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Seven Ways to Get Lucky Online

Make your website and online sales leads come alive

By LARRY BOWDEN

Seven ways to get lucky online is not about finding a date on MySpace. There are seven steps guaranteed to increase profits by massively improving the online experience for your clients.

The massive popularity of the Web for both business and personal use has created a growing pool of Web-savvy users – customers, employees, partners and suppliers – who expect an exceptional online experience. An “exceptional” Web experience is one that achieves a balance between function and form – that is, it is perceived as engaging while also delivering exactly the information, capabilities and resources wanted or needed at that moment in time. Put another way, an exceptional Web experience is achieved when it exceeds the expectation of the intended audience. Such experiences are, by definition, engaging, relevant, trustworthy and portable, following audiences wherever they go.

For most companies, the job of delivering such an experience is an enormous challenge. Branding and communicating across different modes such as smartphones, social sites and e-mail, is daunting. Tailoring this online experience by audience or customer behavior can be difficult for even the most skilled of communications experts and marketing officers.

Organizations that offer a more engaging, complete experience with built-in social features and mobile device support will attract and keep more clients. Businesses that can manage content, allow real-time communication and analyze data can improve customer service and offer more personalized experiences, which will most likely result in a larger return on investment.  

Many entrepreneurs have successfully run small to mid-sized Web-based businesses without a brick-and-mortar storefront by creating a phenomenal and interactive online experience for current and prospective customers. For these companies, making online visits satisfying isn’t just important, it’s critical to survival.

Did you know that one of the largest life insurance companies in Asia is running its entire organization from a website? It did this by creating an exceptional, personalized and interactive experience. In fact, a 2010 analyst report states that a more superior Web experience can lead to a 400 percent increase in online sales leads, 16 percent more recommendations by customers for products and services, and 15 percent fewer customers lost to competitors.

No industry is immune to needing to provide a better online experience. Collaborating with other care providers or providing patients with access to the latest information, ensuring public safety and making new students feel comfortable can all be achieved.

Boston Medical enhanced patient loyalty by improving the online experience and achieved a 30 percent increase of scheduled referrals and a 10 percent reduction in no-show rates.

Los Angeles County is improving citizen/customer loyalty while lowering its cost of service by delivering online services from 38 departments to over 10.4 million citizens.

Additionally, the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, the world renowned training ground for budding “fashionistas,” now accepts tuition payments, study tours and housing through its portal, which was previously manual and time-consuming. The exceptional Web experience makes finding housing and roommates in the second-largest city in the U.S. less daunting, less expensive and more pleasant.

In today’s Web-savvy universe, online banking has become the norm, forcing financial institutions to look for new ways to create personalized experiences for its customers in order to remain competitive. By using chat forums, videos, blogs, social networking and mobile tools, a financial organization can deliver a more personalized Web experience resolving customer issues more quickly while fostering customer loyalty.

According to Forrester, in today’s online and mobile consumer era, organizations that deploy sites with superior user experience can achieve as much as a 400 percent increase in conversion of Web visitors to sales leads.

We have seen our IBM clients achieve:

  • 23 percent increase in online prescription refills at a cost of 25 cents per refill compared to $3 for a telephone refill.
  • 33 percent of patients are less likely to cancel appointments when using online service.
  • 30 percent of all customers rated self service higher than help desk.
  • 75 percent reduction in the time to roll out new customer-oriented applications.
  • 30 percent reduction in call center field support calls.

These companies are all following seven steps to creating a superior online experience:

  1. Create: Reduce operational costs and increase responsiveness allows a business owner to manage the delivery of dynamic content and rich media through multiple channels.
  2. Target: Increase brand loyalty by creating experiences that feel personalized to each customer so dynamically adapt content and offers based on client's actions, preferences and relationships.
  3. Socialize: Improve customer loyalty and help resolve problems by enabling customers to share ideas and opinions; drive higher value customer interactions via lower cost channels.
  4. Optimize: Fine tune the online experience by analyzing customer's interactions, helping to improve Web site visitor to becoming a client conversion rates, intelligently manage sites, campaigns, and offers by tracking each integration with a Web analytics tool.
  5. Realize: Improve profits by maximizing cross-sell and up-sell opportunities and capture new leads by easily publishing dynamic, compelling offers and content
  6. Reach:  Reach existing customers and new prospects across many channels including mobile, Web, social sites, kiosks and e-mail.
  7. Integrate: Deliver more personalized Web experiences by linking into back-office applications, cloud-based services and social sites; bring together different systems into one coherent customer experience.  

The good news is there are tools from a variety of companies that can help you “get lucky online” by retaining and delighting your customers. They include Web content management, rich social and real-time communication, search, personalization, analytics integration and mobile device support, and mashups. Also, ask your IT manager or provider about something called Service Oriented Architecture or SOA. This is a business-centric architectural approach that supports connecting a business as linked, repeatable business tasks or services, sort of like puzzle pieces. Using an SOA approach, an organization can find value at all levels, from departmental projects to enterprise-wide initiatives.

The key is to obtain and leverage these tools now before your competitors beat you to it.

Larry Bowden is vice president of Portals and Web Experience at IBM in San Jose, Calif.  He has more than two decades of experience at IBM helping customers exploit the opportunities provided by information technologies. He is responsible for the development and delivery of Web-based products, including the new Customer Experience Suite, which helps customers create differentiated Web experiences for their customers, partners, employees or citizens.