Shireen discusses removing digital roadblocks and the importance of making information easily accessible to prospective customers in the absence of face-to-face interaction.

Author: Shireen Shurmer

Patience is a virtue, but I’m happy to admit that it’s not my strong suit. Ask me when I want something and it’s a safe bet the answer will be ‘now’. So, I’m particularly sensitive to experiences, both real-world and online, that put unnecessary roadblocks in my way and slow me down.

All too often I find myself trying to access information and having to get past a data wall, filling in endless online forms, giving away a mountain of personal data, entering passwords and one-time authorisation codes (don’t even start me on those).

With the meteoric rise of ecommerce and the need to plan and reserve virtually everything online now, partly as a consequence of COVID, this maze of online information-gathering and validation is fast becoming the bane of my life.

Of course, I understand the value of data harvesting and the importance of online security. But it often feels as though organisations are collecting information from me that they will never use for my benefit, but that slows me in my tracks every time I try to buy from them or consume the content they’re so eager to share with me.

And, so far, I’m only talking about dealing with companies I actually want to interact with. Then there are the countless organisations filling up my inbox and social media feeds with content, promotions and virtual events to entice me, only to send me on a tedious digital goose-chase the minute I click to find out more.

In a world of growing content saturation and creeping digital fatigue, even for Gen Z-ers, why are brands so blinkered to the importance of making it easy to engage with them online? Why do they insist on erecting digital barriers that are likely to turn some prospects away at the first hurdle, rather than biding their time, making a positive impression and collecting the information they need when the consumer is ‘warm’.

It’s the online equivalent of walking into a store to browse and being ambushed at the entrance by an over-enthusiastic sales assistant shoving items in your face and insisting on taking your phone number. I can’t help but feel that marketing’s relentless pursuit of campaign metrics is in danger of turning off the very consumers it’s trying to attract.

Right now, the softer touch of face-to-face interaction remains elusive for many companies, but I’d urge businesses that are turning to online selling or ramping up their online marketing to remember one thing above all else. Customers are humans, not bundles of data. They have their own time pressures, challenges and – OK then – character flaws.

At a time when many aspects of our daily lives are more complicated than they should be, it’s in brands’ commercial interests to eliminate as many frictions as possible for the customers they’re courting.

My advice: strip the process of engaging, researching, browsing and buying from you to the bare bones. Make onward steps intuitive and only ask for data you really need. And when you’ve created your customer journey, ask a real human from outside your marketing and web teams to test the user experience and let you know where it lets you down.

Get it wrong, and you’re at risk of alienating a good proportion of your audience and losing potential sales. Get it right, and your customers’ satisfaction and repeat business will be its own reward.

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