You built your e-business, and you had your marketing folks build the best campaign possible. Your applications and infrastructure are top-notch, and you've made sure that you hired only the best and brightest technical people. There's only one problem. Sales are flat ­ not just slow, but pancake, white bread, roadbed flat. Why? One possible answer could be that your customers simply don't like ­ and, therefore, don't use ­ your Web site. You can fix this problem if you learn to stop thinking like a techie and start thinking like the customer. It's the old tag line: See the customer, be the customer.

Do you have any idea what it feels like for your customer to navigate your Web site? Sure, you had trial runs of the site before you went live. All the Web guys made sure the applets opened properly and all the links were connected. They, however, programmed the site, so they know the site.

It doesn't seem abnormal to them to have to drill down five levels to find a specific product when they don't know the exact name of the product to enter into the search engine. It also doesn't seem abnormal to them to have graphics that take 10 minutes to load when they open the Web site. After all, they've got super powerful machines that don't balk at downloading a graphic-intensive site. They also don't have a problem navigating the payment process, because they're looking for function, not form and ease of use. These problems will irritate customers who try to use your Web site ­ and depending on how severe the problems are, they will drive customers away in droves.

I'm not telling you how to design your Web site; I'm talking a wider concept here ­ that of listening to your customer. Focus on the customer. Make the customer the answer to every question you have. This involves more than just looking around at what's on the market or letting consultants tell you the hottest tools and design concepts. It requires making the customer the reason you exist as an organization. Most companies, although they don't look at it that way, are not in business to serve the customer. They serve the customer to stay in business and make a profit.

What I'm suggesting is the radical concept of making the customer the reason you are in business. If the customer is central to your business, the customer will be happy and the profits will follow.

The first step is to start looking at how your organization is defined. Are you set up, from front to back, to ensure that the customer is the overriding concern in how your processes are designed? If not, why not? Is it because you lack the data to know what your customer wants and how to give it to them? This can be fixed, but it will take some effort on your part and a commitment to restructure your IT infrastructure to focus on the customer.

You've heard of this concept before: CRM ­ customer relationship management. It is a front-to-back office design of people, processes and applications that are designed to delight the customer by providing exceptional service. If you don't have a CRM initiative, I would seriously suggest that this be your next IT project. I will guarantee that your competitors are looking at, or implementing, CRM initiatives right now. Don't get left behind.

The CRM initiative ­ at the application level ­ is not enough. In e-business there are multiple touchpoints with your customers. Therefore, it is absolutely critical that you ensure that all of them, from your Web site to your call center to your storefront, are integrated and optimized. Begin by asking yourself these questions: How well is my e-business integrated with my existing channels? Are all of them optimized to serve the customer as well as they can, and are they better than those of my competitors? The answers to these questions will drive the direction of your CRM initiative.

Back to your Web site problem. The answer is not a spiffier site. It is much larger. If you design your site ­ and all your customer touchpoints ­ with the customer in mind, the site will take care of itself (with a little help from the designers). It is even more than that. Take a look at your processes too, as well as how well your IT applications support those processes. If you're really going to have true CRM, you must have customer-driven processes and truly supportive applications. If you can juggle all these things successfully and never take your eyes off the customer, you will have a successful e-business. With all the Internet-savvy customers and competitors you have to deal, a successful e-business equals a successful business.

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