Top Task Identification

This is a unique survey method that identifies the top tasks of your customers, and their tiny tasks (the things that matter least to them). It has been used more than 400 times in almost 30 languages with organizations such as Microsoft, Cisco, NetApp, VMware, IBM, Google Search, and the US, UK, EU, Dutch, Canadian, Norwegian, and Irish governments. Our largest Top Tasks identification was for the European Union, which was in 24 languages and had almost 110,000 people voting.

It works best for large, complex websites and typically takes about 12 weeks to complete. Costs range from about €10,000 to €40,000. There are three stages:


Task Identification

You must develop a list of all the possible tasks that your customers wish to complete. We use a variety of methods to identify such tasks, including:

  1. Corporate philosophy and strategy: Analysis of your strategy, mission statement, and what you want to achieve with your website or app.
  2. Customer feedback, surveys, help: Analysis of customer feedback such as customer survey results, frequent help requests, etc.
  3. Site / app behavior analysis: Analysis of site / app visitor data to understand the most popular sections of the website / app.
  4. Search analysis: Analysis of top search terms on your search engine. Where appropriate, we may also analyze public search trends on Google or Bing.
  5. Competitor / peer websites: A review of 4-6 competitor / peer websites.
  6. Traditional / social media: What sort of tasks are being mentioned by customers on social media? Also, are there specialist traditional media that cover your area?
  7. Stakeholder reviews: Reviews of the list by key stakeholders
  8. Task masterlists: Over the years we have built of a series of task masterlists as a result of carrying out similar surveys in a variety of sectors including technology, universities, intranets, councils / municipalities, healthcare, various central government functions.

The initial task list may have several hundred tasks. Here is a small sample of what the initial list of tasks looked like for the European Union.

  • community finance
  • community justice
  • community law
  • competion report
  • competition
  • Competition policy and effects on business and turkey
  • Competition rules
  • complaint procedure information
  • concept note format
  • conclusions (debates, meetings, etc)
  • conference
  • Conferences and other events in which the EU participates
  • connection between energy security and climate change
  • construction Directive
  • consultation procedure
  • Consumer Affairs
  • Consumer protection
  • consumer rights directive
  • contact
  • Contact a commissioner

Such a list, coming from multiple sources, is obviously very rough and requires lots of work to turn it into something that can be presented in front of customers. Using an iterative, well-defined process based on our unique methodology, we work with your team to edit the longlist down to 100 tasks or less. This will be done as a result of 5-8 joint 2-hour online sessions with your team and our team. (We will also do 5-8 sessions with our own team in order to clean up the list and have it in good shape for the joint sessions.)

Here is a sample of what a final list might look like for a technology company

  • Alerts & notifications (maintenance, known issues, compatibility)
  • Analyst reports, industry research, trends
  • Business case for purchase
  • Buy products / software online
  • Calculate return on investment
  • Check product or service availability
  • Code samples, libraries, scripts, open source
  • Communication from executives (presentations, interviews)
  • Company or individual admin (edit, password, add, remove)
  • Compare products, services and solutions to each other
  • Compare products and services with competitors
  • Compatibility, interoperability
  • Compliance (privacy, data retention, environmental, import-export)
  • Conferences, events, workshops
  • Configuring for a quote, research
  • Contact sales

Category questions

By asking category questions, we can segment and further analyze the results. For example, we can see how much similarity there is between the top tasks of people from different regions or of different customer types. To do this sort of analysis properly, we would need 50-plus respondents from any particular category segment.

Examples of category questions may include:

  • Where are you located?
  • What is your role?
  • What industry are you in?

This example from a government website for helping businesses shows that the top tasks (yellow tasks) are very similar regardless of which country the business is located.

We advise having no more than 5 such category questions (and a maximum of 8) in order to keep the survey as short as possible and thus maximize the number of people who will complete it.


Customer Centric Index

As part of the Customer Carewords poll, we include the Customer Centric Index as a separate question. This includes 13 carefully selected factors that measure the ability of customers to complete tasks on your website. The Customer Centric Index is also a standalone online service: Customer Centric Index.

In carrying out the poll:

  1. Customers are asked to quickly pick their five most important tasks from the tasks Shortlist.
  2. Next, customers are asked to choose three of the 26 factors from the Customer Centric Index.
  3. At the end of the poll customers are asked the selected category questions.

A unique element of the Top Tasks survey is that people are given the entire task list on one page and are asked to quickly scan and choose the five most important tasks to them. (The list is also randomized) By almost overwhelming people, and getting them to choose quickly, we get much closer to their gut instinct responses. We discover what their true top tasks are, and what their tiny tasks are—what they don’t care about.

This was the homepage of the Norwegian Cancer Society a number of years ago. The Society needs to raise money for its operations so there are a lot of messages asking people to donate. When Netlife Research (our Norwegian partner) carried out a Top Tasks identification survey with Norwegian citizens, they got the following results.

We can clearly see what people want to do:

  • Treatment
  • Symptoms
  • Prevention

Here’s what was at the bottom of the table—the tiny tasks.

All the tasks connected with donating and giving money were at the bottom of the list. These are the tiny tasks from the perspective of someone visiting the website. The Norwegian Cancer Society made a brave decision and decided to give people what they really wanted. Here’s an English translation of the new site they created.

The results?

  • They went from 5,000 to 1,000 pages, an 80% decrease. The Top Tasks approach nearly always results in a major reduction in the amount of content.
  • 70% increase in one-time donations.
  • 88% increase in monthly donors registered.
  • 164% increase in members registered.
  • 348% increase in incoming links.
  • 80% increase in visitors.

Every year since they launched the Top Tasks website in 2012 their donations have increased. It goes to show that if you solve the customers’ problem, they’ll solve your problem. If you focus on your customers’ top tasks and help them complete them quickly and easily, then everybody wins.


Team / stakeholder poll

We also ask your web team and/or stakeholders to take the poll. (We call this an Empathy analysis.) This allows you to analyze how the organization sees the world versus how the customer sees it. Sometimes there can be a stark difference, and if you want to avoid the traps of organization-centric content and design, you need to be able to clearly identify such organizational thinking and language.

In this empathy analysis for the OECD, we find that for many of the tasks there is pretty good empathy alignment. The exception is for “Overview of what the OECD does” which the team thinks is 4 times (407%) more important than the customer does.


Analysis and deliverables

The deliverables from a Top Tasks poll will include:

  1. A presentation of the Top Tasks data. Specifically, this will include:
    1. A management presentation of the key results from the Top Tasks poll.
    2. A more detailed presentation of the data, focusing on each category question.
    3. The Customer Centric Index – Priority areas for improvement on your website / app as defined by your customers.
    4. How you compare with other organizations who have carried out top tasks analysis.
  2. An extensive set of spreadsheets outlining the results from the Top Tasks poll. This will show, for example:
    1. The raw data from the poll.
    2. Rankings for each list from top to bottom.
    3. Rankings for the category questions.
    4. Customer Centric Index – full spreadsheet of results.
  3. An Empathy Score which compares how well aligned the team/stakeholders are with the customers top tasks.