e-Commerce maturity curve – how to really reduce Customer Struggle part 1

Date: 30th March 2012
Author: Deri Jones

An article at eConsultancy caught my eye, Digital B2B marketers struggle to overcome internal cultural challenges,  and reminded me of the varying stages of evolution down the e-Commerce maturity curve that I see on projects.

It’s just my anecdotal evidence, but the further down that maturity curve organisations are, the better they are able to reduce Customer Struggle. It’s all about Marketing teams getting the ROI they want -and how they work with other teams to really make that happen, even when often they know it isn’t happening yet.  Let me explain how it works.

eCommerceFirst off – Customer Struggle is what I mean by the scenario where successful marketing and online campaigns increase your online foot-fall, but your ROI goes down.  Lots of extra visitors to your site compared to the same campaign last year, but they seem to be spending less.  Maybe the reason is the fact that your site causes too much user pain, too much struggle and so many new visitors don’t become customers.

The struggle could be that your usability has gone down since last year – but in terms of the Maturity Curve I’m talking about, the focus is the relationship between Marketing and the team that deliver their desires:  the online IT and technology teams.

The best marketing campaigns in the world, all end up being delivered by technology, by technology teams in your organisation, and by the technology in your visitors’ hands, or on their desktops.

So the kind of technology gaps that cause successful marketing campaigns  (visitor targets reached) to fail (ROI less than expected) are things like:

  • certain parts of the key add-to-basket or check-out journeys are just too slow
  • most visitors may see say 2 second pages, but some see 30 seconds or more: at the same time
  • errors are stopping the shopping trip – again not for all potential purchasers at the time

So what are the stages along the eCommerce Maturity Curve, that will increase the ability of Marketing and Business to achieve target ROIs online?

Stage 1: “Only we in Marketing really care about the website”

(aka Unconscious Incompetence (see footnote) – the organisation doesn’t even realise that the approach internally is broken)

This is the starting level, this is where everyone except pure-plays were 10 years ago. Many are still here today.

Marketing see the online IT team as just an extension of the team that keep the printers working, and sort out problems on your laptop.   They think they don’t understand customers and the market enough. So tech guys are not brought into strategy discussions much, not until it’s planning  time:  when they are told: we need feature X delivered by date Y, and we’re writing the spec this afternoon so you can start Monday, as this is a priority!

So any changes and new features wanted are not very fleshed out:  mostly they are very brief, half-page documents saying ‘can you just add on this feature XYZ please…’.

When the dev team come back with questions about choices in the feature, “should it do this or that, what about in this case, and that case”:  the requests are treated rather off-hand, as if the dev team should intuitively know without needing to ask!  Sometimes the questions and tricky and detailed, and the Marketing team don’t really have a good answer: they are reluctant to make a trade off where one is needed.  They are reluctant to split the feature into say 2 stages, and have the simpler stage 1 released first.

So the dev team learn over time not to ask questions, to get on and ‘get the job done’:  they learn that the Business teams seem more concerned with when the feature goes live, as to how nicely build and integrated it is.

With no common KPIs, measurements, shared language, understanding or frame of reference communication of ideas, goals and needs is practically impossible.

The result, for an organisation that stays at this stage is a website that becomes less and less usable, increasing customer struggle,  reducing ROI, it becomes harder to bolt on new features and the speed of progress slows down:  and overall a general malaise across the board that the website doesn’t quite cut it.

An organisation cannot be pulled forward out of this stage by the tech teams – only marketing and business people can do it!

If you hear phrases like this – then the chances of the organisation moving on are slim:

  • yes we know from the call centre that there is lots of customer struggle, slow downs, occasional errors – but that’s not us in the marketing Departments’ responsibility!  That’s IT’s fault.  they had a project last year to fix that! No, we don’t want to measure customer struggle ourselves  – talk to IT will you.
  • yes the site is a bit untidy and ugly now – but it’s so hard to get IT to add features that work nicely
  • I know the site can be hard to use, but it has to look pretty
  • it always takes too long to get new features live, not sure what it is with our technology – I heard a colleague at another company say their IT team use a better platform than ours – maybe we should move everything to a new platform?  Or maybe our IT team are the problem…

Stage 2: There is a problem – lets work together

(aka – conscious incompetence – the organisation knows it needs it can’t increase it’s ROIs without doing the Business<->Technology interface better)

There needs to come a Eureka moment, to kick off this stage,  something like this:

  • Nearly everything we do with customers – depends on technology !
    • Yes our product design, merchandising and marketing must be good, but
  • Technology is just millimetres below the surface, for :
    • every campaign email and SMS
    • every mobile App we put out
    • every interaction on the website that turns a Visitor into a Customer
      • our own technology
      • and our supplier’s technology too
      • eg 3rd party Image servers, Search servers, Cloud or CDN
    • every interaction on our partner websites, depends on our API technology

It may be phrased like the above, or maybe the result of a more down to earth realisation that ‘Our online ROI and website in general are poor, we know competitor X are doing it better, we can see that: how do we work together to plan to improve’.

What in concrete terms changes at this stage?

What happens to start “uniting the tribes”?

Centrally,  the marketing  business teams try to engage more closely with their technology teams.

And specifically – they start to realise that there is work to be done, by the non-IT teams themselves, to improve things.

There is a realisation that Dev Teams are different to Marketing teams:   when a new feature is in discussion Marketers are comfortable with the big picture, helicopter view of it.  But that view though useful to IT, is just not enough.  IT can’t build a new thing without getting down to the nitty gritty detail, to the blue print level.

Until the new feature has been fleshed out with detail, it’s unfair to ask IT to estimate how much work it will be.  The devil is in the detail!

So marketing need to be “commited to further conversation” with the developers, to flesh out the desired feature.  It’s not about writing a huge spec document, it’s about writing a short User Story, and then being willing to have a conversation, or a few, until the developers say they have enough detail to plan it.  And when the developers ask about the detail of how it should look, a proper UI person needs to be there too, to help the look and feel to be as attractive and intuitive as an iPhone, and not a Nokia phone from the late 1990s!

Of course this is not just “any conversation”. It needs to be true communication where both sides are “speaking the same language” and have a shared interpretation of the meaning of any results.

This ideal world can only be realised once an organisation moves into stage 3…

Next Time: Stages 3 and 4 and how to Unite The Tribes Through A Common Language and a Single Point of Truth.

Read about the Four Stages of Competence at Wiki