From the moment our new corporate website was born we were already planning its demise. Corporate websites have become the communications cornerstone of every business – or so marketing departments would have you think. The URLs show up everywhere: on business cards, product packaging, and collateral. But is there life beyond their public-facing function as the corporate mouthpiece and information hub? Are websites really capable of real customer engagement? Most corporate websites are just as stale and one-dimensional as the corporate brochures they replaced over two decades ago.
Websites represent a terrific venue to get a bird’s eye view on how people really want to engage with the companies they do business with and how companies actually fulfill these desires for engagement. Customers want their conversations to be multichannel. They don’t care how they reach the company, they just want to reach them, however most convenient. They might start the engagement in social media, switch over to email, then to a community group, followed by a phone call. The expectation is that the company will maintain a history of communications and be able to recall their conversations so they can pick up ‘where they left off’ regardless of where the conversation took place. Not an unrealistic expectation. After all, this is the promise of customer relationship management: true engagement. It’s like a marriage: we just want to know someone is actually listening.
The reality is that while customers approach the engagement model holistically; companies approach it incrementally. Each customer touch point, while part of a broader strategy, is a unique activity that never quite connects with the others. After all the touchpoints are factored in, keeping an ongoing, cohesive conversation becomes a Herculean feat for companies. Yet this is what the customer was promised, what they have come to expect and what is required if you are to get the most out of your customer relationship.
It’s no surprise that customer messages have become so inconsistent, so siloed and so hidden given the many functional teams managing them in such diverse ways: the corporate website, the CRM system and the interactive marketing person managing the social media marketing. When the customer ultimately talks to sales or support, no prior knowledge of their social media conversations comes into play. No record of their site visits. No legacy is readily available. The customer and the employee have become frustrated strangers attempting to find a common ground. Instead of a marriage, it’s like a really bad blind date.
One traditional marketing vehicle companies can abandon is the business-to-business corporate website. Most analyses of B2B site visits demonstrate that after landing, visitors typical scan the pages on solutions/products, pricing, company, leadership, and news and then shove off. If there are multimedia, best practices tips or competitive comparisons, they might stick around a bit longer. Most visitors are looking for peer experiences, useful information, independent validation of value claims, and the ability to ‘talk’ with customers, users and company representatives.
Rather than boring your customers to death, there is a clear opportunity to put the dull corporate website to rest. Then resurrect it as a platform for true community engagement that functions as a hub for interaction with all customers and stakeholders, replete with media, public and private communities for ideation, customer advocacy, support, employee communication, vendor collaboration, training, media engagement and social media at the very infrastructure. I can’t count on all fingers and toes the times I have gone to a business-to-business website and clicked away wondering what kind of business the company was in, and then felt completely bewildered as to how I could EVER find that out.
Start the transformation by integrating live chat, communities, discussion areas, social media feeds, into your existing corporate website.
The goal for our website is to become a platform community over the next 24 months. The team knew it couldn’t make the transition overnight and chartered a course of gradually add in customer engagement capabilities.
The new website launched with conversations threaded into product pages plus other interactive elements. After less than three months the Conversations section became a hotspot where basic questions started pouring in. Anyone in the company was empowered to respond to with one guideline – no commercials. Our marketing campaigns are starting to usher traffic to the community discussion areas. The Conversations pages are already jumping with potential prospects asking and engaging with employees. Product and company content remain readily available but featured as a sidebar, with several links and points of reintegration based on visitor pathways and search trends.
I find conversations a whole lot more interesting to read and respond to. I discover what is top of mind and share what I know. If I do a good job, the customer will remember and return, engage again and hopefully transact. So kill your stuffy old website and bring it back to life.
Repost from my Forbes blog: http://blogs.forbes.com/christinecrandell/