Forget the razzle-dazzle. Customers want a corporate Web site that keeps things simple and doesn't get too personal. Companies that adopt this mantra earn respect -- and repeat business. Those that do not are passing on a rising source of revenue.
The Customer Respect Group, a research and consulting firm based in Bellevue, Wash., offers a look at who is doing the best and worst jobs of serving online customers, as part of its "Spring 2004 Online Customer Respect Study" of the country's Fortune 100 companies' Web sites.
The Web sites were scored using the group's Customer Respect Index (CRI) rating on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the highest achievable score.
According to president Roger Fairchild, Microsoft topped the list with a CRI rating of 8.7, followed by Hewlett-Packard Co. (8.6) and IBM (8.5). Supervalu Inc., an Eden Prairie, Minn.-based grocery retail and supply chain service provider, scored the lowest with a rating of 2.7. Other notable low-scoring entries included media giant Time Warner Inc. (5.1), Boeing Co. (3.9) and Pfizer Inc. (3.6).
The way companies create their Web sites has become increasingly important, Fairchild said.
Online revenue twice that of earlier estimates
Fairchild said that e-commerce accounted for $2.4 trillion in revenue in 2003, almost double industry predictions, adding that the trend is still heading toward significant increases this year.
"That's the reason why these large companies need to understand there is a huge amount involved in [Web performance]; it can increase sales dramatically," Fairchild said.
Even if a customer is not using a site for online purchasing, strong site design is important because there is also an increasing trend in online research, which can lead to potential in-store purchases, he said.
The companies scoring favorably on the survey shared consistent, high ratings on each of the individual categories: simplicity (ease of navigation), responsiveness (quick and thorough responses to inquiries), privacy (respects customer privacy), attitude (customer-focus of site), transparency (open and honest policies) and principles (values and respects customer data). Fairchild's group combined each of these categories to create an overall CRI rating.
The strongest category for the 100 companies was simplicity, with an average rating of 7.1. Fairchild said that companies with a strong showing in this category usually have a site map that outlines the entire site.
"It's easy to use in terms of one to two clicks get you to anywhere you want to go on the site," he said.
More Web site 'must-haves'
Top corporate sites also have an easily accessed frequently asked questions section and a contact information and personal data page. In addition, all pages within the site have a similar look and feel.
Consumers are mostly concerned with privacy, including the fear that a company will sell their personal information to the highest bidder. Companies did poorly on the survey if they did not have easily accessible privacy statements or policies on the use or sale of user information.
Fairchild said the survey showed 70% of users refused to give out personal information because of these fears.
Don't get too personal
To encourage users to trust a company and provide information, Fairchild said that companies should only ask for minimal amounts of information, such as an e-mail address, and avoid making anything mandatory.
A second major concern was that one-third of the companies did not respond to user inquires.
"It's startling to me that companies aren't investing in making sure all inquiries are responded to," Fairchild said. "It's also a shock that more that half were using your data with other businesses without approval."
Fairchild said that as more people use the Internet for electronic transactions, companies will begin to realize the financial impact of not being upfront with customers or having a site that's hard to navigate.
"Companies will begin to realize the potential improvement of sales with something as simple as improving the Web site," he said.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
See how Cisco keeps its finger on the pulse of customer loyalty
Read last year's customer respect rankings