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The Six Steps – Step 2: Needs Assessment

Commerce site: How much money are you leaving on the table?

Content site: How many minutes does a customer stay on your site?

These articles outline the six steps that are the components pivoting you towards being able to achieve ultimate success for content or commerce driven websites and other channels of engagement:

• Executive engagement (discussed in former series piece)
• Needs Assessment/Analytics and the Science of ROI
• IT
• Marketing
• Operational Execution/Employee Engagement
• Customer Care and Centricity.

In the last article, we discussed Executive Engagement as the first mandatory step in working towards having successful and ROI positive multi- channel content or commerce sites and their ultimate integration. In this piece, we will be focusing on Step 2 – Needs Assessment, which uncovers what is under the covers of your existing business. This step needs to be taken prior to making any decisions about planning and deploying solutions. Now that we have a clear vision from the executive team which aligns and can alert the analytics team properly, you can begin to research the “as is” situation across each channel of the business, whether content or commerce driven. And with software solutions technology becoming more and more robust and entering the arena at an alarmingly quickened pace, you need to work urgently to assess and understand what is going on currently with respect to all critical measurable components of your business channels and the metrics which will help you to understand your current situation. During this assessment period, you will begin to automatically problem solve and solution as things come into focus. Interpreting the data will give you the information to make crystal clear choices, guided by the scientific numbers we now have with our analytics tools. If you have a static website, you will find the information you need to understand what the next step is (content first, then commerce or content without commerce or directly to commerce). If you don’t an have analytics tool or a customer feedback tool, deploy them first and then come back and continue reading. If you do have analytics, read on.

Bravo. You have the tools implemented. There is a lot of work that needs to be done now to understand what the critical path metrics are for your business based upon the executive positioning of the enterprise as a whole. But now you are armed. At this point, you may find that the reports you are getting (if you outsource) or the reports that your team are providing (if in house) are not customized enough for you based upon your new knowledge about the criteria that are important to you. (Keep in mind that while your URL may have no ecommerce capabilities or have sales that may not even represent single digit percentages of your gross revenues, the time is now to set the stage and this requires a no holds barred approach with analytics as its predecessor).

Customization of reports and requirements for analysis is different for commerce and content sites with respect to the metrics that need to be measured as criteria for benchmarking and subsequent improvement with specific and focused calls to action. For example, it might not be enough to know that your customer stayed on a certain page for a certain time, but where they went next and what percent went from that page to another page. This is called scenario analysis.

Scenario analysis is a process of analyzing possible future events by considering alternative possible outcomes (scenarios), and this point- to- point tracking is very helpful in identifying customer patterns as well as checking existing or new functionality on your website. Scenario analysis is also helpful when setting up customized reports. Scenario analysis allows tracking of customer behavior as they interact with your site to track whether the customer went from point A to point B and at what percentage they did so. For example, do customers move from “sign in” to “shopping” to “add to cart” to “complete order”? By defining a scenario analysis, you can learn where visitors abandon a process and identify areas of weakness in your site. Using this information, you can make changes to your site to help improve visitor retention and conversions. As you continue your deep dive in information collection, other areas of interest, like where the customer came from prior to going on your site and where they then went when they left your site, will become key pieces of data to use for future marketing efforts.

Visitor Intelligence is a relatively new module that can be added to most analytics tools, if not already there and waiting for set up and implementation. Visitor intelligence takes the next step in understanding the customer psychodynamics in a more segmented way, allowing for future targeting of personalized messages and experiences for your customers, optimizing your strategy and helping to set up campaigns that will increase the success of marketing endeavors, conversion rates and ultimately, sales. Examples include demographic information, gender and age information as well as other data perfect for email segmentation and loyalty marketing efforts. “Visitor Intelligence” is a dynamic method of accumulating and analyzing information about online visitors, their behavior and specifications. This allows us to finally make an in-depth 360 degree visitor view to extend knowledge and insights about online visitors and to use this to build stronger engagement and retentive relationships with customers.

Online intelligence combined with offline information from your CRM (customer relationship management) system for the perfect complement of information that can lead to the individualization and personalization of your relationships with customers. By understanding the real needs of your online visitors you are able to anticipate by targeted marketing and content optimization. Visitor Intelligence enables you to outrank competitors by enabling the building of bridges first to segregate out groups and finally to the individual level. Today online customers are looking for interaction and personalization. It is important to fully understand your online customers to be able to communicate with them individually to provide this personalized user experience.

