How to keep Web customers coming back

Computer Weekly asked 10 suppliers to provide their top tip to improve your online business. Here are their responses.

Computer Weekly asked 10 suppliers to provide their top tip to improve your online business. Here are their responses.

Plan a complete multi-channel strategy
Mike Altendorf, joint managing director, Conchango
A multi-channel strategy is essential - make sure that you tie together both off- and online activity in order to maximise market share.

The National Retail Federation estimates that shoppers who use multiple channels to make their purchases spend up to 36% more than those who use a single one - a clear indication of the power of a multi-channel strategy.

A 360º view of your potential customers is essential, how else are you going to target them effectively? For example, within the retail arena, in-store solutions such as personal digital assistants (PDAs) and kiosks mean that customers can browse a shop's stock at the click of a mouse, and have any queries checked out immediately on a mobile PDA, without the sales assistant having to retreat to the stock room each time. This gives shoppers a faster, more personalised service without sacrificing the shopping experience.

Similarly, you can use Short Message Service marketing to drive people to the Web, or use mobile solutions in-store to highlight time and location specific promotions or discounts.

Of course, the crux is making sure that content is delivered consistently over all channels. Customers (whether you're talking business-to-consumer or business-to-business), expect the same level of service and product offering, whether they're using the phone, liaising face-to-face, or using the Web. Get this sorted and you've got more opportunities than ever to engage with the customer and reap the benefits of multi-channel.

Personalise the online customer experience
Allen Swann, president, international operations, Chordiant Software
Research conducted by Chordiant says that complex Web transactions are being abandoned at a rate of 95%. This translates into potential lost revenue and increased costs of transacting with the customer through alternative channels.

The key to doing business successfully online is to ensure that the whole online experience is of a consistently high-quality service through developing dynamic, engaging, self-service-based Web interactions for customers.

Personalising the customer experience online is not about simply recognising customers when they access the site, but offering built-in guidance, reacting in real-time to their requests and only providing relevant questioning.

For instance, when buying a car online the Web site should be able to offer the customer guidance about different models and possible specifications. Once a particular model is chosen, the site should only offer the customer additional specifications that are relevant to that particular model. Finally, once the decision is made and the customer wishes to proceed with the transaction, the site should be able to provide a real-time credit check.

See your site from the customer's point of view
Paul Arthur, product marketing manager, BMC Software
Measure and monitor your service from the customer's perspective. The only way to ensure loyalty is to give customers great quality of service and the only way to do that is to find out what it is like for them to do business with you and work to improve this experience for them. This is not just from a technical perspective but also from a business process perspective.

When dealing with Web commerce it is vital that you manage not only the technology that supports it but the actual customer experience.

One of the biggest differences of Web-based commerce is the lack of human intervention from the retailer. While this gives great cost and productivity benefits, it means that it is harder to judge the level of customer satisfaction. It is easy to see queues building and to spot disgruntled customers in a shop, but not so easy across the Web.

The quality of experience a customer has on your Web site will affect the loyalty they show to your organisation. Every time your Web site is unavailable or performing poorly, more potential or existing customers will be defecting to the opposition. By measuring customer experience from the outside in, you can gauge your true level of service delivery to the only person who counts, the customer.

Once you know what it is like to be your customer you can work to improve this experience and build customer loyalty.

Measure Web site effectiveness
Nigel Hudson, managing director, Sage new business division
The only way you can accurately assess the level of investment needed to improve your e-business strategy is to constantly measure:
  • The effectiveness of your Web site as an advert for your business - are you attracting new customers?
  • The effectiveness of your Web site as a customer service vehicle for existing customers - are they using it for information and for self-service?

There are Web tools on the market which allow you to use your site as a complete measurement tool. Unlike traditional advertising, you can determine exactly how many hits you are getting, who is visiting your site, whether they buy from it and if so, how much.

You can also compare the value and volume of sales you are achieving offline and online. You can then use this information to determine the levels of return on investment you are currently making and where improvements need to be made to improve the performance of your Web site.

Remember, like many things in life, with e-business it is not the size of your Web site that matters, but how you use it.

Make sure the goods reach the customer
Catherine Meader, marketing director, QAS
Many e-businesses ultimately have to deliver goods and services to real addresses. Inaccurate and inconsistent postal addresses entered on the Web site by customers are a challenge to efficient e-fulfilment. Prompt and accurate deliveries depend on having accurate postal details. Orders gone astray may damage customer relationships.

Beyond immediate delivery concerns, having accurate and consistent address information is essential for onward integration into customer databases or customer relationship management (CRM) systems. Many companies are ignorant of the fact that CRM systems are only as good as the data upon which they are based and that their effectiveness can be greatly undermined by "dirty" customer address data.

The solution is to automate the process by integrating address management technology into e-commerce sites - site visitors are asked to enter minimal address details, whereupon the address management system will generate the full and accurate postal address in a consistent format.

Address management technology supports the global presence of online business too. Based upon address data from national postal authorities, country address datasets are available for most of the developed world.

Know how to close the online sale
Kevin Hewitt, manager, Microsoft bCentral
To close an online sale, giving enough information is crucial. To avoid online shoppers changing their minds, the information given must make the customer feel so good about their purchase that going through the checkout process seems well worthwhile.

