Online Customer Service-An Oxymoron?

Online customer service is not as hard as you think. It’s not quite as simple as smiling when someone enters a retail store, but you certainly can convey that your business is focused on meeting customer needs.

Websites have been around long enough that it’s easy to compare and see which ones make it easy to do business and which are causing their customers grief. Try it yourself. Go to a few sites you have never visited before and see how easy it is to locate specific information. Then go to a few of the rock star online retailers and see how they do the job.

There are a lot of rules to good online customer service. Here are a couple of my favourites.

  1. First stop, create a site that is easy to use. And I don’t mean easy for you or your coder. I mean it needs to be dead easy for your site visitors to use. Frankly, even if you’re the one building it, your opinion doesn’t matter nearly as much as your prospective visitors’ needs do.
  2. Make sure there is a way to contact your company available from the home page and every other page in the site. And don’t bury it in text at the bottom! Make it bright yellow if you have to, but make it stand out. Often this is done somewhere in the top right quadrant of the page and many site visitors look here first.
  3. If you’re selling online, let people know the price before they input their personal information. Would you pull out your credit card and ring through a purchase before you know the price in a bricks and mortar store? Many site visitors will opt out of the selling process if they have to provide their personal data before seeing the full price of the product, including shipping.

In a nutshell, make it easy and you’re more likely to make the sale.

Don’t Risk Losing Control of Your Brand

At a new media session at CES that I attended last week the panelists cautioned companies to ignore new media (especially blogs and social networks) at their peril. If companies insist on being ostriches with their corporate heads in the sand, they risk losing control of their brand.

Last weeks furore over Tim Horton’s employees and their Facebook antics is a case in point. With over 3,400 members, the “Rules of Ordering and More” group lists 80 or so tips that customers should take to heart if they want good service. Apparently the group is administered by Timmy’s employees unbeknownst to their employer. Its actually quite funny – you should take a read.

Had Tim Hortons (the famous Canadian Donut franchise owned by Pepsico) been monitoring the Internet effectively, the company would have been aware of groups like this much sooner and could have put contingencies in place to protect its brand or HR policies to outline appropriate employee conduct on the Internet. Had it been more proactive it could have channeled the publicity it received last week to its benefit rather than detriment.

Companies cannot ignore web 2.0 technologies any longer. They must, at the very least, be listening to what is being said about them even if they are not ready to be contributing to the conversation: in that way they have a chance at least of maintaining some control over their brand.

Say A Lot Without Speaking A Word

I may have mentioned this before, but what I like about a website is that it can do a lot of stuff for you. For instance, you don’t actually have to talk to people in order to speak to them.

Liz from Market Navigators tells the following interesting story:

“I’ll never forget the first time it happened to me. I got a call from a woman asking about my entrepreneurs marketing program, wanting to sign up. I’m pretty good with names, but I didn’t recognize hers, so I asked how she’d found me.

Turns out someone had referred her, she checked out my website, and decided to buy. Just like that.

I didn’t have to explain, meet with her first, sell her on the value…none of that. The website did it all for me.

That was easy!”

Websites: Marketing Without Being There

Have I ever mentioned that what I like about websites is all the stuff they can do for you?

I saw a commercial a while back where a fellow arrived at the office first thing in the morning, put a fake steaming cup of coffee on this desk and then left for the day. All day long that cup sat there steaming. Everyone who stopped by his office to speak with him assumed they had just missed him. They thought he’d be “back in a minute” meanwhile he was out having fun, enjoying the sunshine.

A website is a little like that. You don’t actually have to be there, to be there.

Need a website but short of cash? Try Freewebs

FreewebsFollowing a link from Mhairi’s blog, I discovered Freewebs and thought I would give it a go. Freewebs is a service similar to what Geocities used to be like before they were purchased by Yahoo (they now charge a fee for their web building services). Freewebs allows you to build your own site using one of their templates for Free.

I normally wouldn’t encourage anyone to use a tool like this for setting up a company website, but if money is indeed tight or if you just want to have a website to display images of your toy collection, then why not?

Signing up to Freebwebs was simple and easy. I managed to sign up, create a 2 page website (including writing the terrible fake copy), insert and resize an image in just 30 minutes. The result is not great, but I’ve seen designs built in Frontpage which are way worse.

Their templates left me a bit uninspired and although their site mentions that they have over 300, most of them are identical, except for the different banner image and colour scheme. Once my template was selected, their interface was easy to follow and I simply started typing away. I added another page and inserted an image. I even added a really naff butterfly effect to my second page. I’m not sure why anyone would want this, but with just the click of a button, butterflies were fluttering on my webpage.

