Let Your Customers Buy From You

  |  April 3, 2009   |  Comments

Case study: Don't send your customers on a wild goose chase. In this economy, you can't afford to be stupid.

A few weeks ago I wrote a column that posed a simple question: are you preventing your customers from spending money? I hadn't intended to write a follow-up, but my frustrations this morning reminded me how important this message is.

Quite simply, in this economy, you can't afford to be stupid. You can't prevent your customers from spending money.

Today's case study is Flavia, one of the coffee-machine companies whose machines you find in large offices. It has packets for a million types of coffees and teas, plus hot chocolate and other specialty drinks.

This morning it was time to reorder supplies for our office. I put about five types of teas and hot chocolate (none of us really drink coffee) into my shopping cart. Then I logged into my account. The message I got was something to the effect of "We have upgraded our store. Please check your e-mail for a new password."

I checked my e-mail. Nothing from Flavia. Then I clicked "Forgot your password?" and entered my e-mail address in the hopes that would trigger an e-mail to me. Still nothing. Checked my junk folders. Still nothing. Then I tried to register again. Of course, my e-mail address is already in use, so that triggered an error message as well.

As I sit and write this, about 42 minutes have gone by with no e-mail in sight, no way to log in to Flavia, and no way to complete my purchase. I have meetings I have to go into and will continue writing this throughout the day.

Update No. 1: A little over an hour later (when I was already in my client meetings for the day), I received two e-mails. The first was the original e-mail the system was supposed to send me. The second was the e-mail that was triggered when I clicked "Forgot you password?" I can't really attend to these now, as I'm just on a short break from client meetings.

The fact that these two messages arrived within a minute of each other makes me think there is some background e-mail queue that gets processed every hour. That would explain the seemingly batched e-mails I received. I don't know if this is true or not, but the evidence points in that direction.

If it is true, it's not good enough. I was ready to buy something (a lot, actually) and had started the checkout process. It's foolish to think I'll sit at my computer waiting for your company to decide I can actually check out. It's not just bad business, it's dumb business.

Update No. 2: Later in the afternoon now, I've finally made time to go back to my Flavia purchase. I opened the first e-mail and used the temporary password it sent on the site. The password was rejected. Ah, the second e-mail (the one that was sent when I clicked "Forgot your password?") contains a different temporary password. Really, Flavia? Since when does "Forget your password" automatically change my password?

Indeed, this second password works, and I can now log in and reset the password to something I can remember.

This took all day.


What lessons can we learn here? First, Flavia clearly didn't work through the use cases to make its store upgrade transition a clear and transparent one. Not only did it fail to automatically migrate the system, it required the user to do the migration. It screwed up the e-mail process by not sending out e-mails immediately. Then, it reinvented the "forgot your password" functionality by using it to also reset passwords.

Can you afford to treat your customers this way? If they are at your checkout and ready to spend money, don't send them on a wild goose chase. They'll go elsewhere and look for competitors who have a little more intuition when it comes to retaining customers.

Questions, thoughts, comments? Leave a note below.

Until next time...


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Jack Aaronson

Jack Aaronson, CEO of The Aaronson Group and corporate lecturer, is a sought-after expert on enhanced user experiences, customer conversion, retention, and loyalty. If only a small percentage of people who arrive at your home page transact with your company (and even fewer return to transact again), Jack and his company can help. He also publishes a newsletter about multichannel marketing, personalization, user experience, and other related issues. He has keynoted most major marketing conferences around the world and regularly speaks at Shop.org and other major industry shows. You can learn more about Jack through his LinkedIn profile.

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