Are You Being Served?

by Andy O’Brien, Creative Director,

Who Is Digital Serving – Brands Or Consumers?

Your homepage – it’s important isn’t it? So – fix it in your mind for a moment and feel proud… got it? No, not that one, your actual homepage; it’s predominantly white, has a six-letter four-colour logo, a search box and only 35 words. Or possibly even less than that: a letter ‘g’, a search box and a magnifying glass icon somewhere in the corner of the screen.

Your homepage is Google – the most visited page in the UK (representing 8.45% of all website pages visited in November 2009 according to Hitwise) – that’s where your users will start. Yes, they may well have bookmarked you, but to be honest, it’s easier to type your company’s name straight into a search box.

There’s No Place Like Home

So it may be a while before your user makes it to the homepage you were seeing in your mind’s eye, assuming they feel the need to get there at all. They may select a blog, a reseller’s site, a review site, a Facebook page, a Tweet… (more homepages).

So why do users choose to extend their knowledge and experience of your brand in so many other places? Independent opinions – sure, comparisons – yes, peer reviews – absolutely; in other words: help. Consumers expect service, they expect to be helped in their decision-making process and if you won’t give it to them, they’ll go elsewhere for it.

And yet so many websites simply don’t even consider customer service as part of their remit. According to research published by Zenith Optimedia, 95% of company executives say that customer experience is the next competitive battleground. Given that the web is where most people end up, it should be first on the list of considerations; it rarely is, and yet digital is where true customer service can make the strongest impression.

Lip Service

Monitoring social networks and the occasional intervention on a blog isn’t really customer service. Monitoring simply means that you can hear what your customers and potential customers are saying – but are you actually listening? This is digital flirting: people are attracted by the conversation but struggle to turn it into a meaningful relationship with a brand that won’t commit. A relationship has stakeholders on both sides, it isn’t a one-way thing.

Customer service is, indeed, the next competitive battleground and digital is, in fact, starting to make a difference: live chat facilities really do take the pressure off call centres and, more importantly, give users a seamless and fulfilling brand experience. And some sites offer personalisation allowing users to select the content they are offered and tailor their experience accordingly. It’s a start, and sites offering his type of interaction are streets ahead of their competitors.

Not providing digital customer service is akin to a high street shop blocking any interaction with the shop assistants and insisting that people phone in (from the shop) with their questions you’re your site behaving like that? Think about your strapline, your mission statement, your ethos… don’t just talk about it, be it. Use the social space to talk to your consumers and listen, and let them know you’re listening.

So, is this customer service, customer experience or marketing? Well, it’s all three, there’s no real distinction; digital has blurred the boundaries between so many traditionally separate areas – your users don’t see any difference, nor should you.