When Service Becomes a System

by Ben Perreira

The following is a post from my good friend and former colleague Ross Guthrie. A few times a year we get together to surf and discuss interesting business ideas, among other things. His take on ecommerce is especially important as more companies not only move much of their business online, but also have to find ways to use these ecommerce platforms as competitive advantages. 

The old business adage, “you cannot separate your service from the person providing it” implies that no matter how air-tight your employee handbook is, there is always the human factor; emotions, personalities, physical appearance, etc. But what does that mean in world where consumer touch points are increasingly digital, and business decisions rely on real data?

First, the benefits. Digital systems don’t have emotions and you can dress them exactly the way you want/need. You might be thinking, “But wait, digital systems don’t have personalities.” In this case, you would be wrong my friend.  Software is anything but perfect and I don’t think I need to tell you neither are the cables through which the data travels. Depending on your proximity to CDN, your browse behavior (machine interactions), and a myriad of other factors one can have many different experience as a user, developer, or integrator.

Now, some things to consider as you integrate new, commerce systems. Academically, information systems are judged by users on three major points; perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use, and media richness. As a business, you need a transactional engine, confidence in your data, and sound strategies for actionable tactics based on that data. Notice ‘business intuition’ is not included?  No more “I think this will work” or “I think we should” as a basis for revenue generating activity. We have machines specifically designed to observe and collect data for us and these same machines can even transform that data into information. It’s still up to you to turn that information into knowledge.

“That’s some fancy word-smithing, so what do I do?” When it comes to designing your interface, think inside the box or, more specifically, design for the smallest medium in which your customer could interact with your interface, think smartphones. This forces you to focus on essential functions and features; plus, you can always scale up. Also, follow the trends…if that little magnifying glass has proven a ubiquitous symbol for search, use it! Don’t get creative. This improves the perception of usefulness and ease of use.

Next, keep it snappy! Features are great, but if the page takes longer than 3 seconds to load you’re losing orders. Simple UI + Fast Load times = less opportunity for customers to exit the funnel.

In a brick and mortar store you can look at your customers and compare them to purchases; in the digital world this is not the case.  Configure your analytics to paint a complete picture of your customer through the purchase process. Use at least 2 but no more than three mechanisms for capturing data. That way you can extract, aggregate, and normalize data to account for any differences in methods used to collect the data.

And finally, get ahead of yourself but don’t bite off more than you can chew. Think about where you want to be 1-3 years from now.  Dream big, and then cut that dream into small bite sized pieces that a finite set of resources can realistically achieve in a given time frame.

The mechanics that come into play here are broad and complex. But if you, as a decision maker, can simplify the need into its essential components you’re left with a clean, predictable foundation on which you can build an empire. Good Luck, Godspeed, and may the coffee be plentiful.

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