Imagine you get a grumpy e-mail from a loyal customer who is complaining about a big online transaction that would not go through. Your IT staff cannot find the problem, but your customer assures you that it is real. Or maybe you're feeling smug about a customer's $200 online purchase--until you find out later that he had $2,000 worth of merchandise in his shopping cart that never turned into an actual sale.
"The statistics we have are that 96 percent of the time, people don't even tell you there's a problem," says Randi Barshack, vice president of marketing and co-founder of TeaLeaf Technology Inc.
While analysis of records such as Web logs can provide some details about customer transactions, they often show black holes precisely where the real problems might be. They can detail which pages a customer perused, but they will not show what a customer was doing when their shopping experience blew up. "You have no idea whether there were 20 items in their basket, or whether there were five, or whether they got an error message," Barshack says.
And that is where TeaLeaf's solutions come in. The two-year-old company enables e-businesses to understand the online experience from the customer's perspective. That means capturing and storing all interactions between a customer and a Web site. Once the data is captured, the customer's shopping experience can be analyzed step by step, or the data can be analyzed and reported to discover trends and glitches.
As an example, one TeaLeaf analysis was able to pinpoint a purchasing glitch that occurred when customers tried to order thousands of dollars worth of merchandise, only to have the site fail to recognize the comma customers were putting into the dollar figure. The result? Failed transactions and error messages going out to customers that could have remained mysteries indefinitely.
When the people who develop applications test their product "of course it's going to work," Barshack says. "But what happens when real people come to your site?"
Tough times mean there is even less room than usual for poor customer relations, and TeaLeaf has the ability to help companies clamp down on problems quickly before they start resulting in lost revenue, Barshack says. Tealeaf is geared to clients who bring in millions of dollars in Web-site revenue--in other words, companies that can't afford to lose orders because of a misdirected comma, he says.
On the Record
Call it the case of the mysterious number 18. That is what it seemed like to the staff at TowerRecords.com, who were trying to figure out the glitch that was keeping online customers from checking out with more than 18 items in their virtual shopping carts.
"On one particular occasion, a man had put 19 items in his cart," recalls Lisa Scovel, a senior producer for TowerRecords.com, the top online music retailer in 2000 according to Forrester Research. When the customer tried to purchase the items he had selected, the company's Web site would not let him do it. In desperation, he tried to dump a few items out of his basket and proceed to check out, but he ended up completely emptying his virtual shopping cart.
Fortunately, the client very patiently spent the next hour and a half refilling his cart, and eventually did succeed in completing his transaction. Even more fortuitously, the company had recently purchased TeaLeaf's TeaCommerce solution to track the glitch down to an old legacy rule that went back to a time when the company's stream could only handle 18 lines at a time. Knowing exactly what the customer had experienced helped company technicians fix the problem.
It was a clear example of exactly what TowerRecords.com had hoped to accomplish when it became a TeaLeaf customer in April 2001, Scovel says. "We felt we needed to know more about what our customers were experiencing on our site," she says. "We were seeing our conversion rate [the ratio of shoppers to buyers] drop over a period of a time. We had raised prices, and some of our selection was varying, but we definitely knew there were some things on our site that were affecting our conversion and we wanted to get better."
TowerRecords.com has been able to "start whittling away, one by one, at the barriers customers might encounter on our site," Scovel says. Ultimately, she says, TeaLeaf's reporting data will help TowerRecords.com learn more about the company's customers, who they are and what they buy.
TowerRecords.com did not have any particular dollar goals for TeaLeaf, and in fact, it will take time before it can release hard numbers on its TeaLeaf investment, Scovel says. It is already clear, however, that the solution helps identify site errors and search problems that could give customers a bad first experience and perhaps deter them from using the site a second time.
"We found a few situations where people were attempting to do particular types of searches and weren't successful," Scovel says. "They would simply overwhelm our search engine, and it would time out--sometimes gracefully, sometimes not." Seeing that problem unfold from the customer's perspective has allowed the company to redefine its search capabilities, and when that is not possible "to be a little more graceful about the lack of capabilities."
The bottom line, Scovel says, and "what TeaLeaf really brought to the table is we now know not only what the users are doing successfully, but we also know what they're attempting to do, which is really important in an e-tail environment."