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Taking your business online is not only smart, it’s essential. With a focus on safety limiting your typical face-to-face customer interactions, being able to sell your products and services digitally is survival. But how do you get started?
In this article we’ll review:
• Resources to build an e-commerce / virtual servicing strategy
• Ideas and technology that connect websites, mobile and social media.
• Tips on creating a customer experience from search through delivery.
The Importance of Customer Connection
As we’ve experienced with Covid-19 epidemic, it is no longer a luxury to have an online way to greet, inform, and ultimately sell to new and existing customers. But how do you do this? Well, the good news is that you already know! Well, the important part of it anyhow. You’ve done it thousands of times, probably. You’ve taken customers from having heard about what you do to showing them just how you can solve their needs, provided it, supported them, and hopefully welcomed them back in the door at a later date to help them (or their friends) again and again.
What we mean is that online selling has to follow a lot of the same principles of customer connection. Selling in person may have become second nature enough that you just react and guide customers through this process without thinking about it. Unfortunately, with online interactions, you don’t always have as much of a chance to observe and react to every customer coming through the door. Kind of like a super busy day when you’re understaffed. How would you deal with that? Well, by bringing in more staff, training them to do what you do and making sure every customer gets the kind of attention they need.
Online selling takes that concept of “staffing up” and forces you to do a really good job “training” your systems to mimic that in-person interaction. The good news is it can be a cheaper way to add virtual (or real in some cases) staff. The challenge is that computers are notoriously literal.
So, let’s take a look at the cycle and try to break down some of the more common ways to make technology do what you would do yourself, if you could be available online 24 hours a day
Starts with the Search (Or is it ‘Find’)
Even in terms of getting your name out there, you may already be working online channels to get new prospects into your sales process. Likewise, your existing customers may be handing out either your name or even your website to people they know. Either way, search optimization is needed to some degree for everyone so when they seek you, they not only find you but find it easy to get to exactly that part of your site that has what they are looking for.
Google really aims to create the best results. The whole concept is to match the problem (what the person is searching for) with the best solution. They use a lot of different things to make that happen, but the better you can make your case to the digital world, the better your search results will be.
One easily overlooked item is on-site structures for how your website coded including proper headings and navigation elements. A few ideas to help here:
- Proper use of ‘Heading’ Tags to create page and section headings
- Focusing on navigation throughout your site on your home page so search results can good sub-links to specific pages
- Good meta tagging with focus on specific topics included on the page or site
Educate Your Customer
Every customer experience involves at least some level of education. Let’s look at some of these:
- What’s the price (today)? Is it on sale? Has it gone up?
- Which stylist is available to do my hair next Wednesday?
- What are the steps in creating a will that will let me best manage my taxes, family dynamics, and provide for the care of my children
Regardless of the complexity, your online store needs to have easily accessible information that helps them make a buying decision. Don’t forget that reputation, credibility, experience, and even your personality are also important parts of the education process.
As with a brick-and-mortar storefront, knowing your customer’s preference for being educated is paramount. If you force them to read too much own their own, or make comparisons too hard to make, they are likely to “walk out” frustrated. There are a number of tools available to help you both create streamlined “conversations” with online customers as well as help direct them to a more in-depth communication format for the more complex and dynamic education components.
Help Them Choose the RIGHT solution
Helping customers make good selections is a little bit like fortune telling. The end is making sure what they receive is what they need. It’s ok. You got this. You do this all the time. These types of conversations are things like:
- What size do you need?
- What color do you want?
- What is your price range?
- What is it being used for? or What are you seeking help to do?
- What features do you require?
- When are you available for an appointment?
In the end, making the collection process easy for them is the goal. The important thing to focus on is simplicity for the user so they do not get frustrated and just leave.
