Report: Miles To Go Before Customers Rule Online

Most companies still are not performing adequately when it comes tosatisfying online customer needs, according toa report released Monday by the Yankee Group.

“Sites are evolving from brochureware into placeswhere customers go to get somethingspecific done,” Yankee Group analyst Lisa Melsted toldthe E-Commerce Times. “Some companies are starting tothink in more customer-oriented terms, butimprovements can be made everywhere.”

Many Web sites actually have made enormous strides toward better customer-centric initiatives in recent years,according to the report, entitled “Providing aCustomer-Oriented Online Experience: Is Your SiteServing Your Customers as Well as It Can?”

But an evolution in corporate mindsets aboutcustomers still must take place before morecompanies can take strategic advantage of the Internet, the research firm said.

Basic Offerings

Fully 46 percent of e-business managers work forexecutives who do not consider the Web important totheir overall business strategy, according to the YankeeGroup’s 2001 Doing Business on the Internet (DBI)Survey.

Despite this apathy, companies should include a number ofbasic features and functions on their Web sites,Melsted said.

Such features include intuitive site design, sitepersonalization, customer targeting, online marketing,service and support and online-offline integration.

Lack of Support

Some vertical industries — such as ISPs,portals, financial companies and high-end news andentertainment sites — seem to be ahead of the curvein providing basic features, according to Melsted. But even companiesin those categories need to enhance how they servetheir customers online.

Companies must make the most improvements in thearea of online service and support, according to theYankee report.

Indeed, just 45 percent of e-business managers saidtheir companies currently are providing onlinecustomer service and support via the Web,according to Yankee’s DBI Survey.

“There are too many sites that don’t have any customersupport features,” Melsted said. “This is imperativefor every site.”

Adequate online support features include messageboards, live chat and e-mail, she added.

Blending Channels

Not to be underrated is the growing importance ofintegrating the online sales channel with offlinechannels, according to Melsted.

Customers need to be addressed more holistically,she added, and companies must work harder todrive traffic between their Web sites and theirbrick-and-mortar presences.

Companies like Lands’ End, Sears and J.C. Penney earnedMelsted’s praise for achieving some success inintegrating their disparate sales channels.

Work Never Done

Tracking and improving the online customer experienceis an ongoing process, Melsted said.

Companies should study site analytics to identify andtrack usage patterns and events with highrepeatability, she suggested. In addition, they shouldconduct extensive usability testing before sitelaunches and redesigns to cut down on future problems.

“Customer requirements are going to change over timeas well,” said Melsted, “so the checklist will keepgrowing.”

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