The reason Amazon is so successful is that theirs is a services culture rather than a product culture.
"What we are doing is offering premium products at non-premium prices," Jeff Bezos told Business Week when launching the Amazon Fire tablet. According to Bezos "We don't think of the Kindle Fire as a tablet. We think of it as a service."
There lies the Amazon success story. So simple and yet so complicated. Why? Because selling services is a culture, a state of mind. Selling services is very different to selling products. It requires a much deeper understanding of the customer. It requires that you be around your customer much more and that you think and care about your customer much more.
Most web teams are product teams and most websites are products. They develop product in the form of content, or product in the form of applications, or product in the form of graphic designs. The IT department sees its job as choosing a product (content management system) for the website.
Your website is not a product. It is a continuously evolving environment inhabited by your customers. Right now, right this moment, your customers are walking around your website trying to get things done. You need to be there, observing them, seeing that they are successful.
When I encourage web teams to test and observe there is a general acceptance, but they often ask two questions. Can we outsource this to a usability company? If we have to do it ourselves can we find some software that can do it automatically and give us results we can analyze?
The core benefit of testing and observation is not in the test results but rather in the observation process itself. It's not the tests that matter, it's the testing. It's the understanding of and empathy for your customer that you develop as you continuously interact with them. This is the true gift of observation and is the core skill a web professional needs to develop.
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The Web is self service and all self service, whether it be McDonalds, Starbucks or Wal-Mart, is observation based. Managers manage by spending most of their week in the restaurants and supermarkets. Web teams don't do that. They are locked away from their customers. That's a huge disadvantage.
To manage a large website you must continuously observe and improve based on these observations. On Monday you test a scenario based on the previous weeks' testing. It might just be a change in the text of a link. You analyze the results on Wednesday, make some more refinements on Thursday and Friday and test again the following Monday. Week in, week out.
Continuous improvement, evidence-based management founded on what customers are actually doing on your website. It's very exciting. You will be able to make a change and see if the change actually works. This constant feedback to the web team is energizing. It gives focus and a sense of real value to work done.
Web teams have been locked away from their customers for too long. It's time to switch to a service culture. The rewards will be immediate and substantial.