January 14th, 2010.
As much effort needs to be put into offline follow-up as your website itself. You are the main event of your website, and whether or not you follow up enquiries is a huge reflection on your organisation as a whole.
I like to use a website contact form because they’re quick and easy. It’s not always convienient to pick up the phone, especially when you may be on hold for half an hour.
Lately I have had a couple of enquiries for Camden City Council. Although I get an instant confirmation email (from firstname.lastname@example.org) it includes a disclaimer reading “If you do not hear directly from the team involved within 10 working days you may contact the Central Complaints unit direct on….”
If it was suitable for me to call them then I would have in the first place, but for whatever reason I have chosen to email them, and it’s not unreasonable to expect a reply. I still have not had a proper response from them about my enquiries.
These are just 2 examples; unanswered enquiries happen all the time. It’s so common that you’re probably thinking “Well that’s what you get from filling in an enquiry form.”
But I have huge faith in websites, and I know encouraging contact is the main goal of many sites – so why is this rudeness acceptable and website enquiries go ignored?
Janey at Basically Black is an example of how to do offline follow-through well. We recently did a survey of her customers and almost everyone said how friendly and helpful she had been with choosing sizes, placing orders and managing returns.
It’s no surprise she’s seeing a lot of repeat customers and verbal recommendations – and it’s a shame others are missing the trick.
April 20th, 2009.
A bold statement to make maybe, and a few months ago I would have laughed at anyone making such a claim, but over the past few weeks and months Twitter has evolved into something unique that Google, and indeed no other search engine has managed to achieve.
Lets get one thing straight – Google is still the search engine to beat when it comes to archiving vast quantities of historical information and giving users a simple interface to retrieve this stored data. If you want to find expert reviews of that new LCD TV that you’re thinking of buying, research your homework, find that website that you can’t quite remember the URL of, look for a good cheesecake recipe, and whole host of other search query types, then Google is your first port of call.
However, where Twitter is coming into its own is enabling its users to get real-time access to information from real people.
Three main factors have contributed to Twitters strength in this area and will act as barriers to entry for others,
1. Twitter turns users into publishers – on Twitter people are the key. Everyone using the service is a publisher. Posting information, ideas and facts that effect and relate to them.
2. Achieved a critical mass – over the past few months the enormous growth of the Twitter user base means that with the huge amount of information being published every day by a massive number of users now increase the chances are that someone will have posted on the subject you’re looking for, and if needed you can even contact them directly.
3. Mobility – The concise nature of the service means that it is one of the first web services that is truly suited to use away from the computer and gives people the ability to post and access information on the go.
One of the first examples that brought home the power of the service to me personally was when travelling through London a couple of weeks ago only to experience the usual travel chaos.Â A quick Twitter search on my phone revealed that depressingly there had been a fatality, and the station was unlikely to reopen for some time. With the use of Twitter I was even able to meet up at a bar with some friends who were also stuck in the area, and we then got updated via a Twitter travel service when the station had reopened.
Twitter isn’t just suited to turning miserable Friday evening travel chaos into drinking sessions. Even the major news outlets are waking up to realise the power of the service. During the G20 protests in London, Sky News, who were the first to announce a dedicated Twitter correspondent, dispatched three ‘Twitter reporters’ into the area who were tasked with reporting up to the minute news via their Tweets and the use of Twitpic for images. While following the progress of the events on both TV and the major news corporations websites, I increasingly found that is was Twitter search that was providing information far in advance and in many cases in more detail than was being provided though traditional sources.
It’s not just real-time national and local news where Twitter gives access to information that other search engines don’t. It’s also a great resource for “real peoples” product and service experiences. People are now far more likely to Tweet about their opinions on purchases than they are to blog about them or add their views to a reviews website. Consumer electronics, airlines, hotels and internet services companies have all been on the good and bad side of Twitter publicity. An added dimension is given by the ability for these companies to contact their users directly.
With user growth and usage being directly proportional to the volume of information continued growth can only mean increasing the services usefulness as a search engine.
Mainstream media has been among the first industries to wake-up to the potential of Twitter, and on the whole have embraced it as an additional news channel.
So what is next for Twitter? I can see their real-time search results taking on additional dimensions, perhaps some form of relevance ranking, additional sorting options and further integration to tie it more securely to the service. Monetisation of these search results is probably not too far away
January 12th, 2009.
Apparently there is a recession.
The media will have it that the world is in meltdown and that it’s armageddon out there.Â
Woolies, MFI and Adams have gone to the wall.Â Well honestly, I am not surprised.Â Woolworths and MFI were awful businesses stuck in a time warp and deserved to die.Â They were slothful and easily out done by more dynamic competitors.Â MFI have done nothing in the last 20 years to dispel their brand image of producing low quality, dated furniture.Â Â Woolworths were kidding themselves if they thought that people actually enjoyed entering their shops.Â They may have been cheap but even the bargain hunters appreciate clean, well presented shops.Â I never went into Adams but they looked pretty dated even though they were relatively new.
