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Gartner: The 10 traits of top-performing websites (and how to replicate them)

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4th Mar 2010
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Michael Maoz, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, makes the case for more customer-centric websites.

Websites have come a long way since the early days of the internet, and yet, despite major technology advances, customers still find the experiences offered largely unsatisfying.
Unfortunately, most business leaders remain oblivious to this failing and think their websites work better than they do. All too often, the evidence presented to them by departmental managers about the effectiveness of their websites fails to match the customer's experience. The result is disillusioned customers.
Of course, the very way in which we interact with customers is changing. The art of listening to them is drawing on aspects of behavioural science — it's no longer simply a matter of completing an IT project or selecting a customer relationship management (CRM)-related software application. It must include the collection of a broad range of statistical data on consumers' communications.
It's also important to use analytical tools to track customers' interaction steps. A customer may, for example, begin a process or start looking for information about a product or service before visiting your website (so-called "off-portal" activities), and reach your website only to continue with another form of interaction — perhaps telephoning your organisation, the call then being transferred to a voice response unit. From there, the caller might move on to a service agent, before eventually returning to your website — or leaving for a competitor's. But despite the ready availability of advanced tools to track these steps, too many websites remain sub-optimised.
In an attempt to remedy the significant failings that damage customers' website experiences, Gartner has gathered observations on the top 10 traits of high-performing sites, such as those of Amazon, Moosejaw, Staples and Future Shop, and arranged them into 10 steps for making a website customer-centric.
Step 1 — Coordinate responsibilities for the entire customer experience
An issue that continues to hinder customer-centricity on websites is the lack of coordinated action across teams. Centralising the coordination of a project under an individual with broad authority to act can considerably improve the focus on customer feedback.
Step 2 — Determine the website's main role: informer, influencer, seller or facilitator?
Most websites adopt more than one of these roles, but it's important to identify which is the central focus and which are secondary. Gartner recommends that companies begin the process of defining the website in terms of one of these roles, or a variation thereof, and map the top processes and technologies using language that demonstrates exactly what business metrics are intended.
Step 3 — Model the success of top web processes, and include a wider range of customer-provided data
Many organisations use a very narrow range of customer feedback to determine whether a process on a website was effective. However, this feedback is less meaningful than the insights that would be available from dialogue within a managed community where more open-ended questions could be posed. Gartner advises funding a pilot programme to form a customer community — perhaps, in the first instance, for a small product line.
Step 4 — Get personal: deliver relevant, focused advice and offers in real-time
The main message here is to be proactive. A cross-departmental team should discuss what customers most want to hear from the company, assess the results by asking customers for their views, and set about obtaining permission and buy-in before delivering any messages on any channel.
Step 5 — Create dynamic, relevant web content
Gartner advises companies to examine the costs and benefits of moving from static content delivery to a practice of optimising delivery to suit customers' wants and needs. Mobile customer processes should be included in this examination.
Step 6 — Learn to listen: integrate the concept of communities and the collective
Gartner recommends that marketing organisations avoid "reinventing the wheel" by observing best practices already defined by leading communities, such as those of P&G, Kraft Foods, Starwood and HP, and involve communities in a wide range of corporate activities.
Step 7 — Connect customers to their peers
Rather than rely on customers to make every connection on their own, make a small investment in resources to help build a social network for them.
Step 8 — Integrate other interaction channels with the website
Failure to connect web services with human services is a source of frustration for many customers. Surveying a cross-section of users will give valuable insight into their satisfaction with multichannel communications — insight you can then act on.
Step 9 — Make customers' impressions of the website visible externally and internally
Showing customers that they are being heard is crucial to making a website customer-centric. Gartner advises organisations to set up formal processes for communication with the community, and to ensure that these communications and customers' responses are documented.
Step 10 — Make the website fun and rewarding
To compete, an organisation's website needs to show a high degree of customer-centricity. Otherwise, it risks visitors leaving for more relevant and entertaining sites. Gartner recommends carefully measuring trend data to see how sites compare with competing sites, and reporting this information quarterly to a customer-centric web team.
Michael Maoz will be speaking at the Gartner Customer Relationship Management Summit 2010 at the Lancaster London hotel from 16-17 March 2010. For further information on the conference, please visit www.europe.gartner.com/crm. You can also follow the event on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Gartner_inc or using #GartnerCRM.
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