My friend Chris Eagle sent me this cartoon recently:
Clearly, the cartoonist was frustrated with some recent visits to university websites. But it’s not hard to apply his Venn diagram to many of our retail website home pages (and many other pages as well).
If we were to diagram our own sites — breaking out our customers’ expectations and our own objectives — what would be contained in our overlap? How often during the internal battles for homepage real estate are customer expectations considered? And when they are, how quickly are they pushed aside when conflicting internal objectives over limited real estate means something has to give?
Does the merchant who’s in our face get priority over the customer who is not?
Assuming we’ve got a list of customer expectations or objectives, how were they determined? Would the items in our “customers’ expectations” circle be our perceptions of our customers’ expectations or would they be expectations gathered directly from our customers? You might say there’s no distinction between the two, but my experience tells me there is often a significant gap. This is because those of us who work on sites day in and day out are about the worst possible people to understand our customers’ perspectives. We simply know our sites and our business way better than our customers ever will, and our knowledge clouds our ability to see our sites and our businesses in the same way our customers see our sites and our businesses.
Oh, yeah. To add to it all, believe it or not, our customers are not of a single mind and a single purpose. It’s hard enough that we’ve got to deal with competing internal interests; we’ve also got to somehow provide a self-service experience for our customers that magically anticipates and responds to their expectations and objectives.
So, these are a lot of questions. What do we do about it?
- Objectively understand customer expectations and objectives, directly from our customers.
This is, of course, not as simple as it sounds. We’re dealing with the human psyche, which is a complicated thing. It’s important we ask questions very carefully to ensure we are getting accurate results. For example, the Myers-Briggs test is a scientifically proven method for assessing personality. If you’ve ever taken it, you know how thorough and accurate it is. The results you get are very different than you would get if you simply asked someone to describe his or her personality. It’s also important that we collect this data properly, ensuring we get a representative sample of our customer base that is statistically valid enough that we can project our findings on our entire customer population. In other words, simply asking the next 15 customers we come in contact with is not enough. When done correctly, customer surveys can be extremely reliable, accurate, and predictive and can give us an excellent view into our customers wants, needs and expectations. It will come as no surprise that I am a huge (and admittedly, biased) fan of ForeSee Results’ ACSI methodology because it asks a series of well-tested questions that have been scientifically proven to draw precise, reliable and accurate information from respondents.
- Educate internal constituencies
Once we understand our customers’ objectives — from their perspectives — we need to educate our internal partners in an effort to align their strategies with our customers’ needs. Ideally, they’re already aligned, but my experience tells me that daily internal pressures have a way of evolving (or should I say devolving) their individual strategies away from customer needs.
- Map out a strategy that responds to key personas and/or purposes
Delivering on multiple objectives requires a lot of thought and planning. Meeting the needs of so many constituencies, customer and internal, can be tricky. I highly recommend reading Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg’s excellent book, Waiting for Your Cat to Bark, for some quality advice.
- Personalize and customize
While online real estate is technically unlimited, trying to simultaneously meet too many competing objectives can lead to a chaotic mess. I won’t call anybody out specifically, but surely you’ve see the type of site I’m referencing. Companies such as Monetate and Certona have site personalization capabilities that can take what we know about the customer, where’s she’s coming from, what search term she might have used and even, in the case of Monetate, what the current and upcoming weather in her location is, to help us make some determinations about the configuration and content of the page she might see.
To be sure, filling the overlap circle of our Venn diagram is not easy. But in a world where low single digit conversion rates are all too common, focusing on discovering and then meeting customer expectations is the quickest way to improving business and gaining market share.
What do you think? What fills your Venn diagrams? How do you understand customer expectations and objectives?