Online expectations Featured

5:41am EDT March 23, 2005
In today's world of increasing customer demands and declining brand loyalty, companies work harder than ever to exceed expectations and differentiate themselves.

This is especially true in the e-customer segment. In the generation of instant gratification, your organization's online shopping experience can drive revenue or it can push your customers to your competition. Studies have shown that 93 percent of potential online customers will go elsewhere if they cannot find what they need on your Web site quickly and easily.

Progressive companies have embraced this consumer trend, improving their online functionality with Rich Internet Applications that provide a customer experience that surpasses the traditional store visit or telephone call. Recognizing the value, these companies are investing in their Web sites with this cost-effective functional solution that requires nominal bandwidth.

This enhanced functionality is establishing customer expectations of a common online experience. If their Web site has it, why can't yours? Thus, companies that fail to advance with technology will find their customer base dwindling as customers lose patience with Web sites that simply do not meet their needs.

Historically, companies have perceived Web sites as a way to quickly distribute information normally available only in print. But as functional capabilities increased with time, so did customers' demands. Customers now expect straightforward, pragmatic Web sites with interactive features. Sites should allow them to engage online -- whether to access updated product information, buy products, track orders or review and manage their accounts -- an experience much more rewarding than calling a toll-free phone number or driving to the nearest location.

The recent saturation of home computers with preinstalled browsers, rich media plug-ins and faster connection speeds has contributed to enabling users to interact with Web sites that host these online functionalities and reinforcing these consumer expectations. Customers -- unaware of the technological reasoning -- have grown accustomed to the convenience these tools bring, which means that companies must provide their customers the functionality they demand and abandon the mindset that Web enhancements are flashy features best utilized only for advertising.

Rich Internet Applications create an environment of function and accessibility that provide users with an interactive experience -- they can tour your facilities, browse your catalog or watch a product demonstration -- reducing the number of necessary click-throughs. Effectively utilizing the real estate of each page, Rich Internet Applications furnish a format for the information. Users can click on the door to change rooms or corners to flip to the next page, or click and drag a product photo to add it to their shopping cart.

The advantages of Rich Internet Applications include the ability to enrich your online offerings even further, adding audio and video enhancements. Some customers may still want to simply read the information; others may desire to listen to it or see it. The most rewarding Web experiences offer choices for all users.

Most companies can add functionality to their Web site without modifying their architecture, platforms and standards. Internally, business unit owners expect the ability to manage their own Web content. Implementing content management tools allows nontechnical individuals to maintain and manage Web content and keep it timely. Responsibilities can be easily taught to department personnel, minimizing the involvement of IT and outside resources and helping to maintain costs.

With the opportunity to increase customer satisfaction and your company's competitive edge, Rich Internet Applications offer an ideal investment. Well-thought-out and efficient Web design blends structure with functionality and satisfies an organizational business need. Whether your goal is to increase customer service, increase the number of online transactions or minimize data entry time and errors, an investment in a Web site, as with any other business venture, should align with your organizational needs.

Many companies have yet to take advantage of Rich Internet Applications despite the benefits. Many are misinformed and believe it would require a costly investment. Others do not yet fully appreciate their Web site as a valuable business tool.

But, those that have invested are already measuring the return and are setting customer expectations for years to come. These companies clearly have a competitive advantage that will help them compete in the marketplace of today and tomorrow.

Reach Ryan Roxbury at (616) 774-0774, ext. 4359, or rroxbury@crowechizek.com.