The Loyal Customer:
Interview with Jakob Nielsen
practices unveiled! An interview with web-usability guru Jakob Nielsen
on building customer loyalty online.
websites keep track of you without getting in your face. They collect
their information and don't poke about in your private business. But
ultimately, they get the goods on your likes and dislikes and, as
a result, they come to know you better as a customer.
to Jakob Nielsen, that's how the really good websites keep their customers
faithful. He should know: in the world of the Web, Nielsen is the
"usability guru." He's on the inside track when it comes
to knowing what makes websites user-friendly - and what sends potential
customers running for the nearest cyber-exit.
Sarkar spoke with Nielsen about what it takes to build customer relationships
and customer loyalty online.
in 1996, you predicted that the key to website survival was going
to be the establishment of relationships between websites and their
users. Does that statement still hold true?
many ways, I've been almost vindicated. Websites still exist that
don't know anything about their users: you just go there and read
articles. But successful websites aren't like that.
successful website keeps track of you: the second time you go there
and order, you don't have to type in all your information again. You
may receive e-mail, but only if you've asked for it. Those types of
things. So I really believe that my prediction has mainly come true:
that the Web is really a narrowcast medium, as opposed to a broad-band
or broadcast medium. It's a way of connecting to people directly.
make a clear distinction between customization and personalization.
You say people don't have time to spend filling out registration profiles,
and that the way to gather customer information is through successive
still believe that. A lot of usability studies have found basically
one overriding factor about Web users: they are very impatient. They
just want to get going, get something done, click and get out.
that the "paradox of the active user?"
really is. Many times, if they would just spend a little more time
setting up profiles, they would be better off in the long run. But
people just don't think about the long term, and it's time for us
to recognize that.
the longer the registration forms you give people, the bigger the
drop-off rate. So if you give people a very short form, and then collect
extra information as you go along - at appropriate times, say: "Oh,
here's one more question," that's actually okay at this stage
of the relationship, and it's a much more productive approach.
you saying that content should be free?
saying it should be possible to get into it free. Then you can start
adding charges for various services, but very incrementally. In other
words, I don't recommend an all-or-nothing subscription fee - kind
of an all-you-can-eat approach. But the downside then is that people
don't get to sample the buffet. So if you want to give people some
free appetizers, for example, they can then order services one at
a time. "Do you want dessert? If you do, you pay extra for that
like the difference between the New York Times and the Wall
a great analogy. Again, it goes back to my basic principal, which
is, "If you put a big hurdle in front of people, they're not
going to jump over it." You should have a very easy registration
for people to get into the site.
you have any thoughts on what kind of content should never be personalized,
versus what should? When is it never a good idea to personalize?
a form asks what kind of business you're in, and you can say, "manufacturing,"
that's so broad that it isn't intrusive. But if it asks something
like, "Has your father ever had a heart attack?" that's
the kind of thing that's really personal, and people don't want to
answer. You have to build up your trust over a very long time before
people will part with any of that highly personal information.
a second kind of thing that I don't think should be used - Amazon.com's
book recommendations, for example. They do many things right, but
the books a person cares about can vary quite dramatically. One day
they're online to buy books for their friend or uncle or somebody
who has very different interests, and because of that, Amazon can't
accurately predict what that person likes. From the data you can collect,
you can't necessarily tell what this person's interests are.
about giving users choices based on the very design and layout of
the site? If they like something, they click on it. If they don't,
always have to design a great default. There's no excuse for not having
a good design. Don't say, "The users will adjust," because
many of them won't. If the default looks bad, or if it's awkward to
use, customers will just leave. So the default always has to be as
good as you can possibly make it. That will take care of the people
who don't want to customize. Secondly, you can make sure they aren't
hit with huge forms in the beginning. Allow people to come back, if
they choose, to the "tweaking" features, the customization.
But it should never be an either/or proposition.
also strongly recommend that they say they're not going to release
any personal data about users. You have to state it explicitly, or
people are going to think that every single thing they click on is
going to be revealed to some outside party.
you give me some examples of sites that do use personalized strategies?
I don't like the book recommendation feature very much, but I do like
the one-click ordering. That basically means that every single page
has been personalized to know who I am and where to ship the book,
if I want it, and to know which credit card to bill. So it's pretty
simple. At the same time, it's hugely useful and, of course, it also
leads to more sales.
a site like Motley Fool, the financial service, you can build up your
portfolio so you can keep track. You can see not only what the stock
market's doing, but what your investments are doing. I think that's
a very nice twist that I'm sure a lot of people find very valuable.
customer relationships: there's some controversy over whether customers
should opt in or opt out. What do you think?
think you should have them opt in, because if you have the box checked
by default, and people forget to uncheck it, they're just going to
be annoyed when they get a piece of e-mail they don't want. It's about
permission marketing. Permission means that they actually gave permission;
it doesn't mean that you tricked them into giving permission. Otherwise,
it's not really permission -- it just means that they didn't know
what they were doing.
want to send people e-mail they want to get. As e-mail keeps flowing,
and people get more and more, it becomes critical to narrow it down.
This means that instead of having a single check box, you might actually
want to have a few -- maybe two or three different check boxes for
different types of newsletters people might want to get. If you have
an all-or-nothing choice, you will find a lot of people going for
then you've created customer disloyalty.
You've created a need for customer service. Now you'll have to manually
take them off the list, because people don't understand instructions
about how to unsubscribe. This is another law of nature: you can put
it into the mail as many times as you want, but few people will actually
follow those directions. Users in the real world basically don't read
instructions. If they get a piece of e-mail they don't want, they
just hit reply and say, "I don't want this. Take me off the mailing
customer knowledge on your website is one thing. What about customer
knowledge across the brick-and-mortar stores, in the old-fashioned
call center? Is this integration happening?
should be much more integration. It should be possible for people
to look up stuff on the Web. If they placed an order over the phone,
they should be given some kind of tracking code so they can then go
to the website and look at the order's status, without having to call
again. Basically, you should allow people to use whichever of the
two media they prefer for any given situation. That means that the
two have to be integrated. As far as I know, however, they're almost
always separate, and don't talk to each other. There's no integration
of the database side, either, because they have some kind of legacy
system for the call center and some new system for the website.
far as customers are concerned, it's like two different companies.
A particular horror story that my sister experienced was with United
Airlines. This was half a year ago now, so they may have improved.
She had booked a ticket at the website, [and] she had to change it.
So she tried to go to the website, but at that time, the site didn't
offer the option to make changes, only to book tickets. So she called
up United Airlines customer service and said, "I have this ticket
booked. Could you please change it?" You can always do that if
you have booked over the phone. But the customer service rep said,
"This was booked through our website. We don't know how to handle
that." So she was transferred from one person to the next and
spent almost an hour dealing with the simple task of changing her
travel time from Wednesday to Thursday.
talk about distributors and suppliers, and the kinds of relationships
from those sides. If these are your official partners, they will be
willing to create profiles and fill out process forms. What do you
see happening in that area?
many ways, that's almost the most important area, and those relationships
are just as important as customer relationships. Customers often don't
have much motivation to talk to you, because there are hundreds of
other companies they want to talk to as well. Your actual partners
have already decided they're going to deal with you, so they're much
also know they're going to come back frequently, because they have
this ongoing relationship. All of those are reasons why they are,
in fact, going to be more motivated to go through a more elaborate
integration with your website. Even so, they shouldn't be required
to spend forever on the process. But if you're comparing them to your
customers, you can give your partners more features and longer forms,
because they know it's going to be worth their while.