The internet is supposed to make it easy to get information, right? Right. And actually, it does that nicely—as long as you go to a website that's well organized so you can easily find the information you want. But what if the site you access isn't well organized, or at least isn't organized with your ease of use in mind? The result is frustration. I recently experienced that frustration when checking an airline website.
www.aa.com is the website for American Airlines. If you want to make a flight reservation, that's the site to go to. Actually, the airline would rather you do that than talk to a customer service rep. Generally, it's intuitive and works well. But if you have a special question or circumstance, it takes a little time to get the information you need. I had some questions about traveling with children who have food allergies.
On the left side of the home page is a navigation bar that includes "Reservations." I clicked on it and got several drop-downs, but none about travel with children. So, I then went to the next item on the nav bar, "Special Assistance." Ah, that yielded a drop-down that did include "Children." I clicked on it and got to a page with several buttons, for "Age Range," "Fares," "Seating Restrictions," "Special Amenities," and other items. I chose "Special Meals." There, I got another list of choices, including the one I finally decided to use: a phone number. It was the same phone number I would have seen had I clicked on a special button several pages back that was in a box telling me that customers can't book reservations for infants and unaccompanied children. I wasted several minutes trying to get information off the website when I would have been better off to call.
Now, let's bring that experience into the world of engineering. Manufacturing companies, I think, are showing consumer companies how to make the Web easy for their customers who are looking for information. One of the most recent examples is vacuum-pump and compressor manufacturer
Rietschle Thomas. The company wanted to help customers quickly find the right air compressor or vacuum pump for their application so it developed an online selection guide. You'll find it at the top right of the company's homepage, http://www.thomaspumps.com. I took a quick tour of the selection guide and got to the answer I needed far faster than I did with the airline site.
Click on the logo for the selection guide on the home page and you land on a page that gives you four selection choices: Select By Model Number, by Thomas Product Family, by Performance Parameters, or by Application Category. I chose Performance Parameters and landed on a page that simply asked me to specify property values. I typed in the values, hit Submit, and got all the model numbers that met my parameters. Very fast.
Rietschle Thomas incorporated the selection guide because they knew the previous way for engineers to get the same information—either download data sheets or submit an information request and wait for someone to get back to you—was cumbersome. So, they made a move toward ease of use, and it works.
Other companies are making similar moves, and in our Nov. 22 issue you'll read about some of them in a special report we are preparing on how to avoid the hidden costs in engineering. That feature article will include, among other things, references toWeb tools that cost-conscious engineers will find helpful. Talk about ease of use!
Reach Teague at firstname.lastname@example.org.