Creating a Customer-Centric Online Business

Well, the mail poured in last week, with many comments from marketers and merchandisers who wish their analytics work resulted in greater input regarding site design. Seems I tread on a particularly sore spot with last week’s article, which means it may demand a little further attention.

I hear from lots of Web sites interested in utilizing online data analysis to evaluate their various traffic sources, to determine which customer-acquisition techniques work best for attracting visitors and shoppers to the site, and to help justify marketing decisions to upper management.

That’s all good, as far as it goes. But if actual data about customer behavior is not also incorporated into site design and architecture decisions, you are missing the boat!

Great Web designers know this, but lots of less experienced Web builders may be overlooking an essential information source that could lead to more effective and more profitable Web businesses. There are no right answers, magic formulas, or silver bullets when it comes to designing sites that meet customer needs. Each customer segment (in fact, each individual customer) is unique, so no one, no matter how brilliant and insightful, can be expected to anticipate the wishes and needs of each customer segment — and then to build accordingly.

If you are not watching how customers and potential customers actually interact with your site and if you are not using such data to constantly refine the customer experience by improving the site’s layout, navigation, product mix, shopping process, information access, and every customer touch point, you are letting “designer’s ego” get in the way of real results.

Arrogance is the root of much business failure, and nowhere has this been more true than in the dot-com fallout of the past year. Site publishers who believed that they knew, as if by instinct, exactly what the customers wanted were common (those who actually got it right were much more rare), and many of those sites are no longer in business.

That’s not to say that there weren’t many brilliant folks among the failed businesses, but brilliance is not enough. Getting into the heads of visitors and prospective customers is an absolute requirement of smart merchandising and marketing, and it ought to be at the top of the list of requirements for any data warehousing and data analytics program.

So, in response to my recent correspondents, I agree: If total power over site navigation and design resides with a product or development team that is making site building decisions from something other than actual customer data and if the data warehousing function is considered a part of the customer acquisition efforts but is not informing ongoing customer experience efforts, then you need to take a long, hard look at whether your organization is structured to optimize success.

I don’t think it is.

The great beauty of interactive marketing is the ability to track, measure, and respond to customers’ unspoken wishes. Use your analytics programs to capture the learnings derived from that capability — and create a much more successful and customer-centric business!

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