There has been much discussion and comment recently about the quality of online customer experiences. Even small companies, run by specialists in their chosen field, need to provide a good online experience if they are to capture a share of the rapidly growing online spend. 

Here’s my novice’s guide to improving the quality of your online experience… 

1. Make it quick
Research conducted for web hosting specialists Rackspace suggests that running a faster website is the most popular improvement people would like to see on internet sites.

Flashy websites that take an age to load might look good for design awards but don’t work well for busy customers that want to complete their task and move on. You might keep costs down by going for a cheap and cheerful solution but you just might be losing more in revenues than you save.

2. Make it easy
A big bucket admittedly. In the research referenced above, 83% of respondents reported ease of navigation as being the most important factor in their ‘ideal’ website, way ahead of functionality at 49%. 

A simple structure that is consistent across the site, clear text with professional graphics and accurate and up to date information are essential. 

The survey found that 80% rated a clean and simple overall design as their most desirable design factor with only 6% wanting innovative use of flash and multimedia options. 

If you’re a shopping site, make it easy for customers to checkout – millions of pounds worth of sales are lost due to overly complex checkout facilities.

Tools to remember billing and delivery details can simplify the process and increase conversion to revenue. 

And remember, the experience continues beyond checkout. Delivery tools, pioneered by logistics companies such as TNT and DHL, enable customers to track when they will receive their shiny new widgets.

Don’t be afraid to point out how users can get more out of your service. CRM provider provides users with a periodic report showing which facilities they are and are not using. 

The more they use your site, the less likely they are to defect.

3. Ask the customer

The only real experts are the customers themselves. Gathering feedback from them is essential to ensure that you are continuing to deliver a great experience.

Experience is an all embracing concept and testing all its different facets needs a carefully thought out approach.

Remember that experience often spans several delivery and support channels. Make sure you can bring all the data for a group of customers together to see the big picture. 

And don’t be seduced into believing that you only need one number. Net Promoter might be a good scoreboard but it doesn’t show you what customers think about your different strategies and tactics.

4. Get your customers involved
OK, there’s a lot of hype about Web 2.0 and the technologies that surround it but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. #

While most of your website visitors won’t participate (some suggest as high as 90%) others most definitely will.

They will willingly post reviews, provide comments to help other users and make suggestions about how you can do things differently. 

These users are often high volume users and certainly have some engagement with you so give them the opportunity to get involved. 

An increasing number of companies are using moderated wiki technology to let customers build help and guidance. 

Others, like E-consultancy, put forums and discussion boards at the heart of what they do.

Once it’s up and running, don’t forget to invest the time to participate and reply to comments where applicable. With an increasing number of free solutions, like Google Groups, these are easy to set up.

5. Improve your search

You know it’s there somewhere! You’re sure it’s there! But you can’t find it. Search is an important element of navigation, a factor that is high on the list of desirable website features.

If you are selling over the web, it may be worth investing in more sophisticated search capabilities such as Celebros Qwiser Salesperson

Remember, customers almost always have a choice and if you don’t make it easy for them to find what they want, they will probably go elsewhere – never to return!

6. Employ a usability expert

If all this seems to be too much, and designing a website that is easy to use is an increasingly complex task, turn to the experts. 

Usability consultancies are experts in testing sites to ensure they deliver a good experience. 

Usability also has to address the needs of disabled users. While this is a legal requirement under the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act, it can also have a significant impact on your financial success. 

The UK’s 10m disabled people represent a market worth £80bn per annum. Check out E-consultancy’s list of usability experts. But don’t forget that the real experts are your customers. 

If you can’t afford an expert, don’t be afraid of asking a sample of your customers to try out new ideas and approaches on your site before releasing them to the world.

The web provides anyone with the ability to take on the big boys – and many have, with success. But large or small, if you look amateurish, you are amateurish. Loyal customers are a great asset and you only get them by understanding what they want from your online experience and consistently delivering it.

David Jackson is the MD of