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Company: American Express   Co., New York  Target audience: Small businesses  Key Web executive: John Caruso, director of Web site experience, Open small business Web site  No. of employees who work on the site: Undisclosed  Last major  redesign:  Fourth quarter of 2001  No. of pages on site: Undisclosed  Web developer: Digitas doesn't do big redesigns that are launched on a yearly basis. Instead, the site is constantly evolving based on user and prospect feedback, said John Caruso, director of Web site experience for the company's small-business portal, Open. The challenge: AmEx's small-business customers come in all sizes and stages of development, from sole proprietors to larger companies with multiple employees. Any design must address these two constituencies as well as everyone in between.

Still, the most important features for any Open user include access to statements, ability to look at unbilled charges and pay bills, interaction with the company and customer service.

So Caruso's team focused on streamlining these processes. They've stripped away links that don't relate to the core information users said they wanted. And since many of AmEx's Open customers have other relationships with the company, the Web team also helped those customers move seamlessly between the many different sections and categories on the site. The best part: Everything they've done is personalized and password-protected.

"We've got a small-business dashboard that's in a secure environment that gives them one-stop access via a single portal," he said. "This dashboard is our differentiator. It launched back in late 2001, but it's constantly being refined based on traffic patterns [and customer feedback]."

Of course, only current customers see the dashboard. Prospects can explore the different small-business options as well as other American Express products using a simple, straightforward menu design. They can also apply for a card directly from the home page.

"Everything needs to be specific to that small-business user so, if you look at the pages, there's not a lot of extraneous stuff that people have focused on in the past. It's very simple: Here's what's available to you," Caruso said.

 Expert 2¢

Chris Nodder: For Amex, it makes sense to differentiate merchants and the different types of card holders on the home page because offerings for each group are so different. It’s nice to see small-business tips that are painfully honest coming from a financial institution—like when not to borrow money or use credit cards. The card comparison feature allows visitors to comparison shop so they can be sure they choose the card that’s right for them. Kate Everett-Thorp: It has clear, concise language and categories that communicate well with this audience. The three major categories for the business user are supported by direct subsets to help the customer get to what they need quickly and make the site a useful tool for them on repeated occasions.


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