It seems a bit surprising to some of us, but only half of all small businesses have a web site. That figure was touted by GoDaddy at the launch of its Australian operation last month, and even if it's only a ballpark figure it seems low yet believable.
For many people, the first port of call for information about products, services and businesses is the web. If you're not there, you're not visible. For all the buzz about social media, people who aren't Facebook users may be disinclined to visit your Facebook page even if it does show up near the top of a Google search, for example. So there's a lot to be said for having your own site and keeping your digital destiny in your own hands to the greatest possible extent.
But new research suggests giving customers a poor digital experience can have a very detrimental effect.
A survey carried out for enterprise software supplier SAP found that a poor digital experience translates to a lack of loyalty.
Admittedly, the research only looked at 34 major brands such as Suncorp and Kogan, but it seems likely that the findings would translate to smaller businesses.
Notably, where customers were dissatisfied with their digital experience only 17 percent said they would remain loyal to the brand, and those brands had average Net Promoter Scores of -55. (If an NPS of 50 is considered excellent, then -55 must be really bad.)
On the other hand, where customers were delighted by their digital experience, 73 percent would remain loyal and the NPS was 63.
Tellingly, only one of the 34 brands - an insurance company - had more delighted customers than dissatisfied ones.
The survey revealed three particular things that make for a delightful experience:
• Recognise the customer as an individual and appeal to or predict their preferences - without infringing on their privacy. (That's not easy to do. There's a fine line between individualisation and creepiness.)
• Respond to the customer, and allow them to interact with and control the experience. (Again, not easy to achieve. And we're not sure how realistic it is to seek the recommended "emotional response" from the customer if you're selling paperclips or other mundane items.)
• Make life easier for the customer, in part through anywhere, any time access. (Another reason to make sure your web site is mobile friendly.)
None of these are easy things to do, though it seems clear that if you make things harder rather than easier for people then you can't expect much business. And the underlying message seems to be that if you are online, you need to do it right or risk alienating a big chunk of your customers.