Archive for the ‘Customer Service’ Category
Something that I came across today, that for lack of a better description, just flat out pissed me off. I was booking a hotel room on hotels.com, and found some interesting pricing disparaty when I logged into my hotels.com account on another computer.
Initially I had searched for available hotels, and found one for $145. I logged into my account in a separate browser, and low and behold, the price went up to $220. Tried from another computer and same result. I could add the hotel to my cart and then login and the price would remain the same.
So basically Hotels.com sticks it to their repeat customers and deliberately delivers them a higher price than someone that just happens to browse their site. I suppose an argument could be made from a pure profit perspective that their customers aren’t going to question the price that they’re shown once they’ve made purchases from them in the past. However, this sort of greedy, and in my opinion deliberately deceiving behavior, is just not acceptable. If I repeat a business, I don’t necessarily expect to be given a better deal, although marketing statistics would support this, but I damn well expect not to be deliberately ripped off.
I think that shipping is one of the most difficult aspects of running an ecommerce site. In my experience and observations of other sites, shipping costs and delivery time-frames are the biggest customer complaint that online retailers receive, a recent study confirms shipping to be one of the most important thing to shoppers. Even if the shipping is free, customers often have obscene expectations on how fast their order will reach them. If it’s not free, there are always complaints about the cost even when the merchant directly passes down fees with no markup.
This is my guide on presenting, charging, and handling shipping services and fees for small online retailers.
- Have a shipping policy section on your website.
- Show shipping options, prices, and delivery time-frames.
- Be very cautious about offering free shipping.
- Don’t use USPS.
- Ship Now!
- Keep your customer informed.
Have a shipping policy section on your website.
When your customers know what to expect, they are less likely to be upset when you do exactly what you said you would. No matter what your company’s policies are on shipping, even if they are simply rotten, make sure that they are clearly posted on your site. Make sure that you do better than any policy on your site, shipping or otherwise. A shipping policy or refund policy should be a fallback point, not a guideline. If you say we ship within 48 hours, ship today.
Show shipping options, prices, and delivery time-frames.
On the shopping cart page, make sure you show available shipping options with their price and the estimated delivery time-frame. This does not mean, make your customer register or fill out their shipping address or fill out anything at all, before you show them shipping options. Ask for their zip code only (Not their zip and state, you can figure this out yourself) if your prices vary based on the delivery location.
I find that the best way to visually present shipping options is a list with a radio button for them to select their desired method. This is better than a drop-down box because it is easier to see and compare all of the options, and doesn’t require any clicking. Make sure to preselect the cheapest or the best value shipping method for them. This way they don’t have to interact at all if that’s what they choose.
If you use UPS or Fedex they offer tools to help you determine the delivery time-frame. Make sure to have your programmer use logic if you ship tomorrow, or need an extra day for packing, or your customer places an order on Sunday, a Holiday, etc. The delivery time-frame should be as accurate as possible. But when in doubt, add an extra day for padding. It’s perfectly fine to deliver early, but is never acceptable to deliver past the date you said you would.
Be very cautious about offering free shipping.
Free shipping is great. It can drive sales and give a company a huge competitive advantage. I’ve experimented on ebay many times with offering the same product at different prices and different shipping prices. Free shipping is a large enough incentive that many people will chose a more expensive overall price, over an item with high shipping costs. Shipping costs make people feel like they are being gouged, so there’s psychological motivation when shipping is very cheap or free.
However, free shipping is not great when you need to cancel it. If you have an established website, canceling free shipping can literally kill the business. Especially in the case of repeat customers, you can lose a lot of business when you revert back to a paid shipping format. This even applies to limited time free shipping promos.
A good alternative to free shipping, is free shippingÂ based on price thresholds. This can also backfire though, as online retailers often make the same profit (not margin) on expensive products as cheap ones. If your products get heavier as they get more expensive, you can end up cannibalizing all profit if you offer free shipping in situations like this. You need to do the math for your products and your shipping fees, but make sure you aren’t destroying your profit by offering this.
