Find out what your buyers are thinking

twiddy.top.jpgRoss Twiddy (left) and Jon Summerton turned to an online analytics tool to fix problem spots on their vacation rentals Web site.By Cindy Waxer, contributing writer


(CNNMoney.com) -- It's business owner's worst nightmare: Customers walk in the door and walk right back out.

For Twiddy & Company, a 95-person firm that connects vacation renters with beach houses in North Carolina's Outer Banks, that meant customers clicking on their Web site and promptly abandoning it. "One day we said, 'Our bounce rates are high. People are exiting our site, and that's a metric expression of frustration,'" says Ross Twiddy, the company's marketing director. "Wouldn't it be nice to know what they were thinking?"

Eager for answers, Twiddy & Co. deployed a customer feedback tool from Kampyle in November. Forget about static surveys and mind-numbing polls. These days, online analytics solutions from vendors such as Kampyle, Get Satisfaction, and UserVoice are helping small businesses gain a high-level understanding of their customers' online experience.

In the case of Twiddy & Co., by clicking on a carefully placed 'T' icon in the corner of specific Web pages, visitors are guided to a customized feedback form that solicits comments on everything from load times and search capabilities to operating system compatibility and layout preferences. Twiddy can view customer feedback individually or by categories such as country, timeframe or feature. Responses are measured against patterns such as total page views and conversion rates.

Although Twiddy had long relied on Google Analytics to capture bounce and click-through rates, Kampyle instantly revealed some startling shortcomings. For instance, because visitors could only search vacation properties based on limited criteria such as "location" and "ocean view," customers complained that the site was frequently spitting out "no search results" despite an abundance of properties to choose from.

"It was sickening how many times we were turning down business in a day," says Jon Summerton, a company vice president.

In response, Twiddy & Co. expanded its search criteria to include variables such as WiFi availability and semi-oceanfront views. Other tweaks to the site include adding a button that provides an aerial view of a property so that visitors can see its proximity to the beach. And because many of Twiddy's customers are willing to spend as much as $26,000 a week on a rental property, the company introduced a wider assortment of full-size photos and video clips of property interiors and exteriors.

At a cost of $499 a month, Kampyle is fast earning its keep. Twiddy's visitors now spend 8% more time browsing properties, and the site has logged a 20% increase in page views per visit.

What's more, 30% of visitors who offer customer feedback wind up booking vacation properties with the company. Because customers include their e-mail addresses when responding, 27% of Twiddy and Co.'s e-mail marketing leads now stem from Kampyle.

"Just the fact that we're listening to our customers has some traction, because we have a real high look-to-book ratio," Summerton says.

Delivered as a hosted software service, Kampyle doesn't require the installation of high-priced hardware or a dedicated IT manager to oversee maintenance tasks -- good news for resource-strapped small businesses. But the technology can be time-intensive. Twiddy's customer service representatives spend nearly three hours a day responding to visitors' queries. Categorizing and analyzing feedback consumes another 40 hours a week.

Even then, Howard Kiewe, an Info-Tech Research Group analyst, warns that there are no guarantees site changes will convert occasional visitors into loyal customers.

"Customer feedback tools are good at collecting end-users' opinions, but there's a big difference between opinion and behavior," he says.

Maybe so, but if Twiddy and Summerton have their way, a little Southern hospitality will help close the gap. To top of page

Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Questions & Answers



QHow does a florist sell more in this economy? We changed our business to designing weddings and events only, as the everyday flowers are not selling. We had to throw out too much product at the end of the week -- flowers are perishable! More
Get Answer
- The Flower Lady, Suwanee, Ga.
Overnight Avg Rate Latest Change Last Week
30 yr fixed3.97%3.98%
15 yr fixed3.11%3.05%
5/1 ARM3.40%3.32%
30 yr refi4.05%4.05%
15 yr refi3.19%3.12%
Rate data provided
by Bankrate.com
View rates in your area
 
Find personalized rates:

Sections

AT&T adds two new 'value plans' with more data in response to similar deals from rival carriers. More

When it comes to Internet speeds, the U.S. lags behind much of the developed world. More

Instead of flocking to sunny beach havens or downsizing to a condo in the city during their retirement years, a majority of Baby Boomers say they're just going to stay put in their current home. More

Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.