Here's the good news: After years of tinkering, your Website is finally well-designed and running smoothly, you've got Flash animation, you've got the e-commerce bugs worked out, and you've got a handle on site metrics.
Now the bad news: Customers are demanding more. They are fickle in the face of a wealth of choices in what and how they buy. Traditional purchasing habits and brand loyalties are a thing of the past. They've grown accustomed to shopping and interacting with businesses over the Internet. They want personalized service and satisfying experience.
"In short, Web visitors want to be persuaded, they want their emotions engaged, and they want assurances of trust," says Susan Weinschenk, Chief of Technical Staff at Human Factors International, Inc. The Fairfield, Iowa-based company with offices in the United States, Europe, and Asia, provides consulting and training for Web and software usability.
Weinschenk collectively calls these customer expectations a PET (persuasion, emotion, trust) scan, and visitors do it every time they view a Web page. "You need one of these three reactions to inspire the next action – be it clicking for more info or making a purchase."
Here are three steps you can take right now to ensure a successful PET scan on your site:
- Build Trust with Web 2.0. One way to build trust with customers is to be a legitimate provider of useful and objective information. There are so many new services and tools for sharing and delivering information these days that experts are collectively using the phrase of Web 2.0 to describe them all.
Take, for example, HousingMaps.com, which combines the power of Google Maps with real estate classifieds posted on community site Craigstlist.org to deliver to potential buyers satellite images of an advertised property. Users can visualize the property's exact location and simultaneously view information about the property.
And Cisco itself is one of many companies offering selected news and information feeds via a RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed, another Web 2.0 technology. Once customers subscribe to an RSS feed, they are sent automatic updates and alerts as they are released by the content creator.
Many companies are using Web 2.0 technologies engender trust with customer:
- Interactive maps
- User-written Websites, called "Wikis"
- Real-time social networking
Today, many smaller businesses are using what's called "mash-ups" to combine blogs, RSS feeds, and other tools. For example, a site might combine industry news with commentary and customer insights. Although all three elements were originally created for, and posted on, different sites, they're combined and presented in a single Web view. In this way, Web 2.0 tools allow companies to add immediate value and their unique perspectives to developments in their industries - all at a low cost.
Companies that take advantage of Web 2.0 can more effectively organize and categorize content, improve collaboration, open communication channels, and provide customers with helpful Web-based applications and services.
"In an age where so much is hype, customers respect companies that provide unvarnished and fresh information. Delivering valuable information is an easy way to create a relationship based on trust," says Weinschenk.
Ask yourself how you can add Web 2.0 applications and services to better attract and retain customers.
- Engage emotionally with deep and rich product content. Static Web pages are a thing of the past. Now that consumers are embracing broadband by a two-to-one margin over dialup (read the Nielson report), you can take advantage of high Internet speeds to host compelling product and service pages, replete with animations, 3D graphics, streaming audio, and of course, video.
"Shoppers are seeking out a unique Web experience, one in which they become emotionally involved" says Weinschenk.
You can go one step further and make these product areas interactive. A bicycle retailer, for example, might create a 3D product model that customers can rotate to view at any angle, or zoom in and out for details. A technology company might host a video on how to install a home entertainment system.
"Graphical presentation of products on the Web result in improved product knowledge, a more positive brand attitude, and a better chance of closing the customer," says Weinschenk.
- Persuade with Live Chat: Start communicating interactively. Web customers are often inundated by product claims and information. One way to help them navigate your site or persuade them to take action is with live chat, (sometimes called click-to-chat) - providing customer service representatives ready to answer questions and guide customers to the right choices via instant messaging.
You can place a chat button on product and shopping cart pages. You can even proactively "invite" customers to chat by gently interrupting their browsing with an instant message.
If your product or service line is broad or complex, your challenge is in ensuring that your customers have access to the most qualified employee available. A virtual private network gives you the flexibility to connect users to remote office workers working from their home or across the globe. These employees have access to the same corporate resources and customer data as employees working in the main office. As a result, you can hire customer service representatives and experts anywhere and still ensure high-quality customer service.
The Right Foundation
Above are just three steps you can take to help ensure a positive Web experience for your customers. The Web offers many ways to service your customers 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, inlcuding self-service tools like tracking, online account access, and customized recommendations for products and services. Implementing these types of tools not only helps promote customer loytaly, but also maximizes your businesses resources.
All these Web improvements require the right technology infrastructure, a network that functions as a backbone to both support and scale these customer-facing applications.
"We are witnessing the evolution of the Internet and the emergence of a rich, interactive medium," says Weinschenk. "Companies would do well to use these new tools because customers are expecting more all the time."
Eric Adams writes for Cisco Systems.