Bumps in the Sales Road, Part 1

Regular readers know I have a bee in my bonnet about the state of online customer service. I’ve been conducting as much of my shopping online as possible for the last two months, including holiday purchases, furniture, and other high-ticket items for my home renovation project. There’s logic behind my online shopping bender. The more I shop online, the more I learn as a marketer through experiencing as a consumer. The results aren’t very pretty.

My last column included some of Jupiter Research’s (a unit of this site’s parent corporation) conclusions on the topic. Clearly, consumers everywhere are hitting snags along the online purchasing path. Those snags affect future purchase decisions.

This week, let’s look at some of the key snag areas. First, let me say as a marketer, I understand. There are business reasons behind many of these snags. You’re doing the best you can with the tools you’ve been given. Much of the process is out of your control. There’s red tape, politics, competition for resources… we’ve all been there. Who can blame you for a few flubs now and then?

Your customers can. Believe me, they do not care about your problems. Not one bit. And they’re getting smarter. So if you want their money, fix things.

It’s really that simple. Let’s look at some key areas where problems are wreaking havoc on consumers who try to give you their money.

Easy-Access Product Information

Marketing 101: Put thorough, detailed product information on your site so customers can make a quick purchase decision. Marketing 102: Don’t assume you’ve mastered Marketing 101. You may be one of the guilty parties and not even know it. Time for a review.

We seem to be doing OK in respect to making product information easy to find. It’s usually on the same page as the price or a single click away. But too often, product information isn’t specific enough.

No detail is too small. How does it look? How does it feel? What’s it made of? One site missed a significant purchase from me that would likely have led to a consistent future revenue stream. Why? I couldn’t determine if the “Fragrant Beeswax Candles” were 100 percent beeswax. I assumed they weren’t and switched to a competitor. One little sentence on that page might have saved the deal.

Providing product information can be tricky. Seemingly irrelevant details can matter to large groups of people. Surely, it’s a space-waster to disclose whether candle wicks are cotton, or if they contain zinc and lead? Millions of asthma sufferers disagree. Failing to provide all appropriate details is an easy mistake to make.

Talk to customer service. Learn what types of questions they get in relation to each product. If you have good analytics tools, check exit rates for specific items to see if one product page may have a problem. Roll up your sleeves and get into the nitty-gritty details.

If you’re able to conduct this review quickly, you’re doing it wrong. And don’t forget to talk to your customers! You’d be surprised what they can tell you.

Purchase Assistance

Ideally, most questions are handled before they occur with product information provided up front. But as discussed earlier, all too often we fail at this. There seems to be no end to the questions customers can come up with regarding products. Your approach to answering those questions plays a direct role in whether you close a sale. It’s about your bottom line.

Ensure your site allows customers to ask questions. How fast are the questions are answered? Pose as a customer and ask a few questions yourself. Do the FAQs help? How long is the wait before a live chat session begins? How long did it take your email inquiry to be answered? Was the answer thorough? Could you find a toll-free number on the site easily?

This is a tricky area. Customers must be able to reach someone at your company. Yet each service method has costs. Making a toll-free number more prominent isn’t very helpful if phones aren’t staffed to handle call volume. Can you afford that staffing? It’s your call, of course. But remember: Consumers don’t care if you can afford it or not. They want answers.

Research whether your customer service results are acceptable compared to industry standards. According to Jupiter Research, 88 percent of respondents want an answer to their email in 24 hours or less. The E-tailing Group reports the average chat support session takes 4.87 minutes to begin and completing a purchase takes less than five clicks on average.

Use common sense. Benchmarks and statistical data vary widely by source and time period. Look for information that will help determine how you’re doing compared to your competitors and other online businesses.

There are more snags in the process of winning and retaining a customer than I can possibly cover in a single column. Next, problem resolution. How a company handles problems will likely determine whether it saves or loses the customers its acquisition dollars acquired.

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