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Making Connections
Search and Content: Keys to a Better Customer Experience

This article is part of the Best Practices White Paper Enterprise Search [May 2008]
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InQuira recently sponsored a research project with ServiceXRG that examines the consumption and supply sides of online shopping and service experiences.1 One of the key findings in that study is that more than 71% of respondents claimed they relied on company websites for key information, yet just 44% reported having a good customer experience. I think this represents a huge opportunity for businesses, particularly for those companies that invest in enterprise search technology.

If I were to take a moment to think about how and why I use search, there are pronounced differences between my more general Web searches, and the searches I do on company websites. General Web searches, the type I typically use Google for, narrow the universe of information into a few good haystacks of information. I expect Google to deliver me to the right haystack, to put me in the vicinity of the information I need. Once on the right haystack, though, I’ve got to find that needle within it. My needs are more specific, my expectations greater. I need the search engine to connect me with the information I need to act.

I sense an opportunity for companies that appreciate the different behaviors for Internet search and site search. When companies stop thinking of search in terms of keyword-matched Google-like lists, and more in terms of how search can be a business enabler, the experience will improve and consumers will find the online shopping and service experiences far more satisfactory. Customers expect enterprise search to be precise, accurate and not require a lot of work. Customers demand real answers and action, not just links to pages of content that require further searching to find the right information. Most companies have search functionality on their websites; however the experiences they are providing might not be influencing customers in a way that is best for the company. For a positive customer experience, enterprise search must be intelligent, intent-driven and integrated with company knowledge

Personalized and Intelligent
As a product owner or services user, customers know that companies have a certain amount of information about who they are, what products they have purchased, which services they are regularly using and their past interactions with the company. When conducting a search—especially technical-, support- or account-related queries—customers expect that their history with the company will be reflected in the results they receive.

By tapping into their transactional and profile information, the enterprise search experience becomes more personalized and intelligent.

  • Precise answers. Search results include information relevant only to the products or services the customer owns or uses. When searching for "print drivers," rather than returning results that will direct to the main print driver download page, deliver an experience that is specific to the printer that they own with direct access to download the driver that they need.
  • Dynamic navigation. Search results are categorized for quick filtering. When returning results for "print drivers," users can jump to results found in "products," "downloads," "technical support" or "company information" to quickly find the type of information they are looking for.
  • Query suggestions. Query keyword and phrase options are provided based on what is being entered into the search box. As a customer starts typing "print driver..." options such as "print driver download" and "print driver troubleshooting" appear below the current typed term and can be selected to easily refine a query to deliver appropriate results.

More Than Matching Keywords
General Web search is "exploratory"—users want to be directed to the right "place." Once on a company’s site, though, searchers tend to be action-oriented and specific. The right search experience understands what a customer is trying to accomplish and enables decision-making. It does not deliver a laundry list of results that do not provide the customer with an answer or action.

For example, a business traveler going to San Francisco wants to ensure that he will have cell phone coverage near his hotel. When searching for "San Francisco coverage," the customer receives multiple pages of results that include the key words "San Francisco" and "coverage." The results include a link for every office the provider has in the San Francisco bay area, links to coverage options and calling plans, news about activities in San Francisco and on the third page of results—provided that the customer has made it this far—is a link to their coverage map for San Francisco. While the company did provide search, it did not provide the right experience. The information shared was irrelevant to the customer’s query and did not provide him the answer he needed to check his coverage. It was a failed experience for the customer and a missed opportunity for the company.

To be effective, enterprise search applications must detect customer intent to deliver the most compelling search experience. An "intent" is the specific answer or action that a customer is trying to achieve and is often described in multiple ways. A customer searching for "mortgage research," "mortgage lenders" and "Bank of America mortgages" is not intending to see how many pieces of content on the website mention these words. The customer’s intent is to find information on the different types of mortgages available and be able to submit a loan application.

Using more specific queries, or a sequence of search and navigation behavior, will generate more targeted responses. This is also true in other business contexts, like a customer attempting self-help on a support portal, or a call-center agent resolving a customer problem. Under these latter scenarios, user needs are more defined, their expectations greater, their urgency in arriving at their solution higher. Because a single intent captures the meaning of many uniquely worded questions, the appropriate, targeted response can be delivered to customers with minimal effort from an organization to define and administer tailored responses to the majority of search requests.

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