The Power of Internet Feedback – Business Essay
Internet feedback is the new wave as far as getting feedback from customers, “A company can’t create advocates without a true understanding of customer preferences. Not surprisingly, much of the innovation
and groundbreaking techniques for “listening” to customers is coming from the Web world (Griffin.)”
This is why Internet feedback is one of the most useful and resourceful tools a business or institution can have at its fingertips today.
II. Literature Review and Findings
The literature I found to be most relevant to the type of information that I deemed most important covered a websites ability to satisfy a customer having specific feedback goals from the website. In an essay written by Jakob Nielsen and Marie Tahir called, Design Usability:
Keep Your Users In Mind Incorporating Feedback at Several Stages into an Ongoing Design Process Will Help a Site to Thrive. In this article the authors describe how the Web, like nothing else, has taught people how easy it is to walk away from a poorly designed product. The truth with the person who could easily and swiftly go to your website they can leave just as fast. A person who has invested the time to drive to a mall might be willing to suffer through a long checkout process much more readily than a Web customer, who can just as easily click over to the competition. And Web customers don’t have the same incentive of time invested to keep them faithful to a Web application or Web service as they do with software. Up-front investment in a software package is a tremendous motivator to get users to learn and stick with a product they’ve paid for. On the Web, the onus is off the user to make it work and on the Web site to get users to stay.
Usability and the notion of simplicity keep users on Web sites. Websites that are easy to use and respond to customers needs end up being the most successful. In an essay on response times by Jakob Nielsen and Marie Tahir they mention a study, which states three important time limits (Miller 1968; Card et.al 1991.) These limits are:
0.1 second is about the limit for having the user feel that the system is reacting instantaneously, meaning that no special feedback is necessary except to display the result.
1.0 second is about the limit for the user’s flow of thought to stay uninterrupted, even though the user will notice the delay. Normally, no special feedback is necessary during delays of more than 0.1 but less than 1.0 second, but the user does lose the feeling of operating directly on the data.
10 seconds is about the limit for keeping the user’s attention focused on the dialogue. For longer delays, users will want to perform other tasks while waiting for the computer to finish, so they should be given feedback indicating when the computer expects to be done. Feedback during the delay is especially important if the response time is likely to be highly variable, since users will then not know what to expect.
In cases where the computer cannot provide fairly immediate response, continuous feedback should be provided to the user in form of a percent-done indicator [Myers 1985]. As a rule of thumb, percent-done progress indicators should be used for operations taking more than about 10 seconds. Progress indicators have three main advantages: They reassure the user that the system has not crashed but is working on his or her problem; they indicate approximately how long the user can be expected to wait, thus allowing the user to do other activities during long waits; and they finally provide something for the user to look at, thus making the wait less painful. This latter advantage should not be underestimated and is one reason for recommending a graphic progress bar instead of just stating the expected remaining time in numbers.
Although this type of feedback deals with the response time of a website to keep a customers interest I think it leads into the important questions like how long it takes the average person to view, navigate and respond to your website.
Others dealt with the wide range audience the Internet has provided businesses with. Finding new clients and new client bases is not always an easy task. The Internet is a ready base of several million people from all walks of life. One can easily find new customers and clients from this massive group, provided that your presence on the Internet is known. In a study conducted it was found that the usability of twenty E-commerce sites: ten of the world’s highest-grossing sites and ten other sites that sell the same kinds of products, but have substantially smaller revenues. The ten high-selling sites complied with 40% of our usability guidelines for search whereas the ten less-selling sites only scored 27%. Even the best sites on the Web are far from having perfect search, but it is still remarkable to note the difference in search quality between sites that sell well and sites that sell poorly. Of course, rule #1 of E-commerce is: if the user cannot find the product, then the user cannot buy the product. To read more about this study you can visit the site at http://www.nngroup.com/reports/ecommerce.
Another study I read dealt with the idea that awesome customer service is the best niche. “The principles and guidelines for great customer service are timeless. Someone can easily replicate your product, price and location. Customer service is too hard to copy. Make that your niche Leichtling.)” Because of customer service people become more loyal to a brand or service. If there is a problem with something they bought from your company and it is resolved in a timely manner and at the same time with courtesy. I myself base many of my purchasing decisions on my past experiences and if I get good service I will use that product again… if not I am sure I could find a brand that would rather me be their customer.
There were also articles that dealt with actual advertising, public relations, and marketing available through the Internet. These articles stressed the stage of relative infancy of the Internet to web advertising, public relations, and marketing and introduced the idea of interactive marketing on the Internet. “From the marketers’ point of view, interactivity, is the convergence of three main advertising functions or activities: direct marketing, sales promotion and conventional above the line advertising… Interactivity allows the opportunity to track individual customers once at a time and to build individual relationships with each customer (Steyn 1996.)”
Public Relations online are very important to the clients being able to give useful information back to the business. A well developed website would have upcoming products or events that have to deal with your company. If posted in advance there will always be somebody with a comment, good or bad. But by getting that comment a business could add something insignificant to some but the difference in a consumer’s choice.
