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The car industry just doesn’t get it.

May 26, 2015

jessonline

state of the car industry online

The car industry hasn’t progressed much online in the past 10 years. In the web-centric universe we live in, there’s a surprisingly high level of disfunction and disconnect in how car dealerships deal with web shoppers.

In a recent car search, I found that dealers treat online inquiries as an exception- the kind of exception that gets lost in the shuffle- with a generic, templated email response that doesn’t answer or acknowledge a very specific request, with follow ups  from the general manager saying, “by now, I hope you’ve received the information you’ve requested, and here’s why you should shop at our world-class dealership” (when no info has been sent), and an almost complete inability to get specific questions answered via online or email.

They haven’t figured out how to accommodate the way shoppers want to interact. They’re sharing info with sites like Edmunds, but they’re not able to follow through on requests for information. They desperately need to. It would be so much easier for them to sell cars. And we’d all feel so much better about the experience.

I know I’ll do just about anything to avoid the painful haggling and eviscerating experience of negotiating to buy a car in the dealership. In fact, I won’t even step foot in a dealership without knowing exactly what their prices are & negotiating my deal in advance. By the time I go in to test drive and buy- I already know what I will pay, and who I’ll buy the car from.

Cars.com and Edmunds.com make it relatively easy to research pricing, availability and dealerships within a user-defined area. You can then select the dealers you want quotes from, and can add specific text to specify what you want. The process breaks down at the national and local dealer level. The generic form letters begin. Here’s an example, missing image and all:

You can see how helpful this was. My inquiry was for a specific make and model with specific lease terms and questions about availability. I got an ad for Mazda.

On a national dealer site, there was a click-to-chat window, branded with a specific person’s name who was ready to help me right now. When I clicked it…I got an error message that ‘ended’ the conversation.

The conversations went equally well on the phone. Here, I was a directed shopper- ready to buy. Most dealerships I contacted lost the sale by losing track of the conversation- they all had an ‘internet specialist’, who typically returned the call a day or two later, when I’d already heard from someone else, or pursued and received the info I needed. It’s disappointing that it had to be so hard. On the flip side, It’s an amazing opportunity for dealerships to transform the business model and make this a stellar experience. They’d stand out.

In the end- one dealer stood out- they had what I wanted, and they didn’t waste my time. I wasn’t able to do it fully online- it did take a few calls. But the online screening did finally get me to the right dealer, the right price, and the right car. Painfully.

The point of all of this is- when it comes to having an online presence- don’t do it if you’re not going to do it right.  A website is not a set it and forget it. It’s a living, breathing thing- and it will break if you don’t nurture it. You have to be all in. In this case, it looks like the car industry set it about 10 years ago, and hasn’t dealt with it since.

Does the scroll still matter?

May 22, 2015

jessonline

Does having content above the scroll matter anymore? We know that consumers will scroll to see what’s on the page when they’re shopping. But where should we draw the line when it comes to content? What standards should we be following?

Taking a look at a few popular content sites, it seems many publications value highlighting something visually compelling vs. the actual story that consumers are linking to. When a customer is linking from a headline to see a story, should we make them scroll to see what the ‘story’ is about? To even see the headline to confirm they’ve landed where they intended?

Above is the Fast Company homepage- and below, a landing page for a story. Would a consumer landing here have any idea what the lead story is going to be about? Have they given us any incentive to scroll? The key factor to consider when designing landing pages is to provide at minimum:

1. A visual confirmation that I’m landing where I’ve intended.

2. Enough content above the scroll to generate the consumer’s interest and curiosity to keep going.

Interestingly, Fast Company’s mobile experience is much better- I can see the headline above the scroll. This is perfect.

Let’s take a look at TechCrunch. In this case, we have an image that relates specifically to the story (vs. Fast Co’s more esoteric images), and 2+ story leads above the scroll. This may be less dramatic visually- but it gets me to the stories.

Below is the landing page for a specific story on TechCrunch. I can’t see the story, but I do, at least get the headline I clicked on, to validate I’m in the right place.

The key consideration is: what are you trying to do? What do you want the consumer to do when they land on the page? What do you want people to remember you for? If it is about the story, Tech Crunch is doing a better job here. I can at least see the headline that enticed me in the first place.

