Boosting Online Performance In The Digital Service Era

Duncan MacRae is former editor and now a contributor to TechWeekEurope. He previously edited Computer Business Review's print/digital magazines and CBR Online, as well as Arabian Computer News in the UAE.

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Joram Cano, solutions consultant for EMEA at Keynote (now part of Dynatrace), discusses the importance of having a website that customers love

The online user experience has transformed within the past few decades. The internet has almost become unrecognisable compared to its earlier static format. Not only are we interacting with web pages and communicating online, but businesses were once built with the very intention of selling an online digital service.

Airbnb doesn’t own any property, Uber doesn’t own any cars and Facebook doesn’t produce any of its content; yet, all of these companies generate revenue from being online. They deliver a digital service and online performance is therefore critical to their users’ satisfaction. What’s more, as services such as these have been developed, expectations of online usability have steadily increased. A subpar user experience is no longer acceptable.

ciscoShift in digital expectations

What would you do if Facebook continually started to crash and become slow to load content?  Would you consider using other social channels, such as Twitter, Instagram or Google+? While there may be other reasons you use a particular social channel, usability is bound to be a key factor in how much you post, particularly if a direct competitor comes on the scene. The story is the same for Uber and Airbnb; while at relatively early stages in their lifecycle, it would be foolish to think that competitors won’t start to emerge and they have to ensure users continue to get the best online service possible.

For these sorts of digital services, online performance is everything and the success of Airbnb, Uber and Facebook is largely down to the fact that these companies have harnessed their digital assets and provide a good user experience time and time again. Indeed, we’ve looked at response time for Facebook in the past; load time was rarely more than two seconds and availability tended to be close to or beyond 99 percent.

It’s these companies which have set the tone in the digital world and online users now want a good online experience regardless of what site they’re using. This can prove a challenge for many companies, as they’ve been around a lot longer than the digital service disruptors that have recently transformed their respective markets. For many of these more established companies, they have already had many iterations of a website, they’ve often built from the desktop up, causing load issues on mobile and tablets.  For them, it therefore requires a complete step change in digital content delivery to meet current online user expectations.

In some recent research from Forrester, we found that a worrying 45 percent of organisations didn’t know if they’d had a digital performance issue during the last 12 months, that’s nearly half of organisations not knowing if their customers have had a poor user experience and not knowing if they’ve lost customers to competitors as a result. Things are hopefully about to change, however, and 54 percent of respondents do consider improving the quality and performance of their customer’s experience as the most important factor in determining the success of digital initiatives during the next 18 months.

Carving out a competitive advantage

Online user demand for a well performing site could be an opportunity for many vendors. Some industries may not have fully embraced the ‘digital service era’ yet and it could be a way to completely disrupt the market. With a well performing website vendors can not only retain existing clients, but can attract new ones. After all, the Y generation will increasingly be taking over the pool of potential clients and they won’t wait ten seconds for a site to load. What’s more, as other vendor websites fail to improve their online performance, those that have invested in the performance of their digital assets can swoop in to save the day.

Good online performance in the era of the digital service isn’t rocket science. It requires sites and webpages to consistently load fully and correctly so that they are usable and responsive for online users. Despite this, 78 percent of line of business respondents surveyed by Forrester didn’t believe their organisation had the digital performance analytics capabilities to inform digital strategy now, let alone in the foreseeable future. Website owners need to continually monitor performance to ensure sites loads quickly and that any issues are flagged before they have an impact on the customer. Testing should also be carried out, and can be done in a number of ways. Emulated testing is done by an automated machine running scripts, making it fast and easily comparable, whereas real user testing can simulate the actual visitor journey, giving its results more credibility but making it a slower process. Using both of these techniques will provide companies with an accurate picture of how a website is delivered to consumers on mobile, tablets or traditional desktop devices.

A lot can be learnt from those companies pioneering the digital service and vendors need to step up and take notice. Digital performance has become a critical enabler for businesses and can no longer be an afterthought. Just as you want your shop window to draw people past the threshold, good online performance and a well designed website will draw consumers into your site. It will allow you to interact with your customers, position what your brand stands for and give your products a fighting chance of excelling in a competitive online landscape. Without good online performance, none of this is possible and an increasing chunk of your business will be up for the taking.

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