Return on Behavior Magazine
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June 22nd, 2010

The one measure of customer satisfaction on the Web

web satisfaction

Task completion has by far the biggest impact on customer satisfaction on the Web. Everything else is just noise. Being customer centric on the Web is all about helping your customers complete top tasks quickly and easily. The customer is a stranger who has a ‘long neck’ of top tasks that are really important to them. Top task management is based on the following principles:

  1. Every website has a small set of tasks that deliver a huge amount of value. These are the top tasks and they exist in what I call the Long Neck.
  2. Every website has a large range of tiny tasks. Carefully managed, these tasks have the potential to deliver value, but they also have the real potential to destroy it by getting in the way of the top tasks.
  3. Manage the top tasks, not the content or technology. You must focus relentlessly on helping your customers complete top tasks as quickly and easily as possible.

The customer is dictator

There are two skills you must develop if you want to succeed in web management. The first is empathy for your customer. You need to develop a real feeling for your customer (the stranger). You need to think like your customer. You need to use the words your customer uses. Easy to say but one of the most difficult challenges any of us face—walking in someone else’s shoes.

On the Web, the customer isn’t king: they’re dictator. They are hugely impatient and often cynical and skeptical. They will scan your pages very quickly and if you don’t deliver they’ll hit that Back button.

The second skill involves linking and connecting. The Web is, in essence, a network and you need to combine empathy for your customers with an understanding of the journey they are on—the task they need to complete. In order for them to complete their tasks you will need to create appropriate links. Linking seems simple but is incredibly hard to do right, because to create great links you must truly think like your customer, using their language, making it absolutely simple for them and saving them as much time as possible.

Linking is what makes the Web the Web, and to write great links you must deeply understand the customer’s task. A link is a promise and you need to be able to make promises that you can deliver on. But before you can do that you must know why the customer is at your website and what they want to do.

The Pareto Principle-stretched

According to Wikipedia, “The Pareto principle states that, for many events, 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.”

Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist and sociologist. He noticed that 80% of Italy’s wealth was owned by 20% of Italians, and when he surveyed other countries he found that the same principle applied.

Through continuous research on websites over an 8-year period in 15 countries with over 60,000 test participants on a wide range of subjects, we (my associates and I) have found that:

  • 25% of effects come from 5% of causes
  • 60% (not 80% as Pareto suggests) of effects come from 20% of causes

What does this mean? A very small set of things (the Long Neck) has a huge impact. 5% of tasks account for 25% of the influence. On every website there is a small set of super-important tasks your customers want to complete. You must get these tasks right. Otherwise you lose your customers. We have found that this Long Neck phenomenon occurs when people use websites to decide:

  • What they want from a vacation destination
  • What is important to them from a personal development point of view
  • What they want from a new car
  • How they are going to choose a university
  • How they search on the Web to find out more about Barack Obama or John McCain, etc. etc.

The key to web success can be summarized as follows:

  1. Identify your customers’ top tasks and make sure you continuously improve them.
  2. Identify the tiny tasks and make sure these tasks don’t disrupt the performance of the top tasks.

So, what’s with the tiny tasks? Many thousands of people need to find out how to “sum a number” on the Microsoft Excel website. Only a tiny number need to find out how to use the IMSUM function. But when people searched for “sum numbers”, a significant number ended up on the IMSUM function webpage. This really annoyed them. To solve the problem, Microsoft deleted all function pages and instead placed them in a single page called Maths Functions. Customer satisfaction rose.

About the Author

Gerry McGovern

Gerry McGovern's company, Customer Carewords, has a unique solution that identifies the words that drive customer action once they arrive on your website. Visit:



Gerry is widely regarded as the number one worldwide authority on managing web content as a business asset. He has spoken, written and consulted extensively on web content management issues since 1994.

In 2006, he was described by The Irish Times as one of five visionaries who had had a major impact on the development of the Web. (The other four were Tim O'Reilly, Vint Cerf, Tim Berners-Lee, and Nicholas Negroponte.) In 2006, he received the Educational Contribution award from the Irish Internet Association.

In 2004, he was included in the 100 most influential figures in e-commerce in the UK and Ireland, as part of "An Internet Decade", which was organized by NOP World and E-Consultancy. In 2000, he received the Web Ireland Internet Industry Person of the Year award. He is a founding member of the Irish Internet Association and the Content Management Professionals Association.

Gerry has written four books. In 2001, he published two books with Financial Times Prentice Hall, entitled: Content Critical and The Web Content Style Guide. Design Research News stated that Content Critical "should be on the reading list of every course in Web design." Knowledge Management Review described it as a "bible" of content management.

In 2006, he published Killer Web Content (Bloomsbury / A&C Black). Suzanne Sowinska, Manager, Content Publishing Excellence, Microsoft Corporation described it as "essential reading". Bev Godwin, Director, The U.S. Government's Official Web Portal, said about the book: "Genius! Gerry McGovern gets it! If you read ONE book on managing a Web site, this is it."

Gerry has been nominated as best overall speaker at numerous conferences. He has spoken about content management at hundreds of conferences and workshops in 35 countries.

Previously, he was founder and chief executive officer of Nua, a developer of content management software and solutions. In 1996, Nua received the Best Overall World Wide Web Business Achievement award from the European Union.

Since 1996, Gerry has written "New Thinking", a widely read weekly email newsletter covering the role of content on the Web. In 1999, Gerry published The Caring Economy (Blackhall Publishing), which was voted 25th out of the top 50 new economy books by Middleton/Capstone.

Gerry holds a BSc Man. (2:1) from Trinity College, Dublin, and lives in Dublin, Ireland.

Gerry has appeared on BBC, CNN and CNBC television, partaken in various radio shows, and featured in numerous print media publications.



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