In any case, be very careful if you decide to offer free shipping, or threshold free shipping, even as a promotion. The backlash when you retract it, if you can retract it, can be severe, and it just may not work from a shipping cost to profit perspective.
Don’t use USPS.
USPS can be great for some product types. It is perfect for low ticket products or those that can be crammed into a pre-paid priority box or envelope. It’s also great if your customer has no expectation for the package to get there in the next week, month, ever…
If you’re like most of us, USPS is nothing but a headache.
To start off with, their package tracking is simply unacceptable. Since about 1998, customers have expected to be able to see their package progress once it is shipped. With USPS this current day, they can possibly see cryptic postdated message after it’s updated at 7 or 8PM in the evening. Did I mention that delivery confirmation, package tracking, and just about any other expected service costs extra.
Next, the package pickup services leaves something to be desired. Unless you’re shipping out a semi trailer of packages every day, you need to have the box at the pickup location or post office very early for it to go out the same day. This is completely unreasonable for most online retailers that ship their own products. To make this work, you almost have to delay all orders from shipping by a day so they can be packaged the next morning.
Third, delivery time-frames are a complete toss up. Here in Texas, I’ve seen packages take 1 day, and 5 days in the same state. There’s no reliable way to predict the delivery time-frame. Your customer asks you when the package will be delivered. Your answer of “sometime in the next 5 days” does not make people happy.
Lastly, when USPS loses a package, which happens all the time, it’s a bureaucratic mess to try and find it or get compensation for it.Â The time it takes to recover anything often offsets the loss of the product and the cost of sending a new one.
There’s good reason why almost every highly successful online retailer uses UPS or Fedex despite them being more expensive.
Probably most important of all is just ship the damn package now! Don’t wait for 2 days to package it up, and another day to label it and another day to drop it off. Get it in a box, put a label on it and get it out the door.
If you want to be a remarkable online business, your packages must go out the day you receive the order.
I can’t count how many times I’ve ordered and finally after 5 days, I get an email that my package has been shipping. Seriously, did you have to build the manufacturing plant, required to manufacturer my product or something??? I will not buy from you again if it takes 5 days to ship unless there is some extenuating circumstance and you told me about it immediately.
The quicker you get the package out, the happier your customer will be and you no longer have anything left to perform with the order. Everybody wins when you ship quickly.
Keep your customer informed.
Through every step of the purchasing to shipping to delivery process, you should be keeping your customer informed on the status of their order. This is the one area that you have 100% control of, so there’s no reason not to do this. Send an email letting them know you received the order. Email letting them know it shipped. Email letting them know that you messed up and it’s back-ordered. Email letting them know it was delivered, and follow up in a few weeks to make sure they got it, and it is what they wanted.
This last step is extremely important for 3 reasons. First, it is a proactive approach at solving any problems your customer may be having. It tells them you care enough about their satisfaction that your reaching out to them to make sure everything is excellent. Second, it helps prevent chargebacks by reminding them that they purchased something from you (They will be receiving their statement about right now and they forgot the name of your company. Sorry, it just works this way.). Also, if there’s a problem they know to contact you and not their bank. Last, it gives you an opportunity to make another sale with your new customer. Offering coupons or other incentives is an excellent way to gain a repeat customer and this email is the perfect medium. Too often I see this used with an aggressive marketing tactic to get warranty sign-ups or other high-profit, tasteless services. Don’t forget, this email is still about them so keep it reasonable if you want them to come back.
No matter how awesome your business is, you will get complaints about shipping. You may not meet some-one’s expectations, you may ship a day later than they were expecting, they think you can miraculously ship or deliver on Sundays, your packages will get lost or destroyed or delivered to the wrong address. As long as you are handling shipping in the best way possible, there’s little more you can do except provide good support to your customers when something does get messed up. If you’re running a site that makes your customers register or fill out a form before getting options, or you ship 5 days after you receive an order, I can almost guarantee your sales will immediately improve once you implement some better shipping practices.
