Back in the days when Mum wore a pinny and Dad sported a hat to work, shopping wasn’t the soulless chore it is now. It was a social event.
A trip to Mr. Green’s store guaranteed Mum personal attention, new goodies to taste, meal tips and lashings of neighbourhood gossip. And as she left, the kindly shopkeeper would slip a lolly for little Timmy into her hand.
And so it went on, week after week. Mum enjoyed being looked after, and the extra value Mr. Green added to her task. In turn, Mr. Green learnt about his customers needs and earned their repeat business, so he was happy too.
But a lot has changed since then.
Today, that special connection has been lost. The buying experience has been reduced to a sterile transaction – I give you money, I take away the thing I want.
And sadly, we’ve become used to it. The buying public has low expectations that are frequently only just met. The incentive to buy has been reduced to a price war that has cut deeply into business profit margins.
It’s even worse in the world of the online shopper, who’s cut off from human contact completely. The personal touch and the chance to add value has been all but lost.
This is your chance to shine online
This sorry status quo presents a huge opportunity for smart online business owners like you. You can create a competitive advantage and increase sales by offering your customers a shopping experience that will knock their socks off.
The rewards of a better relationship with your customers include fewer complaints, increased business and precious referrals and recommendations. With the birth of social media, these recommendations can be carried to a very large audience at no cost to yourself.
Not sure where to begin? Here are my five secrets to creating an irresistible online store by impressing the pants off your customers.
1. Give your brand an enticing presence
Put everything from your website to your customer service emails under the microscope and look at them through your customers’ eyes.
Does your business leave a positive impression? Is your store welcoming and easy to browse? Are your product descriptions lively and your photos hi-quality? What about your phone voice mail message?
Every time your audience comes into contact with your brand, you have a chance to give them an unforgettable experience and build that important relationship. Check where you can tighten up.
2. Keep your customers informed
Communication is key to providing a great customer experience. By that I don’t mean spamming your database with promotions.
- Keep in contact with your customers throughout the order process. Email them a note when their order has been posted and let them know when it can be expected. Go that extra mile and follow up with a personal email to check their goodies have arrived and are being enjoyed.
- Make it easy for people to contact you when they need you. Display your contact details prominently on each page of your website and have a ‘contact us’ page.
- Answer the phone politely and cheerfully. Check that your voicemail message has the same welcoming tone.
- Use social media channels like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ to offer tips or entertain your audience.
3. Act quickly
The instant nature of the Internet has made us all impatient beasts. Hours can seem like days when you’re expecting a response or delivery, so act quickly to reduce complaints.
- Post out store orders within 24 hours. Don’t leave a customer waiting to receive goods they’ve already paid for.
- Answer any email enquiries or complaints the same day they arrive.
- Respond to a query or complaint within 4 hours on Twitter and within 24 hours on Facebook and other social networks like Google+. Any later, interest in your business will drop like a lead balloon.
4. Surprise and delight
Don’t leave that extra effort for when things go wrong. It’s the little unexpected things you do for your customers in the course of regular business that makes you stand out as a great business. Remember Mr. Green and his little treats!
- Add a handwritten note in the package.
- Offer free gift wrapping.
- Include a discount voucher for their next order.
5. Treat every complaint as an opportunity
Sometimes a customer complaint can be a blessing in disguise. If you can resolve it successfully, you may well keep the customer and even be referred to others.
- Whatever the cause, don’t make excuses for what happened, take ownership of the situation and let the customer know you care about resolving the issue quickly.
- If you’re hearing the same question often, consider making it into an FAQ or tutorial on your website.
If in doubt, phone a friend
Sometimes we’re so close to something, we can’t see the wood for the trees. If you’re stuck for ideas to improve the customer experience, ask a good friend to act as a buyer and offer you suggestions. You might be surprised at the things you learn.