Customers: One Click Away From Goodbye

Do you ever get really frustrated? I sure do. One thing that frustrates me bigtime is when I read all the e-commerce- and Internet-related newsletters in my inbox (about 50 per day) droning on about technology solutions.

Hey, I’m no Luddite. I enjoy the benefits of technology and think it’s a wonderful thing. Nevertheless, technology is much easier to come by than common sense.

Every time I see a Web site that sucks, I can hear in the background the happy chatter of its designers, developers, and programmers: “That’s really cool. The customers? They’ll figure it out. In fact, once they do, they’ll love it.”

These well-meaning people sure put a lot of faith in the patience, motivation, and resilience of their visitors. Yet despite their best intentions, they’re actually hurting sales, not helping them.

Picture This Trip

Let’s imagine that you excitedly head out in your car to go shopping. You know exactly what you want to buy and where you’ll find it in stock at a great price. Along the way, though, you get stuck in a really bad traffic jam. Your car overheats, and your air conditioning quits. After several long hours of sweltering in the heat, you eventually get the problem fixed.

You’re back on the road, but what’s that? A detour ahead? You thought you followed all the signs, so how come now you’re lost? Another hour of wandering and, at last, you locate the store. Naturally, the parking lot is full, and you have to park eight blocks away. And now you’re finally at the front door.

How are you feeling? How tolerant will you be if the shopping experience is anything less than delightful?

The Online Equivalent

Now, here’s the cyberspace equivalent for most (let me repeat, most) folks out there. First they have to figure out how to use a PC, not to mention the operating system, which is just sooo intuitive. Then they need to get online, which is a breeze; no learning curve here and no busy signals or disconnects either, right? Then finally they figure out how a browser works. But what then?

They now have to figure out how different Web sites use different navigation methods, hyperlinks, icons, conventions, jargon, frames, and forms. They even have to figure out when to use the Back button on the browser as opposed to a link on the page. (And how much fun is this: “What? My Back button doesn’t work? What the heck do I do now?”)

Your customers want to be shopping and buying. Isn’t that what you want them to be doing, too? Instead, they’re trying to figure out “Where do I go?” “What do I do next?” “How did I get here?” “How do I get back?” “I have to install a plug-in?” “What’s a plug-in?” “Why should I do that?” “What will happen to my computer?”

Then there are those pop-up boxes, drop-down menus, cryptic error messages, requirements for personal information — it goes on and on and on. And if all that’s not enough, they have to figure out how to differentiate between legitimate businesses and scams.

Give them any reason to leave, and they will.

Have a better appreciation of what your customers are up against now? You can’t do anything about the frustrations they have endured before they find you. But once you’ve finally hooked up, you need to be especially kind to them.

The Majority Rules

The whole trick is in realizing that your customer is Mr. or Ms. Basic User — not Mr. or Ms. Techno-Whiz.

The Techno-Whizzes will buy no matter what, so you lose nothing by not being too cool for your own good. And they’re the minority. The Basics are the majority, by far. If you want them to stay on your site and buy from you, you have to keep it simple, clear, and consistent. No, that doesn’t have to mean boring.

Also, contrary to semipopular belief, people do not want to be surprised while shopping online. They want an experience that’s delightful but also predictable, comfortable, and safe. Nor do they want to be entertained. If that’s what they want, they’ll go to an entertainment site. Adding stuff just for entertainment value only slows the download and distracts from buying. Other than that, it’s a great idea…

For more information on what to do and what not to do, check out the archives. And remember: While you’re (always!) one click away from goodbye, your competitor — who has taken the time and made the effort to create a smooth, simple, consistent, safe, and delightful experience — is just one click away from hello.

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