The Customer-Centric Phase

If I told you a way to net hundreds of thousands of dollars more from your Web endeavors than they currently produce, would you be up to the challenge of implementing it? Well, that’s what happened when Robert, a reader from Canada, made a simple change in the perspective of his marketing efforts.

In September 2002 I wrote: The Web has gone through four phases: Pioneer Days was the technology phase (gopher and BBS); Great Expectations was the design phase (Cool Site of the Day); the Marketing Phase was next (we’ll never forget the wake-up call when the bubble burst); and now we have the Business Phase (business objectives and ROI are critical).

There’s good news and bad news associated with this Business Phase. The good news is people are flocking to improve conversion rates, new companies are offering new solutions, and they’re spending good money on Web analytics to truly measure what’s going on with their sites. The number of people who ask us how to decide on a Web analytics solution is indicative of the ROI marketing craze. Once people stop flying blind, they realize they must improve the persuasive experiences on their site so visitors convert into customers.

The irrational exuberance we saw during the marketing dot-bomb days hasn’t returned (fortunately), yet some people still spend money for the wrong reasons. If you pay for Web analytics to get a handle on your Web site’s cost and ROI, you’re dealing with only half the equation. If you don’t use this investment in time, money, and resources to understand your customer, it’s a shameless waste.

Conversion rate is a measure of your ability to persuade visitors to take the action you want them to take. It’s a reflection of your effectiveness and your customers’ satisfaction. To achieve your goals, your visitors must first achieve theirs. Back in 2001, I shared the key to online success: “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.” Every click deeper into (or out of) your site is a customer shouting, “Help me get what I want!”

Are you listening?

Now back to Robert. Robert sells a suite of software tools. He changed one of his email campaigns to feature not his product, but experiences readers would have if they used the software. The message was incredibly customer-focused, not company-focused.

Robert’s ROI took a dramatic turn for the better. Virtually every product or service out there can list a feature set. Features are product attributes. In and of themselves, they have no value.

What does have value is how each customer or persona perceives the attributes meet her individual needs and wants and what benefits they provide. How much is water worth when you live next to the municipal water supply? How much is it worth if you’re in the middle of the desert?

Colleagues in the Web design community have started asking the same questions. What’s the value of CSS, XHTML, standards, and accessibility if we aren’t focused on helping people? Jason Fried, an author of “Defensive Design for the Web,” said, “Who cares if it still doesn’t let people achieve their goals? Web standards are great, but people’s own standards include getting things done (and that’s still too hard to do online).”

If you’re ready for the customer-centered phase, take the time to truly know your customers and prospects. Empathize with their needs. Articulate what’s in it for them. Don’t describe the contents of a 12 oz. bottle of water. Just quench their thirst.

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