Web Site Interactivity
WEB SITE INTERACTIVITY
At its essence, interactivity is the level of meaningful interaction between a company and its users via the firm's Web site. A highly interactive Web site gives users opportunities for effective communication with the company, often allowing virtual conversations or data transmissions to occur in real time. This way, customers can have a satisfying experience dealing with your company regardless of the constraints of distance or time. In an interactive environment, one-directional, static information gives way to a more fluid model, where user participation actively modifies the form and content of the information presented.
As competitive pressures in e-commerce mount, customers expect efficient and seamless interactivity at your virtual storefront. Sites that make customers feel like they have communicated effectively with the company are more likely to build customer loyalty over time.
THE INTERACTIVE BUSINESS MODEL
In general, the more interactive a Web site, the more it fulfills the Internet's potential as a communications medium. The Internet surpasses other media, such as print and television, because it can not only disseminate information about your company, but it can also move beyond the one-way conduit of information to create a comprehensive virtual meeting place. In this virtual space you can interact with your customers directly, taking advantage of powerful telecommunications developments, while also providing instant access to a storehouse of valuable information. Incorporating these two features—two-way communication and data management—is the foundation of interactive Web sites. It can also be a key to drawing customers to your site, boosting their loyalty to your firm, and reaching optimal efficiency within your e-commerce business.
Interactivity means leaping beyond the basics of HTML. While hyperlinks and e-mail are forms of interactivity, today's Web shopper has come to demand much more. Interactivity can be as simple as normal Web-based forms, which are often used to complete orders or compile electronic profiles of your customers. Live customer support Customer service, live is another increasingly important component of Web site interactivity.
Customer service strategies in the e-commerce era, in particular, demand interactivity. Providing a wealth of information for your customers is essential, but not enough. You need to give your customers effective and easy ways to communicate with you, so their precise concerns are addressed quickly. E-mail and Web forms are the most widely used methods of interactive customer service, and such customer submissions should be answered immediately with an automatic-response confirmation message, assuring the customer that their query was received and that someone will answer them shortly.
A value-added way to provide interactive customer service is to create a central space where customers can help each other. One useful method is to put user forums on your site, where they can simply log on and share their concerns with others who can provide their own feedback. Postings can be classified and subdivided dynamically as your customers' needs dictate. Generally, these forums are moderated by someone in your firm, who can provide input where necessary while also gauging customers' attitudes towards your company. If you use this information to make improvements, you can provide better service overall. This method is particularly valuable in that it capitalizes on existing customer relationships at minimal cost.
TECHNOLOGICAL LIMITATIONS OF INTERACTIVITY
However, while building interactivity is often desirable, even necessary, it's important to remember that not every Web surfer enjoys access to the latest technologies. So while your designers may feel tempted to include interactive applications with the latest bells and whistles, you need to keep the needs of basic users in mind. High-tech interactivity won't succeed if you wind up alienating a significant portion of your potential customer base that can't utilize those tools. There are a few ways around this problem. First, you can create separate links on your home page pointing users to one of multiple Web sites you've created geared toward different technological capabilities. Second, you can provide a text-only version of your site, which works in a similar manner but in this case bypasses graphical interfaces altogether, so that users can opt for just the information they want without waiting for excessively long download periods. And third, depending on the technology you're using, you may be able to detect the user's capabilities and automatically direct them to a suitable version of your pages.
Interactivity extends to your company's internal processes as well. For instance, as requests and questions are coming in, they need to go somewhere in the firm in an organized fashion so they can be processed quickly. Your visitors will no doubt be frustrated if they take time to use your interactive forms, but never get a timely response. Routing is a simple practice of organizing and distributing incoming messages according to their characteristics. For instance, if the incoming data is a customer-service query, it probably should be routed directly to customer-service staff. Alternatively, an order submission may be routed simultaneously to your shipping department and to accounts receivable or billing. No matter how you choose to organize your business, and regardless of its size, routing incoming interactions to their appropriate handlers ensures faster response time. This should diminish internal confusion, improve customer satisfaction, and eliminate wasted time and energy.
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