Social networking and the interactive tools of Web 2.0 are enabling the creation of highly useful, personalized customer experiences. But only a carefully orchestrated research program can shed light on what users really use and want – and the results are often surprising.
Point your mouse and click. Chances are, just about any significant Web site you land on doesn’t look like last year’s – or even yesterday’s – Internet anymore. It’s personalized, interactive, multimedia, and social in ways it never was before. There’s a fair amount of debate around what exactly defines “Web 2.0,” but there’s little disagreement that the Internet is in the midst of a fundamental transformation from a relatively passive (if massive) information medium, to a fully interactive, intertwined, interpersonal tool playing an increasingly central role in our personal and business lives.
It’s a different digital landscape than it was just a few short years ago. Somewhere around the turn of the millennium it reached the tipping point, when the critical mass of corporations and organizations established their Internet presence. Back then, screen size, Flash capability, and connection speed were the principal technological considerations. The customer/user experience question was still open-ended, because it was uncertain exactly what sort of experience customers sought, aside from finding information and conducting basic transactions.
If you want to end with an outstanding customer experience, you have to begin with a thorough understanding of customer expectations, motivations, and behavior.
Today, the stakes are much higher and businesses are scrambling to find their place and stake their claim in this new landscape. A whole new suite of Web tools are available to help craft next-generation Web sites. Most importantly, customer/user expectations for an efficient, productive, and enjoyable Internet experience are higher than ever.
Most organizations now recognize that their Internet presence is far more important than they imagined when their sites were built just a few years ago. Then, for non-e-commerce businesses, a Web site was often considered a mandatory exercise to be handled by the IT and corporate communications departments, important but not central to the business strategy. Today, the Web site has become a centerpiece for brand-building, customer development, marketing, and revenue-generation – a darling of marketing departments that has spawned a cadre of specialists. Some organizations are evolving their sites into the next generation one component at a time; others are blowing them up and starting over from scratch. Whatever the strategy, one age-old business maxim has asserted itself loudly and will not be ignored – the customer, or in this case, the user/customer, is king and queen, and success in the online world depends on keeping them satisfied.