Eliminate Customer Struggles for a Better Online Experience

Here’s a common scenario—a guy realizes that his mother’s birthday is just two days away and he’s yet to pick out a gift for her. Time to panic? Hardly. With the convenience of online shopping, last-minute gift-giving has become the norm for so many of us.

So he powers up his laptop, and after 45 minutes of browsing different home and garden websites he decides on a new gardening bag. Spring is right around the corner, and it would make the perfect gift. He adds the item to his cart and clicks “check out.” He waits. He clicks again. He waits. He hits the “back” button. He examines the contents of his cart and tries again. He is brought to the checkout page only to find that his cart is empty. Transaction failed.

Frustrated, the consumer curses at his computer and starts the process all over again—this time on a different vendor’s website. Then he does something a rapidly growing number of online consumers do—he tweets some disparaging remarks about his poor experience on the first site he’d visited.

Punctuated with colorful language and a snarky sense of humor, his tweet goes viral, with hundreds of other disgruntled customers piling on. Within days, Letterman and Leno mention it in their opening monologues, and the consumer is even invited to be a guest on The View. The home and garden website in question is thrown into full-fledged crisis management mode, but the tide is too big to turn. The company reports a huge decrease in sales the following quarter. Within a year, the online retailer is forced to shutter its doors and rebrand, effectively starting all over.

Hyperbole? Perhaps. Completely unrealistic? Not necessarily. In fact, you don’t have to look far to find real-world examples. Remember the guy who posted a song on YouTube about United breaking his guitar, or Kevin Smith tweeting that Southwest made him purchase two seats to accommodate his girth?

With social media giving a mouthpiece to anyone with an opinion, individual consumers have never been as powerful as they are today. Online retailers with unfocused customer experience management strategies run the risk of having a single unflattering comment balloon out of proportion, putting a serious dent in their reputations—as well as their balance sheets.

The Temkin Group has outlined five common causes of online customer struggle. Each one results in an unsatisfactory experience that costs ebusinesses revenue and can lead to brand damage.

  1. Path Confusion: Shoppers are unaware how to accomplish a task such as search for a product, get an answer to a customer service question or purchase an item.
  2. Information Confusion: Shoppers do not understand information on a web page.
  3. Process Concerns: Customers aren’t aware of a process such as the ability to submit a loan application online or change their mailing address through the website.
  4. Content Fragmentation: Information is spread across the site, requiring shoppers to hunt for answers in different sections.
  5. System Failures: Nothing is worse than a failed transaction. Customers will abandon a retailer when they don’t have confidence in the company.

Opportunity for Online Retailers

Website Optimization Opportunity
The good news is that the global economy looks to be in recovery, and online retailers stand to benefit the most from increased spending. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), January marked the seventh month in a row of increased retail spending in the U.S. , and the organization forecasts a 4 percent rise in 2011. While that’s a modest increase in overall spending, comScore reports that online revenue grew 9 percent last year and shows promising growth in 2011.

Online retailers who provide a positive customer experience will receive a larger share of this growing pie. But, as the earlier scenario illustrates, online shoppers are notoriously hard to please. Worse yet, they’re fickle and not loyal to any particular brand. The Temkin Group conducted a survey that found that customers are hardest to please when shopping online, as opposed to in-person at a brick-and-mortar store or over the phone. According to the survey, only 21 percent of respondents reported being “always or almost always delighted” when purchasing a product or service online, compared to 41 percent in-store and 31 percent over the phone (read more and download pdf)

One in five? That’s not a very good track record. However, perhaps there’s an opportunity there. With only one in five customers happy with the service they get online, a web retailer that establishes a reputation for quality customer service and a positive online experience would have a huge advantage over competitors.

The way to combat negative customer experiences is to develop a cohesive customer experience management strategy that identifies common customer struggles, puts processes in place to resolve those issues quickly and proactively prevents future struggles from taking place.

Make the Commitment

The first step is to make customer experience a priority for your business. Online shoppers should be able to intuitively know how to navigate your site, gather the information they need to make an informed decision and transact a purchase seamlessly. In light of how much time, budget, and effort most ebusinesses spend attracting prospective customers to their sites, doesn’t it make sense to dedicate the resources necessary to ensuring those visits turn into business transactions? There’s a compelling argument for this approach, especially since the alternative is to suffer the consequences of lost orders and diminished brand.

Predict and Prevent Issues

It’s important that you’re able to identify customer experience trends and nip potential problems in the bud—before they lead to failed transactions and frustrated customers. Are your customers getting to a certain point in the shopping experience and not pulling the trigger? Are you getting a flood of help requests originating from customers navigating a specific section of your site? By identifying areas where your customers are struggling, you can minimize how disruptive these issues are.

Empower the Contact Center

To better serve the online customers who are impacted by website issues, it’s important to arm customer service reps with the tools and information they need to quickly resolve issues. This empowerment begins and ends with visibility into your customers’ web sessions in real time. Arming your reps with pertinent information leads to customer satisfaction and retention, greater opportunities for up-sell and cross-sell, order recovery and the cost savings associated with first-call resolution.

Closing Thoughts

A cohesive customer experience management strategy prevents much of pain associated with ineffective customer experiences online. In my earlier example, the home and garden company lost more than just a sale at the point of the transaction—they lost thousands of potential customers and suffered irreparable damage to their brand. A customer-centric approach to identifying such issues and preventing them from escalating out of control can keep your website from becoming the topic of the next #fail—or the late night talk show circuit, for that matter.

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