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Chapter 1. Customer-Centered Web Design > The First Steps We Took to Unify Desi...

1.3. The First Steps We Took to Unify Design, Usability, and Marketing

In 1997 we noticed that a few companies had dramatically jumped ahead of the competition and were now leaders on the Web. These companies had publicly stated and acted on making the customer experience their top priority, and they raised the bar for everyone.

While we were actively helping clients develop sites in an ever more competitive environment, we realized we had to move beyond the traditional boundaries of usability, market research, and software design. It was not an easy task, because our clients had committed to these means at varying levels, in different parts of the organization that usually did not talk to one another.

Drawing on our experience in design, consulting, marketing, communications, and human–computer interface research, we evaluated our clients' Web sites on many levels. We discovered that although a customer focus existed, often it was not reflected on the Web sites. We also discovered that some clients were not improving the customer experience on their Web sites at all. This was not surprising, considering that these companies did not have a clear Web strategy. It was not uncommon to see a client's Web design team with an inadequate budget and little authority to integrate operations with the rest of the company.

Sometimes our clients were simply too busy trying to stay afloat to care about getting a full wind in their sails. One Web business we studied thought that it was doing very well with its health-related news, information, and products. It was receiving thousands of Web-based orders per week. It spent heavily on advertising to drive people to its site, and as advertising spending increased, so did sales. Our team evaluated the ease of use of its site, doing some customer research over a short period of time (later we will show you how you can run studies like this yourself). We looked at many factors, from first impression, to ease of use, to overall satisfaction.

We found some surprising results that led us to important conclusions. The developers of the site had done a great job of creating a powerful first impression. All the customers in our research panel liked the site, thought it looked easy to use, and said it appeared to have relevant content.

But then in the next step we asked the same customers to use the site to carry out a realistic task: finding products for the common cold. Only 30 percent of the customers could find products for colds, or for any other medical condition at all. This research suggested that about 70 percent of customers who came to the site to solve particular health problems could not find what they were looking for. This result provided a direct causal link between human–computer interface problems and lost revenue. The cost of dissatisfied customers abandoning this site could have reached into the millions of dollars over the course of a year.

Our experience with the health site is not uncommon. The bottom line is that poorly designed Web sites frustrate people, fritter away customer loyalty, and waste everyone's time.

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