simple steps I think Vhi.ie could improve their UX (and perhaps their SEO also) by 100%.
[Postscript: I first started writing this post in December 2007. It has sat in my drafts since then collecting dust. Luckily (for me anyhow) the VHI have not changed any of the behaviour I discuss above. I hope that might change shortly however.]