Web Analytics Special Report: Understanding the 'Why' of Customer Behavior

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Though blogs can reveal what customers do, it's difficult to understand why they behave the way they do. Customer experience management is a complementary approach to Web analytics that reveals the "why" behind the "what," delivering insights into why customers behave as they do.


Reliable customer insights let an online business shape the Internet experience to maximize brand affinity, conversion and loyalty. Customer experience consists of a complex interaction between the Web site and the thoughts, feelings, behaviors, habits, expectations and social references that the customer brings to the situation. It is not the objective reality of the site that needs to be analyzed, but the subjective reality of the customer - the customer's perception and interpretation of the site.


To add to this complexity, each site visitor has his personal history, creating many subjective realities for the Web marketer or researcher to understand.


Analyzing non-obtrusive observational data such as sales figures and server logs does not uncover such information. Two common examples come to mind:


· With server log data, it's tough to determine whether a customer is lingering on a site because of interest or confusion.


· It's difficult to determine whether a customer abandoned a shopping cart because of registration or the shipping fees.


Without knowing a user's goals, it's impossible to interpret whether she achieved them. The most reliable method to capture the customer experience is to have many customers surf the Web pursuing goals, while simultaneously gathering behavioral and subjective data from each individual. For a full picture of the user experience, it is important to examine all the critical aspects, including behavior (e.g., where do users abandon registration?), thoughts (e.g., do users realize they have completed a purchase?) and attitudes (e.g., do users feel the site is trustworthy?).


By combining qualitative data - why did you give up? - with quantitative data - number of page views, navigation path - marketers can gain powerful insight into what changes would improve the experience. Furthermore, iterative testing establishes benchmarks to measure the effect of changes on customer satisfaction.


Thus, customer experience evaluation can reveal:


· Users' prior expectations (Do customers expect to find a product demo?).


• Users' behaviors in the context of their intentions (Where do customers who are price-sensitive click first? How do customers use online help and support to resolve questions?).


· Which features will affect your bottom line (Which should be developed first: a more accurate search engine or a faster checkout process?).


· Which features likely will be deal breakers (Will asking for a home phone number prompt registration abandonment?).


· What your competitors offer (What's working and what isn't on their site(s)? Should you match a competitor in offering links to an independent research site, or does this distract users?).


· How your site compares with industry benchmarks (How does your site's search function stack up against other search engines?).


· Whether your site is building and extending your offline brand or detracting from it (e.g., does your online experience increase or decrease brand affinity from before to after the experience?).


· How well your site and your online presence affect conversion and retention (Can people find you on the Web? Do your advertising, partners and your online properties increase their likelihood to buy from you?).


These insights help online businesses decide strategic issues: what to fix, how to fix it, what to fix first and how much to spend.


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