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The Third Generation

Today the focus has shifted to constructing powerful Web sites that provide real value and deliver a positive customer experience. When visitors consistently give a Web site high marks for content, ease of use, performance, trustworthiness, and overall satisfaction, we call it a customer-centered Web site.

We use the term customer rather than user for three reasons. First, only two industries refer to their customers as users: drug dealers and computer companies. We hope to help break this connection between the two. Second, and more importantly, the term customer evokes the fact that successful Web sites account for issues that go beyond ease of use and satisfaction, such as trustworthiness, brand value, and even how well a company's traditional interactions with the customer work, such as telephone-based customer service or the return of merchandise.

Finally, taking a cue from Beyer and Holtzblatt's Contextual Design, we use customer to refer to anyone who uses or depends on the site. Customers can be administrators, partners, managers, and producers, among others. To manage the site, many of these individuals will see a completely different interface. We chose the term customer because it is more expansive than user, referring to all of these individuals and their myriad needs. Consideration of these additional factors is what differentiates customer-centered design from other design approaches (see Figure 1.1).

Figure 1.1. The key issues driving customer-centered Web design


The challenge to be customer centered exists for all enterprises: large multinationals, government agencies, internal corporate services, small businesses, and nonprofit organizations, to name just a few. General Motors, for example, must manage its customer experience for more than 300 end-customer, supplier, and distributor Web sites. Government sites, with responsibilities to help the citizenry and other agencies, need to satisfy “customer” requirements as well. Intranet applications that optimize a corporation's workforce must provide positive experiences to employee “customers.”

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