Five Barriers to Customer Entry

You turn away more business than you realize. Today, let’s look at the barriers you routinely put in front of potential customers.

Tell Me Everything About Yourself

Creating an account on a Web site doesn’t require much information. A username and password are the minimum. Yet many sites require an exorbitant amount of information; it’s a miracle they have registered users at all. Try signing up at Topica, which distributes newsletters. Sign-up is an arduous, three-step process. The first requires mandatory information such as birth date and Zip Code. The second is a large page that lists all the newsletters (it used to be five times bigger). Following that page is a pop-up box that asks if you want a special offer. To continue without accepting the special offer you must click “Cancel.” The third page is another series of special offers. If you click “Submit” without individually clicking “yes” or “no” for each offer, you get an error message. There’s a “No thanks” link one can hardly see on the page.

Although the Topica example is certainly egregious, at least it provides a service. The PATH train goes from New York to New Jersey. You can get a map on Finding the map took some time. Worse was the page of questions one had to fill out before seeing the map home page. Before viewing the map, you’re asked for your Zip Code, date of birth, and gender. Then, you’re taken to the main map page. When I entered my information, I wondered if the trains I was shown were for men only. Why else would I be asked?

Increase Stickiness Only Among Loyal Customers

Several e-commerce sites require registration before you can add an item to your wish list. Worse, some sites require registration before you can add an item to your shopping cart. Additionally, most sites will only let you customize your view of the site if you register. Why?

Treat all these site tools as acquisition tools and embrace anonymous customers. Once you enter into a dialogue with them via your site tools, they’ll quickly convert to registered users (and eventually, buyers). Don’t make someone register before you start treating him well. Personalized features, calculators, wish lists, and other site tools should be implemented in a way your analytics package can report on their success rates in terms of both acquisition and retention.

Make Users Repeat Themselves Often

Once you’ve asked users a question once, you should always know the answer. Too often, Web sites have newsletter sign-up boxes trickled throughout their pages, all with empty boxes. If I’m registered with that site and logged in, that box should already be filled in with my email address. Better yet, there shouldn’t even be a box. There should just be a button called “sign me up” because you already know the user’s email address (unless you think people will want to use multiple email addresses for different lists). The same holds true for Zip Code or any other information you requested during registration. The more often I need to repeat myself, the dumber your Web site seems.

Make Users Enter Order Numbers, Promotion Codes, or Other Pieces of Information

I’ve been on several sites lately that have ads on the front page for special discounts. The ads contained promo codes, which the user had to enter during the checkout process. The ads were graphical, so there was no way to copy and paste long codes into the correct box during checkout. I would have had to write them down and enter them manually. That’s a barrier. Technology has advanced enough so that I can click the ad to activate the code, not have to enter it in manually.

Another pet peeve is sites that let you check your order status by requiring you to enter your order number (found in the email you’re sent at purchase time). That seems archaic when most modern e-commerce sites can simply display your orders and allow you to click on them for more information.

Customer Service Without Regard to Customers

Customers want to interact with your company over whatever channel is convenient for them. For some people, it’s the phone. But increasingly, people (especially business people) prefer quicker methods, such as on-site chat or email. Most companies allow you to interact with customer service over any of these channels. Southwest Airlines, however, is different.

The airline doesn’t have on-site chat and doesn’t accept email. In fact, it has two paragraphs explaining this policy. Though it calls this “old-fashioned” and in a style that doesn’t “counter our commitment to customer service,” I call it idiotic. Customer service isn’t customer-centric when it forces customers to communicate over channels that are convenient to the company, not to them.

Entry Barriers Are Great for Your Competition

Though these four entry barriers don’t represent any groundbreaking or cosmic shift in the way we see the world, they’re all real, current examples. I’m shocked they still exist. For some reason, be it technical or merely shortsighted, these sites haven’t gotten with the program. If your site suffers from any of these problems, you’re begging people to leave. You’re helping the competition and ensuring customers aren’t interested in being loyal to your company.

Other entry barriers that particularly irk you? Let me know.

Until next time…


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