Your company's web site is built and has been around for several years now. Your customers can check out the standard, "about us" link. You even have a cute stock ticker on your home. Like many businesses, maybe your web site was built several years ago and has not changed that much. But your business has changed. The demands of your customers and challenges from your competition are two major changes. Many of your competitors are leveraging more and more technology. And most importantly your customers are coming to expect more of you.
Leveraging your web site as a powerful and strategic corporate asset and ensuring it is a TOOL for your business is important. A revitalized web site can save you time and money and bring you greater efficiencies. It can make your customers more satisfied and enhance communication both inside and outside of your company.
Your goals is to take your web site from a static, underused, unloved, uncared for, brochure-ware, plain vanilla, digital brochure, into a POWERFUL, dynamic, TOOL. Here's how to do it:
- Pull together a team representing every aspect of your company and gather a list of concerns and problems. These concerns might be - lack of inter-departmental communication; customers on hold too long; missing orders, or other concerns and issues.
- Analyze talk the web sites of your competition and those in your business sector to see what how their web site works? For example, if you are a clothing retailer and sell clothes online, it might be very useful for you to know the success (or lack of success) of Land's End's virtual model that allows their customers to virtually see how clothes might look on themselves.
- Review your team's findings and consider specific steps you can take to solve problems and/or make existing business processes better, using your web site. If customers are on hold too long, for example, are they asking the same questions? If so, could customers be directed to visit your web site for the information they need.
- Once you have internally gone over your options it would be wise to hire a programmer with a business processes mind set (not just a geek) to advise you of options, possibilities and pricing options. This person would ONLY be hired as an advisor at this stage. Even if you do have in-house online expertise, it would be useful to hire a third party expert to advise you of the technical feasibility and practicality of how to implement your proposed web site changes.
- Once you have a good outline of what upgrades you wish to make and how to make them, it's time to implement. You could hire your advisor to do the upgrades but also look for other options to ensure you get the most competent implementer and competitive pricing.
Don't rush to make drastic changes all at once, do things a little bit at a time.
As you look for ways to improve your web site here are some specific tools for you to consider:
- Intranet -- An intranet is a web site, but used only internally for your company. Creating an intranet can enable powerful intra-company communication. Using an intranet to make all corporate documents more easily available to your staff can be a worthwhile time saver and boost for employee efficiency. Maybe there's sales literature and marketing material that is periodically updated. Instead of hoping each person who needs it was included in the email blast why not post the most recent version to your intranet for example? Intranet.com makes a popular intranet solution or you could build your own.
- Blogs (or Web Log) -- At its basic level a blog is simply a method of putting content online in an online journal or diary format. A blog is often referenced as a more personal endeavor but increasingly is being used for business use. You could use a web log to quickly and easily update a customer support page. A blog could be set up to narrate and showcase how your customers are using your products in their businesses or personal lives. Some blogging services are Blogger.com (which I use), Movabletype.org and Userland.com.
- Chat -- Online chat can be a powerful tool, if implemented properly. When shopping on the web site of mobile retailer, iGo, I've used their chat tool to quickly ask a question and get an answer. I, the customer benefited, and iGo closed another sale. Often, I take advantage of Hewlett-Packard's live online chat support tool to get accurate and fast help about printer problems. I don't have to wait on hold. HP saves telephone costs and can hire less staff to serve more customers.
- Discussion Boards -- While chat provides instant communication in a one-to-one method, a discussion board is ideal for creating more of a community of discussion and support. I've recently been doing digital video editing and have used the support discussion board of video capture device maker Pinnacle System for support. In these discussion boards one can often find answers to previously asked questions. If no answer is found then your new question can be posted to the discussion board and answered by other users or Pinnacle Systems staff. Be warned, discussion boards can be a two edged sword at times. While they are useful tools for customer support, they expose customer complaints as well.
- Personalization -- If your customers frequently visit your web site, to check on the status of orders for example, it might be useful to "Amazon.com" it and have them be greeted by their own, most frequently used and/or needed sections. If a customer frequently goes to your news page, why not give them an option to have the "news" page become the first page that comes up, instead of the same page that everyone else sees.
We've just touched the very surface of what you can do towards upgrading your web site. The key is to consider where you are now, where you want to be and how your web site be a vehicle to get you there. Your web site should not just a glorified brochure but just be an asset to grow your business.
Ramon Ray, Technology Evangelist, is a technology analyst, author, speaker and the editor of Smallbiztechnology.com.
Since 1986, Ramon has been using computers and was first "online" in 1995. He has written hundreds of technology articles and the book "Technology Solutions for Growing Businesses" (Amacom, Nov 2003).