A new approach for online engagement

Posted on Apr 6, 2009 by in customer experience | 0 comments

Most companies experience a large difference between what their web site is and what they believe it should be. This frustration is quite continuous and the positive feeling of making progress with a new version quickly vanishes after its launch.

Web site suppliers understood this problematic quite well, but didn’t find the solution. Instead, they use it to their benefits, leveraging it on one side to sell a new expensive version and requesting on the other side the necessary validations from the customer before the creation process is over (when there is still some euphoria of what they believe it will do for them), to make sure there are concrete proofs that the customer satisfaction was reached (as waiting until after the launch would be suicide).

In this post, I make the assumption that the problematic relies at the technology level as customers want their web site to be an attractive and efficient online engagement platform, while web site technology can only deliver an access to a set of fixed information segmented into information pages. As a result, the engagement would have to emerge magically out of the intelligence of the content of the pages, which, except in a few very specific situations, will never happen.

What if we could put in place a better technology which would make web sites more dynamic, not in their content, but in their structure?

What if the resulting flow of interaction was adapting automatically and if the content of the web site was the documentation along this flow?

Before explaining this approach, I would like to address a few key concepts:

Online Engagement

We define the process of online engagement as transforming visitors of the web site into customer prospects, meaning that they terminate their online interactions by manifesting their intent of becoming a customer. This intent can be converted immediately online, in the case of e-commerce, or through the contact with a sales agent. We call the transfer of the request from the online world to the offline world an “Escalation”.

Information Access

Accessing the information is a key aspect of engagement, as no visitors want to become a customer if they didn’t find anything interesting for them. The success of this critical phase of online engagement depends both on the content and on the technology used to provide the access to this content.

Online Qualification

We define the process of online qualification as the collection of customer data which are required to finalize the engagement process. There is no limit on to what type of information the qualification can be (e.g.: socio-demographic information, products of interests, etc.). Their gathering represents a key aspect of Online Engagement, as requesting too many data from customers can lower their interest to the point they are not willing to complete it anymore.

Interaction Flow

We define the Interaction Flow as the chain of interactions between the user and the web site. The interaction flow can be pictured as a succession of states the user has visited (traditionally HTML pages) connected by the selected transitions (traditionally URL links).

Contextualization

When considering the Context throughout the Interaction Flow of an Information Access process, the context is initially very large (the whole web site) and becomes very small along the way (to a very specific piece of information). We call the process of passing from a very large context to a very small one the Contextualization.

The concept of my new approach to online engagement relies on making all the ending points of the Contextualization process to become the points of Escalation (requiring no more, or very limited additional qualification). From this basis, monitoring the success of the web site as an online engagement platform can be simplified to the analysis the conversion rate of each point of escalation, as well as all the ending states of each unfinished Contextualization.

To make this concept possible in the reality, we need a technology which could generate the Contextualization automatically (e.g.: from both the company’s products meta-data and customer qualification requirements). As the only goal of the web site would become the Contextualization (bringing the user to the most relevant information, while gathering the required information about him), the structure would have to provide the supporting information for all the possible interaction states.

The required information would then be provided not as information pages as it is the case today, but as explanation around the different Contextualization steps.

Let me give an example to illustrate this approach:

Company A provides 9 products, which can be categorized in 3 domains sales,support,supply; and in 3 functions optimize,manage,analyse (i.e.: one product for each combination).

Let’s consider that the price (and difference of features) of the products depends on 2 factors: the customer size: big,medium,small; and the customer industry: bank,telco,IT.

Let’s consider that there is 5 information required to qualify a customer: name, position (CEO, CTO, others), industry, domain of interest (sales, support, supply) and e-mail

If we consider that the name and e-mail are the 2 only elements which should not be considered during the Contextualization, we can see we have 5 possible states for the interaction flow (domain, function, size, industry, position).

The approach would imply to create the required information to support all the possible Contextualization process cases.

As, in our example there is 3 possible values per attribute, we can see that the number of possible ending points of the Contextualization are 3^5 = 243 and the number of possible Contextualization processes (considering the first step dynamically selected as well as all the others) 5*3*4*3*3*3*2*3*1*3, or 5!*3^5 = 120*243 = 29’160.

We can immediately see that the possible dimensions of both of them are too big to prepare a specific textual information to support each. This challenge can be addressed if the information provided is either not static (e.g.: pricing information and ROI calculation depending of dynamic parameter), or the same in many cases (e.g.: the message to explain the pricing can be the same for a CEO looking to optimize support or the a CTO looking to manage supply, as, in the case explained above, the differentiating price factors are only the customer size and the industry).

However, when looking at the most popular Contextualization cases, the customer might be willing to differentiate the message at every state for his most important cases to receive the most personalized information possible.

In addition to provide a direct connection between the Information Access and the Escalation, this approach has the big advantage to provide a possible context for each piece of information a company wants to put on his web site: a context connected to the intent and the profile of the customer.

It is therefore more likely that the company will naturally provide engaging information which makes sense for the customer and his current context of mind and therefore will result in more engaging information in addition to a more engaging process.

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