Excerpted with permission from the new Second Edition of: The Design of Sites: Patterns for Creating Winning Web Sites", authored by Doug van Duyne, James Landay and Jason Hong, Copyright 2007 Douglas K. van Duyne, James A. Landay, and Jason I. Hong. Published by Prentice Hall Professional, December, 2006, ISBN 0131345559. For more information about this book and other similar titles, please visit www.prenhallprofessional.com.
The Importance of Customer-Centered Design
Over the years we have learned that the criteria for building customercentered Web sites are based on providing a positive experience for all customers, whether those customers are there to find information, to be part of a community, to purchase items, or to be entertained. This focus is called customer-centered design. Customer-centered design increases the value of Web sites through better design and evaluation. It is about how you empathize with customers—how well you understand their needs, the tools and technologies they use, and their social and organizational context. It is about how you use this understanding to shape your designs and then test those designs to ensure that the customers' needs are met. Why go to all this trouble? What will happen if you don't? Suppose your site overruns its budget or schedule. Management could pull the plug before it is completed. Or what if your Web site is finished but turns out to be too hard to learn or use? Customers might visit your site once and never return. With customer-centered design, you do the work up front to ensure that the Web site has the features customers need, by determining and planning for the most important features and by making certain that those features are built in a way that customers will understand. This method actually takes less time and money to implement in the long run. In short, customer-centered design helps you build the right Web site and build the Web site right! Here's an example that underscores the importance of customercentered design. Several years ago, IBM found that its Web site was not working well. Quick analysis revealed that the search feature was the most used function. The site was so confusing that IBM's customers could not figure out how to find what they wanted. IBM also discovered that the help feature was the second most popular function. Because the search feature was ineffective, many people went to the help pages to find assistance. Paying close attention to customer needs, IBM redesigned the site from the ground up to be more consistent in its navigation. A week after launching the redesigned site, customers' reliance on the search and help features dropped dramatically and online sales rose 400 percent. This is just one of many stories highlighting the increasing importance of good design. But does good Web design really affect the bottom line? You bet! Web sites founded on solid fundamentals and extensive customer research can make the difference between success and failure.
A clear, easy-to-use, and customer-centered Web site can help garner better reviews and ratings, reduce the number of mistakes made by customers, trim the time it takes to find things, and increase overall customer satisfaction. Furthermore, customers who really like a Web site's content and quality of service are more likely to tell their family, friends, and coworkers, thereby increasing the number of potential customers. A great example of this result is Google, which has become the dominant search site with little or no advertising. It simply works better than most other search sites, and customers tell their friends about it.
There is also a strong correlation between increased satisfaction and increased profits for commercial Web sites. Underscoring this point, our research shows that increasing customer satisfaction by just 5 percent can lead to a 25 percent or greater increase in revenues. There are two reasons for the revenue increase and the related increase in profits. The first is that customers can find products and services more easily and are thus more likely to return in the future. The second is that support costs are reduced because of a lower number of phone calls, e-mails, and instant messages to help desks, as well as a lower number of product returns. The stakes are higher now than ever before. Commercial Web sites that are not relevant, fast, trustworthy, satisfying, and easy to use will have a hard time attracting new customers and retaining existing customers, especially if competitors are only a click away.
People will leave your Web site if they:
- Are frustrated
- Think that navigating the site is too difficult
- Think that you don't have the product or service they want
- Get big surprises that they don't like
- Feel that the site takes too long to load
You cannot afford to abandon a single customer. Even if your site does not have direct competitors, as is the case with educational institutions and corporate intranets, it can benefit from being customer centered. Simple, clean, and well-designed Web sites can cut down on wasted time for customers, reduce Web site maintenance costs for clients, and improve overall satisfaction.
Read the rest of this excerpt and download Chapter 1: Customer-Centered Web Design: More Than a Good Idea
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This was first published in January 2007