An example of really bad customer service…
I had to purchase some hard drives for a server few months ago. Due to the nature of the setup, I needed to get the exact same drive models that were currently being used in the server. I went to one of the companies that I routinely purchase products from and placed my order for 2 hard drives. The next day I received an email from the company stating that they could not ship my order because my Paypal address was unconfirmed. Having moved 1 suite down the hall (about 75 feet) in our office building I explained to them that we were in the next office down, and that I didn’t want the drives to get delivered to the previous suite…
Well, it didn’t matter that we have bought thousands of dollars in server and computer hardware in the past few years, or that the address was 1 suite number down the hall, or that I actually called them. They would only ship to a confirmed address which lost them my order and possibly my future business.
This cost them $10, and they probably lose 20 more orders from me over the next 5 years.
An example of really good customer service.
I own a number of fish tanks, and I purchased some supplies including a very low cost automatic timer from a well know online pet supply retailer around the same time as the hard drives. The timer didn’t work properly, and in the midst of a busy schedule, 9 birthdays, 2 business trips, and 2 vacations I forgot to contact them about getting it replaced. Finally getting around to it, I read their return policy and it understandably said I needed to return the dysfunctional equipment to them. Since the shipping would cost about the same as re-purchasing the item, I gave them a call and asked if I really needed to send it back… Ah, I found out that I was past the refund point by a month and a half…
Even so, they decided to replace it for free and they didn’t require me to send back the broken one. This is what I call above and beyond customer service, and it’s guaranteed that next time I need something for one of my aquariums, they’re the first place I’ll stop.
This cost them $10, and they probably get 20 more orders from me over the next 5 years.
These are polar examples of a very important concept… Your existing customers are not and should not be treated like a your new ones!
It’s a well accepted principal in marketing and business in general, that your existing customer is easier and cheaper to sell to than a new customer. Additionally for ecommerce, selling to your existing customer poses a significantly lesser security and fraud risk than any new customer, especially in a case like this where the customer has placed several orders over several years.
If you want to create a remarkable online business, create the best experience for new customers, and make it even better, easier, and more efficient, for repeat customers.
There’s no reason to assume all customers should be treated the same. The majority of shoppers only place one or two orders with a website (Unless we’re talking about someone like Amazon). For this reason, you should make it as easy as possible for repeat customers to order from you, and you should give first time shoppers reasons to come back. It’s significantly cheaper to entice an existing customer to make another purchase than to go out and find a new customer.
If you think you’re significant enough that most of you shoppers wont go somewhere else if the price or service is much better, think again.
The real reality check…
Sure my business is insignificant in the long run. Ewiz may have only made a few hundred dollars in profit from me over the past few years. However, assuming that this blog gains no popularity or traffic over the next year, somewhere around 150,000 people will have the opportunity to read this article on my insignificant little ecommerce blog. 150,000 people will know that Drsfostersmith has outstanding customer service and ewiz’s customer service absolutely sucks. That’s 150,000 people, possibly current customers that could decide to shop somewhere else, or in Drsfostersmith’s case, 150,000 people that could decide to make their first purchase…
I’m not sure if there is an authoritative guide on a website’s contact form, so here’s my take on the picture.
A contact form is a seemingly simple feature, that most websites mess up. While a broken or poorly designed contact form may not be the end-all problem with a website, there’s no reason that it shouldn’t work correctly.
What a contact for must contain:
- Name, email, (optional: phone), and message fields
- Shouldn’t Contain… A ridiculous captcha verification script
- Confirmation / feedback that the form was properly submitted
- An email response that the form was successfully received
- Finally… A response from someone that read the form (If necessary)
When you look at businesses that are struggling, you generally see two reaction in attempt to get out of the slump.
The first reaction which generally is seen when a company declares bankruptcy or just before, is the add more fees without adding any value solution. Airlines are currently guilty of this, as most are adding fees everywhere without adding any additional value to their customers. I recently took a trip and was charged for curbside check-in, for checking a single bag, and for a soda while on the flight. The flight attendants and check-in receptionists were rude, no doubt because they have to deal with a bunch of angry customers. Southwest Airlines’ marketing team was just handed the golden platter of advertising opportunity, because people are angry at airlines for all the fees, and Southwest doesn’t have all the extra fees.
