Have you ever been to a Web site and had an all-around excellent experience? The site was easy to use, the checkout was flawless, and when you had to call to change your order, a human being actually answered the phone and cheerfully assisted you. It doesn't get any better than that!

If you are a small-business owner, it's in your best interest to provide the same out-of-this-world experience for customers that you would expect as a Web site visitor. Every door that leads to the customer is part of the customer's experience: every word on your site, every e-mail message you send, and every conversation between you and your customer. Your customer's experience is determined by the customer service you provide, the navigation of your site, and the overall satisfaction you provide for your customer.

It seems that every business owner would want to make every effort to create a brilliant experience for the customer. But we have all been to sites that left us confused, frustrated, and downright annoyed. So, there's obviously room for your business to jump ahead of the pack and become "customer-centric."

If you are still wondering why you should bother to address the customer's experience, consider the fact that you may not have any customers if you don't! If a visitor has to stumble through your site to find your shipping charges, not only do you have a frustrated customer, but your bottom line will suffer in the long run. People who have good experiences tell a few friends. People who have bad experiences tell everyone they know.

So why not make some small changes that will leave a positive impression on your customer?

Consider Amazon.com. Sure, it is one of the biggest and best-known Web stores. But the company works relentlessly to guarantee an easy-to-use site and supports it with a helpful customer service department. That's why customers return.

Don't worry -- you don't have to have Amazon's money or resources to create a positive experience for visitors to your small-business Web site. In fact, all it takes is some extra planning and dedication to a common goal for the customer's experience. Here are five key ingredients that will put you on the road to a customer-centric Web site:

  • Post all necessary information on your Web site: policies, shipping charges, server maintenance times, and help pages. This will make it easy for customers to help themselves.
  • Personalize your site to increase customer satisfaction. Use cookies to welcome the customer back to your site and reuse the information that your customer has already provided.
  • Perform quick and inexpensive usability tests to ensure ease of use. And when you make changes to the site, perform the tests again.
  • Build credibility by adding the human touch: Let your customers know that there are real people behind your business's Web site. Post the names and pictures of the employees with whom your customers typically interact, such as customer service representatives or salespeople.
  • Ask your customers for feedback. Answer -- and act upon - every response you receive.

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Published on: May 2, 2000