Earlier this year, I attended Confab, a fabulous annual conference in Minneapolis. The event is hosted by Brain Traffic, an organization that’s devoted to content strategy for websites. I attended sessions with topics such as improving customer experience by enhancing self-service, identifying the factors that affect content decisions, and using search engine optimization to reach your customers. Throughout all of these sessions, one common theme that stood out was the idea of connecting with your audience—by determining their needs, using their language, and understanding human behavior such that you can give customers what they want, right where they’re looking.

Content strategist Gerry McGovern talked about a “customer-centric universe” and how important it is for organizations to change their focus from their own goals to their customers’ when developing their website. When you visit a website to do one thing and the site seems to be trying to get you to do something completely different, there’s a breakdown in trust. You’ll probably go elsewhere to meet your goal, or at least you’ll have a lower opinion of the organization.

Confab claims a space in the customer-centric universe

Photo of a large model rocket in a celestial setting at the 2015 Confab conference

Here’s an example McGovern gave of an organization-centric website: A hospital created its cancer center’s website around the center’s primary goal of getting donations. Designers put a large banner on the main page soliciting donations. But visitors to that page weren’t there to donate—they were there most likely because they knew someone with cancer and wanted more information. So there was a breakdown in trust, and the hospital didn’t meet its goal. By doing a task analysis—surveying users and observing them using the website—the hospital determined the most important tasks for its users. As you might guess, making donations was at the bottom of the list. So the hospital revamped the center’s website with its users’ top tasks in mind. The site still had a link to the donation page, but it was less prominent. The result after releasing the new version was increased donations. That’s an example of a successful, customer-centric website.

Where does your organization see its customers in the universe? Do your goals align with theirs?

According to the 2014 E Source Residential Utility Customer Survey, the most important tasks for residential utility customers to perform vary according to customers’ age and the device they’re using to access the website. For example, desktop and laptop users primarily want to manage their accounts online, whereas tablet and mobile phone users find making a one-time payment and reporting an outage or gas leak to be their top tasks. And although viewing their current bill is overall the most important task to residential customers, millennials in particular consider making a one-time payment to be most essential.

E Source observed residential customers using utility websites to understand what steps they take to accomplish tasks online. For more on their experience and what makes a successful website, check out the findings from our 2014 Review of North American Electric and Gas Company Residential Websites.