Online Customer Experience Pyramid

Online customer experience

The combination of rational and emotional factors of using a company's online services that influences customers' perceptions of a brand online.

Developing the capability to create and maintain an effective online presence through a web site is a key part of Internet marketing. 'Effective' means that the web site and related communications must deliver relevance to its audience, whether this be through news content for a portal, product and service information for a business-to-business site or relevant products and offers for an e-commerce site. At the same time, 'effective' means the web site must deliver results for the company.

However, delivering relevant content for the audience is only part of the story. Interacting with web content is not a static experience, it is an interactive experience. So Internet marketers also have to work hard to develop consumer trust and deliver a great experience for their audience. In their book Managing the Customer Experience, Shaun Smith and Joe Wheeler (2002) suggest that companies should ask afresh 'what experience must we provide to meet the needs and expectations of customers'. They note that some companies use online channels to replicate existing services, whereas others have extended the experience online. In Chapter 5, in the section on the contribution of branding as part of the Product element of the mix, we explained how it is important to provide a promise of what the online representation of the brand will deliver to customers. The concept of online brand promise is closely related to that of delivering online customer experience. In this chapter, we will explore different practical actions that companies can take to create and maintain satisfactory online experiences. An indication of the effort required to produce a customer-centric online presence is given by Alison Lancaster, head of marketing and catalogues at John Lewis Direct, who says:

A good site should always begin with the user. Understand who the customer is, how they use the channel to shop, and understand how the marketplace works in that category. This includes understanding who your competitors are and how they operate online. You need continuous research, feedback and usability testing to continue to monitor and evolve the customer experience online. Customers want convenience and ease of ordering. They want a site that is quick to download, well-structured and easy to navigate.

You can see that creating effective online experiences is a challenge since there are many practical issues to consider which we present in Figure 7.1. This is based on a diagram by de Chernatony (2001) who suggested that delivering the online experience promised by a brand requires delivering rational values, emotional values and promised experience (based on rational and emotional values). The diagram also highlights the importance of delivering service quality online, as has been indicated by Trocchia and Janda (2003).

The factors that influence the online customer experience can be presented in a pyramid form of success factors as is shown in Figure 7.1 (the different success factors reflect current best-practice and differ from those of de Chernatony). The diagram incorporates many of the factors that are relevant for a transactional e-retail site, but you can see that many of the rational and emotional values are important to any web site. Some of the terms such as 'usability' and 'accessibility' (which are delivered through an effective web site design) you may not be familiar with, but these will all be explained later in this chapter.

In the figure these factors are all associated with using the web site, but the online customer experience extends beyond this, and Internet marketing should also consider these issues:

• Ease of locating the site through search engines (Chapter 8);

• Services provided by partners online on other web sites;

• Quality of outbound communications such as e-newsletters;

• Quality of processing inbound e-mail communications from customers;

• Integration with offline communications.

Product

Price/ Promotions

Price/ Promotions

Range

Range

Design

Visual Design

Style Tone

Ease of use

Usability

Usability

Accessibility and standards

Accessibility and standards

Interactivity

Customer journey fit

Customer journey fit

Flow and data entry

Flow and data entry

Relevance

Content and search

Content and search

Customisation

Service

Fulfilment

Fulfilment

Support

Support

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Reassurance

Trust

Trust

Credibility

Credibility

Customisation

Performance

Speed

Availability

Speed

Availability

Figure 7.1 The online customer experience pyramid - success factors

We start the chapter by considering how we create the web site to deliver appropriate rational and emotional values since web site design is a core part of creating the online customer experience. We also look at the stages in managing a project to improve the customer experience. Our coverage on web site design is integrated with consideration of researching online buyer behaviour since an appropriate experience can only be delivered if it is consistent with customer behaviour, needs and wants. We then go on to review delivery of service quality online. This includes aspects such as speed and availability of the site itself which support the rational values and also fulfilment and support which are a core part of the promised experience.

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