Visitor Loyalty can be achieved through the use of these tools and provide the scientific basis for moving forward with decisions that will increase loyalty and preference with your customer base while they engage with you online. If you can use this information to target promotions that are segmented, at least into groups, and ultimately to individuals and personalize the experience across channels, thus achieving the objective of loyalty. You might have noticed that I snuck in, “across channels”. We have not discussed this yet, but as you are just becoming adept at putting together proper reporting and analysis online, the mobile revolution has begun. With it, its own set of criteria and analytics will be necessary as the mobile customer is not necessarily the same at this point in time. My estimate is that in within five years, customers will be able to use other channels interoperably and at that point, we are really providing the value that a customer needs to have convenience with choice, leading to the best value. They will then use the channel they want when they want it, for each channel will provide the same value and reliable experience. For right now, early adopters of cross channel commerce or content may not be the same customer as the traditional brick and mortar customer. Until we integrate our channels fully, we will not see this evolution. But, we will need to catch up very quickly and start benchmarking the mobile customer as we are the online customer. Let’s save mobile strategies for understanding customer behavior for another time.

Customizing your analytic tool will become more important the more you learn and will set the stage for the correct information to be pulled. There is a lot of customization that analytics providers offer. Review these options with the stakeholders in their respective departments, not just the dotcom team. Decide upon the metric criteria you will use for evaluation and decision making in collaboration with all enterprise stakeholders for all channels. Set the criteria that are important to measure and isolate the metrics important to your business channels. This will enable you to then view and share the relevant information with your teams as well as to set goals for improvement and to ascertain success measurement of actionable items.
Not only will data and reporting requirements be different for each industry or competitor within an industry, but for your internal departments as well. For example, the marketing department will need to know if a campaign is pushing customers to the store or a promotion is being redeemed and by what percentage, while the content manager on a content driven site needs to know how long a reader is spending on a page (longer might very well be better in this instance), which will tell the content manager how engaged the person is in what they are reading and where they clicked off to after moving on. Even placement in certain areas on the page becomes important for your vendors with ads. Conversely, on the checkout pages, the customer should be breezing through these quickly, so the metric for time on those pages will naturally have as its goal a much shorter time spent on page. For content sites, you might want to know which placement offers the customer more of a likelihood to click through on the page or which types of links and articles are important. For a commerce site, you might want to know if a customer is having trouble on one of your checkout pages or difficulty logging in. There are at least fifty criteria and many more that you will discern as you learn. From interacting with the raw data, you will see that the criteria and benchmarks will be very different depending upon the end user.

Benchmarking from industry standards is a critical path to any sustainable action plan. Take the time to understand industry standards. Business verticals can have vastly different metric goals than other verticals. For example, conversion on a commerce site can range from .5% to 23% and higher, depending upon the industry, as many factors influence conversion (promotions, functionality, navigability, etc.). Your business is unique. Taking this into account will then facilitate evaluating the industry standard and then your own deviations from that industry and how that will affect your final actionable benchmark – your own uniqueness. This is key to successful benchmarking. (Many of the analytic companies offer interactive tools embedded in their reporting dashboard systems. You can actually play with quantity of orders combined with conversion rates and order size and other variables to learn the “what if” and teach others).

Personalizing a benchmarking system and so many metrics is complex, but necessary. Doing this with internal resources dedicated to analytics is the best in class way to achieve quick and sustainable results. But outsourcing reports is better than having none of this information. All industries have different benchmarks which indicate success. As mentioned previously, conversion rates are all quite diverse, depending upon the type of channel, content or commerce as well as differences in likeliness to purchase that will change based upon promotion and other criteria. Additionally, if the customer has challenges with the functionality on your website, you will see this by drop off on certain pages. Take this information and compare it with what the customers are saying with the feedback tool for that page on the site. Now you have a full analysis of what is going on. It could be functionality, pricing, in stock conditions or something as simple as broken links. If you don’t know what your conversion rate should be, you can’t set goals for improvement. To further complicate matters, there are different percentages for different pieces of the conversion funnel. Converting a new visitor to the site is different than converting a returning customer to the site. You will need to isolate these variables separately. Unique visitors to actual visits on the site are two very different pieces of information.