Other companies are retracting as well.Â Marks and Spencer are closing some food halls but so what.Â They had over expanded in the good times.Â The fact that they are closing a few poorly performing shops isn’t the death knell.Â It’s just a little tightening following a gluttonous expansion.Â And maybe it means that the consumer, who is a little more careful these days would prefer not to pay an excessive premium for nearÂ identical products being sold next door.Â
The care free spending attitude has changed and retailers need to adapt, but it doesn’t mean that people won’t spend money if the product is well priced and well presented.
This all reminds me of a previous hullabaloo in 2000 when the .com bubble burst.Â The world’s press then tried to write off the whole Internet as a busted flush, when in fact there were many businesses doing very nicely online thank you.Â It was only the news grabbers who had borrowed millions to set up spurious, hubristic .com world beating websites that failed to succeed.Â They were poorly thought out businesses and poorly executed.Â They too deserved to die.Â There were many smaller, prudent businesses making a decent return throughout this period.
So, as before and as now there may be some troubled waters but there is no reason for retailers to panic.Â (Though for bricks and mortar businesses, they need to renegotiate their exorbitant rents with their landlords).Â This is especially true online.Â People still have money and they would prefer to spend it online. Anecdotal and personal experience shows that online sales on most websites are growing.Â Latest sales figures from those retailers that have reported on Christmas sales also supports this:
John Lewis – online sales up by 27%
House of Fraser – online sales increase of 150%Â (1.7 million visitors over Christmas period)
M&S – online sales up by 29% (although down 7.1% overall)
Ocado – up 97%
Sainsburys – online sales up 27%
Thorntons – online sales up 25%
Next Direct – up 1.1% increase since last year
Aldi visitor traffic up 64% year on year
Play.com Sales up 20%
Our own clients at Datadial have also reported record online sales.Â
The big question for these retailers is how to return to charging full value for their products and services and to get away from the omni present discounting.Â This is the subject of my following blog.
One of the main obstacles to overcome when trying to convince a client of the merits of corporate blogging is the view that it’s a niche medium and it’s really read by visitors.
Recent figures released by ComScore indicate otherwise. A huge 41% of the total internet audience visited at least one blog in August 2008.
â€œBlogs have become part of the essential fabric of the Internet today,â€ said Herve Le Jouan, Managing Director, comScore Europe. â€œThey live and breathe in real-time, helping quench media consumersâ€™ thirst for the most up-to-date breaking news, information, and analysis. It should not, therefore, be particularly surprising that theyâ€™re increasingly displacing traditional media usage and carving out an ever-increasing slice of the online advertising pie.â€
July 9th, 2008.
The world’s most famous geek, Bill Gates has recently stepped down from his post as commander-in-chief of the world’s biggest software company – Microsoft.
The man who once claimed he wanted to put a computer on the desk of every home has decided to take a step back from the amazing expansion seen in the computing industry over the past 30 or so years.Â He plans to devote more time to his family and to his charitable organisation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, while still remaining Chairman of the company and keeping some influence over special projects such as future versions of Windows.
Bill Gates originally started his career by creating the programming language BASIC with his old school friend, Paul Allen, for the Altair 8800, one of the world’s first “Personal Computers”.Â Eventually he registered Microsoft as a trademark in 1976 out of this work and brought together a collection of computer hobbyists and enthusiasts to become his first employees.Â By 1980, Gates and Microsoft agreed to produce an operating system for the PC being developed by IBM, otherwise known as MS-DOS.Â What followed was a massive expansion in their employee base and turnover, which in turn produced the first version of Windows by 1985, Microsoft Office by 1989 and by 1995, Gates was declared the richest man in the world.Â At present, Microsoft now employees over 90,000 workers.
Just what does Gates’ departure mean for the future of Microsoft?Â Well you would probably be suprised to hear – not much.Â Two people have taken over Bill Gates’ role – Ray Ozzie and Steve Ballmer, but in the large part no one will know the difference as Bill Gates will always be considered as ‘Mr Microsoft’ long into the future.Â I suspect the work at management level and the key decisions that are made will remain much the same.
I think that the next big task for Microsoft is to really brush up on the quality control side of things.Â It’s fair to say there have been a few shambles over the past few years in all branches of the companies products – from the faulty X-Boxes, to the completely unfinished Vista, to the shambles over Office 2007 document formats and backwards compatibility and the uproar over Outlook 2007’s email rendering it’s been a pretty fiery time for Microsoft recently.
It’s not all bad though as on the plus side it really does seem they are keeping on top of the ball in the future of touch screen technology, releasing Windows on next-gen phones and attempting to make multi-billion dollar takeovers of major rival companies.
What the future really holds for Microsoft, that remains to be seen.Â One thing for sure is that there will always be Microsoft haters and hard-core devotees – that will never change.