Designing Merchant

You may have noticed that lately we’ve been paying more attention than ever to customer service — which companies do it well, why it’s so important, and what you can do to improve it without sending your costs through the roof. Good customer care offers a big financial payoff, as the majority of direct-commerce firms are just beginning to realize.

It’s probably safe to say that if a company places customers at the center of everything it does, from reverse logistics to Web site design to order picking, the result is usually a quantifiable leap in sales. Consider, for example, the case of Millipore.com, a biotech and pharmaceutical products manufacturer whose site redesign in May 2003 doubled sales, boosted traffic, and got rid of most online customer complaints within just a few months. What’s even more intriguing is that the company accomplished this on a tight budget. In a recent report on Millipore, Forrester Research Inc. analyst Moira Dorsey writes that the company’s basic strategy was simple: “They focused their efforts on understanding customers and their critical goals. Based on this understanding, they made sure content to support those goals was readily available in the context of customer scenarios.”

Both offline and e-commerce merchants have much to learn from Millipore’s methodical approach to redesign. The company’s first step, notes Dorsey, was to gather customer data — but it wasn’t just any data. The Millipore team focused on why 30% of customers were going to the product catalog. Follow-up surveys revealed that shoppers wanted not only product information and detailed data on application protocols, but also a better way to find what they needed.

Armed with this feedback, Millipore set out to improve the site with a series of sophisticated enhancements. The redesign team tweaked the home page to expose second-level menu categories; cross-listed items in logical classifications (a product called “Centricon,” for instance, could be found in both “Catalogue” and Life Sciences”); linked all information on a product, such as application notes and user guides, to product pages within the catalog; made product search available on every page on the site; and centralized control of the design of the 100,000-page site. Most important, though, they set up practices for continuous improvement — a step no retailer, brick-and-mortar or online, can afford to skip.

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