The importance of putting your customers first isn’t a groundbreaking concept. Yet most professional services firms have websites with a customer experience that falls well short of that ideal.
Too many firms have websites that say what they want to say rather than what their customers need to know. Their sites are packed with jargon, difficult to navigate and try to address a multitude of audiences while satisfying none.
Whether they are B2B or B2C focused, too often professional services firms overlook the fact that their customers are real people with real problems that need solving.
Putting the customer at the forefront of your website’s design ensures a user experience that increases engagement, creates more qualified leads and improves your brand reputation.
The battle for attention online has never been more pitched, and industries have never been more ripe for disruption. You can safeguard your firm by designing a website experience that puts customers’ needs above all else.
Defining the Role of Design
Design goes beyond the purely visual elements like photos, colors, fonts and graphics. Effective design also encompasses the form and function of a website to ensure the end product serves its intended user.
So who are designers, and how can they improve professional services websites?
- Designers see something they want to make better. They identify a human need and brainstorm and prototype potential solutions.
- Designers aim to solve problems. They take a wide view and envision problems and opportunities others may miss.
- Designers ask “why?” They are good at determining what issues are real vs. which are imagined. They often ask, “Is this problem the problem we should be solving?”
- Designers have meaningful ideas. They come to the table with experience and informed recommendations.
Designers also have a variety of tools and strategies to arrive at a solution. Among the most effective and popular approaches is design thinking.
How to Use Design Thinking to Guide Your Customer’s Journey
Design thinking may sound like a buzzword, but it is a concept and a process that began in the 1950s and became a common practice in the last 20 or so years.
While design thinking originated within the industrial design and product arenas, it evolved and expanded to be deployed in almost every industry. As a customer-centric development process, design thinking aims to create products and experiences that are profitable and sustainable throughout their lifecycle.
In the website design context, design thinking emphasizes the needs and anticipates the actions of a site’s primary users. What are they looking for? How can you help them find it quickly? What are the roadblocks, and how can they be lifted? How are you providing customer support?
Done properly, design thinking leads to a professional services website that:
- Provides information to users quickly without them encountering friction or confusion.
- Delivers information without users feeling they are being “sold” a product or service.
- Gives customers an engaging experience that leaves them with a positive impression of your brand.
Creating such an experience requires taking a holistic approach that puts the customer squarely at the forefront of your design. Getting there also requires gathering insights from those who know your users best.
Collect Input From Staffers Who Are Closest to Your Customers
Developing a customer-centric website requires knowing how your customers actually use your product or service.
You can’t give them something designed in a way you would like them to use it or how you think they might. The stakes are too high for wishful thinking or educated guesses.
Instead, you should be actively soliciting input from those within your organization. Who has boots on the ground? What questions are customers asking? Where and how customers are engaging on your site?
Ask your sales representatives, your customer service team and even your recent hires. What have they observed about customer behavior? What feedback do they hear? Whether they provide anecdotal information or hard data, their insights can help you better see your site through the eyes of your customers.
But make sure you also take it a step further: Solicit feedback directly from customers themselves. Ask them what frustrates them about your site, what they find most useful or what is missing.
Establish Empathy to Better Serve Your Customers
Empathy is about putting yourself in your customers’ shoes. Imagine yourself in a typical customer’s scenario. How easy is it for them to get an answer or solve a problem?
Here’s how a Forbes article, “Empathy, Design Thinking, And An Obsession With Customer-Centric Innovation,” explained the importance of empathy:
“In its simplest and purest form, empathy enables us to not only experience and understand another person’s circumstances, but it also puts us in our customers’ shoes to experience what they are feeling…
“Empathy is the shortest distance between design thinking and customer-centric innovation.”
Think about the frustration you’ve experienced if you’ve asked someone for a referral and you were still not able to find the right person for you. The choices were confusing and overwhelming. Answers were elusive. Contacts were unresponsive. Eventually you left and went somewhere else.
If you can empathize with how your customers are trying to solve their problems, you can work proactively to address them.
3 Ways to Better Employ Empathy for a Customer-Centric Experience
Stay a Step Ahead of Your Customers
You may not have a crystal ball, but if you can at least peek into the future and solve tomorrow’s problems today, your customers will thank you.
For example, Apple’s physical credit card doesn’t have a number imprinted on it. If fraudulent charges are suspected, the customer is contacted by text, and then the account number and smart chip can be reprogrammed remotely, in seconds, eliminating the need for a company to make and mail the customer a new card. Cost and time savings on both ends.
What future problems can you address now and what efficiencies will your customers appreciate most?
