>This is the first holiday season that I decided to try and order a variety of gifts from the Internet. In the past, I have been the customer who has to touch and feel the product before making a purchase, but this year I couldn’t pass up all the online discount ads that kept popping up in my email box.

Most of the companies that I chose to do business with were familiar names with whom I had shopped in their physical locations. So, it was with high expectations that I entered most of their website domains. The degree of ordering online ranged from “this is a dream” to “what a nightmare!”. The easiest website by far was also the most attractive, appealing and reinforced the image that had been branded by the company in all their other forms of advertisements. I felt comfortable and at ease. Upon entering the website I didn’t have to sign in with a user name and password immediately, but could take my time, browse and actually even upon ordering did not have to become a registered user, but could stay as a guest. Finding detailed descriptions of the product, clear visuals that could be zoomed larger and even product reviews from bad to great were available on the easier sites. The best was when actually ordering; it was simple to process from the shopping cart to the credit card transaction and receive an immediate follow-up email confirming my order.

On the opposite hand, I experienced a couple of websites that were so difficult to navigate that I ended up calling in the order if I still felt I had to have the product. In one case, I bought from a competitor who had an easier site. As more and more customers are using the Internet to make buying purchases, companies need to recognize that everything speaks on your website just as strongly as it does in your physical location. Businesses need to ask three questions regarding their site:

1. Does it reinforce the brand and image we want it to?

2. Does the customer or browser feel welcome on the site?

3. How easy do we make it to purchase one of our items?

A Service Map is a tool to help a business walk through the online ordering process looking through the lens of the customer vs. the lens of the organization. Each point of contact is explored to see what would be mediocre service and what could be done to raise the bar to make it excellent service. For example: Is it clear when being asked for a phone number to use dashes between numbers or not? Is it easy to backtrack to a previous page and not lose all prior information? Is it possible to do business if you have forgotten your password? Is there a phone number easily found to call for assistance if needed? Go to http://bit.ly/5b0uMn to download a Service Map template to apply to your website ordering process.

As website ordering becomes more the favored way of buying by many people in the future, now is the time to take a critical look at your site and determine is it a dream for your customers to do business with you on the Internet or another nightmare?

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