Fast Company, in designing for online, is making the decision (whether intentional or not), that the photography is the most important thing they want consumers to see. As a consumer, it makes me nuts that I can’t see the story- or even the headline, above the scroll. Not on my laptop, nor my 22″ monitor- though the experience on the iPhone is much better. As a consumer, I like having a meaningful image, but find it irritating when I’ve clicked on a link from Facebook or Linkedin to land on a page where that’s all I see. I clicked because I was interested in the story.

Just give me the story.

Great customer service: an oxymoron?

April 24, 2015

jessonline

Is your customer service an oxymoron? Is it geared towards helping your customers, or avoiding them? Here’s what great customer experience looks like to me:

1. Customer calls company “A” and wants to speak to a customer service agent.

2. Customer is able reach a human agent within 30-60 seconds (and without a gauntlet of CG voice options and having to punch in excessive numbers). 

3. Agent actually has the information the customer has punched in (account number, issue type, etc) and greets customer by name.

4. Agent resolves problem fairly and quickly, and life is good.

This seems like a very simple interaction. But recently, when I had one like this, I found myself overflowing with gratitude. I steel myself for these calls- expecting the worst, because I’ve been conditioned to expect the worst, through endless frustrating calls that went more like this:

 1. Customer calls company- get electronic message asking customer to select one of 5 choices. Customer doesn’t want any of these choices- customer wants to talk to a human.

2. Electronic voice says that she understands that I’d like to speak to an agent, but to help, she’ll need the following information entered.

3. Customer enters information, gets a new menu of options. None apply. Customer wants a human. Customer presses “0”. Machine says “this is not a valid response”. Customer says, “I WANT A HUMAN”. Machine says, “that is not a valid response. To repeat the menu, press 1.” Menu repeats. There’s no option for a human.

4. Customer implodes.

5. Customer starts over, process begins anew. Eventually reaches human. By this time, customer is hostile, frustrated and exhausted. Agent asks for all of the same account information customer has already entered.

6. Customer implodes.

You get the idea.

It shouldn’t have to be like this.

I really wonder how much actual revenue it costs companies in the long term- do companies actually quantify the time wasted dealing with hostile customers, and look at how that could be prevented? What’s the lost revenue by attrition when the customer decides not to deal with them anymore? If they really did the math, they would see that it’s much less expensive in the long run to provide good, or even great service. Think retention, appreciation, brand loyalty. That’s revenue. Many retailers get it. Especially online retailers. And granted, that process is simpler- and faster. But when it comes to customer support for longer term products like computers, or printers, health insurance or banks- not so much.

Why do CEO’s allow this kind of experience to persist?

Almost certainly because they don’t experience it for themselves. This is the advice I’d give- and it’s same advice I give top leaders and CEO’s for their websites: experience it for yourself. Frequently.

Give yourself a scenario (my product arrived damaged, never arrived, stopped working, or I’m calling to understand why my claim was denied, and so on). Call your own Customer Service number and see you how feel when you’re done. And then ask yourself, “Is our customer service an oxymoron?” Answer the question.

You’ll know what you need to do.

Give me the text

April 18, 2015

jessonline

There is such a thing as overdoing your video content. When there’s a message I could just as easily (or more easily) scan via text- just give me the text. I can’t even count how many times I’ve clicked on an interesting link from Facebook, Linkedin or news media sites only to find that it’s a video link, and I can’t get to the content of the message unless I’m willing to wait through the ad, then sit through the video.

Video has it’s place- for entertainment, or education. But for news or content, give me text. I don’t want to have to go through it at a video’s pace- I want to see what it’s about and quickly move on.

What’s the best practice?

First, your link or image should clearly show that it’s a video- or you’re misleading me.

Second- provide the text transcript as an option.

Let the user have control over the experience.

Google’s big move on mobile

April 18, 2015

jessonline

Starting April 21, retailers are going to see a major change in their Google rankings. Some are calling it “Mobilegeddon”. A bit dramatic, but the drama isn’t entirely unfounded. If your site is not mobile friendly, you’ll get punished in the rankings. And it’s not just about having a mobile site anymore- it’s about having truly mobile friendly pages, where you can read the text and navigate & transact without zooming in. This has been a long time coming.

The new Google algorithm "Mobilegeddon" or "shopper heaven?"

The new Google algorithm “Mobilegeddon” or “shopper heaven?”

Mobile has been heading towards this tipping point for years. Google says they’re just responding to the data: more people are shopping with mobile devices than ever before. Over half of the shoppers interacting with retailers are now doing it on their tablets or phones- for research, browsing and transacting. Google says they want to be able to deliver results that will be more relevant.

