Better people search

For the last year I have made a few internal searches. Almost every user interview I attend, we find that people are looking for people. Either a colleague’s phone number or email, or an expert on a specific field area.

Our goal is often to make “an internal Google” for our customers. That indicates that we must understand what you are looking for.

When you search for “365”: Are you looking for the person with the internal phone number 365? Are you looking for a colleague with the employee number 365? Or are you actually looking for the expert on your product, named “365”?

I am all for making one big search for your company! And I know I have colleagues that are magicians enough to solve these kinds of traps.

But: My theory is that a great search gets even greater when we know more about what the users are looking for.

These  are the two directions of people search:

To directions of people search

Let’s pretend we make a search solution for Willy Wonka. Our goal is to let the Oompa Loompas spent as much time as possible making candy, and as little time as possible searching for recipes and phone numbers.

In addition to having one great search where they find everything, we also made two apps for the Loompas. One PhoneBook and one ExpertSearch.

Willy Wonka Phonebook

The PhoneBook is exactly that: An internal app on the Oompa Loompas desktop, smartboard or smartphone, where they can search for the phone number of the loompa in the chocolate department that they don’t remember the name to. (Chill! They can separate their colleagues from each other even if you think they all look the same.)

This solves a common user need  that we find not only in candy factories, but at most of our customers. And we have a lot greater chance to give them the right answer doing it like this.

Because we take away all other user stories then “I want to find my colleagues contact information”, we can also take away almost all navigation and refiners – and end up with a much cleaner interface.

When an Oompa Loompa on the other hand needs help on refining the sorbet in the ice cream room, he can start the ExpertSearch app on his desktop, smartboard og smartphone.

Willy Wonka Expert Search

The ExpertSearch searches within all documents written in the Willy Wonka Factory, and goes through all the discussions, social updates and communities on their internal collaboration system. From finding who has written and talked the most about sorbet, we can most likely end up with suggestion “Roger Loompa” as the subject matter expert.

When we see that Roger in the Ice Cream Lab. in addition mentions sorbet in his latest MySite Status, I guess we have a winner.

Making a lot of apps isn’t the goal in itself. Not at all! The goal is to give the users the right answer on top of the search result list, every time.

But making solutions that gives the user the opportunity to tell us more about what kind of an answer he is looking for, even before he makes the search, increases the likelihood of giving the correct answer right away.

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