three design approaches
three ways to become a dotcom company
and three ways for your hopes to be dashed
The traditional route for established companies to get themselves online is to start by putting the product catalogue and brochures online.
Remarkably, many of the companies who claim to be leading the e-business "revolution" still have websites that are full of brochureware. Elegantly produced brochureware to be sure, with sophisticated search facilities, perhaps even download a demo, but thatís about all. Look at IBMís website. Look at any of the large consultancies and systems houses. Look at the small B2B enablers.
What are the benefits of this route? It allows you to do business with those customers who regard a professional or slick website as a token of seriousness. It can often reduce printing and distribution costs. However, many customers will still want printed material. You may even find that the website generates a higher demand for printed material than before. (Nothing wrong with that, of course.)
If you already have a call centre, there is a different route: replicate the services online.
Email order is just an internet version of mail order, online banking is just an internet version of telephone banking, and so on.
In some cases, a traditional bank has created online banking for its customers simply by taking the computer screens that would be used by the staff in the call centre, and developing internet versions of them, so that the customer can perform the same functions directly.
This route has a more obvious cost-saving than the first one. Unless your website is really bad, the total number of calls to your telephone service centre should be reduced, and this may allow you to reduce resources and/or provide more services to more customers with the same resources.
Thatís okay as far as it goes. To see more opportunities, letís look at online banking in more detail.
Letís start the design process, not by thinking how banking is done today, but how it was done in the mythical past. Nostalgia for a friendly avuncular bank manager, who gave you a glass of sherry and had a great deal of informal knowledge about your domestic and business affairs.
When I use my credit card to buy an expensive gadget in a dodgy shop, I am discretely called to the phone to confirm my identity. ("Whatís your motherís maiden name?")
But when I write a cheque for an unusually large amount, there is no verification. (Even if the withdrawal takes my balance beyond my credit limit, the bankís computer may still decide to honour it. And charge me an automatic penalty.)
Once upon a time, we might imagine, the bank manager might have phoned me to verify the unusual cheque, before clearing it through the system. Perhaps that level of personal service is still available to very wealthy customers. The bank manager knows Lord A well enough to judge when to call him for a discrete check, and when not to bother him.
With Internet, that service can be available to all customers. As an account holder with an online bank, I might want to set up a rule that any payment over, say, £5000, be held for confirmation (perhaps with some exceptions, such as a trusted stockbroker or bookmaker). When a cheque above that amount is presented for payment, it generates a secure email, or a message to my WAP-enabled phone, and I am given a choice of paying, stopping or holding.
Such services were never offered by call centres, and are unlikely to be offered by companies focused on building internet clones of the call centre. This is just one example - there are many others.
So Iím arguing that the designers of online services should be willing to base their solutions, not on "reality" (whatever that is in this virtual world) but on myth. Although this may sound perverse, it can often deliver a website that is closer to what the customer really wants.
Some dotcom companies have achieved huge market valuations based on the number of members. This has led to a short-term strategy: recruit large numbers of (unqualified) members, without any clear idea of how (if ever) you are going to make how much money from how many of them.
This strategy has already been discredited in Europe, following the poor stockmarket performance of lastminute.com and other similar ventures.
(Data service companies, such as Experian, now offer verification and qualification services, to help dotcom companies reduce the levels of false or duplicate membership. They claim these services will produce more accurate membership figures, as well as more useful customer data.)
It sometimes seems as if the only companies that are actually making big money from e-business are the portals such as Yahoo and Lycos. So now everybody wants to be a portal.
Turn your website into a portal, and this will magically attract millions of internet users to access a wide range of high-value third-party services, under your control. In your dreams.
Leafing through the newspapers, I find an online bank that intends to be a "portal" to a range of banking and non-banking services, and a building society that intends to be a "portal" to a range of home-moving services. A revolving door would probably be a more accurate metaphor.
Obviously (!?), most of the people accessing the internet are students and other young people. So if we put some pop music on our website, or some pictures of the bands, this will recruit young people in large quantities to our services.
One online bank features Fatboy Slim, while another online bank features the Corrs. Oh yeah, cool man.
Copyright © 2000 Veryard Projects Ltd