With more and more consumers doing more and more of their business online, companies need to be aware of the online customer experience. In my eight years in marketing, I have been to numerous web sites where the customer experience was inadequate, and I'll bet you have, too.

Consumers need to have confidence in your company's ability to deliver an online experience that is designed around their unique needs. Many companies, however, do not understand the needs of their customers and, as a result, lose sales opportunities—and customer loyalty and satisfaction.

One way to enhance your customers' experience at your web site is through an integrated search. Companies are starting to realize that search can be a great sales and marketing tool, because search phrases contain an indication of the user's intent and can be combined with other profile information culled from the online session to better target customers and provide them with personalized experiences.

Companies with large web sites and complex products must strive to understand the different ways their customers articulate their needs online and be able to deliver a rewarding interaction experience, or risk losing market share to competitors who do. But many companies are not able to successfully interact with their customers. A report published by Jupiter Research on search effectiveness (Online Self-service: The Slow Road to Search Effectiveness, by Zachary McGeary, Feb. 15, 2006) indicates that search output often lacks relevance and accuracy.

Yet, sophisticated intelligent search and analytics technology can enable companies to transition from a keyword-based search environment, where results are driven by pattern matching, to a natural language search environment, where responses are driven by a semantic understanding of search requests and content.

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