Consider hiring a good freelance copywriter to add "zing" to product descriptions, make sure the product descriptions answer common questions and include customer comments/reviews and high-quality photos.

A slow checkout process puts you in danger of losing customers. To avoid this, minimise the number of screens and clicks a customer experiences - there is a reason Amazon secured a patent for its one-click purchase feature. Speed is good - even to the point of providing the checkout page in HTML rather than ASP. Remember, around 60% of online sales are lost at the checkout - what a waste for everyone involved.

Offering more than one payment option will also help you to increase sales. Giving a credit card number over the Internet still worries many customers. Wait to ask for it until the last page and be sure customers can see the total amount they'll be charged (including all extra charges). Consider offering a telephone number (freefone is best) or an e-mail address with a promise to call the customer to take the order. Always include your UK company registration number and address on the Web site too, as this helps build customers' trust.

Test, tune and monitor your Web site
Kevin Francis, UK product marketing manager, Mercury Interactive
To do business online, companies should ensure they have an efficient and fast Web application - downtime means loss of reputation, customers and money. But how do you protect your site against this?

It is essential to test your site before going live and after any major changes, then to load-test it from both inside and outside the firewall.

The architecture of a Web site is complex and getting the best performance from it can be difficult, even after load testing. Tuning tools and services will help to ensure that you are getting the optimum performance and pinpoint potential bottleneck areas.

You should be monitoring the site on an ongoing basis so that you are alerted to performance problems before your customers see them. There are many critical elements in a site's architecture, and to pinpoint where a problem lies can be time consuming.

Automated root cause analysis tools help you to explore what is happening within the infrastructure and quickly and effectively highlights where the problem is, saving valuable time and consequently saving your business money.

If your site performs well, your online business will be more successful and customers will be encouraged to return. To ensure this - the best sites are testing, tuning and monitoring - before, during and after the site is live.

Communicate with the rest of the business
Ade McCormack, managing director, Auridian Consulting
Going online is the heaven-sent opportunity for IT bosses to silence the longest-running scream in digital history, "The business doesn't understand IT and IT doesn't understand the business."

Successful e-business delivery means bridging this communications gap. How? By managing e-culture change throughout the organisation. IT chiefs can control this solution and gain prestige by overcoming the human barriers that impede smooth implementation.

The key is to improve the understanding and co-operation of users (the customers) and win over the board (the paymasters). So IT should create a strategy to manage expectations, generate user participation and exploit internal relations techniques.

The central thrust is to "demystify" the online process by educating non-technical decision-makers about the issues facing IT departments while explaining the business benefits of e-business and everyone's role in its development.

Implement a comprehensive programme of consultation, seminars and training. Communication must be from the top down, from the bottom up and sideways, from peer to peer.

Harness the public relations department's existing internal relations machine by exploiting the company intranet and the house journal - even the notice boards. And get e-business on to the regular departmental management and process improvement agendas.

The result will be more successful online delivery - and permanently improved understanding between IT and the rest of the organisation.

Put your Web site on the World map
Dominic Monkhouse, managing director, Rackspace Managed Hosting
It is no good having the best shop in the world if it is in a cul-de-sac. Many companies spend millions creating a business Web site but don't understand that if it is not made accessible then they may as well not open for business.

Search engine optimisation is one way to drive traffic. Analyst Forrester says that 85% of people find sites by using one of the top 10 search engines.

However, when a search is conducted people often don't go past the first page of results. Your business needs to be on the first page. But how do you arrange this?

To obtain the best results from search engines, first research the entire Web surfing habits and preferences of your target audience groups and competitors, and also monitor traffic flow. We use a company called to help us with this analysis on a daily basis.

From the findings you then need to create a company description that matches your Web site - this is like creating a shop window, so make sure the description is succinct and covers all areas of your business. The site has helped us to do this and then sent our details to the relevant search engines to ensure that it is listed in the correct places.
It is also worth remembering that you have to pay for some search engines and others are free but, for obvious reasons, it is important that you use the ones your key audiences use.

Draft an e-mail security policy and circulate it
Jolyon Jago, director, business development, DespatchBox
E-mail was never intended as a carrier for high-value or sensitive data and many companies remain blissfully unaware that e-mail sent erroneously, or intercepted in transit, could mean the sender is in breach of its obligations and could face legal action.

This is why more and more organisations are implementing e-mail policies. Although there are no hard and fast rules to setting an e-mail security policy there are some general guidelines.

It is important to reference which personnel are affected by the policy and the level of security/control that they are afforded. Second, define what constitutes a confidential e-mail; a system should be in place to differentiate between everyday communication and sensitive material that requires encryption, an audit trail and secure archiving.

Your policy is there not just to protect you, but also your customers and external contacts so users should know what actions should be taken when a security breach is spotted. Have contractual obligations been affected and what position does the legal team play when a breach occurs?

Finally, and probably most importantly, an e-mail policy is of little use if users are unaware if it. Your policy should be circulated freely and updated regularly to consider all latest technologies and laws. It may sound simple but you would be amazed at how many organisations keep their security policies under lock and key.

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