Website Customizing Should Improve the Visitor Experience, Not Detract From It.

I was recently using a site for a large technology product supplier who had built a customized version of their site for a large fortune 500 client.  The idea being that anyone going to the site from the clients web servers would get a somewhat customized experience.  It’s a great idea, by they way, to do this for long term or high profit clients.  Let them know they are a valued partner, not a cash cow.  The extra effort will improve relationships throughout and will encourage that group to buy from the supplier that is aligned with them.  The site had a good user interface and I was able to track down the items I was looking for.  Then came check out time.  My cart had no checkout button.  You read that correctly, No Checkout Button!  After spending the time to find products, research the products, and select the best fit, I had hit a brick wall.  Not wanting to abandon the cart I called the customer service line.  After being transferred twice, I was told that there was an on site rep that could help me.  I called and got voicemail.  Two hours later I got a return call and the representative told me that the checkout feature was disabled because the client company had it’s own internal procedure for ordering.  I was guided to find this internal form and had to type the information, including cryptic manufacturer’s numbers, into a separate form.  Customizing is a great way to add to a relationship but it needs to improve the customers experience.  If it takes away at all, it’s counter productive because users become less likely to buy.

So let’s use the example above to paint a perfect world and grade this site’s performance. 

B – Visual Customization – They did some basic visual customization.  It certainly could have been more as I had to pay close attention to notice, but I’ll give an B just for the  effort.  Many companies never think to do this at all. 

A – Product and Description Availability – No problems finding products and descriptions, so they get an A here.  The grade point average will plummet from here. 

F – Shopping Cart Solution – No checkout button with no explanation as to why.  If a Z were possible that would be appropriate but since F is as low as it goes, F. 

F – Ease of Customer Service – Two transferred calls to a customer service people that couldn’t help and a two hour wait from the account representative.  Customer service was not easy to get nor prompt.

F – Ease of Buying – Filling out a form by hand to information that has already been submitted is the worst thing you can do.  You might as well place a disclaimer saying, “Your time is not valuable and we’d rather waste your time than put a decent solution in place.”

This sale would have been abandoned in almost every case that was not mandatory.  Since the client doesn’t require all technology product purchases to come from this company, I’d bet they have a high rate of abandonment.  Past 95% wouldn’t surprise me and this is a “preferred supplier” customized site.  People should fill this out 100% of the time, not 5%.

So what are the fixes?

First, integrate the shopping cart with whatever the client requires.  If they have a specific form that needs completed, either customize the cart to suit that need or allow the user to export the information and pre-populate the form with the data entered.  If that’s too much effort (realize that you will still be advertising that their time is worthless), at least put an explanation of why there is no checkout and a link to the form for users so they aren’t left wondering, “Where’s the darn checkout button?” 

Second, put the client’s sales rep number in the customer service section.  It at least eliminates being transferred to someone that only gives a different phone number.  If the sales rep is the knowledgeable person who can help with questions, that’s who customers should contact, not a middle man.

With those couple changes the whole experience is improved.  If the information automatically populates without hand typing information, this is at least a B+ experience.  As it stands now it’s a D- and leaves customers with a bad impression.

My best guess is that this site was thrown together to qualify as a “preferred supplier”.  The problem is that the employees still have options and with this solution they are likely to use another one.  “Preferred supplier” doesn’t mean “required supplier” so the effort to optimize the site still needs to be in place.  Even if it were a required supplier, the effort should still be spent because contracts run out and no one likes poor customer service.

In this case, the client probably demanded that the supplier use their form for employees to place orders.  The supplier probably agreed and never put forth the effort to streamline the process.  Worse yet they left it with a dead end.  Client demands are always important but that doesn’t mean they can’t be modified.  The added feature of a shopping cart that fulfills the function of the form without extra data entry is an added bonus to the company.  I’m sure they wouldn’t decline, it would only strengthen their sense that you want to be aligned with them.  Instead the end user is left struggling to make a purchase, and many times it won’t be worth the effort and will be abandoned. 

Customizing a site for a particular group or client can be a powerful way to improve a relationship.  That only happens when it is given the care and effort it seserves.  Like anything else, if you’re going to do it, do it right.  Customize the site and build an outstanding relationship, don’t detract from the relationship by taking shortcuts that undermines the users experience.

– Eric

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