What this means for sites that aren’t yet responsive or mobile friendly is that organic traffic could take a significant dive- as Google sinks them in the rankings.

Is this going to make it better for shoppers? Or just harder for shoppers to find the sites they want? Time will tell.  Larry Dignan, Editor In Chief of Zdnet, says that this move could have major blowback for Google, in his post:

Google’s mobile friendly algorithm change on deck: The case for blowback

Dignan makes the case that if businesses are not mobile ready, Google’s results may not be as relevant to the shopper, and could backfire on Google as the search results become less compelling, or simply- not what the customer wants.

Time will tell. “Mobilegeddon” or not, you’ll want to take a look at how Google sees your site. Take the Mobile Friendly test on Google to see how your site shapes up.

Mobile Friendly Test

Whether Google sticks with the new algorithm or not, you’ll want to get working on a responsive site. It’s how your customers are shopping now, and ultimately it will serve them- and you, much better.

Amazon’s New “Exclusives” Shop Showcases Up-And-Coming Brands And “Shark Tank” Products

March 11, 2015

jessonline

Featured Image -- 962

jessonline:

Interesting to see Amazon getting in on the Etsy/Quirky/kickstarter creative, individualist, inventor scene. It’s good to see the increased opportunity for entrepreneurs to get the exposure.

Originally posted on TechCrunch:

Amazon this morning rolled out a new store called Amazon Exclusives which will introduce “up-and-coming” brands and other new inventions across a variety of categories, including products that have been previously featured on the TV show Shark Tank. The idea here is that Amazon wants to capitalize on the attention these new products receive when they hit the market (or the TV airwaves), and then give the online retailer a piece of the action.

The name “Exclusives” refers to the fact that outside of being sold on the creators’ own websites or in their own physical stores, the only other destination where you’ll be able to buy these items is on Amazon.

Some of the products are kind of odd but interesting – like the Zackees LED Turn Signal Gloves that allow cyclists to communicate with others on the road, or the customized Mary Jane shoes with tie dye designs. From

View original 160 more words

Trust, but verify

March 8, 2015

jessonline

Googling. How great it is that we can find a recipe, resolve a difference of opinion, or learn the meaning of a word- in two seconds online. It’s immediate gratification. Love it.

But of course, just because it’s out there doesn’t mean it’s true.  I recently tried to find the source for a Wordsworth quote I liked on Pinterest: “To Begin, begin”. It was all over Pinterest, all over Google and Yahoo answers- in chat rooms, images, and inspirational quote sites.

to begin, begin

I thought it was a wonderfully simple philosophy to get past the blocked feeling we sometimes get when embarking on a difficult or challenging project. I was going to start a post with it, but first- I looked for the source. No google reference I found could identify one. I found a poetry site with all of his works, and got a ‘not found’ result when I searched the text. So I asked a professor- a Wordsworth expert, who said not only does it not sound like him- there’s no reference she knew of that he ever said it.

So could he have said it? Who knows. I’m not going to quote if I can’t verify it. Maybe someone distilled something he said down to that- and it became attributed to him over time.  It was a small thing, but surprising. A good reminder that in all things, we should know our sources before we take action on information. Trust- but verify.

Spotless

February 25, 2015

jessonline

If it’s chaotic and messy- no one will focus on the product. They’ll focus on the messy.

Recently I had some work done in my home, and every day, I knew the contractor was finishing up when I heard the vacuum cleaner running. Every day, I’d go inspect the progress, and the area would be spotless. The result was that the focus was always on the work that had been done- the progress made.

It was remarkable.

Partly because it exceeded my expectations, but mostly because the daily clean-up meant I could see and get excited about the product, instead of focusing on the mess of a work in progress. When the opposite holds true- a mess left behind, dust all over everything, debris scattered about- we can’t help but focus on the debris, and that shapes our opinion about the quality of the work.

This is a good way to think about our work- any work, whether it’s customer facing or internal business. If it’s chaotic and messy- no one will focus on the product. They’ll focus on the messy. If there’s too much information or it’s not clearly organized, it won’t be abundantly clear what your message is, or what you want people to DO with it.

This holds true whether you’re planning a website page, a presentation, or a company communication. Edit vigorously. Keep it clean.

If you want to be heard, do the hard work to make it simple.

What story do you want to tell?

February 3, 2015

jessonline

Campaigns are tricky.

People don’t remember your intentions, or your mission. They remember what you said. And how you said it. Communicating what you mean to communicate- telling the story you want to tell, is what matters. Making it powerful. Making it resonate. Retailers use shock value to create a memorable message. But what about when it’s the wrong message?

