All Lost in the Online Supermarket

Talk to any successful retailer and he will tell you that a store's appearance matters just as much as its functionality. In supermarkets, for example, customers are turned off by cluttered aisles and slow checkout lines, and they will leave if the store is crowded and they can't find the items they need quickly. Online marketing is much like retail, except the pace is even faster. Once a customer is inside a virtual store, the quality of service and the merchandising is what keeps him happy. Knowing your customers, understanding what online features are important to them, and tailoring a site to meet those demands are essential for ensuring customer satisfaction. Unfortunately, Web designers too often don't start their process with the goals of their visitors foremost in mind. As a result, consumers are often left to wander aimlessly through their online experience in much the same way as the brick-and-mortar equivalent of messy aisles, long checkout lines, and unresponsive or absent sales assistance. Nowhere was this more evident than in the results of the annual Customer Respect Group's (CRG) 2005 Online Customer Respect Survey of the nation's largest 100 companies, where the current state of customer satisfaction--and dissatisfaction--with Web entities was revealed. According to the report, 65 of the 100 companies surveyed failed to meet customers' standards. The most common faults were poor customer service, lack of open and honest policies, complex navigation, and an inadequate level of respect for customer information, leading many online customers to abandon their virtual shopping carts. Even when a site is informational rather than transactional, the damage is similar--a lingering perception that the site's owners do not care can erode brand equity and loyalty. The good news is that companies can address these issues, improve customer satisfaction, and maximize the potential of their Web site by making some small changes that make a big difference in the user's experience. Web Design with the User in Mind Medco Health Solutions' Web site needed to be more aligned with its customers' goals. --it needed to be simple, and it needed to ensure users that buying prescription medication and managing drug benefits online was not only convenient, but also safe and trustworthy. In 2002 Medco conducted extensive customer research, and created four fictional people, Maude, Frank, Sandra and Chris, to the represent the values and characteristics of its members. Medco then rebuilt with these people in mind, ensuring that each of them would find the site easy to use. Keeping the end-user in mind during the redesign has paid off, since the redesign, the number of prescription orders placed through the site has increased almost 60 percent. Additionally, ranked second on the CRG's survey in 2005, earning high scores for simplicity, transparency, attitude and privacy. Following are some of the lessons learned in the redesign process: Anticipate all questions:
Help centers or FAQ pages should answer the most common questions in easy-to-understand terms. If a company provides offline customer service, a worthwhile objective is to make getting a question answered online as easy as talking to a live representative. Uncluttered aisles and clean shelves: The CRG found that of all the online elements that are measured in the survey, simplicity has the greatest impact. In fact, according to a 2004 Customer Respect Net Impact Study, 54 percent of Internet users who abandoned Web sites cited a lack of simplicity. Companies that cater to older customers should use clear, large tabs, buttons, and fonts for easy reading. In addition, designers should make an effort to limit the number of graphics so pages load quickly. In this age of broadband access it is easy to forget that if your site's average user is age 54, many of your visitors are likely still using a dial-up connection. Quick checkout: Fewer clicks and keystrokes lead to an easier transaction. Directions on placing orders should include simple, step-by-step explanations so that users aren't required to remember details from one page to another. Responsiveness is crucial: According to the CRG's Top 100 survey, companies ignore 15 percent of all online inquiries. To keep customers, companies need to make every effort to respond to inquiries within 24 hours. (Remember, automated messages don't always resolve inquiries!) Respect your customers' information: A recent study from the University of Pennsylvania found that 70 percent of participants were nervous about Web sites collecting information about them. Customers need a clear explanation of how their information will be used. And remember, not all of your customers have a law degree, so be sure to write privacy policies that are easy to understand. Satisfying the customer is the heart of good business. But in the Internet world, continually improving the customer's online experience is essential, since the competition is only a few keystrokes away. About the Author Tom Feitel is senior vice president and Chief Web Officer of Medco Health Solutions one of the nation's largest pharmacy benefit providers. Visit Medco Health Solutions
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