At the health system where I work, one of the first things we do with new residents is put them to bed. That’s right. We put these full-fledged-docs-to-be into patient beds and have them go through precisely what every half-robed and apprehensive new patient experiences in the hospital. Usually, the residents stay overnight; and when they wake, their reactions are similar. Almost all report that first and foremost they want their clothes back. Then, once their backs are literally covered, they report that they have a new perspective on administering care.
OK, this is a very offline example for those of us with our heads in cyberspace. But it’s a perfect way to preface my question to all you Web developers: Have you stepped into your users’ shoes? Have you experienced what it’s like to stumble upon your site and mouse around? Have you tried to make a quick e-commerce purchase?
Customer relationship management (CRM) is hot — almost as hot as this summer’s celluloid dinosaurs and ape-men. In fact, approximately $20 billion was spent this year for CRM systems, and the market is projected to expand to $46 billion by 2003. That’s very good news for the folks who sell all those CRM programs, potentially good news for consumers (provided the programs work), and not-so-good news for marketers, IS teams, and everyone else involved in consumer outreach. It means that up until now we’ve failed to do the basics. It means that we have to fix our work and get back into the customer’s mindset.
Truly customer-friendly organizations make the customer experience a high priority. They build e-commerce sites around the customer’s shopping and buying process, not the organization’s process for selling stuff to unwary consumers. Similarly, they build Web sites based on users’ needs for information, not the pageantry needed to boost upper management’s egos.
Make no mistake. Users know when they’ve landed on a site that screams “Planet of the Corporate Blowhards!” Those are the sites with the dancing graphics, columns of self-congratulatory content, and photos of big buildings or big-headed vice presidents (also, just for kicks, count how many times you see the words “synergy,” “next level,” and “proactive”). Missing in action on BlowhardCentral.com are basic consumer information, easy-to-navigate pages, and a way to contact a live person.
If you want your site to say “customer friendly,” I suggest the following:
- Test for Uncle Bob. This is such a big “duh,” I hesitated to put it into print. But, then again, perhaps it bears repeating. Test your site on someone so lacking in Web savvy that he can barely click a mouse (such as Uncle Bob). Watch him as he navigates the site, and listen to him if he gets frustrated.
- Beware of focus groups. Companies are spending wildly to fund focus groups for marketing programs and product testing. Most of the time, it makes a lot of sense. But know that people in focus groups also perform for those behind the mirrored window and for each other. Put a non-techie in the room with a bunch of techno fiends, and he or she will never tell you the frustrations experienced by a less-than-savvy user.
- Listen and tweak. Few things are perfect for their trial runs, so expect to tweak as you get more customer feedback. Brushing off that one angry complainer as just a “whiner” or a “wacko” with nothing better to do is the mistake that those of us in the ivory towers of corporate marketing and IT often make. Remember, there is an element of wackiness in all of us — as well as an element of merit in what any of us has to say. Take the correspondence seriously. Heed the example of the math professor whose complaints to Intel went unheeded until he filled the chat rooms with buzz about a tiny flaw in the Pentium chip. That buzz was ultimately heard around the world, and it cost Intel plenty.
- See if your site measures up. Take a cue from the Internet consultants at Primix who’ve developed a user experience matrix. They create a grid with the core values of an organization’s brand on the vertical axis and basic factors of a Web solution (content, look and feel, functionality, tone, usability, navigation, and architecture) on the horizontal axis. If all the elements don’t match up, they know the Web site is hurting, rather than helping, the brand promise.
- Don’t be the lone CRM advocate. Even the most customer-friendly site must be supported by a customer-friendly organization. There are times when consumers want to talk to someone, so watch out if your call center is rude or puts people on perma-hold. The idea is to have the site reflect a company-wide customer-welcoming attitude.
Oh, yes, one more piece of advice: Leave your computer terminal every once in a while and actually talk to people. It could be the most effective and cheapest CRM activity you do all year.