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Customer-effective web sites. (Book Reviews).

Jodie Dalgleish. 2000. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall PTR. [ISBN 0-13-087827-8. 274 pages, including index. $39.99 USD (softcover).]

When I was a boy, I visited a country town where I befriended a man who grew tomatoes in his garden. He sold them at a roadside stand, and I was allowed to help him. I have always remembered how he told me to complete a sale, especially a good sale to nice people. He said that after taking their money, I should give them an extra tomato free--"for the baby," as he put it. My tomato stand experience taught me a lot about the good things that happen when you show warmth to a customer, especially one you want to keep.

I mention this because Jodie Daigleish's Customer-effective Web sites, while comprehensive, somewhat original, and definitely well meaning, registers on my thermometer as being chilly, calculating, and lacking in the human touch. It talks about "customers," not individuals you may meet like Sam White or Bessie Black. It's a beautiful head trip, not a book of emotions, much less anecdotes. It's like reading a design document, but not rolling up your sleeves and getting down and dirty with the real product. Too often, its admonitions and advice are based on what the author says is her expenence, not on carefully documented, much less original research.

This is not to say that Customer-effective Web sites is without merit. To the contrary, it's full of good ideas, suggestions, and guidelines that are well worth considering. I especially identified with Dalgleish's suggestion that one thing customers want to do on the Web is provide feedback, having recently used the Web to express my feelings to the management of a certain company.

The book touches all the right bases. It opens with an overview of the Web and the ways that the Web is changing. It stresses the importance of customer effectiveness and Web sites that allow customers to do the things they need to do, such as set up, change, or discontinue products or services. To provide a customer-effective order process, the author tells us we must understand the way customers seek, evaluate, and choose products. Being customer-effective is about finding out what customers need to do on your Web site to operate effectively as customers and then creating an end-to-end electronic service experience that makes that activity painless and rewarding.

At the book's heart is a list of 17 things the author says users want in a Web site. She calls them customer directives. Obviously, she didn't compile the list by going around to Web users and asking them to list their top 17 expectations. Instead, this is an author-compiled list based on personal experience.

Much of what she says will not be news to anyone who follows the writings of seers such as Jakob Nielsen, Jared Spool, Alan Cooper-- the usual suspects. What is different here is the tone. Nielsen, if you notice, writes to writers and designers, with headlines like "Avoid PDF for on-screen reading." Dalgleish plays the part of the user. Her 17 customer directives are written as if by real people with such utterances as "This better be worth the wait," "Use what I give you," and "Call a spade a spade." It's a nice approach, but you have to wonder who said these things. How many people said them? What were they talking about?

Following her 17 customer directives is a chapter on "Customer-effective testing," an essay on ways you can involve your customers in your Web site design. It's about finding ways to reach out and listen to your public. Chapters on e-service, design, and the future complete the book's contents.

Jodie Dalgleish comes with respectable credentials. She is a vice president of the prestigious Gartner Consulting Group, where primary sponsorship of one of their 16-week IT studies costs a lofty $55,000. The Gartner Web site proudly displays a recent press release attesting to the respect with which the firm is held in boardrooms throughout the world. The site doesn't say what people think of Gartner at tomato stands.

BILL SULLIVAN is a technical writer for Invensys Power Systems, in San Diego, CA. He documents software accompanying the company's hardware products. He has been the San Diego STC chapter's Web site manager. His technical communication articles have appeared in chapter newsletters and Intercom. He earlier enjoyed long careers in journalism and marketing.
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Author:Sullivan, Bill
Publication:Technical Communication
Date:May 1, 2002
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