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What Customers Want

In this chapter, author Jodie Dalgleish explains that what customers want from a web site depends on what they want to do, and then shows you how to deliver it to them.

This sample chapter is from Customer-Effective Web Sites(Prentice Hall PTR, 2000).

As I've stood behind customers, in the moment before they experience a business' Web site for the first time, I've been poignantly aware of all the expectations they have poised in their fingertips as they anticipate swinging into action once the home page downloads.

I have found that, basically, customers expect a Web site to improve the service they receive from the business in question. To a customer, this means getting things done easier, faster, and smarter. As soon as customers download a Web site, they expect to experience something superior; they expect businesses to have applied this great, new technology to enhance their service experience and to help them, personally, get things done.

And what does it mean to get things done? Well, let's put ourselves in the customers' shoes for a moment and think about the things they need to do to find, set up, and maintain the services they need.

Consider things you have to do as part of everyday life: managing your finances, looking for a place to live, refinancing the mortgage, setting up cover for the new car or home, putting in a second phone line, setting up an electricity account, advising of a changed address, remembering birthdays and organizing gifts, ordering stuff you can't find in the shops, getting someone to come and fix something, and understanding how something works even when you've got the instructions spread all over the place.

Sound familiar? Now, consider customers in pursuit of superior customer service on the Web. What are the types of things they want to do while on a business' Web site?

They will want to seek out pertinent information and ask questions, evaluate alternatives, make choices, and make things happen as quickly as they can once they've made up their minds. And, once they've made a decision, they want to be kept in the loop, just to make sure they made the right decision or in case something better comes along. They'll keep an eye on what the business and their competitors are up to. Or else they'll be busy concentrating on other decisions and go back to the business only when something's broken or they need something else.

The Graphics, Visualization and Usability (GVU) Center of Georgia Technology Institute have made some inroads into finding out about why people use the Web and the experiences they have. The center runs an annual Web user survey, and the results are publicly available online (see Netography for the Web site address). It includes some pretty smart questions about such things as primary uses of the Web, problems using the Web, use of different types of information, important features of Web vendors, dissatisfying experiences, purchase decisions and preferences for the Web over other media, and pursuits. Questions like these help us to appreciate the dynamics underlying customer usage and create more customer-effective Web sites.

The GVU user survey gives us insight into the fact that customers use the Web to perform specific tasks related to the services and products businesses provide. In the tenth user survey the most popular pursuit was gathering information for personal needs, followed by work/business, education, and shopping. "Time wasting" was ranked almost lowest. In addition, people were visiting Web sites weekly to seek out product information.

The survey also shows that the Web is only part of a customer's service experience. Customers don't necessarily want to do everything, like purchase, on the Web. GVU found that people use the Web as the primary source in making a purchase decision about once every one to two months, whether they purchase on the Web or not. In addition, people browse product information without the explicit intent to buy once to several times each month and search with the explicit intent to buy several times each week or month The Web experience may or may not lead directly to purchase, but, irrespective, it is an important part of a customer's decision-making process.

So customers use the Web as a service medium and they go to Web sites to perform specific tasks. The Web may also be only one medium a customer relies on during their overall service experience.

Five "Doing-Areas"

We can categorize what customers want to do on the Web under five "doing areas," as follows:

    1. Evaluate competing businesses and products.

    2. Select products and transact with e-service providers.

    3. Get help.

    4. Provide feedback.

    5. Stay tuned in as e-customers.

These five areas are all important. Customers will operate in one area more than another at a given point in time, depending on where they are at with what they're trying to do. We can think of the five areas as a rough progression, from evaluating businesses and products to becoming customers to receiving after-sales support and information.

Now, let's look at each of these "doing areas" in more detail.

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