“The truth is out there.” At least that’s what the opening credits of cult TV show, the X-Files used to assure us.
The problem was, of course, that the truth was often difficult to track down. Each week, detectives Mulder and Scully would unravel a new mystery, only to find that they could never quite lay their hands on all the answers.
It’s a feeling many web marketers know well. Every website produces an endless flow of stats setting out performance. Everything you need to know about bounce rates, conversion rates, average order values, shopping cart abandonments and other key metrics is available. You can see at a glance where and when the site is performing well and not so well. The truth appears to be at your fingertips.
Except that it isn’t really.
All that quantitative information tells you “what” is happening but usually not “why” For instance, you might note that between June and July there has been a significant rise in the number of abandoned shopping carts or that conversion rates have fallen. That clearly means action is required but until you know the reason, taking effective action is going to be difficult. You are essentially dealing with UFOs – unidentified flying objections.
Many possible truthsÂ
So you need to know the truth of what is happening. And here’s the problem – all you’ve really got are conspiracy theories as to why performance might be suffering. The usual suspects are:
Pricing. New competitors are coming into the market and undercutting you.
Usability. The site was recently redesigned and some changes were made to the menu bars. It’s possible that customers are finding it difficult to locate what they’re looking for.
Design. The site looks a bit “old hat”. Your design team have been telling you for ages now that rival sites look at a bit more modern and inviting. And they’ve been lobbying hard for the budget to make the changes.
Complexity. To make things “easier” for regular customers you’ve given them the option to register their details to enable fast purchase on return visits. The MD suggests the registration process is too complex.
Software glitches. One possible reason for the downturn is a hitherto undetected software problem. The IT team are looking into it.
So what you have are multiple theories, or to put it another way, multiple truths. But what you really need is to ditch the theory and come up with the real reason why performance is suffering.
The wisdom of the customer
But here’s the thing. All these theories emerge after discussions with design, sales & marketing and IT, but there’s one group of people you haven’t asked. Namely, the customers.
And it’s your customers who hold the key to knowing why performance is suffering. After all it is they who will be using the site and choosing to buy or not to buy. To get beyond the quantitative figures you have to listen to what they have to say.
There are various ways to do that. If you simply want an opinion of the site, you can listen to the “voice of the customer” through online surveys and via the surveys and reviews they submit.
But that won’t provide a comprehensive view of the customer experience. For one thing, those who fill in surveys are a self-selecting group â€“ they don’t represent a comprehensive sample of your wider customer base. What’s more, reviews and surveys are often completed either by people who have made a purchase and feel well disposed towards the brand or by the (hopefully few) who have had a very negative experience. Those who have come to the site, browsed and for some reason left without making a purchase are rarely represented.
The best way to understand what is happening on the site is to go beyond self-selection by recording and analysing customer journeys. Using UserReplay’s solution, the journeys of every single customer can be tracked and recorded page by page. And when played back these recordings enable you to see where customers have encountered hurdles that have caused them to drop off.
Let’s take an example. You have detected that more customers than usual are dropping off the site at the registration process. This ties in with one theory about a drop in conversion rates. By replaying a selection of journeys you can indeed see there is a problem. The software is rejecting certain e-mail addresses because of case sensitivity and is thus blocking progress. And now you know there is a problem it can be fixed.
And in this way, you can move beyond multiple theories and truths and focus instead on what is really happening as your customers move through the site. And if performance falls you can identify the reasons.
In other words, the truth about the site’s performance is revealed by customer experience.
Image: Interdimensional Guardians/flickr cc