Not all searches are created equal. Many times, negative emotions drive people to use search: frustration because of a lost credit card; feeling under pressure because of an upcoming deadline; the pressure of a daunting (or boring) task; etc.
If the relevant information is not easy to find, the experience becomes frustrating which leads to a spiral of even more negative thoughts and emotions…
Oftentimes, the search application strengthens these negative emotions if it doesn’t work correctly. For example, if your credit card is lost or stolen, you want to find information on how to report the incident to the bank as soon as possible, to prevent someone from stealing your money. However, if the information is not promptly available, you end up wasting a lot of time and you get increasingly upset (and you are absolutely right!).
Or in the workplace, if you cannot find that perfect chart for your C-suite presentation due in less than two hours’ time, what are you going to do?
Or you are just about to present at the board meeting, but you cannot find the presentation you finished the day before…
Or you find the research material you need, but you can see seven different versions in the result set!…
All true stories…
As a consultant, I often hear the same feedback about enterprise search: the results are not good enough and end users tend to have negative expectations. This often causes users to disengage from the search, and shortly stop using it at all.
However, when search applications are implemented correctly, they can help to eliminate these negative emotions. If you find the information you need, you instantly feel better. Moreover, if the information is presented in a way that makes sense and you can instantly take the action that you need, it’s an instant win.
Of course, one generic search cannot answer all of these challenges. This is why knowing your users’ and customers’ needs is a must – and then develop the proper search applications.
Enterprise Search: do you know what your users are looking for?
When it comes to internet search for products, services or answers, the starting point is the user’s intent. As a user, you expect to find relevant results that meet your needs and, the more specific your search question, the better the answers.
In enterprise search, employees need to be able to find relevant information quickly (contracts, templates, graphics, etc.), but they may get frustrated if search results are inadequate.
Understanding how people search for information and how they behave when they see the search results can help organizations plan their content management. Unlike online searches for consumer products crawling millions of external sites, enterprise search relies on good quality in-house data and indexing, which means that users must take an active role when organizing and tagging content.
Corporate information may be stored in silos or may be inaccessible because there is either no metadata attached to it, or the indexing is incorrect.
The key to make information available and findable is to invest in both technology and people.
Put yourself in your end users’ shoes: what information do they need at work? How are you going to index the information? How are you going to present the search results? – Do not only listen to what they say they want, but try to understand what they really need.
Think about the aim of the search: search has to help staff members complete their tasks in a shorter time and make their job more efficient.
A by-product of a successful search strategy is better collaboration across departments, as more people will start be better at organizing and tagging the information they require in the future.
This should all tie in with the company’s overall business objectives.
Users may complain that enterprise search systems are not intuitive and that they often need to go on training courses to understand how they work. Retaining all the information learned during training courses is also a challenge, and users may fall back into old ways of approaching data.
The main barrier to user engagement is receiving an error message when performing a search, or seeing a long list of irrelevant results.
A common complaint about SharePoint as well as Microsoft Search, for example, is that it brings up all results containing a keyword, by using the default ranking model for relevance. It does a good job at retrieving information but the results are not sorted according to the real relevance. Scrolling through numerous matches is time consuming and users may abort the search before hitting the page where their expected result is displayed.
The expectation is that the search experience in the organization should replicate the search experience of consumer websites.
However the truth is that when people save documents while doing their job, they may only think about storing them as quickly as possible, but not about making them findable later. If you can’t find a document you need, you end up either re-creating it, asking an experienced colleague (who oftentimes will send you a copy instead of sharing the original one), or simply giving up.
Getting People On Board
Getting the wrong information can discourage people from searching. A negative experience may also cause people to tell others and dissuade them from using the system.
The solution is to make users feel more empowered and valued: listen to their feedback and make adjustments accordingly.
The aim is to create a knowledge system that people love to use: they find and discover information quickly, and able to learn about a specific topic fast.
To make this happen, you have to make employees aware that their involvement in the process of building a good search application is important. This is earier to say than done, for sure. But with a people-centric approach it’s not impossible at all.
Do the homework…
Analyse how people interact with the system: is the system responsive? Is the user interface intuitive, easy to use and attractive?
Look at search reports:
- how long does it take until people abort the search,
- what are the most relevant results,
- what is the most clicked content.
Look at what relationships exist between various knowledge assets and/or tasks: for example, when people searched for X, they also searched for Y. You can build different search models according to search behaviors.
What is your user trying to achieve? The goal is to have a positive search experience that delivers the required relevant results in the shortest time possible.
Make small, incremental improvements to the system according to users’ feedback and provide tools that encourage collaboration across teams.
How likely are your employees to actively use your system? New joiners may have less resistance than older employees in using an enterprise search system, but senior employees usually have deeped domain knowledge that helps with forming proper and more detailed queries. Establishing solid and ongoing communication, peer groups and mentoring networks can make wonder in every organization!