When I first sat down to meet with two
pool cover salesmen, I had them describe the whole process for me, from
how customers first found out about them to how the customer ended up
with the final cover. From this example alone, I discovered two major
categories to have the website help the business.
This one is almost a no-brainer. Even
the simplest website is, at core, a source of information. The simplest
websites are often referred to as "brochure sites." This is, of course,
because the simplest site can (sometimes literally) be nothing more than
an online brochure.
Even this level of simplicity for a
website is still better than the traditional offline brochure. This is
primarily because of the flexibility. Unlike a brochure that is printed
up and then is unchangeable, a website can be tweaked and modified to
correct things that are no longer accurate. Things can be added to it.
It also is not limited to a specific amount of page space, as a
traditional brochure is.
Aside from traditional "brochure
sites," often clients of ours will have other information that changes
fairly frequently that their customers would like to know. It may be
that right now their customers have no way at all to get this
information, short of calling them on the phone. The information may be
different for each client, it may be the same for each client.
Regardless of the specifics, information that is constantly changing is
one of the single biggest reasons to have a website.
We handle the website Mission
Nicaragua, which is for a missionary couple living in (you guessed it)
Nicaragua. With hundreds of miles between them and their sponsoring
congregation, they needed to be able to update their sponsors and other
interested parties with the latest information and developments on the
mission field. We set up a blog for them, which is a current very
popular method of getting information out there. Since their intended
audience might not be familiar with the term "blog," we called it a
"newsletter." But the end result is the same thing. It can be updated by
our clients and instantly be online.
If there are any pieces of information
that are updated constantly that your customers need to know, you can
probably benefit from this information being put on your website.
Customers often need feedback. And with
the web, they have come to expect it, often instantly. From live
shipping calculations to job estimates to chat rooms, web communication
is out there and greatly benefits the customer.
The simplest example of an interactive
site is one that has a feedback form. We offer this to all of our
clients. It's better than a simple email link because the email address
can't be stolen by spammers. Also, the information can be formatted and
customized into some standard form that's easier for the final recipient
to review. We let any clients that want it have one of these forms on
their contact page.
A good example of this is on a site we
do the webmastering for, UR Special. In addition to a normal feedback
form, they have a form specifically for volunteers, where the volunteers
can go through and check the items they're interested in volunteering
for. This information is then formatted to be easier to read before it's
sent to the UR Special staff.
Another interactive item is a virtual
tour. With today's web technology, one of the things that you can do is
actually immerse your customers in an environment. We have a number of
sites that use virtual tours. One of note is a local arcade called
Cactus Jack's. You can get a feel for how big Cactus Jack's is through
their virtual tour. You can turn around and even zoom in on specific
Finally, an obvious level of
interactivity is involved in a shopping cart. The total is added up as
soon as you're ready to check out. Shipping is generally calculated
immediately. Most people are now familiar with this type of technology.
If there's any information that your
customers call for that you sit down with a price sheet or some sort of
data and calculate, you can make it automated online. Even if the prices
or data change fairly constantly, you can still update that data on your
website, so that customers see the most up to date calculations. This is
great for estimates, but you often want to put a disclaimer that the
prices are only unofficial estimates.
Naturally, the exact ways in which a
website can be used for your company will differ from company to
company. It often helps to get someone who is more familiar with the web
but an outsider as far as your company is concerned. Describe your
typical business practices to them. They should be able to pick out
areas in which your website can help your business become more
accessible and more efficient.
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