Volume 140: 10/1/06

Lip Service or Customer Service?

It's about the customer. Nobody out there (I hope) is going to argue that with me. I mean, when you're taking a break from the daily grind, it isn't that hard to tell yourself, good will flowing in your veins, "It's about the customer."  You probably even believe it.

But it's easier to say it's about the customer than actually run your business so it really is about the customer. Sometimes even the most well-intentioned efforts can fall significantly short.

In fact, sometimes those well-intentioned efforts can wind up shooting your business in the foot!

Come listen to my own little personal story, complete with instructional moral.

The set-up

I needed to get a wedding present for two cool humans who recently tied the knot. I know they like to cuddle up and watch movies at home. I know she adores soft, fuzzy things. I thought, What better than a really nice fake fur throw?

Okay, so maybe the fact I had a 20%-off-your-entire-order coupon from a store that specializes in posh fake furs helped me decide (you know how that goes). But what a deal ... and what a solution to my problem.

Just to be sure of the offer, I checked it thoroughly. At the bottom, I read:

The above specials are for our valued e-mail customers only. To take advantage of these specials, follow any link provided within this e-mail.

I clicked on a link in the email and landed on Fabulous Furs. Quickly navigated to the proper section, gazed at my options, imagined my friends swathed in the various patterns and selected "Sable."

Started checkout. No sign of the deduction yet, but there was a little promo code field. The email hadn't specified a promo code, so I shrugged and continued, thinking the deduction would probably be taken automatically ... although it would have been nice of them to give me some copy to that effect.

Got through every conversion beacon in the checkout process, seconds away from submitting the order, and still no deduction. I didn't want to pay full price. I hesitated. I thought hard.

But! They had an 800-number running on every page (good for them), so I called it. Finished the order over the phone, with a promise the 20% would apply and an apology.

Yep ... that worked. A failure online still led to a sale for the company. It happens all the time (take that, unsophisticated analytics software!).

An expression of customer sensitivity?

The next thing I was expecting so see was a ship notice. Instead, this arrived:

Thank you for registering on the Fabulous Furs website.

From time to time we do performance reports on our site to determine how well we are meeting the needs of our customers. In doing this performance check, we noticed that you have items in your basket, but did not check out yet.

If you did not check out because you encountered any problems on our site, or had questions that the site did not answer, please let us know so that we can improve your next experience with us.

You can e-mail us directly by replying to this message.

If you just didn't have time to finish your order, you'll find the items still in your cart when you return to (hyperlink to my cart) and log back in.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely, Customer Service, Fabulous Furs

Okay, I didn't register. I was already registered. That's how I got the promotional email in the first place. Otherwise, I was pretty impressed. They wanted to make sure I hadn't experienced a problem they might be able to fix. They didn't want to ignore my needs, if I still had them.

Happily, I started tapping away at my reply:

As a conversion rate marketer, first let me tell you that this is an exceptional followup. Kudos to your customer service sensitivity.

[deleted explanation of problem]

I didn't want to complete the order online, in case that didn't process correctly, but I did purchase the items. Perhaps it would be helpful to make certain that promotional offers through your emails really do display in checkout ... that should decrease shopping cart abandonment. At the very least, it would be an idea to assure the customer that deductions will be reflected in the amount billed (although this is the lesser confidence-building solution).

Thank you for your attention in this matter.

This was what came back:

Our e-mail is set up tp [sic] take promo numbers. If you put it in the beginning it will take off the deduction. Thank you

I should have just shrugged and let it go. But it got my green up. I replied:

I'm afraid this is a bit of a nonsequitor to the reply I sent in regards to your initial query about my site difficulties and shopping cart abandonment. I'm afraid it doesn't give me confidence that you've understood the problem.

I know your site is set up to take promo numbers.

But all the emails I received for the September 20% offer did not include a promo number in them.

So how do I use a promo number for an offer if the offer itself does not supply one?

The next email actually included the name of a real person, with a real phone extension number! But it didn't transport me out of The Land of the Ludicrous.  Nothing about how they'd address the checkout inconsistency, or thanks for bringing this problem to our attention, or any of the other things they might have said on the heels of their original request:

I'm not sure which e-mail you were not able to get to work. I think that the code you need is [letters & numbers]. If this does not work, please call me and I will do everything I can to help you.

I shook my head.  You see, by the time I got this email, the item had arrived, and the discount had been taken.

The pay-off

It's awesome - downright inspirational - when you make the effort to discover what tripped up your potential customers. That shows you understand "it's about the customer" and you'd like to make the shopping experience better for all. For that, you'll get my applause every time!

But dang! If you're going to make the effort to care about your customer at the front end of a process, then why not go that little extra distance more and care about your customer throughout the customer service situation?

