Sites Where Training Techniques Pay Off

Some readers have asked for examples of sites that successfully apply training techniques to marketing objectives. I’ll share my short list of sites that get it right. This study is unscientific; it’s a longitudinal study of only one year, with no control group and a universe of one experimental subject. (They let me out of the cage to write this column.)

It is objective only in the sense that I included one site that does it right in no way other than applying training tactics in a few of its services. Its high-handed tactics in its other services infuriate me, yet I continue to use it. That’s how effective training tactics can be.

Brick-and-Mortar Conversion Sites

I’ve been buying basics at JCPenney since my salad days. I still hate salad but still like JCPenney’s value proposition. During the summer, when it’s too hot to schlep bags across the parking lot into a car that’s 120 degrees inside, I order everything online, from the family’s underwear to holiday gifts on sale. And all merchandise bought online can be returned at JCPenney stores. Paul S. Pappajohn, president of e-commerce at JCPenney, says he’s trying “to create a seamless experience” for JCPenney shoppers. Some of the text in the graphics is hard to read, but that’s never where the critical information is conveyed.

The place in San Francisco where I left my heart is Nordstrom. I’ve left considerable pocket change at Nordstrom in San Diego, Seattle, and Dallas as well. I must’ve been among the first 10 people to log on to NORDSTROM.com, with piano music playing softly on the stereo. I liked the experience well enough to return, even without the piano music. The product pictures are crisp, and the descriptions are detailed. The “how to” directions for shopping, ordering, and checking out are clear and illustrated with graphics showing you exactly where to look and what to click. Kathryn Olson, NORDSTROM.com’s executive vice president of marketing, comments that one big change in e-marketing is real-time learning. Although she’s talking about the company’s instantly learning about the customer, the site itself helps customers learn whatever they need to feel comfortable and have a good experience there.

Online Pure Plays

When I first drafted this column in late September, it began:

    Priceline.com teaches me what I need to know when I need to know it, with step-by-step instructions for bidding on groceries and gasoline. Then I print out the detailed purchase list, which has illustrated instructions for the supermarket or gas pump. Is priceline.com service perfect? No, but in the gasoline and grocery services, it recovers well from errors by refunding charges to my credit card for both vendor fumbles and priceline.com database errors.

A week later, priceline.com ceased operation of these two services. What’s left is its abysmal travel reservation services with convoluted explanations (warnings) that you’re locked into deals with vendors you don’t select and against whom you have no recourse. The worst part of priceline.com’s travel service “learning experience” is that you learn to read the fine print and not trust them. The end of priceline.com’s two services that used to get it right validates the lesson learned from its travel service. RIP.

On the other hand, Amazon.com consistently keeps me happy. Its best applications of training theory are the product reviews (people participate, learn, and return) and the checkout process’s just-in-time directions for updating your credit card information and shipping addresses. One problem is that Amazon.com abruptly downgraded its privacy policy after getting all its customers’ information. I learned that’s the last time and the last site on which I give anything vaguely like accurate information. The larger lesson is that the only customer information you can rely on is what they clicked and what they bought on your site; believe only behavior you have observed and measured.

The one site I’ve found most helpful overall to consumers for vendor-rating information and customer service follow-up is BizRate.com. You get discounts, too, by using your BizRate ID when shopping with its vendors. When a vendor messes up (e.g., wrong item or late delivery), the company makes it up to you because it knows you’re filling out the BizRate evaluation. BizRate itself rewards you for completing the evaluations with a lottery scratch card, an annoying little time waster, but you can skip the game. I may actually skip it myself one of these days.

Recess: If it’s later than 10 a.m., you need to take a break. Blow bubbles. Test your clicking. Go with your gut reaction. Now do something really important: Feed your brain. Read the Fast Company riff on change insurgents by Robert B. Reich. The article informed and inspired me and gave me the courage to fight on, with a few tactics to use in the battle. I recommend it to everyone whose job involves change in a web environment, which is everyone. If you need coaching, you know where to find me.

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