Online Interaction Matters
As little as ten years ago, online communication tended to be purely one-sided. Websites presented themselves as a brochure-ware monologue to the visitor. As marketers, we usually did not know who visited our websites and what people were looking for. In the majority of cases, we were not even in control of our internet presence. The familiar old statement that we knew we were wasting budget, but had no idea which bit, was as valid for the online channel as for all the others. For our audience, the message was clear: "Love it or leave it, sink or swim".
The Online World Today
A lot has changed since then and by now, marketers are in control of any strategic web presence. Today we have the means to measure and validate our efforts, giving us the chance to prove that we are indeed spending our money in the right spots.
The internet penetration has reached up to 75.5% in Japan, closely followed by North America (74.2%) and the European Union countries (63.8%). Worldwide, we are looking at an internet population of over 1.7 billion! We know that for many potential customers, the first point of contact is our corporate website and not anymore the local branch office or store. How does this make a difference?
The Classic Scenario
When we walk into a store. we scan the interior, glance over the products and form an opinion within seconds. The nice friendly shop assistant greets us with a warm welcoming smile.
Whilst we browse through the shelves, said shop assistant observes. We are being checked out: gender, age group, style, income range and neatly put into a target group drawer.
If the shop assistant establishes that we, the unknown guest, might be a potential buyer, he or she will approach us and start to actively interact. "How are you doing, how may I help you? Is there anything you would be interested in in particular?" And most likely we will be glad for the help, advice and recommendation.
In this standard shopping scenario, the key aspect around which the success is defined, is the shop assistant and his skills to interact with people. Because we humans are social beings, this interaction comes naturally to us and both parties are (usually) comfortable with the interaction.
Lack of Human Interaction
This human factor is absent in the online world and if you want to run a successful website or even online store, it is down to you to make up for this lack of social interaction.
A couple of years ago, if you looked at engaging sites, like the flagship Amazon.com, you were surprised by how well it met your needs. Unfortunately for online businesses today, users have raised the bar: According to the SDL Tridion research What the Customer Wants' 66% of all online users expect to find products and content specific to their needs. It is considered state of the art, not a welcome surprise anymore. During the course of the next few articles, we will look at some possibilities on how to narrow the social gap.
The online population is impatient within seconds they decide if your website suits them and has the potential to meet their needs. If you fail in these crucial seconds, they are gone most likely to your competitors. You have to make sure, that within seconds, just by gazing over your website, people understand what it is about and where to find what.
Never forget, that even if you do not sell online, your website may still for a large amount of potential customers be the first point of contact. This is just as valid if you maintain an online shop: Many customers browse online for wares first before buying the goods offline the old fashioned way. According to eMarketer, for every $1 in online sales, the internet influenced on average $3.45 of store sales. That is the average. What a good website can do, you can hear from Macy's CEO Terry Lundgren: "Every dollar spent online influences $5.77 spent in the store over the next 10 days."
Once you are past the first impression phase, you have to enter the observation mode. The lack of skilled staff watching your users, you can counteract with tracking and profiling based on the visitor behavior. Whilst this is a very nifty thing to do, there are a few hurdles that will have to be overcome before making full use out of this technology we will look at some of these in detail in later articles.
With regards to direct communication, there is only one mature element to gather explicit information from the user: the online form
. As Maria Peacock from CMS Wire says, "web forms are the one thing that consistently stand between the customer and the product, as well as between companies and their profits." Based on forms, you can learn much about your audience and if you decide to store this information, you will be able to really add value to their online experience. The good news here, according to a recent survey by SDL Tridion, 74% of visitors are happy for you to store their information, if it pays off for them.
Interaction and customer experience management are key strategic areas for any marketing department. Visitors of today expect you to care. They expect you to come up to them and directly ask them "So, how do you do and how may we help you?"
If you genuinely do, it will pay off for both sides.