Tuesday 26 March 2013

Thought Picnic: Your Local Website is a Global Shop Window

You are out there
I fear that many businesses that have a web presence are missing out on an essential bit of public relations that is well beyond their control.
Beyond the presentation facade, there is the experience and the opinion dimension that has now become integral to the product.
If you are an airline, a hotel or an outfit that offers services, develops products or even compares things, activities and circumstances, you are now at the mercy of the real life views which can be anything from seriously positive to downright negative, the matter of honesty is a variable that is indeterminate, it is taken on trust.
You cannot choose your audience
In the first instance, except where the establishment decides to restrict viewing by filtering or challenge/response engagement, any website, no matter where uploaded and regardless of the expertise of the designer has global scrutiny.
The traffic from outside your locality might not be great, but be assured that it is viewable by all. When I look at my blog, it has a Netherlands registered URL, I am resident in the UK, I write about personal and activist issues in my locality and in relation to my heritage which is partly Nigerian but I get the largest audience from China, then the United States, followed by Norway, the United Kingdom comes 4th, the Netherlands 7th and Nigeria 10th.
I cannot explain why the greatest interest in my blog comes from those locations and I cannot control the access that this audience has to my opinions.
You local website is a global shop window
I make this point because I feel that many Nigerian websites of the government, educational institutions, businesses and much else fail to recognise that their audience is well beyond the myopic confines of who they traditionally think will visit their websites.
This morning, I found myself commenting about the website of a premier Nigerian University, the first observation was though it provided a unique service, the design was poor and the copy was full of spelling errors.
In my view, that was just unforgivable, one expects a tertiary academic institution to apply itself to rigour, correctness and exactness. For a university of that standard not to exploit the services of its languages departments and proofread copy before publication is just beyond belief.
It behoves one to ask, if out of interest in Nigeria for all the good that is known of the country some prospective student were seeking admission or some organisation wanted to bestow a chair the first view of the university being the website shoddily presented will lose the university custom long before the prospects are given the opportunity to explore further – we do not have the attention spans to maintain interest after the disappointment of avoidable sloppiness.
We assess and discriminate better
Then to hotels or other services, forums on the web all seem to come with easy access to review and critique based on experience. Between mood, fairness and honest opinion, by the time a few reviews are read you get a good idea of the product, the service, the people, the ambience and immediately come to some conclusion as to whether you want to use that service or not.
Whilst price can be a differentiator, it is hardly the main variable in the decision making process, there is no point going to an affordable place if you will be treated with contempt and levity, you want to be able to shop with a sense of security.
One discriminating factor I used in choosing a hotel recently was that for the same price point in 5 places only one offered the option to cancel with charge, some were charging up-front with the option to cancel and one even had a non-refundable no-cancellation policy – all for the same price – I chose the most flexible option for my security, safety and convenience – I will never trade those variables off if I could help it.
The reviews make all the difference
When it comes to mobile applications, we are met with choices that are never fully explained but in the experiences of others – more 5-stars than 1-stars and you think it is probably a good product, equal stars for the top and bottom rating, you try to find out why it excites such divergence passions and wonder if your experience will be for the better or the worse. Too many low ratings and you just don’t waste your time trying to be a charitable user of what everyone hates.
At the same time, you can control all the levers before you are exposed to ridicule; this requires planning, consideration, service, responsiveness and proactive remediation, this will always eventually boost rankings or ratings, leave any of these to lie fallow and your business will be pulled down by the negative – you cannot afford to have a stubborn resolve even if you are the only show in town – people will find something else to do than suffer your service for a second.
Think well about what your product is, what your service is, work on customer satisfaction and make sure your web page is an honest portrayal of what you do because nothing irks a customer more than to be lied to.

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