Changing nothing means nothing changes

On modernising websites of established brands with a mature customer base.

It’s really difficult to implement change in any brand, let alone a long established one - especially when your customers have had a long relationship with the company. Changing something as important as the company website could risk alienating customers who use the platform regularly. And ‘new’ doesn’t always mean it’s better, right?

Why does it need to change?
If something isn’t working so well on your existing site then it goes without saying that this is an opportunity to address that - and all other issues that might have come up in the functionality, layout and language.

If your site was put together without very much planning going into the content a few years back, then you should know this is very common. How websites are planned now are completely different to ten years ago, when it was too often handed over to anyone in the company with a bit drive and some Dreamweaver experience. This often resulted in every last bit of information about the company being sprawled over 30 pages like an online filing system, whether it was useful or not to the user.

Maybe your existing customers have got used to it, but is the site actually easy to use for new customers? Most vitally, is it just looking a bit outdated and in need of a fresh new look, or do you actually want to do something new with it?

Your website is more than just an advert for your company. It should look nice, yes, and represent the brand visually. But it is a tool for your customers. Redeveloping it means, yes, you can address all those existing problems with the one you have, but can often mean the ability to offer services that you’ve been unable to before. This is only a good thing for your customers.

What more can you offer?
You should be asking yourself “how better can we serve our customers?” Often, it’s helping them to help themselves – getting rid of paper systems by giving them tools to look after their own accounts. You may not be Google, and you may not have infinite amounts of money to throw at the project, but this is an investment. Websites can no longer be seen as a mere ‘add on’ – they are an integral part of the business. What am I talking about? They are usually the first things that people see - they are your business. Utilise your site properly.

A lot of money can be saved in the long run when staff resources are put to more important tasks than administrating customer information. Isn’t it better for your customers to be able to talk to an actual human being on the phone to make a complaint, rather than be held in a queue behind ten people who need to update their details? That is the website’s job. It can be hard to implement these big changes, but it’s often more economical in the long run and it means a better service for your customers overall.

Where do you start?
So how do you decide what to offer on your new site? That’s a balance between what your customers want – existing and potential – and what is a realistic offering. Look at what your competitors are offering – can you do that on your website? Can you do it better? Can you do something that actually trumps that?

That is quite possibly what should be new on your website.

And look at customer feedback. What do they ask for the most? One person asking for something isn’t grounds for a change that will cost lots of money and potentially see no return to the company. But the same request from different customers is a good starting point. Then test the ideas on the rest of your customer base – ask them what they want, this is valuable research that could potentially benefit the company.

Asking your customers directly will likely prompt lots of weird, whacky, and unrealistic things (they think everyone is Google), but you will get some gold – valuable suggestions that you might not have thought of before. Or perhaps you have, but thought your customers were ‘too old’ or set in their ways to actually want that particular service. Your customers might be mature, but many of them are banking online, reading their news on the BBC website and using Facebook or twitter. The worst thing you can do is underestimate them.

Doing these exercises will give you some realistic options, and a decent set of parameters to run by your stakeholders on a wider level, until you have a popular vote and something tangible to aim for.

It’s not just to look pretty
Sometimes a website revamp is accompanied with a rebrand – dreaded by communications and marketing teams world over. And that can also get everyone’s backs up – the world and his wife, suddenly become self-appointed graphic designers, experts in design, colours, and fonts.

And whilst those things are important, your brand isn’t just your logo and the pantones you’ve picked. Your values are also your brand, and these come through in how you communicate with your customers: in the language you use, the tone of voice in the copy you publish. Consider them carefully. If you are worried about losing your identity to a rebrand and a new website then here is where you reassure your customers that you’re the same good guys, but also, better.

And it’s true, we don’t have to be victims to fashion just for the sake of it. So many brands can revamp unnecessarily. But we certainly have a duty to keep attracting new customers, as well as retaining existing ones, keeping them happy, serving them well. So that means moving with the times when technology allows us to do things that makes your customers lives easier, even if they don’t always realise it.

A good working website, with a strong offering, clear sign posting, straightforward language and a pleasurable experience for the user will leave your customers, both new and old, thinking positively of you – even if you don’t hear that directly. But when your customers are tweeting you about how great your new website is, it’s proof your it’s also doing the advertising for you (and so are your customers).

Failing to invest in your site adequately is a mistake no company can afford. Customers and staff should not feel like a new website is the end of the world. Yes, with change can sometimes be a bit of pain: if it changes work flows and processes for staff, or when customers get flustered because something has moved – but this is temporary pain for long term gain.

And whether your website is just being slightly refreshed, or completely updated and modernised, it certainly doesn’t mean a company’s values have changed. And that’s the point. Your customers should feel like this is for them, because it is, and your communication with them over these changes is vital (but that’s a whole other blog).
Remember: we should not only be aiming to fix existing problems and be more efficient. We should also be aiming to please and exceed customer expectations. We should be making them fans.

Jade Zienkiewcz is a Content Editor who has spent almost 12 years in communications and marketing, delivering content and running social media as well as website and intranet development, specialising in user experience.

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