Whatever your own opinion on the subject may be, if you want your online business to succeed, you've got to
play by the rules your customers set up. They want instant gratification? You feed the need.
Many folks these days take the Internet speed of life for granted - and the wait through a long download is downright objectionable. The "Gee Whiz" curve is flattening out fast, particularly in the world of e-commerce.
"A web storefront operator has only to make one big mistake and the customer is gone forever. There are no second chances when it comes to shopping on the
web."1 We've talked about lots of reasons folks bail from an online shopping session, but let's look at some of the things you can control that will meet their very real need for instant gratification.
· Get your site to the customer fast. A common benchmark is “The 8-Second
Rule”. Your page needs to load in around 8 seconds, and do that on a 28.8K dial-up line -which is where most people still are, or your prospects will start bailing. But without getting out my intergalactic stopwatch that measures picoseconds, you certainly need to incorporate strategies that get your page to download quickly. Server speed and server capacity matter, but your own “page weight” matters most. If it weighs more than 35-40K, put it on a diet - ruthlessly. You also need to determine "how your audience accesses the Internet, as well as how many users might hit your site at once and where they're located … Without this information, you can never be sure your site will perform
· Make sure your site is available 24/7 at least for shopping. If you’re really serious, support (outstanding) customer service 24/7, too.
· Keep your navigation obvious and your design uncluttered, so folks can find what they are looking for fast.
· Be hyper-vigilant about the status of your ordering system. If it isn't working at the moment your customer decides to go for it, that's pretty much the end of your relationship with that customer.
· Make sure your online ordering process is as effortless as a hot knife slicing through butter. There's instant gratification and then there's instant gratification - the perceived intensity of the latter, when the decision to act has been made, is more instant <grin>.
· Being able to communicate the in-stock status of an item is a huge help. Making sure that information is correct is critical. Guess what happens when your website says an item is available and your customer, after ordering, gets your e-mail saying the item is on back-order for 30 days?
· Make sure your customer service is top-notch, and particularly that it has the ability to respond quickly to queries of any kind. A response that takes a week is almost worse than none at all, and it’s criminal how many e-businesses are guilty of both.
· Keep your content streamlined: make it vital, concise, and only what is necessary to the 5-step sales process. Your customers have no patience for fluff.
You simply can't fight what your customers need, expect, and demand. If you can't or don't want to feed your customers' need for instant gratification, there are lots of companies just a click away who gladly will.
"There are no second chances when it comes to eCommerce." David Strom, Web Informant #230, 3 January 2001.
2 "Performance." Cade Metz, ZDNet, February 19, 2001.
My good friend Roy William's Magical
Worlds of the Wizard of Ads: Tools and
Techniques for Profitable Persuasion is being
released. I just finished my preview copy and I
recommend it highly (it's a wonderful preview to
the Wizard Academy). Get
yours today and enjoy some of the
The Technology Gap: Part II
I haven't finished venting yet. As I said before, it
takes a fair bit of aggravation to get me going like
this. But I really have had it with e-tailers who hide
behind technology to do a job that properly belongs to a
now, you know about my terminated order (see The
Technology Gap: Part I)
and my insistence that when problems present themselves,
the simple intervention of the human touch might save
you from losing a customer. I'd like to turn my
attention now to those insipid, syrupy and totally
useless e-mails many e-tailers automatically generate in
response to their customers' queries.
like being thanked and appreciated as much as any
Earthling, but only if the words have substance. If I
read one more touchy-feely "our customers mean
everything to us and we greatly value your
business" that is not backed up by superlative
service, I'll scream! I should warn you - Martians can
scream really loudly.
my recent experience with Netflix.com.
I loved the idea and the site really sings with
expressions of concern for its customers. I was sold
immediately, and they didn't even have to work that hard
to get me. Filled in my information, set up my rental
queue, got my first batch and sat back in a DVD Zen
state. Then an email informed me there was a problem
with my credit card. Obviously technology-generated, it
asked me to amend my information or supply a new card,
and that my pending order would be held for 10 days.
Notice I had no pending order. Hmmm - but O.K. I did
what they asked and discovered the expiration date was
listed incorrectly. I corrected it, then replied to the
return address on my error announcement, letting them
know what I had done.
email bounced back. Turns out, you can't reply to one of
Netflix's billing error letters. You have to go to the
website and locate the appropriate customer service
e-mail contact. So I did, sent the email again and got
another machine response: "Thank you for your
inquiry." It wasn't an inquiry. Meanwhile, their
system burped yet another "get your act together or
else" email to me. It took three days and four
e-mail iterations before I finally got an email that
looked as though an actual human had written it and
informed me everything was resolved. Good thing I'm both
a motivated and an understanding customer. Someone
fainter of heart or shorter of fuse would have cancelled
his or her membership long before! My point in all this?
