What are your challenges with… serving customers on corporate sites?

The final session of our annual conference in Lisbon three weeks ago was called ‘Talking tables’. These were breakout sessions in which delegates discussed some of their most pressing challenges as digital corporate communicators, facilitated by a Bowen Craggs consultant. Here, Jason Sumner, who facilitated the ‘challenges with serving customers on corporate sites’ table, reports on the issues shared and solutions identified.

Getting your colleagues to believe

Customers are not ‘supposed’ to visit corporate sites, yet they do, often in great numbers. According to anonymised data from the Bowen Craggs library of 400,000 corporate website visitor surveys, customers are the second-biggest visitor group – behind jobseekers – accounting for nearly a quarter of all visitors. When we run surveys of corporate digital communicators asking them to tell us their biggest challenges, ‘customers on corporate sites’ is consistently at the top or near the top of the list.

Your colleagues outside digital comms may still have trouble believing it though; partly because they need and want customers to be somewhere else – on the brand or retail site, or country site, or anywhere else actual sales happen; and definitely not on what is thought of primarily as a ‘communication’ platform.

Although some delegates at our table have moved beyond this stage, getting colleagues to acknowledge customers visit the corporate site is still an issue for others. One delegate put it this way: ‘we are still at the stage of convincing internally that customers are a group to be served on the corporate site‘. Of course, ‘serve’ can have many different meanings – all the way from actually closing a sale, to quickly routing a customer elsewhere, or showing them an interesting story about your company; but that is where the complexity comes in, and the need to tailor an approach that works for your company’s unique situation.

Complex challenges without simple solutions

Other challenges the table identified were wide-ranging, including recognising that customers come but there is nothing tangible on the site to ‘sell’; having different combinations of product and services available across countries, making it hard to explain on the global site; dealing with multiple sites, even at country level; lack of processes to pass on contacts and a poor working relationship with sales and marketing; multiple social media channels in different languages; lack of tie-in with back-end CRM systems, etc.

After a useful discussion, the table managed to reduce a long list of issues to five main challenges (apart from convincing colleagues that corporate websites should be addressing customers):

  • How to talk to customers when not selling something tangible
  • Dealing with the disparity of products and services across geographies
  • Understanding who our customers actually are
  • Managing the disconnect between the web and social media channels
  • Difficulties in organizing cross-functional teams

And six suggestions for improvement:

  • Serving customers more via social media channels
  • Conducting surveys to capture more data
  • Identifying customers and personalising content for them
  • Having better relationships between comms and marketing
  • Having more clarity and direction on user journeys
  • Acquiring more resources and skills for serving customers within web teams

Each approach opens up a Pandora’s Box of new challenges

The approaches identified above would certainly resonate the clients we consult with; but each one opens up another Pandora’s Box of challenges. For example, serving customers more on social media could be a good idea, but it raises new questions about content and governance: for example, which social channels are for customers, who owns them (and if multiple owners how can these teams best work together), and what do you want customers to do when they read a post?

Personalisation, as noted in bullet three above, is growing in interest again. We are sceptical about purely technical solutions, when good navigation and structure can go a long way to routing customers accurately (but that is a subject for another article).

Surveys, customer journeys (and best practice) are crucial

Surveys and user journeys are crucial, from our point of view. Surveys give you important data to help discover who your customer visitors are and what they want; but also to prove to others in the organization that customers are coming and something must be done with them. We find that in running surveys for clients, it is important to ask questions that have the right level of detail, so ‘customers’ groups can be further segmented into sub-groups. It is also important to measure whether customer goals are being fulfilled and whether their impression of the company is positive or negative. Movement in the ‘net promoter score’ – the difference between those with a positive versus negative impression of the company – can be powerful evidence to convince colleagues.

Along with surveys, mapping authentic customer journeys (which can be built from survey answers to develop detailed and accurate personas) is a way for our clients to cut through complexity to find big-picture problems as well as quick fixes. These should include all possible starting points for your customers, the corporate site, country sites and Google.

The big-picture insights can often be surprising. One client we worked with had the stated aim of doing next to nothing for customers on the main global site (fair enough) because all selling happens at country level. However, only a few minutes of testing revealed that there were big problems with signposting on the global site, and it was failing even in its one job – to get customers to country sites as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Conducting detailed journeys can also help you venture into areas rarely visited to make quick fixes – finding multiple 404 errors in links product finders; uncovering a useful but largely hidden Ukrainian history section; or discovering product literature five years out of date on the France site (all real-world examples we have come across).

Adding research on best practice in the industry and wider online world can inspire improvements, and also help convince colleagues if the service on your site falls short.

Two other solutions our table raised have to do with internal politics – having better relationships with marketing, and acquiring more resources. These are certainly not quick wins, but arming yourself with data from surveys, and evidence from customer journeys and wider best practice will put the digital comms team in a stronger, more useful – and respected – position within the organization.

- Jason Sumner

Register for the ‘Best of WEC 2018’ web meeting on September 26th, 2018

Were you unable to join us at our Web Effectiveness Conference in Lisbon last week? Did you attend and are keen to share the learnings with your team after the event? Join our web meeting and relive the Best of WEC 2018.

To register, visit our events page (and scroll down to September events)

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.