Make Your Site Customer-centric

In your universe, do your customers represent the planets revolving around your products? Or are your customers at the center of a universe where your products revolve around them?

At a recent conference, a gentleman from a large telco asked me for some advice. His organization was having trouble figuring out how to present their products to customers on the web due to a large number of products and many types of customers. He knew that simply displaying product numbers, names, and descriptions wouldn’t cut it. Customers would be confused by the dizzying array, and they’d be frustrated in their attempts to find products to fit their needs.

I asked him one question: “How do your customers buy from you today without the web?” And I told him to study the relationships between the company’s customer service representatives, its sales representatives, and its customers. I assured him that he would find the answer.

Look through Customer-Colored Glasses

I’ve been doing my own, albeit unscientific, study of Internet companies. Much to my surprise (and dismay), I’ve found that most companies do not, I repeat do not, involve customers in web site development. This just doesn’t seem logical to me. Many of you are sitting in a conference room guessing and second-guessing what customers might find useful and exciting on your web site. Why not involve customers and the people who work with them on a daily basis in developing your site, or the addition of new features to your site?

If you have or are building a one-to-one web site, knowing your customers and how they buy is a critical element. Customer-centric web sites not only study the relationships between various products, they also study the relationships between customers and products or services. Yes, this is a bigger task than whipping up a web site, but it will be well worth it.

Creating new products, services or web sites requires a delicate balance of “internal innovation” and “market needs.” With internal innovation, you generate ideas that not even your customer would think they need — until you show them. By surveying market and customer needs, you can create products and services that meet the likes and avoid the dislikes of your target market, customer segments, and even individual customers.

Walk in Their Shoes

There are many examples of web sites and features that are customer-centric. Here are a few of my finds:

  • Office Depot — In addition to listing products by categories, Office Depot offers a handy online shopping list feature. You can create multiple shopping lists to easily reorder office supplies you buy often. You can also check order status and review your own purchase history.

  • Pacific Bell — As we all know, telephone companies offer many products. Pacific Bell has a helpful online solution finder — for customers at work, at home, or for customers who work at home. The customer checks boxes next to survey statements describing customer needs. So if you work at home, you might check off: “I need access to the Internet” and “I am often away from the office and need to reach customers.” The system then presents products and services to match your statements.
  • Purina — Purina, the well-known pet food company, has a nifty feature on its site that allows users to determine their best breed of dog based on an online questionnaire. The user selects size, activity, temperament, dog group, coat, etc. This tool helps users match dog breed with lifestyle. So, instead of presenting dog breeds, it leads with customer attributes to determine the best fit.
  • eBay — Using NetMind’s technology, eBay now offers its Personal Shopper service. It allows registered users to instruct the eBay system to search and send email notification for three items. The system can be configured so the customer receives an email daily (or every three days) and selects the email notification duration for 30, 60 or 90 days. You won’t have to surf and wait on eBay’s site for hours, days or years for that special Beanie Baby!

More Customer-centric Ideas

The above examples suggest how to present products and services based on the way customers typically buy or look for information. They may not work for everyone — you know your business best. If you want to improve your site to better serve your customers, try out these ideas:

  • Know how (and why) they do business with you — Ask customers. Ask salespeople. Ask customer service representatives. You’ll find out a lot more about how customers tick beyond their purchase habits. Do they want more convenience? Do they want advice on how use the products? What keeps them awake at night? How can you improve their job or life?

  • Provide solutions, not just products — Use demographics, psychographics, buying habits and other data to present solutions instead of a product list. In fact, each of us has multiple roles in business and in life. How can you provide web site features and services that solve problems?
  • Involve customers in design and testing — After all, a web site is a software application. My experience in the software industry tells me to involve customers in the design, development and testing of software applications. The same goes for your web site.
  • Survey customers for feedback and ideas — Recently, I received an email survey from Amazon.com. I felt pretty important to them because they cared about my opinion. I gave them the feedback, and I also provided them with additional ideas regarding their site and services.
  • Give customers the kind of customer service they can’t get anywhere else — Yes, we all know this. But, if you queried your customers, would they say you provided the best customer service? I recently read in a book that about 14 percent of customers defect because of a bad customer service experience. And 68 percent defect because of the indifference of the service company’s employees. Think about how can you translate excellent customer service from the real world to the cyber world – in product selection, order placement and tracking, problem resolution, and so on.

Next Week: Web-based customer service features that really satisfy your customers.

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