The customer is always right

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The old adage, "The customer is always right," has never been truer.

The new set of requirements for personalizing online experiences in a Web 2.0 world has transformed customer analytics into a billion-dollar industry. Clearly, it's crucial to any Web site's success to know how customers are using the site and design the experience to match key performance objectives, while also humanizing the customer experience. But gathering the data is only the first step in what should be a strategic plan of meaningful customer engagement. However, given the sheer volume and complexity of online customer interactions, the information needed to make effective decisions often arrives in a jumbled and confusing mass of data points.

That mass of information is the first barrier to effective analysis. Raw data is virtually useless in terms of execution, and companies have neither the time nor the workforce to sift through usage details to extract the actionable lessons. On the other hand, a visual analysis of dynamic site interaction that applies multiple interrelated business dimensions and online customer behavior simultaneously to decipher and arrange raw data will move companies toward making decisions that will create a more positive customer experience.

Many analysis procedures gather information within a defined construct, always considering what the next step will be; which is a constraint when trying to analyze the fluid and dynamic nature of an online business. Conversely, laying the foundation for truly actionable analysis requires eliminating the barriers that impede fluid exploration of the online customer information, so the analytic process can flow to ask and answer important business questions within the stream of consciousness. This allows for a thorough understanding of exactly how customers are using the site - what works and what does not - with a keen eye continuously trained on how the necessary improvements will be made. Deep insight into the experience of a unique customer or customer segment means that every detail from content to site design can be orchestrated toward enhancing the site to directly address customer requirements and preferences while improving key business performance objectives.

Such deep insight requires equally sophisticated data manipulation techniques. However, if the solution for achieving this insight is designed for only a few "Ivory Tower" analysts, instead of those who are closest to trying to improve the customer experience, then most of the business value will be lost. Truly useful analysis allows the business user to rapidly gain deep customer insight by easily segmenting their customer population by any performance metric or customer attribute and allow for comparisons between them, individually and collectively. Creating a way to segment their customers into macro groups and at an individual level allows companies to identify highly profitable customer segments, as well as compare them to those that are less successful and optimize the online experience to drive greater business results.

The time lag between knowing how to optimize a Web site and implementing the change is another common problem for Web analytics programs. Millions of people surfing the Web at any given moment means tens or hundreds of millions of data points - and for any of that information to be put to good use, companies need to be able to immediately visualize the business impact of the information and make changes fast, or else they will forever be playing catch-up. Real-time insight and rapid optimization is key, or companies risk losing customers to more targeted and fluid sites.

The Internet customer is undeniably in charge, but with more sophisticated tools with which to measure, analyze and optimize business performance around their preferences companies can deliver on the promise of targeted, humanized Web site experiences that will define a market advantage and drive greater business results. While the customer is always right, smart companies that engage in this strategy will always be one step ahead of their competition.

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