People are increasingly engaging with the Internet. That seems obvious, of course, but we are turning to the Internet for information which we used to get from specialists and experts. No longer are we turning to a consultant for help. Instead, we head straight to Google. Indeed, even in the most personal field of all – our health – more people are now turning to the Internet for advice, rather than to their own physician.
Why has the anonymous web become so trusted, whereas a highly qualified and experienced doctor is someone we no longer turn to for advice?
And if we are prepared to turn our backs on the medical experts for something as personal as our own health, you can be pretty sure that whatever business you work in, your customers are heading straight to the web, rather than giving you a call. Your expertise in your sector is of little value, it would seem.
However, all is not lost. An interesting study in the way people relate to their doctor, even if they use the Internet for medical information, reveals what businesses need to do so that they can carry on making profits.
The research was conducted in California and showed that several factors were interlinked when considering the amount of online healthcare information people used and their perceptions and use of their own doctor. The study found that the more that people accessed online information on health, the more they wanted to meet their doctor. Far from reducing reliance on medics, the online health consumer is one of the biggest users of offline healthcare. Furthermore, the more the doctors provided patient-centric communications of all kinds, the greater that people felt positive about their whole healthcare experiences.
What this all suggests is that far from the web replacing experts, instead it is making people want more access to them. However, their views about such expertise are affected by how well those experts communicate.
The study implies that if you want to gain benefits from the web, you need to ensure you provide highly specific customer-centered communications as a follow-up to Internet activity.
How to benefit from increased web usage
More and more of your customers and potential clients will be using the Internet on a greater basis. Each one of us is using the web in increasingly large amounts. The information that your business provides is being looked for first, online.
So, make sure you provide lots and lots and lots and lots of information on the web. The kind of material that you talk to customers about, the typical questions they ask and the documents you provide should all be online. The more information you provide, the better – humans “weigh by the pound” as far as information is concerned. The greater the amount, the more we believe it and trust it. So, fill the web with your information. And then add some more…!
The next thing to do is to appreciate that once you have more information online, people who engage with it are more likely to want to meet you and discuss things with you. So, have you got meeting capability? Can you arrange plenty of appointments? Do you have the capacity for more real world engagement? The healthcare study showed that people who engage with material online want interaction with their medical providers. Is it any wonder that getting an appointment with your doctor is tough? The Internet is helping to fuel the demand. Can your business cope with the increased demand that the increased us of the web will stimulate?
If you are geared up for the extra work that you’ll create, how will you follow-up with all the people who will meet you? That’s where a communications programme comes in – newsletters, phone calls, emails and so on – but crucially they need to be highly personalised and centred on customer needs. The healthcare study showed that the focus of the communications was an important factor.
At first sight, the Internet looks like it could be replacing company expertise with an endless array of online information. But the healthcare study suggests that as we engage with more material online, we seek out more real-world connection with the experts. However, our perception of that real-world expertise is dependent upon the follow-up communication being focused on the individual.
This means that your business can benefit even more than it already does from the Internet. But to do that you need three things:
- A significant content production system that increases the amount of information you provide
- An increase in capacity for real-world engagement with your online visitors
- A follow-up communications programme that is tightly focused on precise customer needs
Do those three things, and your business could benefit even more from the web.
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+