EXPERT ADVICE

Your Customer Is Not Your Diagnostic Tool

No call should strike more fear into the heart of an online business than a call from a customer saying, “Your site won’t let me do what I want to do.”

Chilling words, because only a tiny percentage of online consumers will actually pick up the phone to alert businesses to a problem. By the time that call is received, the business is likely to have lost hundreds, if not millions of dollars in sales.

Despite the maturation of Web technologies, access speeds and the increasing popularity of the Internet as a business channel, over the past 10 years, online conversion rates on e-business sites has remained steady — and low — at between 2 and 2 1/2 percent.

Understanding the Problem

Most sites do not understand why, because most businesses have settled on ensuring their sites are performing quickly, with graphically appealing and easy-to-navigate “storefronts,” and then analyze clickstream, search and other types of data.

Transaction problems still plague sites, in every aspect of e-business. These otherwise sophisticated businesses amazingly still rely on customer calls or after-the-fact surveys to alert them to transaction problems.

To add insult to injury, they often also ask those customers to retrace their steps in order to pinpoint why and where a transaction went sour. Not only is this reactive and incomplete in terms of customer service, but it is time-consuming, ineffective and extremely detrimental to both the top and bottom lines.

It’s time for online businesses to do more. With customer experience management solutions, it’s now possible, and necessary, to quickly figure out what’s happening to lost sales transactions without enlisting your customers as virtual troubleshooters. More importantly, you can find out why individuals or legions of customers have abandoned your site, and respond quickly to any issues.

By proactively identifying, quantifying and resolving problems, you can improve on those historically low sales conversion rates, with typical companies using customer experience management solutions seeing conversion rate increases of between 1 and 3 percent. That is pure incremental conversion — converting the people who already have shown clear intent to transact with you — revenues that go directly to your top line.

E-Commerce Evolution

In Internet time, it’s taken the equivalent of a millennium to get here. Initially, e-commerce sites were in a fight for their lives just to remain available 24/7. By the late ’90s, however, businesses also wanted to understand where their visitors came from, where they were clicking, what they looked at and how various marketing programs performed.

Thus arose Web analytics, followed shortly by performance monitoring solutions that gave businesses insight into how long it took to serve pages to site visitors, and how long a wait those visitors would put up with. For the most part, sites today are extremely reliable, by theses measures.

Don’t assume your site is free of issues, though. Transaction problems do still occur at a surprisingly high rate. In fact, nearly 90 percent of online consumers polled each of the last two years by Harris Interactive said they were forced to abandon a transaction due to a problem or issue with a site.

Still, businesses until recently were forced to rely on customer calls to diagnose their online transaction problems, simply because there were not solutions available to solve the more difficult, often intermittent problems that cause people to abandon. This is coupled with, for lack of a more graceful term — denial.

Denial because executives don’t realize how pervasive these problems are, or how much negative business impact they may have, and mistakenly believe Web consumers are tolerant of this level of online “service.” These ideas are remnant from an e-commerce past.

Higher Expectations

The reality is online customers now expect much more, and it’s no longer acceptable to them if a site crashes mid-buy. In fact, according to data from the same Harris survey, 85 percent of online consumers expect online service levels to equal those offline. Many are acting on it, as 40 percent will completely abandon a transaction and go to a competitor’s site when something goes wrong during a purchase.

If they’re that willing to leave, you certainly can’t rely on them to tell you something is wrong — nor should you. Think about it: If Target’s cash registers aren’t working, they don’t expect customers standing in line to figure out what is wrong.

Today’s online businesses should to go further and take complete responsibility for their retail sites and transactions, rather than handing that responsibility over to the customer.

First, you must employ solutions that can capture every customer, every transaction, every time. If a site completes 1,000 transactions each hour, the only possible way to see those one or two that may go wrong is to inspect all of them. This includes monitoring both business processed (i.e., the steps a customer goes through to complete a transaction), as well as the technical infrastructure that make that transaction possible or might send it off course.

Second, as you capture this rich data stream, you need the ability to make sense of it all. Management interfaces and relevant analytics can create proactive, actionable responses, enhanced transaction success and ultimately increased conversion, reduced costs and happier, more loyal customers.

Finally, this rich data set is a powerful asset that can be utilized across the entire enterprise. From customer service representatives, IT support and development teams to senior management, all aspects of the business must be able to view and understand at a granular level what happens to a customer online, with a common “view.”

Tracking Transactions

For example, customer reps can use the information to help solve transaction problems. Rather than forcing customers (who do actually call in) to retrace their steps, reps can search for that customer’s site visit and replay exactly what happened, resolving issues quickly and improving customer satisfaction.

Meanwhile, if the problem was caused by a technical meltdown, IT teams can simultaneously examine the same information to make necessary corrections, before the problem impacts additional customers, immediately enabling improved conversion rates.

Management teams can in turn transform that rich customer interaction data to actionable, impactful business decisions. They can determine not just when, but why customers are abandoning or completing transactions, or why a site is stuck at a 2 1/2 percent conversion rate.

Getting to the heart of these issues, taking action to enhance the customer experience, and simply discovering when and why transaction problems arise, has allowed some businesses to improve their conversion rates by as much as 3 percent. Over the course of a year, that relatively small increase can result in millions of dollars in additional revenue.

To put it into some context, 2 percent of a year is one week — and who wouldn’t like to add a “53rd week” of revenues to your business every year, at no incremental customer acquisition cost?

In a competitive marketplace, with hundreds or thousands of other options available at the click of the mouse, online businesses can’t afford to fail even one customer. Not only will she leave your site — maybe forever — but if it goes unnoticed, that same problem might actually impact hundreds of others.

In order to combat these issues, today’s e-businesses must actively manage the customer experience — observe everything customers see, everything they do, the problems they experience and take immediate corrective action whenever necessary.


Geoff Galat is vice president, marketing and product strategy, for Tealeaf, which makes e-commerce customer tracking software.


Leave a Comment

Please sign in to post or reply to a comment. New users create a free account.

Related Stories

LinuxInsider Channels