How Are You Treating Your Online Customers?

Last week, I had to make a special visit to the dentist to get a filling replaced. As I was sitting there getting worked on, I noticed how well the dental hygienist anticipated the needs of the dentist. She always had the exact tool the dentist was reaching for ready. She was able to take a tool from the dentist and hand her another one at the same time, with one hand. It was almost poetry in motion — how well they worked together. I mentioned something afterwards to both of them, about how well they know each other’s needs without any verbal cues. The dentist told me that when she is breaking in a new hygienist, it can be really frustrating until they get to know each other. She said she often goes through a number of them in order to find one she works well with — someone who makes her job easier.

It made me think about how we treat our site visitors. Are we anticipating their needs? Are we streamlining the process? Are we making it easy for them? Do they struggle through our process? A few things jumped out at me:

  • Satisfaction: ForeSee and others have been preaching satisfaction for quite some time, measuring sites using the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). They have found considerable impact and success for companies that score high on the ACSI. It’s easy to see the connection between site satisfaction scores and overall business success. In fact, there are investment funds out there that base their entire investments strategy on the satisfaction rankings of a company’s customers (since many believe it’s a long-term indicator of a company’s success).
  • Reducing barriers: Are we making it easy on our site visitors? Do we help them find what they need quickly and successfully get it in their hands? Based on what they searched for on Google, do we drop them on the home page or a specific product page? Do we treat them differently based on what part of the purchase funnel we think they might be in? If they are searching for a “new printer,” do we give them the same content as someone that is searching for the “Lexmark x4550”? Do we make it easy for them to purchase and quickly receive the product?
  • Anticipating customers’ needs: Are we anticipating what our customers need to be successful? Is shipping often a concern for site visitors for a certain product? If that’s true, are we addressing it? Is sizing a big concern? If so, what are we doing to help people choose the right size, and ensure them that it’s easy and fast to exchange sizes? Do we know that our customers often need to talk with someone before making their final purchase? How do we make that easy and prompt them at the right time? Back to the example of the dentist — anticipating needs doesn’t mean handing the dentist 40 instruments at one time, hoping to get it right. It means truly understanding what is needed and taking the time to learn, anticipate, and change it if you get it wrong.

In the market today, there are three good examples of companies that anticipate its customers’ needs:

  • Nordstrom is a great offline example. In the women’s section of the store, there are often big, comfortable chairs with copies of the Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated, etc., next to the dressing rooms. It knows that men often get dragged into the store and want to have something to do while they wait. If Nordstrom can anticipate that desire and respond to it, then their female companions won’t feel rushed and can spend more time in the store, increasing the chance of a sale.
  • Zappos knew early on that some people would feel uncomfortable buying shoes online without trying them on first. Zappos has a great tagline in bright orange on the home page of the site that says, “Free Shipping & Free 365 Day Returns”. It also says on nearly every page, “Free Shipping Both Ways” to make it clear that if you make a mistake, it won’t cost you. If sizes vary for different brands, it makes it easy to find the right size. This has proven to be a huge success for Zappos, as its customer satisfaction is surely high. It has understood and reduced the barriers for its visitors, and anticipated its customers’ needs.
  • Best Buy has done a good job of reducing the frustration many people feel about waiting for the products they order online to reach them. Instead of battle that, it changed the game: buy the product online and come into the store to pick it up. You get it fast, you don’t pay shipping, etc.
  • Amazon One-Click has done the ultimate in reducing barriers. Set your account up, and with literally one click, the product you’re looking at is on its way. But Amazon has also done a good job of knowing that shipping can often be a big deterrent, so it has rolled out offerings like Amazon Prime, which comes with an annual fee, but includes free two-day shipping on any products ordered through Amazon. I have found, in my home, that this has considerably changed what I’m willing to buy online, and now have moved many of my purchases to Amazon.

In closing, why do the hygienist and the sites want to improve satisfaction, reduce barriers, and anticipate customers’ needs? It’s simple: it makes good business sense. Increased online success for our visitors means increased success and profits for the site owners/company. Take some time to think about what your company is really doing to address these needs. How far you go in these areas will depend on the potential upside for your company, based on industry, brand, and size. No matter your size, these are important things to consider and take advantage of.

Related reading