The Conversion Chronicles, resources for improving your online conversion rates

Ask Me If I Care: Reaching Out to Real Customers


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The Web is a wonderfully measurable medium. Clickthroughs, pageviews and revenues have become the watchwords in data centers and marketing departments throughout the land.

But most companies seem to blithely ignore one set of metrics--their customers’ feelings.
  • Did you find what you were looking for?
  • Did you achieve what you set out to accomplish?
  • How do you feel about the company after your visit to our site?

Aside from server logs, click-stream tracking and a host of analytics tools, it's necessary to consider customer experience and customer satisfaction. This is the art of peering into the hearts and minds of visitors, rat
her than simply following them around.

It's Time to Ask Them for Their Opinion

We do our best to gauge customer experience through focus groups and usability studies. Put a volunteer in front of a browser, give him a task (find the return policy on left-handed scissors) and watch him flounder.

Record his actions and ask for his feedback. The Nielsen Norman Group and User Interface Engineering have been doing this for years. They both have excellent newsletters on the subject, as does Good Experience.

But usability testing is a time-consuming process. Yes, you can come up with a list of Web site mistakes that will take a year's worth of development to fix after testing only five or six people.

But how do you know you found the most important problems? The most universal problems? The ones you should fix first? For that, you need more subjects.

The Vividence (Keynote) approach links behavior with attitude:
  • Start with a goodly number of pre-registered surfers in a panel, all of whom are identified and can be segmented in a multitude of ways.
  • Assign these panelists a task and let them have a go at it.
  • Watch what they do through a pre-installed client-side monitoring application.
  • Ask them some pop-up questions along the way.
  • Give them a $10 Amazon.com coupon as a thank-you.


What do these 50 or 500 or 5,000 people do and how do they feel? How do teenage shoppers respond to your site compared to those between the ages of 35 and 45 who have American Express Gold cards?

The nifty part about this sort of Web analysis is that you can turn these panelists loose on your competitors' Web sites as well. What do they do and how do they feel about the other guy? What features did they like? What tasks were simpler?

Another benchmark of hearts and minds can be found at ForeSee. While there are many survey tools and services online, ForeSee Results stands out for its use of the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) model which link customer expectations, perceived quality, and perceived value to customer satisfaction through a set of causal equations.

ACSI tracks trends in customer satisfaction through a rigid methodology which is, therefore, highly comparable. It's a national economic indicator of satisfaction with goods and services.

ForeSee Results uses pop-up surveys on your site in such a way that you can compare your customer satisfaction results to those of others in your industry or across industries. The questions can be very specific and measure a visitors likelihood of returning to your site, buying something from your site and recommending your site to others.

What was the customer expecting? What did they find? What go they plan to do?

Beyond clickthroughs and revenues, this approach gives you some insight about visitors' online and offline intentions. If they browse online and purchase offline, they'll let you know when a quick-answer survey pops up when they leave the site. Server logs won't say.

Larry Freed, ForeSee Results' CEO and President, encourages Web site owners to have real, live visitors identify trouble spots before engaging in an analytic analysis.

"When you read log file or sophisticated analytics reports," says Freed, "you surmise where to focus your attention. But when you look at actual customer comments, they'll tell you where you need work. Then use the analytics to figure out how well you're fixing the problem."

Rich datamarts filled with cross-server, multi-platform, path analysis and conversion data are necessary for survival for larger companies that are depending more and more on the Internet as a way of doing business. But let's not forget the reason we want the nuggets of knowledge buried in those datamarts: To make our Web site visitors happier about their experience.

Asking how they feel is a great way to measure whether you are achieving that goal.
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Jim SterneAuthor: Jim Sterne, International speaker on electronic marketing

Jim Sterne is an international speaker on electronic marketing and customer interaction. Sterne has written six books on Internet advertising, marketing and customer service including, "Web Metrics; Proven Methods for Measuring Web Site Success." Sterne is the producer of the annual Emetrics Summit emetric.org and is the Founding President of the Web Analytics Association.