A whole thirty seconds of speaking with a human on the
phone and this problem would have evaporated (not to
mention the human could have gone beyond “solving”
into real relationship building). Not only did they
never call me, I couldn’t call them either. There’s
no phone number, toll-free or otherwise, that I can find
on their site.
have a functioning reply address in any communication
you send, particularly if you want your customer to
a human being who sounds like a human being respond.
you are in the process of resolving a problem with a
customer, don't send additional "or else"
letters until you know the disposition of the first
a way folks can call to speak with a real human when
the going gets tough.
there was a little to-do with MLB.com.
What an amazing offer they have: listen to streaming
audio broadcasts of any baseball game aired on radio
anywhere in the US, and the entire season costs only
$9.95. I have a little baseball-nut buddy and went
immediately to sign him up. It was pure hell negotiating
the order process, and I don't know how many times I
submitted and resubmitted the information, including my
credit card number. At one point, with no confirmation
whatsoever, I was told the account already existed. You
can probably understand my concern and what motivated me
to write a detailed letter (no customer phone number
here, either) asking the status of this MLB Audio
account. And did I get a pertinent response? Nope. Two
weeks later, I got this:
you for your e-mail. For your convenience we have
progressively strengthened our Audio Frequently
Asked Questions section. After evaluating your e-mail(s)
we came up with a detailed and comprehensive list of
questions and answers. We urge you to check our new
Audio FAQ page as we are hoping that this will
answer any and all of your questions.
visit this page at FAQs
. As new issues arise we will update our FAQ's
accordingly. We are currently looking into ways of
making information more available to our users.
Thank you again for your patience and your continued
support of MLB.com.
Relations, MLB Advanced Media
Brendan and Jason and their "progressively
strengthened" FAQ, but my name is not
"Fan," and I still don't know Thing One about
the status of my account!
you are responding to a customer-generated query,
address the reply to the customer: Dear Grok or Hi
Grok or Whuz Happenin' Grok.
a personalized response to a personalized question. If
the FAQ didn't work the first time, why should the
customer have confidence it is going to work the
second time? Sometimes, in the name of service, you've
got to repeat yourself.
hear this: no human is going to stick around for long if
she doesn't feel she's being heard or her specific
concerns are being addressed. You simply can't send out
the same form letter for every problem. Customer service
letters your customers can't reply to is not customer
what you can do: Get a flesh-and-blood, thinking,
feeling human being to monitor your in-coming mail.
Think of this person as your Customer Service Gatekeeper
- the person who can direct queries to the appropriate
answering agent. Sometimes that agent will be the
system, with its form-letter responses. Other times, the
agent MUST be another flesh-and-blood, thinking, feeling
human who can provide personalized replies and solutions
that don't come across as complete non-sequitors. It
doesn't take much brain-power to figure out if your
customer is trying to solve a problem you've notified
her of, she is NOT making an inquiry. This customer does
not deserve to pawned off to The System.
here's the ONLY first-response automatic form letter
I'll ever find acceptable (modeled on an experience I
had with Cafepress.com):
Valued Customer (even better, use her name),
is an automatically-generated letter to confirm we
have received your e-mail. You can look forward to a
response from us within 24 hours. If your
circumstance requires personalized attention, we
will assign a customer service representative to you
who will stay with you until the issue is resolved
to your satisfaction.
it be done properly, with a minimum of fuss? Absolutely!
(Burlington Coat Factory) generated this automatic reply
to an e-mail question about the exact dimensions of a
We have received your message
you for contacting BCF Direct Customer Service. We
have received your mail message, and you will be
contacted by a Customer Service Representative
within two business days. We
all issues on a first-come, first-serve basis.
do not re-send your message unless you do not hear
from us within two business days. Our business days
are Monday through Friday.
you for your patience.
hours later, they supplied this response:
dimensions for this rug are 2 feet 10 inches by 3
feet 6 inches.
your most touchy-feely, hyper-personalized exchange, but
perfectly suitable (even though they did use the passive
voice!). BCF Direct impressively underpromised and
overdelivered. Guess what? They got the sale! And that's
how everyone stays happy.
a few minutes to think about how you would like to be
treated in these situations - we all are consumers,
after all. Then, delight your customers, as you would
like to be delighted: give them humanized, personalized
service, and knock yourself out in the process. Given
the alternatives of disgruntled customers, even more
disgruntled ex-customers, and bad viral press, wouldn’t
it be nicer to be remembered for carefully attending to