Knock, knock. Who’s there? It could be a salesman with vinyl siding samples, a fireman raising funds for the families of fallen comrades, my neighbor returning my iron frying pan, a friend I haven’t seen since high school, a lost traveler seeking directions, or someone I actually invited over for drinks and was expecting. They all have equal access to my front door. But am I happy see them all and treat them equally? Maybe they only make it as far as the foyer. Maybe I step outside and deal with them there. Or perhaps I’ve left a note on the door. Maybe I hide in the upstairs bedroom until they go away.
It’s no mistake we call the first page of our websites – the Home Page. Just like my front entrance, it wants to be welcoming and make a good first impression. It also wants to make a distinction between friend and foe, opportunity or risk. The Reader’s Digest ran a great article years ago on the disappearance of the front porch and the rise of the back deck. The article lamented the fact that those nodes on the neighborhood network were all but gone and you had to hunt for the front entrance in new contemporary houses. You were often greeted by locked, looming garage doors. That front porch linked the entire town to stories of triumph and defeat. They were the original viral mechanisms keeping people connected and in the know. That’s a time when people knew their neighbors and felt part of a community.
We invite people to the front door of our businesses – through that website – the obligatory marketplace billboard for our organizations. We use the right terminology; communities, networks, visitors, and hope to craft continuous, connected conversations. We invest in technology that tracks and chats, and pings and bumps. We talk navigation, experience, and personalization. But nearly all the websites I’ve reviewed are static content, with little true interaction beyond a chat and a movie. And we dare to call it a customer experience. Those sites bark the latest deals, spin the carousel of offers and assume we know what our visitors need. We design for call avoidance, and serve up a menu of options WE want them to take. Yet we never ask the fundamental question, “What would you like to do?”
But these are places to window shop, comparison shop and nurture a relationship. Your website creates first impressions about your brand and is the design center of your campaigns. It can take a prospect from cold to conversion in minutes or it can frustrate and disappoint them so they never return. Few websites today are crafted for the visitor’s experience first, the brand’s need to communicate second. Even fewer make meaningful distinctions between current customers and new guests beyond the sign-in. But they all do a great job of screaming at you without making a sound.
Forget the sophisticated usability and UX testing. It’s clearly not enlightening you. Have someone who knows nothing about your company knock on your front door. Watch over their shoulder as they look for it, find it, open the door and step into the foyer. Have you offered them a drink and a place to get comfy? Have you accommodated their needs and fanned their interests? Have you given them paths to follow and catered to their preferences? If they get lost, do they find their way again? Are you engaging them at every turn or did you just leave a note on the front door and you’re hiding under the bed?