Checking Out (Without Abandonment Issues)
(Cue music by Sarah Mclachlan) Cart abandonment is a really tragic problem…every minute thousands of poor abandoned carts are left with no one to complete their transaction in a tragic moment that leaves inventory sad and forgotten. You can help…
Ok seriously. Checkout is also a place where you want to make sure you are respecting your customer’s time. In person, no one wants to get to the checkout counter and have to have a price check on lettuce. Frustrations can happen online, too. Here are a few things to include so that you have a clear and complete checkout experience:
- Make sure the checkout is clear with an easy-to-read listing of items, quantities, and costs.
- Include the appointment dates and time
- Include expected delivery dates
- Include an order number and a way to track the order
- Use secure and fully integrated payment system instead of one that sends a customer to another site to pay
- Send a confirmation email including all the details and a way to reference their order
OK. Great. The customer thinks everything is all set. They got their confirmation. They got a follow-up email. Everything listed is what they expected it to be. That’s only the half of it.
Online operations include a number of new things you need to include in your planning:
- Packaging the right items for shipment
- Tracking shipments and deliveries
- Handling return shipments
- Setting aside items for in-store pickup
- Maintaining a full inventory so that there aren’t accidental out of stock situation
That isn’t to say the customer isn’t also impacted by this phase. Here again reassurance of the transaction is essential. In the case of shipped product, it’s an itemized email of the products shipped, tracking numbers and expected delivery. For a service, it can be an appointment reminder and even any products they should expect to pick up at that time.
Ready to get Started?
Support and Training (and a Little Bit of Specialized Upgrading if Needed)
How do you handle customer support in your physical location? Do many of the same people who provide sales assistance provide post-sale support? Do you have dedicated staff? That same experience will need to be replicated digitally. This is often done by way of a FAQ or Knowledge Base / Support portion of your website. You may also opt for an online support ticket system that can apply to both your online sales and in-store purchases.
Regardless of how you staff it, the principles about educating your customer are very applicable to support as well. The information has to be easily accessible and based on the customer problem. Anticipating their questions helps in building good responses to common questions. In the end, they will want to speak to someone if there isn’t an easy solution. Tools like chat bots and other ways to quickly to connect with your support personnel immediately can make the difference between a happy customer and brand advocate, and a jilted customer.
More than that, instructional articles can be posted to act as case studies as to how your product or services can be used to solve particular problems. This is also a way to highlight your customer stories showing how they solved particular problems. That way, you not only help future customers, but also give a previous one some warm fuzzies.
Support is also an opportunity to refine solutions for an existing customer by helping them see the value in upgrades to their original purchase. By understand any continued or newly discovered needs, nuanced solution add-ons can be promoted and applied to create a very happy customer.
Maintaining customer loyalty is actually one of those areas where you can really use online channels to make customer loyalty even easier than traditional customer relations. The online world we live in provides a number of ways to keep your business on their mind and make fans of them.
This step is helped a lot by looking ahead to why you want them to be loyal to your company. True benefit comes from the next step in the cycle – referrals. You can help to create that transition by rewarding not only their fondness of your brand, but also for doing things that help you help them in that next step!
Here are some ways to do that without a high unsubscribe rate:
- Coupons for referring a friend
- Predictably sending a coupon with each newsletter so they will know not to unsubscribe
- Using QR codes in your store to make sign up easy
- Using feedback surveys to get mailing list signups and valuable information about how to better serve customer needs.
- Segment customers by what they prefer to buy from you and send offers related to exactly those things
- Ask them how often is too often to hear from you
- Send offers with a specific focus and reason such as to remind them about an upcoming holiday
Getting Them to Promote You
Once people are loyal customers, it’s a fair bit easier to get them to promote you as well. It’s not a given though. Sure, rewards will help for a lot of the desire to gush about your business, but you need to also make it easy for them to do so effectively.
This goes back to knowing more about where people are finding your business. Here are some sources to consider:
- Are they getting direct referrals from friends?
- Are they finding you via search engines?
- Are people focused on images on social media to convince them to use your services?
The main thing is to match your incentives to the channels that are going to help you maximize the impact in both continuing the sales cycle and growing your audience.