Leverage Videos and Podcasts
What better way for a customer to feel like they’re being seen and heard than to have them see and hear themselves?
Videos and podcasts are powerful tools for developing empathy and cultivating a customer-centric experience. Your multimedia library should not only speak directly to your customer, it should ideally also resonate with them. They should be able to see and hear themselves, recognize their situation and see how you’re working on their behalf.
Listen to the Next Generation of Customers
Your current crop of customers won’t be there for you forever. It’s a business imperative that you provide an experience that the younger generation will appreciate.
That means giving them something that may go beyond your conventional business model and messaging. Whether it’s gender dynamics, racial reckoning, the economy or the climate, there’s so much concern among the upcoming generation.
They want to associate with organizations that demonstrate very clearly that they are committed to a higher goal. Are you letting them know they can feel good about the money they’re spending with you? Work to empathize with their needs.
Use Different Lenses to Identify Various User Needs
Not all answers to developing a customer-centric website are obvious. Some solutions may lie outside your normal field of view that you can uncover with a different perspective.
Harvard Business Review developed a quadrant-based toolset to help spot unmet customer needs. AKA: your opportunities.
The four ways of looking for opportunities include:
Telescope. Focus closely on users who are outside your core customer base. This is about looking for opportunity in all the wrong places—a deep dive into customer needs. One example is the OXO line of kitchen utensils that were originally created for arthritic patients—now beloved by consumers far and wide.
Kaleidoscope. Focus broadly on users outside your core customer base. This is the most challenging and complex method for discovering opportunity. It requires looking at broad sets of data and looking for patterns. Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, two graduate students were disturbed by reports of crime and sexual assaults inside unlit refugee camps. They developed a solar-powered lantern that provided refugees increased security and later found a commercial market among campers.
Microscope. Focus closely on your mainstream users. This could involve solving problems based on family or personal experience. For example, a designer astutely noticed her grandparents had difficulty identifying their individual medications and dosages. She redesigned and prototyped a prescription bottle to address the issues, which was later sold to Target.
Panorama. Focus broadly on your mainstream users. Digital solutions can allow us to reach large groups of people, but observation of individual behaviors provide deeper insights. Why do people like Peloton for fitness? Because Peloton has incorporated fun into fitness the way others haven’t.
Put Your Customer Before Your Shareholders and Your Competition
I see a lot of professional services firms, particularly those that are publicly traded, catering to their shareholders more than their customers. Those same firms (and many others) are also preoccupied with benchmarking their websites against the competition.
Internal pressure to address either or both of those constituencies can be strong. It also ignores the needs of your primary audience: the customer.
It’s not enough to say, “Well, this is how we’ve always done it,” or “What are our peer firms doing?” Today’s consumers are sophisticated and demanding. They expect a website that meets them where they are, providing a seamless, responsive experience.
Options for Moving Toward a Customer-Centric Website
The first step is acknowledging that your website could be doing more to put the customer first. And your C-suite needs to recognize that they don’t have all the answers.
It’s also difficult to go it alone on such an important undertaking, so it’s critical to find a design partner with experience in developing websites that give customers what they need.
Meanwhile, there are some exercises to try and steps to take that can begin moving you in the right direction:
Dive Into Your Data
Examined through a customer-centric lens, your website’s data can reveal important insights.
To identify problem areas, look at web page bounces, time on page, email unsubscribes, abandoned contact forms, and customer surveys.
What patterns do you see? Where might you focus your efforts at improving the customer experience?
Tweak a Corner of Your Website
You don’t have to undertake a complete website redesign to measure the effectiveness of a customer-centric approach.
For example, I have seen law firms successfully makeover their career section. They took what they learned there and applied it to other sections of their site.
This can be an iterative process. Prototype. Evaluate. Learn. Prototype. And the cycle continues.
Pursue a Pilot Program
It also doesn’t need to cost a lot to try out a more customer-centric approach.
Redesign something for a subset of your organization. Test a new platform with a small target region or practice area. See what works and adjust as needed. If you find success, you can expand on it elsewhere.
Designing a Customer-Centric Website Pays Dividends
Having a professional services website that puts the customer first isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity. Understanding how to get there is imperative in today’s business climate.
You need to establish empathy, putting yourself in the customer’s place. You need to give them an experience that gives them what they’re looking for and makes them come back for more.
Your website is your most powerful marketing tool. Designing your website to meet your customers’ most important needs is the best way to make sure your investment pays off.
If you would like to learn more about how we can take your firm to the next level, we look forward to hearing from you.