Find Out What Your Customer Really Needs From Your Website

    November 22, 2005

If there is one reason-more than any other-why a website fails, it is because it doesn’t understand its customers.

Thanks to everyone who recently completed the survey of web manager headings. Out of 50 headings, the number-one heading, with 17 percent of people voting for it, was:

“Find out what your customer really needs from your website”

Stating the obvious? If the obvious was obvious, everyone would be doing it. We live in a world of mirrors and opposites. What is clear is not clear, what is obvious is not obvious.

The Web is self-service. That means you need to know your customers much better-on a much deeper and comprehensive level-than if you were dealing with them face-to-face. When two people are in a room together, more than words are being communicated. When someone is on your website, you can’t hear them scream.

Last week I received an email from a reader who told me about what happened to a colleague of hers when she tried to download some photos from the US Department of Energy website.

Fasten your seats belts of incredulity. All that I’m about to tell you is true. (I went through the process myself, and crazily, unbelievably, extraordinarily, and all that, it happened just as you’re about to read.)

If you want to download images from the Department of Energy website, you must create an account. As part of this process, you must enter a password, which you are informed is “case-sensitive”.

Knowing this, the person entered in her password in lowercase. After clicking Sign Up, the following message came back:

“The password must contain at least one uppercase letter.”

“Thanks for telling me,” she says out loud to her monitor. She edits her password to include an uppercase letter and clicks Sign Up.

A message comes back: “The password must contain at least one numeric digit.”

“Are you kidding me!?” she says in a raised voiced. She adds a number (one presumes a “numeric digit” is a number) to the password.

“The password must contain at least one special character (such as !, @, #, etc.).”

The person has never had as much fun entering in her password details. She joyfully adds a special character at the end of her password.

A new message comes back: “The password must contain at least one special character within the first seven positions”.

She moves the special character closer to the beginning of the password, leaving a number at the end.

A message comes back: “The password must end with a non-numeric character.”

Whoever created this trial-by-password is I’m sure not someone who enjoys developing techniques in cruel and unusual punishment. They’re just doing their job, and completely forgetting that real, living, breathing, laughing, screaming people have to fill out these passwords.

Find out what your customer really needs from your website by putting yourself in their shoes. Never ever design a website without thoroughly testing it with your target customers. Every day-every single day-you should be thinking about, talking to, listening to, observing your customers. There is simply no other part of your job that is remotely as important.

For your web content management solution, contact Gerry McGovern

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