Overall I think that Freewebs is great. Their interface was easy to use and with a bit more time and effort, I think that you could create a decent website. I would certainly encourage anyone to try Freewebs first before signing up with Geocities or other companies who charge a monthly fee for the same thing.

Increase sales with PayPal and Google Checkout

WorkHappy.net has a good article on why you should consider accepting PayPal and Google Checkout in your online sales. The full article is worth a read but here’s a few tidbits of note:

  • …according to a recent survey by JupiterResearch. Among Internet users, 33% said they had a PayPal account and 23% called it their preferred way to pay.
  • 18% of U.S. online shoppers in a recent PayPal-sponsored survey said they would not have made a purchase if the retailer had not taken PayPal.
  • You can include a Checkout button with your Google AdWords, making your ad more noticeable.
  • Some of the Checkout fees are being waived until Jan. 1 2008

All the good stuff aside, the readers’ comments point out a few complaints about the process/user flow in Google Checkout. I imagine they’ll improve the service as it matures.

Blogging at the VIFF

The Vancouver International Film Festival has come and gone for about a month now. The way the website is set up makes it very hard to find any information about the films as each film has its own blog. I’ve been poking around their site and selecting films randomly and I finally found a few entries but nothing too exciting. As you can imagine, because their website is not user-friendly, there is no discussion to be found.

Read more…

Creative Culture & Success in Business

Adaptive Path (a user experience design firm in San Francisco) has a wealth of articles on their site which, as a designer, I find interesting. Many articles are of interest to a broader business audience – such as this interview with Chris Conley.

Conley notes Pixar as a great example of creative business success which “basically create[s] a new billion dollar franchise every four years or so”. Truly an amazing track record. He discusses what makes them so successful, which boils down more or less to:

  • strongly adhering to a higher purpose – in Pixar’s case “To create great stories”. Fabulous storytelling is more important than fancy computer graphics. Mission and focus is paramount.
  • dynamic leadership & a talented team – every project is led by a director-producer pair that brings complementary strengths to the table and is responsible for the project’s outcome in different ways. Their team is made up of artists and technologists that can make their work better through critique. A strong team is diverse and challenges each other.
  • a highly iterative and tangible process – experimenting and sketching begins on day one. There is no waiting for mounds of research or scripts holding back the creative process. The great story they’ll tell gets figured out along the way. You needn’t have it all figured out from the start, get out there and do something.

Finally, Conley says

If corporations were to adopt these principles, behaviors, and values in their innovation-oriented work, they would be orders of magnitude more successful.

There are some good ideas in that list which resonate with me. What do you think?

Set up your wiki with wetpaint

We’ve written about wikis before, but sometimes words just aren’t enough. The folks at Common Craft have come up with a great video that explains how wikis can be created using the Seattle based company Wetpaint. Wetpaint is a company offering free easy-to-use wikis. Their video demonstrates how easy it is build your own wiki. I poked around the wetpaint site, but I got sucked into the hero wiki and the Buffy forever fan site… Before I knew I forgot why I was there…

Using wikis for fan sites is very popular, but non-profits societies, associations and any other group of individuals who simply don’t have the funds to build their own may find this service very useful.

Get with it! Technology is here to stay.

I bought a pair of Chaco sandals last year before heading out to do the West Coast Trail. I loved my Chacos. They are much nicer than Teva’s and their one strap technology is easy to adjust and fits my feet whether I am barefoot or wearing woolly socks. Unfortunately upon retreaving my luggage from the conveyor belt in Bordeaux this summer, one of my sandals was missing. The Chaco website told me in their FAQs that I could purchase just one shoe, but I asked all of the retailers in Vancouver and none of them would do it. I was quite delighted to receive compensation for my lost sandal this week, so this morning I went out to buy another pair.

When I bought them last year I chose the strap, type of sole and then placed my order. I waited 6 weeks and then went back to the store to pick them up. This morning I thought to myself, shop must have my name in their computer and be able to tell me exactly what I had bought previously. Nope! My name was in a book written in pencil. Or it would have been last year, but they only keep the book for a few months. These guys are selling $500 gortex jackets, high-end tents, sleeping bags and hiking books good enough to trek around the world and they don’t have a computer system? I must have spent over $1000 in outdoor gear in that store alone, yet they don’t have my name on file. Even my hair dresser keeps a file on me with the type of bleach she uses!

The funny thing is that this morning I read a story on Rohit’s blog about semacodes. H&M have come up with billboards allowing users to purchase the items of clothing advertised using their cellphone. It seems like it’s all or nothing. While some businesses are embrassing technology, which I’m not convinced will work, others are just refusing to go digital.

It will be interesting to see if in a few years time, I’ll be able to purchase my next tent from a billboard, while listening to my radio teaching me a new language in my car that knows my travel itinerary….