Marshall Lager is the founder and managing principal of Third Idea Consulting, LLC. We've hired Marshall to provide his perspective on the CRM industry, Sage news, and the state of customer/company dialogue in general. Marshall, thanks for another entertaining and thought-provoking article!
Back in the late 1990s, when I was a consumer electronics and home office gear journalist, one of our favorite games was Secret Shopper. It always made for a good story, examining how retailers served (or misled) customers seeking a particular product or piece of advice. We would arm ourselves with some basic product knowledge (or advanced knowledge, if extraordinary claims of an item’s capabilities were being made) and pose as a regular shopper with regular questions.
The results were always entertaining for us, which is to say they would have led to disaster for a real customer. In some cases, it was hard enough just getting assistance in the first place. In others, the problem was inaccurate salesperson knowledge or a clear desire to move a more expensive piece of stock.
Maybe I’m just a holder of grudges (it runs in the family, I’m told), but there’s still one retailer I won’t use to this day because of one bad sales experience. I was helping one of my brothers decide on his first computer (he was an adult, but not at all tech savvy) and we wound up in said retailer because their prices were attractive to his limited budget. The sleazy, misinformed salesperson was selling a PC like an appliance, and said of the monitor, “We’ll even throw in the TV for free.” I won’t even go there to buy batteries now.
In the spirit of the Secret Shopper, I present the following link to an e-commerce usability study in Smashing Magazine. The article, written by the CEO of customer experience strategy firm Catalyst Group and the senior usability analyst, explores the usability of three major Web sites in the task of buying bedsheets. The results are pretty much what you’d expect: Each site has some major flaws that put stumbling blocks in the path of customers.
A company’s Web site is as important as its live salespeople and customer service agents, even more so in some cases. If you can’t get information out of a salesperson or a user interface, you’re going to get frustrated and take your business someplace else. Or the order might take place, only to be returned when the frustrated customer gets merchandise that doesn’t suit the need. That’s not just a single lost sale—it’s a lost customer, and all the future potential revenue that would have meant. Even worse, the lost customer will advise friends against using your business.
Perhaps there’s no immediate danger of customers abandoning Macy’s, Target, or Overstock.com en masse because of usability issues, but they’re still hurting themselves by not addressing them. Sales that aren’t lost outright are driven to physical outlets (at least in the first two cases; Overstock doesn’t have any retail shops), where there’s a higher cost of sale and a smaller selection.
The 80/20 rule does apply here, so I’m not advising that sites be kept offline until every possible issue is addressed. Just think carefully about what sort of experience you’re presenting with the 80 percent you think is good enough to go live. Maybe it meets your requirements, but does it meet your customers’?
I realize there’s a much bigger story going on right now in Haiti, and how social media are helping to coordinate the relief effort. I may write about that next, but the horror is still unfolding and I don’t want to make points on the suffering of others today. Donate what you can, if you can.