By Jere Matlock
Note: I wrote this article in 1998 (before smart phones) based on having personally sold millions of dollars worth of products and services.
In our book, "The Power of Agreement," Klaus Hilgers and I summarize what customers want:
"In a recent survey done by the Marketing Institute of Cambridge, Mass., on a variety of customers of service businesses, they wanted to find out what created customer satisfaction. This gives you a list of the implied agreements with your customers, that you or they may never come right out and state but which underlie all transactions.
1. Reliability: This topped the list of what customers expect. A major source of customer dissatisfaction is the 'unkept promise'.
2. Responsiveness: Be helpful and provide prompt service.
3. Assurance: Employees should be knowledgeable and courteous and should convey confidence in the service they provide.
4. Empathy: Customers want individualized attention and people who will listen to them.
5. Tangibles: Physical facilities and equipment should be attractive and clean. Employees should be dressed and groomed well."
Think of these points as implied agreements between your customers and you. Once we know these agreements, we can organize and train ourselves and staff to meet our customers' desires.
Periodically survey your customers to find out what they really expect from you. What should you be delivering to actually satisfy them?
Each of these points is relevant to the design of websites (including what you keep track of for each customer and how that gets used). Here are just a few ways to improve real marketing through your website:
1. Reliability: How reliable does your website make your company look? Is it chock full of ads for other sites? Is there a testimonials section? Some previous customers they can contact? Is there a street address anywhere? A phone number they can call? Is there any way at all to contact the people behind the website? Personally, it bends me out of shape when I have a question to ask and there's no way to contact anyone. In a large company in which everyone has email addresses, how hard is it to list their names, or at least the positions they hold, on a contacts page? Reliability implies accountability in the event of problems. Yet, too often, web pages are designed to obscure all lines into the staff of the company, excepting only the sales line.
2. Responsiveness: Autoresponders are just not enough. A company's attitude toward its web customers shows in how hard or easy it is to get an answer to a tough question. I once tried to buy a network card for my Dell laptop. Going through their web page (very well designed and very useful as it was) and emailing someone who should have known got me this unsatisfactory answer "No, we don't carry them. Here's the name of some third party vendors who might." Yet I called Dell's order line and within one minute I had located and ordered the network card I had asked about. Of course they had it. It's a standard item for the Dell Notebooks. The guy who emailed me was just brushing me off--he wasn't willing to make the same call I made, inside the company, to find out. This can only be solved by training the individual staff member to be more responsive to customers (or by replacing service staff who just don't get it). Try this on your own website --ask a tough question by email and see how long it takes to get an answer, if you get one at all, and if that answer is correct.
3. Assurance: Does your website convey to its visitors the impression that you know your business? Is it all buzzwords and glitzy graphics, or can they actually get the specs on your product? It's a turn-off to visit websites where no one can figure out WHAT they're about. Don't forget about all the slow computers out there. Do you have so much Java script and so many extra pop-up screens that you'll blow somebody away from the site? One of the reasons for Amazon.com's amazing success is that their site exudes assurance. You know they know what they are doing.
4. Empathy: Something an autoresponder cannot give is empathy. If someone emails your staff (or you) with a valid complaint or some kind of critical remark, do they get a form email brushing them off, or do they get a phone call or email from your Quality Control people? Does your company have a quality control person who is responsible not only for the quality of the product or service you provide, but also for the quality with which that product is presented, marketed, promoted, talked about by staff to customers? Is there an incentive program in place inside the company to ensure that your staff actually do care what happens when someone has a problem? Is anyone in the company verifying that your tech support person actually answers his or her emails, and that the answers he or she gives are correct?
5. Tangibles: In a website, the only tangibles are what you see on each screen. So each screen had better be clean, clear, legible, and actually HELP the person get closer to buying or getting what he or she wants. Do all the links work? When were they tested last? Do the pages all work with ALL the browsers?
My point: If the visitor to your website has an agreeable experience, he or she is more likely to buy (especially an impulse item). But if that experience is disagreeable, you've most likely lost them and you've defeated the purpose of having your website in the first place.
Article updated 2023