Your website can increase a customer's loyalty--or become the last time he does business with you. Get it right.
My company is getting ready to create a new website. After a woefully tardy and somewhat dysfunctional launch a few years ago, I know we really need to get it right the first time on this version. The website, like most, is meant to allow customers to do business their way, any time doing so is convenient for them, and to put any and all relevant account information at their fingertips. If a site works well, it is a powerful tool in boosting customer satisfaction--but if it doesn't, it is a shortcut to customer meltdown.
If you are thinking about re-designing your company's website, here are some pitfalls to avoid that I have culled from my own mistakes and experiences.
Going Global? Go All the Way
If you are looking to make your site accessible to customers in multiple countries, be sure to think it through carefully. Showing home currencies for the customer can be helpful, but it is only the tip of the iceberg. For example, for one of the earliest versions of my company website, I didn't think about the fact that the U.S. is the only country that uses standard measurements. An international customer can visualize an inch about as well as I can conjure up a vision of a centimeter--so forgetting to translate measurements rendered the information difficult for international customers to decipher.
This kind of oversight doesn't only happen to small companies. The well-recognized multi-national bank my company uses just made all customers move to an international platform, and forgot that Americans do dates in the month/day/year format. Now all the data I was once able to easily export from the bank's website into my accounting system only comes with dates that won't work with my American accounting system--causing me aggravation and costing me time. Someone definitely should have thought about this in advance.
Customer Needs Trump Everything Else
The website my company had for seven of nine years in business had a shopping cart function that saved customers selections forever--that is, until they either submitted the cart as a purchase or until they deleted it. So about a month after our last redesign, I was as surprised as my customers were that their carts seemed to be "disappearing". Luckily, I was able to change the mechanism to keep the carts indefinitely, but not before a few customers were left frustrated that they would have to start over. For the redesign I'm doing now, I asked five different types of customers to tell me how they shop online--everything from the browsers they use to the times of day they buy, to how long it takes them to make an order, to what makes them remove or add things in the cart. Hopefully, the insight they give me will help create a cart with functionality defined by what they need, rather than a web team looking to finish fast or add lots of unnecessary bells and whistles.
Too bad my bank forgot to consult its customers. If it had, I bet it would have heard that having the site open a new tab every time I ask to perform a new task is not only annoying for customers, but decidedly less secure.
Train Your Staff to Use Your Site
When I launched the last Metal Mafia site, I had sales reps create logins, make orders, and look for glitches, like most companies do. So when the site went live, I figured they could easily answer customer online shopping questions. Unfortunately, it turned out I forgot to show them some important things customers needed help with--like lost password retrieval, and shopping cart recovery. I quickly figured out I needed to create both a learning session and a frequenty asked questions sheet for the reps so they could help customers without needing to refer them to the IT team. This time around, I'll have a tutorial for all these issues in advance of the launch, so anyone on the team is able to help customers without shuffling them around--and all answers are consistent.
To me, this is the most important step. My recent experience with my bank's helpline made this crystal clear. When I had trouble with the site, and called the helpline, one person told me the "value date"--or when the price would be set--was the date the money appeared in a beneficiary's account, while another told me it was the date the money was being sent. In business, these answers have two very different meanings and require very distinct courses of action. One person's answer costs me interest on my funds, while the other's costs me a communication crisis with a vendor partner.
Nothing makes customers angrier than having their time wasted by poor website planning on the part of a company they are doing business with.
Your websites can either be the gateway to deepening customer loyalty or the last time someone does business with you. Take the time to get yours right.
In 2004, VANESSA MERIT NORNBERG opened Metal Mafia, a wholesale body and costume jewelry company that sells to more than 5,000 specialty shops and retail chains in 23 countries. Metal Mafia was an Inc. 500 company in 2009. @vanessanornberg