Customer service is handled differently around the Country. And because oftentimes, customer service is a separate entity or a conglomeration of service for various areas in the company, it is vital to obtain and use these customer service statistics as part of your overall analysis and roadmapping.

So, final serious recommendations for your Needs Assessment step:

• Understand your own metrics for success
• Benchmark for goal setting
• Pull out the criteria that you want to use (these will change and evolve over time with new implementations and enhancements)
• Customize reports by collaborating with intertwined departments (For content sites, you might want to know which placement offers the customer more of a likelihood to click through on the page or which types of links and articles are important. For a commerce site, you might want to know if a customer is having trouble on one of your checkout pages or difficulty logging in)

o Find your painpoints and where you excel. This can include core or supporting functionality (i.e., registration, log in, loyalty card integration, store locator, circular, broken links and navigability) or strategies (pricing challenges, assortment, content dynamism and robustness). I worked with a company who implemented an advertising solution that had brought 20M into a competitor yet failed in another. The reason had nothing to do with the solution, merely that the customer had difficulty logging in to their account. This should be no surprise, you should know monthly your core metrics of site performance and monitor and attack any challenges that crop up
o Share the information with internal and external stakeholders
o Prioritize work efforts, balancing existing challenges with the implementation of new enhancements but base these on the ROI and what the analytics tell you. You will most probably need to do phased deployments, because you are most likely sharing IT resources with the greater enterprise. Use the science to create ROI documents with actionable plans
o Blend customer service feedback and metrics from interactions with the call center and with the site analytics for a comprehensive and collaborative view
o Create a sustainable roadmap based upon ROI. Make sure that your roadmap clearly provides customer centric solutions and is consistent with the goals of the organization

A few quick tips:

• Following every release, analytics should be reviewed to ensure that the enhancements of fixes are causing no side effects. This should be part of the testing subsequent to launch. Remember that you need to have your baselines in order to notice spikes
• Let the science direct your decisions and planning
• It is predicted than in less than 12 months greater Internet usage will come from/ through mobile viewership. Accordingly, do what you need to protect your digital core
• Celebrate your successes by consistent communication with internal stakeholders and vendors with vested interests– before long, analytics dashboarding will be just a part of every day
• Understand Social Media, which is becoming a very integral part of the online experience. Using social media, such as facebook, allows customers with the same needs and interests to join and collaborate through online forums, called “social networks.” These are very helpful as they can provide information you can collect and use to optimize the experience for your customer. Search engine optimization allows you to index this information and become higher in rankings by using keywords to increase the likelihood of your website or product or information coming up in a search. Using the information you glean from analysis to optimize your search will be important to attract new visitors to your website.

Now that we have the actual science, our jobs have been made much easier. Understanding the customer across channels can be delivered through metric analysis and should guide and govern your decisions going forward. Prior to the inception of these analytic tools and feedback tools, there was a good deal of guesswork involved in making decisions as to which enhancements or new initiatives to deploy. There was very little evidence and proof of concept that could be shown quantifiably. But conversion is conversion and we can see this with absolute certainty across channels.

Looking at this scientific information and making decisions for action based upon these metrics is your key to unlocking future positive ROI initiatives and should guide and govern your decision making for your channels. The same philosophy and set of tools can be used for content and commerce sites and needs to be shared with the greater enterprise so that consistency of efforts will be agreed upon and lessen the push pull and possibly conflicting prioritization within the IT Department, our next step of focus on the path towards successful cross channel development.

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Heidi Chapnick – About the Author:
Currently retained by mid-sized to large content and commerce retailers, my focus is on peeking under the covers and understanding the ‘as is’ situation for the retailer, the internal and external landscapes, followed by prioritization of critical path opportunities and proceeded by roadmaps and deployment of business plans based upon an innovative six step holistic problem solving approach.

Selected Accomplishments:

• Establishing a profitable model for online shopping and delivery of perishable items
• Partnering with external vendors within an established brick and mortar grocer
• Establishing the same day delivery of grocery items
• Establishing a ‘wareroom’ model for fulfillment
• Pick up at store after ordering online

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