Customers and corporate digital communications – what the data says

Helen Lindsay explains how you can use data to find out more about customers and convince others in your organization that the corporate website should be serving them. 

Customers are rarely defined as a key target audience for the corporate website. Often, they are considered downright unwelcome and ‘should be elsewhere’ – eg, on brand or country sites. But our visitor surveys show that they do come to the corporate site, but that they often fail to achieve what they come for; and their failure damages their perception of the brand.

One quarter of survey respondents are customers

No one will be surprised to learn that jobseekers are a large, often the largest, visitor group on corporate websites. But for many clients, our evidence for high numbers of customer visits to their corporate site has been strong enough to prompt gasps of surprise, exasperation and subsequent rethinking.

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There a few caveats for our figure of 25 per cent. The profile of survey respondents does not completely accurately reflect the profile of website visitors. This is because not all respondents are truthful or careful when making their choices, and surveys are unavoidably skewed due to self-selection and the varying propensity of different visitor groups to respond. They are typically over-stuffed with jobseekers, consumers and private investors, and under-represent time-poor journalists and CSR professionals.

Also, we should note that the average of 25 per cent for our benchmark group hides a wide range, even within the same industry sector. Many companies want to route their customers elsewhere and a few do this well. This is a topic we will explore in a later post.

But nonetheless, we think that the sheer number of customer responses we’ve gathered on corporate sites delivers an important message. Customers should not be ignored as an audience group.

It’s a message that we increasingly see being heeded. Whilst in the past we were sometimes asked (by corporate comms teams frustrated and with no remit to serve customers) to exclude customers from our reporting, in recent years that’s changed as the demarcation between corporate comms, marketing comms and customer service has thankfully blurred.

One in two customer visits are ‘in scope’

Customers visit corporate websites for many reasons. Our surveys show that half of all customers visit for reasons that lie within the scope of a typical corporate website – to obtain information about the company, general product information (as might be provided in a ‘Brand’ section), news, complaints, CSR, contact and locations.

Indeed, customers may be one of the largest user groups for content in many sections of the corporate site, so the content strategy should address their needs when defining the level of detail and tone of voice. Customers complain about corporate language and feeling unwelcome. Here is just a sample of some of the free-text comments we have seen from frustrated customers:

‘The site is too company-focused. Build it for your customers. Customers want to know where your office is, what products you offer. Etc. Need useful info’

‘The site is a brochure. And what useful content there is north-America centric.’

‘The website serves only to promote [company] and show all of its glory, but doesn’t help customers in need of help of some kind concerning the products…’

‘The pages are all either advertising or corporate lies trying to promote a fake image. Be honest…’

‘There’s no simple statement of exactly what [company] does. I wanted to know in very simple easy to understand exactly what the company does.’

‘seems like you are more focussed on movement and images than providing facts and information’.

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The half of our customer respondents who visit for reasons that are ‘in scope’ should reasonably expect their needs to be met on the corporate site.

The other half of our customer respondents visit for customer service and specific product information. So for them, a simple intuitive customer journey to a brand or country site would probably be appropriate.

Customers are (by far) the group most likely to fail the goal of their visit

Just over one-third (or 35 per cent) of our customer respondents say they failed the goal of their visit, significantly higher than all other visitor groups. Another 24 per cent only partly achieved their goal.

Customers visiting to ‘know more about the company and what it does’ find the content lacking. Some content needs are specific to customers, but not all. Here are a few customer comments related to content:

‘Need more information about ingredients…’

‘Information about composition of products and where they are made’

‘I’m looking for distribution partners of a [product] and cannot find anything about where to get your products from so far’

‘Would have liked more information about your business in each country (In my case UK)’

‘Add hyperlinks to products and brands and more visuals. Add a help/chat feature’

Customers seeking customer service complain that it’s hard to find where to login to their accounts; download forms for warranty claims and refunds; and find contact details. Usability is the big issue but website content, particularly contact details, is often found lacking. For example:

I just need an email address or phone number for your company in the UAE. Clicking ‘contact us’ does not actually lead to any information at all about how to make contact. The only companies that do this are the ones that DO NOT WANT TO BE CONTACTED!!!!!”

For all of these reasons, customers are the audience group most likely to report ‘failing’ the goal of their visit.

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Intuitively, employees should be the group to fare best on their visits to the corporate site - benefiting from familiarity with the company and the website. Our surveys confirm this, consistently showing employees to be the group least likely to fail.

The picture for jobseekers is complex – the majority of their reported failures arise from a failure to find a job rather than a weakness in the website itself. We will explore this is a later blog in the series.

Other corporate visitors (partners, CSR, IR and Media) almost always report higher success on their website visits than do customers.

Half of customers say their perception is unchanged by their visit

Typically, a high percentage of customers – as well as employees and private investors – say their perception of the brand is unchanged by their visit. Their numerous interactions with the company, often over a long period, probably mean a single website visit is unlikely to sway their feelings dramatically.

Jobseekers are the most changed by their experience. Consistently, across all our surveys, they are the visitor group most likely to say their perception has changed for the better.

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Failure damages customer brand perception more than other visitor groups

Customers are not only most likely to fail; they are also an unforgiving lot. One in three (33 per cent) of all customers say their perception of the company / brand was better as a result of their visit to the website, but this falls to little more than one in ten (11 per cent) for those who failed the goal of their visit.

5-IMPACT-OF-FAILURE-BY-VISITOR-GROUP.pngOur survey data is clear that customers do visit corporate websites, for reasons other than finding products and services. It also shows that customers are most likely to fail to achieve their goals, and that there is a big risk to the brand when your website sends them away dissatisfied.

Data often decides arguments in organizations these days, so our survey data is useful the next time one of your colleagues says, ‘But customers don’t come to the corporate site…’

Helen Lindsay is associate measurement consultant at Bowen Craggs.

To discuss our measurement services, including how we can help with visitor surveys and analytics, please contact Dan Drury ddrury@bowencraggs.com.


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First published 21 January, 2020
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