Site Design: Think The Way Your Customer Thinks

    September 8, 2003

One of the biggest challenges an organization faces is to stop thinking it’s the center of the universe. Customers think that they are the center of the universe. Customers come to your website to get their needs fulfilled. They will only think you are great if you meet their needs in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

I’m in the market for a new laptop. I know in America it’s called a notebook. But supposing I didn’t know that? Organizations are always making assumptions about what their customers know.

Like university websites that have a ‘Prospective Students’ classification. I heard the results of a survey recently that found that students thinking of going to university didn’t relate to this classification. The university response: ‘That’s what we’ve always called them.’

Repeat after me: What you call your customer is irrelevant. It’s the way your customer sees the world that matters. On the Web, you’ve got to think the way your customer thinks. You’ve got to use the words–and it’s all about words on the Web–that your customer uses.

Anyway, I considered buying a Dell laptop. They have good products but they’ve given me awful service lately. So, I decided to shop around. I went to and found a feature on ultraportables–excellent. Ultraportable may be a new word but it means a lot to me, as I’m on the road all the time.

I read about the IBM ThinkPad X31. As I live in Ireland, I couldn’t buy from, so I went to Here’s where the fun began. I came to the IBM website seriously considering buying the X31. I was interested in talking to someone. Unlike on the Dell homepage, there was no telephone number on the page. So I clicked on the Contact link. No sales contact information.

Please, please, cut the waffle and get to the point on your website. It amazes me how many organizations publish stupid images and marketing waffle that means absolutely nothing. Allow your customers to quickly do what they need to do. Facilitate them to act.

So, anyway, I click on Products & Services, then click on Notebooks. I find the X31. There’s a ‘How to buy’ link in the left column, so I click on it. IBM don’t sell direct, so I have to find a dealer. I browse the dropdown but can’t find Ireland.

There is a link for ‘Other Countries,’ so I select it. Strangely, that brings me back a list of dealers who sell online. How ‘Other Countries’ equates with buying online, I don’t know. Still no sign of Ireland.

I know that Ireland is a small country, but, come on, we’re not that small. Surely, someone in IBM has heard of us? (They do have an office here.) This is strange; IBM has an Irish website but no Irish dealers.

Then, it dawns on me. I select UK. Lo and behold, as far as IBM is concerned, Ireland is still part of the UK. Obviously, the IBM web design team is working from a map of the world published in 1920. At a minimum, IBM should have a classification in the dealer dropdown entitled ‘UK & Ireland.’

Choose the right words and you facilitate action. Choose the wrong ones and you frustrate and annoy.

For your web content management solution, contact Gerry McGovern

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