Customer-Driven Web Site Design

Tom Snyder photo by Tom Snyder on Apr 17, 2001

They say that building a house is a true test of a marriage. It’s amazing how two people who normally see eye-to-eye on so much will have such difficulty agreeing on carpet types, wallpaper patterns and countertop colors.

So it’s no surprise that a diverse committee of corporate employees who have been entrusted to develop their company Web presence will go tooth and nail while deciding on functionality types, navigational patterns and button colors.

Several years ago, when we were selected to design the original Web site for one of the state’s largest health care providers, we discovered how true that was.

A committee of 80 people (with strong opinions) was selected to construct the original proposal request…a process that took them two years. After we were selected to build the site and began the project, the committee of folks responsible for input and direction dwindled to a dozen (with strong opinions). When the preview of the first draft of the site worked its way out to the dozens of individual clinics and hospitals, a hundred people (with strong opinions) all spoke up to tell us in a hundred different ways how it SHOULD have been designed. After much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, an agreement to disagree was reached, and site construction began. Then, halfway through the process, a corporate reorganization caused a whole new Web site committee (with a whole new set of strong opinions) to take over the project, and the entire site was blown up to begin again, trashing a whole year’s worth of work. The entire project took over three and a half years to complete and cost three and half times the original budget.

The time, effort and energy we spent trying to satisfy unhappy staffers whose opinions were overruled by superiors easily exceeded the work we spent actually developing the site. We became peacekeepers first and developers second.

While this is an extreme example, it is by no means uncommon. Whether it’s a corporate bureaucracy, or a husband and wife entrepreneurial team, disagreement on how a Web project should look, feel and work is the ubiquitous conundrum.

When it comes to Web development, everyone involved in the process has an opinion, and everyone believes they’re right. And whether they are or not, their opinion becomes secondary to the person who ranks the highest or shouts the loudest. And that’s unfortunate, because the project becomes driven by egos, and not by the one authority whose opinion needs to trump everyone else’s… the customer!

Radio and TV stations have it right. So do large consumer product manufacturers and politicians. They’ve realized that it needs to be about what the public wants. So much so that a song won’t be played on a radio station, a show won’t make it to a broadcast network, a product won’t make it to market and a politician won’t be elected without extensive testing and research to determine how a target audience feels about it.

One of our clients has made a successful business out of it. Originally known as, and now called Troy Research, they (and our application development team) have developed an amazing online mechanism to test the tastes and opinions of the public. The mechanism was originally built to allow listeners to determine the songs that get played on their favorite radio stations, but has expanded to include all types of market research, including Web site research.

If you’re truly interested in providing your site visitors with a meaningful, favorable and friendly experience, wouldn’t it make sense to allow those visitors to have some say in the way the site is laid out, the type of graphics you use, the information you decide to include, the nature and extent of interactivity?

An online market research survey gives you just that opportunity. Several navigational schemes, design themes, and content selections can be presented to a sample of your potential Web site visitors. Their input can be limited to yes/no or multiple choice, however a moderated online focus group can also be staged to get a greater wealth of opinion. The results can be stored, analyzed and cross-tabbed. Participants can be reimbursed with gift certificates if their participation will require more than a few minutes of their time.

The benefits are obvious. You’re demonstrating that customer service is more than just an empty claim, it’s your mission. It also will really enlighten you to your visitors’ priorities… what’s important to them, and what they expect from your site. But most importantly, it allows your entire team to be united behind a common vision, one that is driven by your customers. You’ll eliminate the arguments that come from internal disagreements and differences of opinion. That alone will allow you to get more done, more quickly, and less expensively.

Obviously, a research project like this comes with a price tag, but typically it will save you as much as it costs in the long run. And, that doesn’t include the intangible value of the message of service you’ll send to your customers, and the elimination of the internal skirmishes and turf wars that will cost your organization resources and morale.

Share this article

Blog Home