It’s the Customer, Stupid

OK, OK, so that’s a little aggressive. But really, isn’t that the whole deal? Get it right, and everything else follows. Get it wrong, and — even if everything else is perfect — you’ll still fail.

Have you ever been cornered at a party by someone who only talks about himself? Pretty annoying, isn’t it? Do you respect that person? Are you comfortable around him? Do you feel such people care about you or what’s important to you? Do you even want be there? If you saw that person again, would you be eager to spend even more time with him, or would you look for the nearest plant to hide behind?

Now ask yourself what caused all those negative feelings and what is, in the end, real avoidance behavior. It wasn’t how the person was dressed. It wasn’t where the person came from. It wasn’t what the person did for a living or who he was with. It was the words. (Old joke: Woman comes home from a date. Roommate asks how it went. She replies, “He’s an opera singer.” “Really?” “Yeah, all night it was ‘me-me-me-me-me.'”)

So let’s take a look at the words on your Web site. Are you talking about all the wonderful ways your visitors can benefit from your products or services, or are you talking about all the great features of your products, services, or company? In other words, are you speaking the language of “you,” or are you caught up in the language of “we”? As our friend Roy Williams asks, “Are you wewe-ing all over yourself?”

Realize that the words you use and how you use them are telling your visitors where your focus is. Want them to stick around and eventually take the action you want? Talk about them, their needs, their wants, and how they can get those needs and wants satisfied. Use customer-focused language. Otherwise, they’re going to feel like you’re the self-centered guest at the party. You may not be, but they only have your words to judge you by.

Because there wasn’t a tool you could use to evaluate your site with respect to customer focus, we invented one; we created a Web page for it and named it in Roy’s honor :-). You can find it at It’s not perfect (there are lots of variables, of course). But it has proven to be so useful that it’s already gotten a bunch of press. More importantly, it’s already helped a lot of people improve their conversion rates. You really should link to the tool/calculator and play with it before you read on.

As you can see, we parse your page for self-focused words such as “I,” “we,” “our,” and your company name (which functions much like “we”), as well as for customer-focused words such as “you” and “your.” Then we calculate several ratios that indicate whether your visitors are likely to perceive you as genuinely focused on them. The most important is the customer focus ratio (CFR). That’s the ratio of customer-focused words to self-focused words. Then you can compare all the CFRs with a complementary set of self-focus ratios. Run the tool to check your site; run it to check a variety of sites. You’re likely to have an eye-opening opportunity to see your site through your customer’s eyes.

It’s fascinating to see how certain sites, and even whole business categories, score. Most sites with splash pages or flash intros score terribly. But what better examples are there of sites pushing something at the visitor the company wants them to see rather than giving the visitor what he or she came to find? Ad agency sites are especially guilty of this.

We were intrigued at the results from testing the site of a company that claims to specialize in customer experience. Its customer focus ratio is only 8.3 percent! When you look at its text, all it talks about is the company: What it’s done, how much it knows, and so on. Most other e-commerce consultancies score just as badly. Seemingly they’ve never heard of WIIFM. (But you have, right?) Ironic, isn’t it? Do you think that could be one reason why many of the e-businesses that relied on them are now gone?

By contrast, another site, owned by a recognized expert in branding with a solid track record, scores reasonably well (67 percent), but when you read the text, you see the focus is completely “self.” So beware: This can happen to anybody. It’s also a great example that it’s not only what you say but also how you say it. We never suggest that the scores should be read in a vacuum, and there are no “baselines,” just “guidelines.” Again, the key is to see your words through your visitors’ eyes (and hear the words through their ears!) and understand how that makes them feel.

Now look at one of the most successful e-commerce sites around, Dell’s TradeUps@DellExchange. Its CFR is 95 percent. Think there’s a connection? Nick Usborne is a leader in the business of writing customer-focused copy. His CFR? 100 percent. But please don’t get sidetracked here. This is not about trying to win a contest with a high score. This is about trying to achieve the right balance.

If you do want a rough guideline, there seems to be a clear difference between sites with CFRs of 60 percent and higher, and sites with CFRs below 60 percent. If your site scores 35 percent, you can be sure that you have room to improve. But remember the example above: You could score 67 percent (or more) yet still have room to improve. Again, it’s a guideline. And no flames about exceptions, please .

So test. Test each part of your site. Now look at your text, and make whatever changes you need to make to ensure your visitors feel your only focus is their satisfaction.

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