Web of confusion

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Getting a customer to your website with their credit card ready but then losing their business due to an easily rectifiable glitch is unforgivable, say Geoff Galat and David York

As the economy falters, the online channel continues to be a stronghold for many businesses due in part to the adoption of broadband, potential cost savings and convenience. In fact, according to figures from Foolproof, 82% of UK consumers use the internet as their primary source of insurance information.

However, research conducted with Harris Interactive last year reveals a more worrying trend. According to the survey, 94% of visitors to insurance websites in the past 12 months experienced an issue on the site. These issues have far-reaching consequences, with 45% of visitors who experienced a problem saying that, following a problem, they would abandon the session and switch to a competitor.

The proximity of this competition is dramatically enhanced online too. As more and more business moves online, Google's dominance at the core of any web purchase continues to increase. Fail to satisfy a customer's need and your competition is literally a click away. Search engines level the playing field and throw down the gauntlet: give unparalleled customer experience and reap the rewards; get something wrong and lose that sale - as well as potentially much more.

In these days of web maturity and with the Financial Services Authority's treating customers fairly initiative still dominating and dictating customer-facing activities, it is vital to start optimising the online channel in order to build revenues by redefining the online experience of your customers. Companies who fail to take action now will find themselves in severe difficulties in the short and longer term.

It is no surprise that customers are expecting a better quality of service, but what is surprising is that some companies are still failing to run websites that are able to effectively gain customers. Or, in the worst cases, that drive business to competitors.

Holistic approach

Companies must ensure they have a holistic view of their customers. And that means both off and online. If someone rings a call centre having just been on a website, will the agent have visibility into the online interactions the customer has just had? In the customer's mind, the definition between touch points is vague. They expect the same level of service, the same brand experience, no matter where, when or why.

But it's not all doom and gloom. The web still has unparalleled opportunities for those that get it right. The fact consumers choose to go online makes sense: as well as being able to shop around for the best deal, the web offers potential customers the convenience of a massive variety of products at their fingertips.

Forrester analyst Megan Burns, writing in a report in 2008, demonstrated that customer experience is increasingly important to businesses and yet there remains a lack of maturity in terms of measuring data and using this in a positive way: "More than 80% of customer experience decision-makers surveyed recently said improving the usability, usefulness and enjoyability of the online experience is significantly more important this year. However, in the same survey, few respondents - - only 12% - said their organisations take a disciplined approach to customer experience. This percentage will grow as firms get better at measuring customer experience and using data - not opinion - to decide which experiences work best."

Improving online customer experience, providing stellar service and linking these cross-channel requires organisations to have visibility into their customers' behaviour and what is happening on their website. Companies can become more adept at constantly improving online customer experience by implementing five steps: monitoring key performance indicators to assess customer experience, such as abandonment rates; proactively examining and responding to known technical issues; listening to customers and gaining a better understanding by combining their feedback; prioritising customer experience issues based on business impact; and observing actual customer behaviour by sampling sessions on a regular basis.

Companies that employ a strategic approach to customer experience recognise that insights gained online can and should be fed back to the offline channel. With TCF always on the radar, this approach will help companies comply as well.

This view of the customer feeds directly into the FSA's thinking around TCF. The initiative is all about a change in culture. Most businesses suffer from a legacy of measuring success by benchmarking hard metrics, but these can breed a culture that damages customer relationships and encourages staff to treat people in an unfair way. Getting customer feedback and understanding how customers interact with a company is a central part of this.

Customer experience

In the online world this can be a daunting prospect, but it does not need to be. In fact, the monitoring technologies available in the online space mean that all parts of the business can have visibility into what customers experience.

A fully integrated strategy ensures success across all channels - and, ultimately, the bottom line. Customer experience management solutions, if implemented and used correctly, provide visibility into that great 'unknown' - the online customer journey - which is vital for any organisation serious about creating a unified strategy for improving the experience of its customers.

Geoff Galat is vice-president of marketing and product strategy at Tealeaf, and David York is director and head of insurance practice at CGI. Both will be speaking at Post's E-Business Strategy event on 25 March. A white paper, Preparing for TCF Audits and Tackling the Online Challenge, is available to download from http://www.tealeaf.com/treating-customers-fairly

JOIN THE DEBATE

E-Business Strategy - 25 March 2009
Marriott London Grosvenor Square

For more details on this event go to www.postevents.co.uk/e-business

To book your place call Oliver Nevill on 020 7316 9405 or e-mail him on [email protected].

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