Does your Web site really sell your company? Do its features serve any benefit to your customers? Does is it aptly project your company's image? These are all extremely important issues you should ask yourself, no matter if your Web site cost $50,000 to build or if it is little more than a company brochure turned into HTML and GIF pictures. Your Web site is rapidly becoming as important as your physical location. In the not so distant future, more of your clients may visit your Web site than call you in a day. That's why you must seriously think about how you could improve your Web site right now.

     

    An Extension of Your Company

    Just like any other aspect of your company, your Web site reflects the company's image. It should be an extension of what your company is about. Do you want your company to be seen as a professional organization? Then you better make sure there are no "dead links" or "misspellings" on your site. If you have worked to infuse your company with a "personality" of some kind, be it witty, business-like, reverent, etc., your site should also project that.

     

    Outside the basic look and feel of your site, you should have a purpose in mind as to the site's functionality. Ask yourself, how is your Web site improving your business? Your Web site should be built to benefit your existing customers and to help you retain relationships with them. Other functions of your site should be to act as a virtual salesperson as well as save your employees time.

     

    Benefiting Your Customers

    Your Web site should be a tool for providing better service to your customers. You can do this by making useful information available online. Examples of this are allowing customers to access their account information online, search a knowledge base of frequently asked questions, initiate and track jobs. If you are not sure what your customers really want, spend some time on the phone asking them. One great thing about a Web site is it is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Your customers will appreciate the ability to do their work, even if you're sleeping. The bottom line is that if your Web site is able to improve your customer's satisfaction, it will help you retain customers despite pricing pressures.

     

    Turning Prospects into Clients

    What if your Web site was the only thing a prospect ever saw about your company? Could it convince them they should use your product or service? Even if your Web site is not the only thing a prospect sees, it is very likely to at least be an addition. Your Web site should be a top-notch sales star providing users any and all information they will want to know about your company. From the types of jobs you do, to your most respected clients, to testimonials, to sample jobs you worked on and case studies on how they turned out, your site should be a monument about your company. The great thing about a well-designed Web site is it only shows the users what they want to see. So instead of burying users with information, your site should make its knowledge available by categorizing it and making it easily searchable.

     

    New prospects should also be able to get an idea on how your Web site benefits your existing customers. By allowing new users to see applications, even if they cannot access them, they will come to realize the added value your company provides.

     

    Saving Employee Time

    Unlike common misconceptions, Web sites are not built to keep customers from pestering your employees with questions. In fact, you should display your company phone number all over your site for immediate service. But often you will find that people would much rather look up questions online than call a representative. Their representative may be in a meeting or at lunch or maybe it is after hours. Even if they do get · a hold of someone, it may be several hours before the requested information is researched and the customer is called back. If this same information was easily accessible online, wouldn't it make your customer service better, while saving all your employees countless hours? Customer account information, request for quote forms and frequently asked questions are all things that could be automated to better your service and save you money. Helping your customers online will, in the long run, free up your representative to handle additional accounts and make their customers even more happy.

     

    How to Begin

    Now that you are thinking about the type of Web site you should create or how to improve your current site, you may ask yourself, is the cost worth it to have such a site? The answer is unequivocally yes. But just like a product that is researched and developed and brought to market, your Web site will not sell without promotion. This means sending out direct mail to all your clients explaining how your Web site can help them and including your URL with all of your advertising, letterhead, business cards and brochures. In the long run, you will win new business with the help of a superior Web site, and you will get clients to purchase more and stay with you longer. What you are essentially providing your Web site is an extra salesperson, customer service representative and receptionist all wrapped into one.

     

    So what's the quickest and most economical way to have your dream site? Well, that depends on your budget and how customizable you want your site to be. You really have three choices:

    1.         Outsource the implementation to an outside Web design company

    2.         Employ internal programmers to work on your site

    3.         Purchase or rent an off-the-shelf solution

     

    Outsourcing to a design firm usually requires an expensive upfront fee, but they are experts and can get your site put together more quickly. One important thing to remember with an outside firm is to make sure they build an entire back end to your site so you can modify areas of your site that may need to be updated without knowing any programming.

    Hiring internal programmers is a good choice if you have a custom solution that will be constantly changing. For example, internal programmers would be a better choice if you want to integrate your accounting and current management software into your Web site. I should warn you once you start doing everything internally, you probably will be stuck with at least one programmer for a very long time. The reason for this is, once you have spent the money to develop this complex site, you will want to make improvements at your customers request, create additional functions that may help your salespeople, fix glitches or do a site re-design. Make sure you have a plan on how you will take advantage of your Web site and make up for its production and ongoing costs.

     

    Your last option is to use an off-the-shelf solution. This is definitely a more economical choice, and it could be without much sacrifice if there is something out there specific to your industry. For example, Printable, www.printable.com, is a basic off-the-shelf site with loads of features made just for printers. Another example is our company, Mail Mogul, www.mailmogul.com, which rents applications specific to the mailing industry. Besides designing Web sites from scratch, Mail Mogul allows its Web site services to be added to customers' existing sites to improve them. Such features include a complex request for quote form for mailing projects, job tracking and a postal rate and regulation page that is updated on a monthly basis. Mail Mogul will even do a combination of a custom and an off-the-shelf solution if customers want to modify or add to Mail Mogul's normal Web site applications.

     

    Whatever your choice, remember your Web site should play an important role in your company. A poorly designed Web site could have an adverse affect on your company image, while correctly implemented, a Web site will serve as a valuable asset that pays for itself many times over through increased customer service, added business and freeing up employee time.

     

    Will Sparo is President of MailMogul.com, a portal site for mail shops and internal mail center managers.  From the site, users can purchase low-cost mailing supplies, mailing lists, data entry services, new leads in their area and Web site applications.

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