We also need to examine the effects of feedback in relation to an integrated marketing communication program. First we need to define what an Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) program does. According to sources I have read I feel the best definition for IMC is the process of developing and implementing various forms of persuasive communications programs with customers and prospects over time. The goal of IMC is to influence or directly affect the behavior of the selected communications audience. IMC considers all sources of brand or company contacts which a customer or prospect has with the product or service as a potential delivery channels for future messages. Further, IMC makes use of all forms of communications which are relevant to the customer and prospect, and to which they might be receptive. In, sum the IMC process starts with the customer or prospect and then works back to determine and define the forms and methods through which persuasive communications programs should be developed (Shimp 17). The use of Internet feedback plays right into the hand of an IMC program. “Customer information will be gathered around the clock, analyzed instantaneously and acted upon. In effect, for most manufacturers and service companies, it will be the first time that feedback can be turned into new instructions, overnight or the same day, for how one operates on the factory floor, in a service center or out in the field (Steinert-Threlkeld.)”
Another useful study that showed the importance of feedback to college students is a study that has been being conducted at the University of Houston System at Fort Bend. In the study one of the top administrators Sharon Baca has created an online site where, students logging into the Web site for the University of Houston System at Fort Bend are greeted by a photograph of Clara, the smiling virtual administrator whose job “is to listen and take care of you, our students, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.” Students are invited to tell Clara their opinions, discuss problems, make suggestions, or praise someone. “The five-month-old experiment in communication has been remarkably successful,” Ms. Baca says, “especially for gathering information from students that can be used to plan class schedules. Students have requested that specific courses be offered, and have even listed the times their work schedules permit them to take certain courses.” This idea of using the web to get feedback from college students I feel will become very popular.
There are other types of Internet feedback that are important to businesses such as online surveys and focus groups. As of right now the response rate on online surveys surpass those of direct mail and telephone. The business world should utilize the online services available to them before the so-called “novelty” of the Internet wears off.
Internet feedback also is needed to produce the most affluent website available for your product. One way of doing this is by using site visits to help you identify and prioritize the tasks users are trying to accomplish. Watching users work through these tasks not only deepens your understanding of the users’ goals but also helps you to identify the obstacles and difficulties inherent in their current way of working. This type of information helps represent opportunities to improve the current solution. And, not only do you get to see the users’ entire approach to solving a problem, you also get to see how the users’ surroundings affect their work or their private life. Site visits also help you to identify problems you didn’t know needed solving. Without customer input and data from observations of users at work, it’s easy to create laundry lists of user problems and feel like you have to solve all of them. The problem is that these lists are often based on your company’s preconceived understanding of what the problems are, and so can’t tell you what you don’t know about your users.
Another factor that site visits bring to the table is that they account for the human side of a trend, not only statistics. This way you can create a customer profile for your consumer. This is an important part of Internet feedback because you are not going by what people say they do but what they are actually doing, giving you stronger statistics with less room for error. Listening to users can be misleading according to Nielsen and Tahir. “For example, we recently completed a major competitive study of a group of B2B sites selling certain complicated equipment. For good measure, we asked users to state their opinions; the subjective ratings came out very high for one vendor that has a particularly good name in the market. Sure enough, another vendor, who is known as a low-quality provider in the real world, got low scores. But when we looked at what users actually did on the sites, they were much more successful shopping on the site from the vendor they didn’t like. The site from the popular vendor provided very poor support for the shopping process. Thus, a company that wanted to start a new B2B site in the same space would be better off emulating the features offered by the unpopular company and avoiding the mistakes made by the popular company. Relying purely on user opinions in this case would result in a site where shopping was difficult. A popular company might survive a difficult site; a new company would be dead on arrival.”
There are many ways in which we can use the Internet as a form of feedback. Even such things as chat rooms can be used as feedback as long as it is structured the right way. The Internet is vastly growing and will present us with more options everyday. As shown above the ability to satisfy a customer is the so important to a business and by having a website you will first be able to satisfy customers with specific goals. But this can only be done by having a website that is usable and simple because it keeps users using your products and on your web page. Now that you are on the Internet you will have a wide range audience that only the Internet can provide businesses with. Then you need to make sure you are not making the same mistakes others have made on their sites, or that you have the optimal website for your business’s goods or services. Now that you have Internet access, advertising, public relations, and marketing become more available at a cheaper price. And by having awesome customer service as your niche, you will sure to secure yourself loyal customers who will in return help you out on things like online surveys and focus groups.
But one of the most overlooked ways I found to be was the importance of feedback to college students. With so many colleges beginning to do online classes and other related material, such as, online registration. There are always going to be worthwhile suggestions by students, which can either prove to be right or wrong that colleges need to at least look at. For instance, if WVU were to offer a list of bands that they could bring to Fall Fest they could best represent the student’s interests by sending out email surveys and those who reply will be rewarded and the school would be rewarded. The students would be more likely to attend Fall Fest and the school would be able to gain knowledge about the likes and dislikes of the students.
Sources Cited and Consulted:
Special Report: Design Usability Keep Your Users In Mind
Incorporating Feedback at Several Stages into an Ongoing Design Process Will Help a Site to Thrive by Jakob Nielsen and Marie Tahir.
Collecting Feedback About Your Website’s Search Interface. By Jakob Nielsen and Marie Tahir. http://webreference.com/new/searchinter.html
Web can help you ‘hear’ comments from clients. By: Griffin, Jill; Austin Business Journal, 04/28/2000, Vol. 20 Issue 7, p24, 1/3p, 1bw
Online. Chronicle of Higher Education, 03/17/2000, Vol. 46 Issue 28, pA45, 1/4p
Customer service still makes the difference. By: Leichtling, Ben; Denver Business Journal, 02/11/2000, Vol. 51 Issue 26, p43A, 1/2p
`Knock your socks off’ service requires customer feedback. By: Basile, Frank; Indianapolis Business Journal, 3/13/95, Vol. 15 Issue 51, p43, 2p, 1bw