Nationwide’s Super Bowl commercial is a good example of good intentions gone awry. The “Make Safe Happen” campaign is a great idea. An honorable mission: to raise awareness and reduce the occurrence of ‘preventable accidents’, which are the #1 leading cause of death for children.  But the story they told was awful. Dark. Shockingly grim. They took what could have been an opportunity for hope, inspiration- and tear jerking happiness (think the Budweiser puppy getting saved by the Clydesdales), and they killed the kid.

You can see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKUy-tfrIHY

A good idea- with a bad message. Because in the story they tell, the kid dies. Not inspiring. Not hopeful. Not warm & fuzzy. It ruins the story. They WANT to tell us that preventable accidents are just that- preventable. And together, we can save so many lives. But that’s not the story they told.  The story they told is that if we’re careless, kids die. See what they did there?

In interviews, Nationwide says they were surprised by the level of negative feedback they got- but they meant to be shocking. They wanted to raise awareness for this important issue- not sell insurance (read the interview in the WSL’s CMO Today section, by Nathalie Tadena). From the article:

Nationwide was mentioned more than 238,000 times on social media but only 12% of those conversations were positive, according to data from Amobee Brand Intelligence.

“The intention of the ad was actually not to sell insurance,” Mr. Jauchius said. “It was to raise awareness of a cause that we’ve been championing for decades at Nationwide, which is to keep kids safe from preventable accidental injuries.”

Ok, then. That’s not what we all heard. We heard- the kid dies.

Why did they take that dismal path?  This just makes me, as a viewer, angry, upset and bitter about Nationwide (me and thousands of others in the universe). Why couldn’t they turn that message around and show how working together to prevent these accidents could save thousands of lives, and show how because of our efforts together, this boy lives to achieve his dreams- because at the critical moment- his mom ignored the phone call and stayed with him in the bathtub instead…? Why not turn it around? Let the boy live. Let us cry and choke up with happiness instead of grief.

Let’s take a look at a retailer that took the opposite path. The most inspiring commercial from the Super Bowl was the #likeagirl campaign, from Always.

You can see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3GpXgFwWmk

This, like Nationwide, is a commercial with a message that isn’t about selling a product. Like Nationwide, the product doesn’t make an appearance until the final moment- isn’t even relevant to the story. But after watching it- I want to support the product. Why? Because it’s inspirational. It made me feel good. It’s about empowering children. Empowering our girls. Taking a persistent slur, ‘like a girl’, and turning it around into something GREAT. It’s not the first time this has been used this way- ‘fight like a girl’ has been used to support Breast cancer research. Why? Because it works. It gives us power. It doesn’t threaten to kill our children if we’re dumb.

Thinking about powerful messages in advertising, it’s the ones that give us something that make a lasting impression. Power. Hope. Inspiration.

Which story would you want to tell?

Deliver on it.

August 4, 2014

jessonline

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? If you add functionality to your site, you have to know what the customer expectation will be- and deliver on it. Getting it ALMOST right is the same as getting it wrong.

Here’s an example: one day, I was shopping on one of my favorite flash-sale sites- amazing brands and products at unusually great deals. What’s not to love? But there are so many items, and I have limited time and patience. That’s why I was so glad to see a refine-by-size feature that allows me to sort by just the product that would work for me- good! That’s a best practice, especially for a sale in which quantities are limited.

navigation & refinements

Refine by size feature- a best practice.

 

The rub? When the refine-by-size feature doesn’t deliver real-time information, it’s worse than having no refinements at all- because you’ve set my expectations for a personalized result, but then let me down on the delivery. Advice? Turn the refinements off until you can get it right. It’s not a value-add if it’s only right sometimes (like a faulty clock: it’s right at LEAST twice a day…).

refine by size & navigation

Refine by size gone bad

I realize there are reasons these things happen- someone made a business decision based on a technical limitation or a tradeoff on site speed vs. accuracy…there are always drivers for things like this. But the bottom line is the customer experience you deliver. If you make a promise (showing a refinement by size)- then you have to deliver on it well or there’s no point. A bad experience actually detracts  from the perception of your brand (they don’t deliver!). Customers will bail on your site a lot faster when frustrated with the functionality.

This is just one tiny example of the many decisions brands make every day that impact customer experience. Make sure you understand the impact when you make the business decision. If it’s not worth doing right- it may not be worth doing at all.

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