The Formula for the Total Customer Experience

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Many companies today have a Web 2.0 mindset when it comes to their vision for selling goods and services online, but they’re still stuck in Web 1.0 approaches with regards to the Web sites they create and maintain. Often, they don’t give enough thought to the circumstances of users: the technology platforms they’re using, their sensory preferences, their needs as consumers and so forth. To get into this frame of mind, e-commerce professionals have to consider the total customer experience.

Just what is the total customer experience, you ask? Well, it’s total, for starters. It takes into account every kind of interaction from every kind of user. In short, it’s what people go through from the time they enter the URL for a site until the time they close out the browser. There is an endless number of stumbling blocks that users can trip up on as they progress through your Web pages, but if you prepare comprehensively for how and why they’re navigating your site, the amount and effect of bad experiences will be minimized.

The first thing to keep in mind is what you’re going to include on the site. Online retailers frequently make the mistake of doing too little, too much or, surprisingly, sometimes both at the same time. To avoid this, start thinking about what you’ll be trying to market through your site. Obviously, you’ll want to include the information that brings potential customers to your site in the first place. This will usually involve what your offerings do and how much they cost.

Next, think about how you want to arrange this data. Quick navigability is the key here: These pieces of information should either be on the home page or have prominently displayed links or menu options there. The idea is to make this as easy to find as possible and to keep the number of clicks needed to access information to a minimum. Also, try to avoid complicating their search with a lot of clutter. Company history and executive bios are fine, but don’t let these take priority over the most essential data points.

Also consider how you want the site to appear to users. Clearly, you want the pages to look polished and professional, but unless you’re in a field that caters to technical and/or electronic media enthusiasts, don’t go overboard with super “kewl” designs, graphics, animations and other bells and whistles. If used inappropriately, things like Flash are more likely to annoy than impress. Additionally, retail or vendor sites should generally employ simple designs and color schemes in order to load pages faster and keep the user from getting overly distracted by the layout.

After you’ve determined how you want to arrange your content, start thinking about the various features you want to include on the site. For instance, you might want to offer consumers ways to purchase your products online or just put the contact information of the sales department on a page. If it’s the former, be sure to have adequate security solutions and servers in place. You don’t want to have your customers double- or triple-pay because they got impatient with the loading times and clicked buttons more than once, and you definitely don’t want their information swiped by any black hats. Decisions such as these also depend on what you’re selling. Online purchases might be appropriate for something small—like an iPod or DVD player—but not for bigger-ticket items.

All this is just scratching the surface of what you should consider when designing sites for customers. There are many different dimensions to the total customer experience: It’s similar to the way department stores try to make an impression on shoppers from the time they walk through the doors to when they pay at the register. Almost every detail has been carefully planned to shape a positive overall experience for customers. Similarly, you should prepare exhaustively for the customers who visit your virtual storefront.

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