Manufacturers aren't all flocking to the web
In spite of the Internet boom of recent years, many companies are still holding out. For whatever reason, they just don't believe there is benefit in being on the web.USA Today recently reported that, according to studies by PC chipmaker Intel (Santa Clara, Calif.), "fewer than five percent of the more than seven million U.
In spite of the Internet boom of recent years, many companies are still holding out. For whatever reason, they just don't believe there is benefit in being on the web.
USA Today recently reported that, according to studies by PC chipmaker Intel (Santa Clara, Calif.), "fewer than five percent of the more than seven million U.S. businesses with five to 99 employees have sites on the World Wide Web." A recent Cahners Business Information study concluded only half of all suppliers to the manufacturing market, regardless of size, have web sites. Consulting firm Grant Thornton (Chicago) in its "Survey of American Manufacturers" found that half of the mid-sized manufacturing companies surveyed believed in 1998 that the Internet would have little, if any consequence to their company (see CE , April 1998, p. 50).
Other recent statistics show these companies may be missing the boat. The Cahners Business Information study shows that buyers and specifiers of industrial products, website customers, are very interested in getting product information on the web; 79% of surveyed buyers and specifiers go to websites to learn about general product capabilities; 74% go for detailed product specs; 71% go to learn about a vendor's full product line; and 52% go to download software or other material.
Buyers and specifiers also log into sites of suppliers they don't normally deal with to identify alternative sources. The study further showed that a good website reflects positively on buyers; 69% of respondents believe vendors with web sites are "more likely to be customer service oriented."
If a company determines the web is the place to be, then their approach has to be right. Jakob Nielsen, noted web usability specialist at Sun Microsystems (Palo Alto, Calif.), writes in "Top Ten Mistakes of Web Management" on his web site ( www.useit.com/alertbox ), "Most companies should start their web-design project by finding ways in which they can provide true customer value on their site. Give users benefits from spending time on your site, allow them to do business with you, and their money will follow." What benefits do users want? They want to learn about general product capabilities, get product specs, learn about a vendor's full product line, and to download software or other material.
But the best product-related sites don't stop with presales information. There's a lot a company can do online to support its products after the sale, particularly in the software field, and customers will always need support after the sale. It's one thing to have a phone number or e-mail address for customer support on a web site, but real value comes by making a web site a repository of support resources.
There are companies providing application tips and service documents for their products online. Some software vendors provide libraries where users can search reports of problems and learn how to fix them. Some also provide libraries of downloadable software, such as updated drivers and bug fixes. The best part is immediate access rather than making users call a customer support representative and then wait for the fix to be sent.
Making this commitment to service takes effort and time. But the cost to service customers well is usually money well spent. Unlike some media, the web is a fairly level playing field. Any company, whether big or small, can have a great web site. It just takes effort and an ear to listen to what customers want.
Matt Bellm, internet editor firstname.lastname@example.org