The second reaction which is actually consumer focused, is to change your business so it is more appealing adding value, in an effort to drive more business. Quiznos is a perfect example of this with their new pricing. I’m not sure if the end-user gets anything more from Quiznos, but the price / value point is far easier to understand which makes their restaurant more appealing.
Times are tough for a lot of retail businesses, and I can guarantee that simply raising prices will not create a more profitable or stable business unless you know for certain that your customers will happily pay the extra price.
Do not simply do these when times get tough:
- Add fees without adding some value with those fees (The airline raise).
- Grossly increase prices to accommodate for lost revenue.
- Unilaterally change contract terms (Think AT&T and Verizon).
Be careful doing these:
- Placing customers in opt-out programs.
- Cutting the variety of the products you offer.
- Dramatically changing or adding confusing policies and / or pricing structures.
Unfortunately there’s no magic recipe to making it through tough financial times, but these are some good ideas to help keep customers coming back to your business.
Here’s my recommendations to do before you ever get into real trouble:
- Make your price / value point more appealing (like Quiznos above). Be extremely cautious with this one because it can easily backfire if your customers think your smoke and mirrors are just an effort to pad your revenue.
- Offer rewards or incentives for frequent customers.
- Retail & Restaurants. Offer incentives to customer who bring their own cups or shopping bags. Ideas like this can help reduce overhead costs, and produce less waste. It’s win-win for everyone.
- Offer incentives to customers that refer their associates and friends to your business. If you’re not doing this already you’re doing something wrong.
- Offer incentives to employees that refer their associates and friends to your business.
- Diversify your marketing efforts. Don’t just use the Yellow Pages or radio ads. Puts your eggs in more baskets as long as they all provide real business. You can try local PPC marketing, sponsoring events, newspaper ads, and more.
- Optimize your business. This is a great time to see if you can save money on the services that your business already uses. Internet, phone services, your merchant account, shipping costs and methods, are all great places to start. Find services that you don’t really need and cut those first.
- If you need to purchase new IT equipment look into low power consuming equipment. Low power servers, computers, and network hardware can save thousands per year in energy costs.
- Reduce staff. This is truly one of the hardest and most unpleasant aspects of owning a business, but realistically, if it’s going to potentially save your company then you should consider it. My personal opinion is that this is an absolute last resort, unless you have employees that you were planning on releasing anyway, but it is sometimes necessary.
Every dollar you can save will really help later when you’re completely cash strapped. Start doing these before you are looking an an insurmountable situation that will ultimately end with the end of your business.
Let me know if you have suggestions or experiences of your own.
How many times have you emailed a website that you were planning on making a purchase from but didn’t receive a timely response?
Occasionally, about half, most of the time, every time…
The record that I have seen in a poor response time, is 92 days, set by an industrial printer company when I was inquiring about selling a large Xerox printer. I had completely forgot about and gave up on the whole situation two months before they contacted me. This is the absolute worst I have ever seen, but it doesn’t take 90 days to be a poor response time.
How fast should a customer receive a reply?
A business should respond to a customer as fast as humanly possible. I personally am online about 12 hours per day, and my own rule is no more than 5 minutes from when I receive the message. My Microsoft outlook receives new messages at least every 5 minutes, so it should take me no more than 10 minutes to send a response from when it is sent to me. The people that work in the sales and support for my company have a 1 hour limit, during business hours, but the 5 minute rule is always stressed.
Even 30 minutes would be a great improvement over the 24 hour standard that many businesses carry.
To be perfectly honest, my company would have been out of business years ago if we waited 24 hours to respond to an inquiry.
There are situation where you don’t have the answer to a question immediately and need to correspond with someone else to get the information you need. In cases like this, you can follow up on someone’s email, and let them know you are going to get back to them shortly. The point is that you contact your customer immediately with or without the information that they are looking for.
If your current response time is more than a few hours, you can be pretty sure that you are loosing business because of it. Your visitors can find whatever you sell, most likely at the same or better price somewhere else, in just a few minutes.
Don’t loose customers because you don’t respond soon enough. The only thing worse than a bad response is no reponse at all.