When the Web Team Gets it Totally Wrong

    September 11, 2006

Time and time again web teams get it totally wrong in relation to what customers want. There’s a simple reason for this and an equally simple answer.

“Everybody who saw it internally said version C was way too crowded and there wasn’t enough white space. We were worried people would see it and feel overwhelmed with links.” So states a marketing manager at Career Builder in an excellent Marketing Sherpa case study.

Turned out that the customers liked version C the best. Why they liked version C better is not really the issue I want to explore here. What I want to explore is why so many web teams don’t seem to understand their customers-or worse, think they understand their customers, and don’t.

The single biggest reason web teams don’t understand their customers is that they think their customers are just like them. They think that everyone who uses the website is pretty much as expert as they are at navigating around it.

Some web teams like to do redesigns. They don’t like to do these redesigns for compelling reasons such as to improve sales per visit, increase task completion, and improve the quality of search results. No, they like to do redesigns because they’re bored with the old design, or because they’ve got some new techie toys they’d like to play with.

This is all quite harsh but it needs to be said. Not having a crystal clear understanding of the customer is like trying to build a house on quicksand. Over the years, it is the number-one issue I have found with web management.

Accept for starters that your customers are nothing like you. Accept that your personal preferences and experience are the exact opposite of your typical customers. Accept that the things that you find incredibly easy to do on your website, many of your customers will find incredibly difficult to do.

Accept that perfectly intelligent people can become incredibly stupid when you give them a mouse. Do you know that millions of people go to Yahoo and search for Google, and that millions of people go to Google and search for Yahoo?

Those who make things love to talk about features. People who buy things want to know about benefits. Sell benefits, not features is the marketing equivalent of telling a kid to shut the door or brush their teeth.

Too many web teams exist in a vacuum, and they end up creating websites that are essentially acts of vanity publishing. There’s organization focus, organization-speak and an assumption that customers will just love to read sentences that begin with the name of the organization.

Web teams are often obsessed with the mechanics of what they do. Conversations are filled with design-speak, techie-speak, usability-speak, and information architecture-speak. It is necessary to understand the mechanics but it is much more necessary to understand the customer.

It’s not enough to occasionally test your customers like you were monitoring whether they had contacted some rare disease yet. You’ve got to learn to live in their world, see with their eyes, hear with their ears, view the website with their limited experience.

You’ve got to learn to really care about your customers, and, most importantly, to realize that what you care about, they really couldn’t care less about.

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