James (that was his name) didn't seem to have the first clue what the problem really was, even though I explained it in detail. Did he even read my first reply? If he did, why didn't he deal with it relevantly? You can bet I wasn't confident the right hand at Fabulous Furs actually knows what the left hand is doing.

Put it this way: If Customer Service Representative James (and you may have one exactly like him) can't communicate confidence and relevance, how am I going to feel confident about the company? Do you think purely token efforts breed loyalty and get customers thinking well of you?

A solution

Here's the instructional moral:  Don't ever ask for this kind of input from someone, then treat it lightly!

If you make the effort to get inside your customers' experiences, particularly if you solicit their input, then treat whatever you learn as if it were precious. It is. Your customers didn't have to take the time to explain things to you. They could have just shrugged ... maybe coming back some time in the future, maybe not.

What you need here is a specific query/response persuasion scenario. Into that scenario, you build interaction with real people. And you make sure those real people have the information resources available so they can understand the dynamic of each problem they investigate.

Anything less is merely lip service, not customer service!

Train to Increase Your Conversion Rates

New Services

We've been busy bees over the holidays.  Check out our services page - new services have already been launched and more are coming!

New Publications

You'll also want to keep an eye on our publications page.  We've been working on creating resources that will help you put many of our principles into practice more easily and more efficiently.  We're just about to release several of our newest products, including Which Sells Best?: A Quick Start Guide to Testing for Retailers and The Conversion Experts Handbook.

The Case for Courtesy

"That was really nice of them to give you that $25 dollars for your birthday, wasn't it?" Mother to son.

"Half way to that new video game. Yessssss!" Son beaming with acquisition glee.

"You did send a thank you note, right? I left one out for you." Mother with brow raised.

"Um ... not yet. How 'bout I just activate my autoresponder ... or do a free e-card?" Son grins sheepishly and hopes Mother gets the autoresponder joke.

"Not on your life! Here's a pen. You know where the stamps are! Just do it."

It's not just good manners. It's not just pro forma. Courtesy counts, whether it's between relatives, friends, associates, and yes, even businesses and their customers. The little niceties in life, sincerely felt and expressed, can make a world of difference.

See what one of our newest partners has to say on the subject.

The case for courtesy

The web allows anonymous behavior and with it has come a big decline in basic courtesy. There is no reason why we can't maintain personal integrity and good manners, if for no better reason then the fact that research shows that it is also good business.

Courtesy in business is not mistaken for "desperate" or "easy". Instead, it proclaims a professional, service-oriented company and demonstrates that you really do care about your customers. In my experience with guerilla marketing, few things helped us build community and loyalty more then courtesy and consideration, and courtesy costs little or nothing.

If you sent a gift worth a few hundred dollars and didn't receive a note, would you think as well of the recipient as if you had received a thoughtful note? Clearly we should give gifts without expectation of appreciation, but we are, after all, human and everyone likes to be acknowledged and thanked.

Don't feel constrained to use email. We keep a stack of beautiful museum art cards and when someone deserves a "thank you", we send them a card with an image we think they will like. We chose a beautiful card because it is much harder to throw out a piece of art. In my early years as a road salesman, I used to pride myself on the number of my cards I saw sitting on people's desks or tacked to the walls. The notes were short and handwritten, and the longer they stayed around the better our branding. I still come across people who remember that small thoughtfulness even if they long forgot whey we sent it.

Don't just send a mechanical confirmation email. Studies show that a personal email follow up increases conversion and loyalty significantly. We rate the cost of acquiring a new email signup or customer in excess of $50. If someone gave you $50 wouldn't you want to thank them with more then a robotic reply? We try to reply promptly and personally and even take a few minutes to look at their site and comment positively on it in the email. Let them know you did more then just hit reply.

There are plenty of obvious reasons, to take the time to "touch" an individual customer with a "thank you" but don't overlook:

  • An important referral

  • A newsletter signup

  • A link exchange

  • Their first, second or third purchase

  • Running your press release (this has earned me reams of good press. How often does an editor receive a thank you for running PR, you will be remembered!)

  • An endorsement or good product review

  • A new affiliation or partnership

Another area where research shows courtesy improves conversion is in error messages. When people fail to fill out "required" fields properly, responding with a gentle and courteous error message increase conversions. Messages like: "X is missing" loses more signups then "Sorry, we were unable to process your form without X. Would you please reenter it so we can send you Y?"

Clearly the web allows anonymity and social ineptness. It also insures that if you use good manners and courtesy you will stand out in a world of less attentive people. Next time you leave your computer screen, smile at a few people you don't know and as some of them smile back, you'll remember that gracious courtesy makes the world a little better.

You will also find it will directly impact your bottom line. Courtesy has been called the lubricant of civilization, but we know it also greases the wheels of industry. Whatever your motivation, it's a win-win for everyone.

Volume 140: 10/1/06

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