In this wonderful Information Technology and Internet Age, we are all struggling, and succeeding to different degrees, to keep up with the technology. It's a never-ending battle for human to adopt new technology through innovation. Web Technology: when it's good, it's often poorly executed, on the other hand, when it's bad- it's fatal. Much of the time, the technology gets in the way of the sales and communication process.
Whoever got the idea to ask for your name and email addresses before you can enter a site? Try that outside the front door of the local McDonalds!
Whoever got the idea for fancy Flash presentations that take 3 minutes of your time to show off how good the graphics designer was? Try telling people that they have to watch a video presentation before they can enter WalMart!
Why can't more than half of Web shoppers find the product they want on a site? Would that be acceptable at the local sports store, or in a mail-order catalog?
Why do more than half of Web shoppers abandon their purchase after they've selected goods and placed them in their shopping trolley? Wouldn't that send your local supermarket broke?
Look at any successful business in the 'dirt world', and you'll find that it is being rewarded for responding to the needs of its customers, and making more than enough profit to pay its bills. Then look at what has passed for popular success on the Web, and you find that it has to do with how exciting the concept is, how many eyeballs it attracts, how innovative the 'business model', or how revolutionary the technology used is. Nary a word about about the customer satisfaction or profit that are necessary in the real world.
Take away the technology, and to succeed in Web Marketing, you still need to deliver the basic requirements of Marketing;
- A good Product
- At the right Price
- At the right Time
- At the right Place
It also helps mightily if you have a good rapport with your customer.
Which brings me back to the subject of this week's Forum:
"Whether, in a high-tech age when dot-coms are rushing to automate as much as customer contact as possible, there's still an important place for "high touch"--old-fashioned one-to-one sales."
My answer is a qualified 'Yes', and my belief is that 'one-to-one sales' isn't 'old-fashioned' at all! Have a look at all the 'new-fashioned' sites that tried to sell autos. They were dismal failures. People used them for information, then went right on down to their local dealership to haggle and buy from real people. No matter how good a job the programmers did of automating customer contact, the customers didn't feel confident enough to complete the transaction on the website. Some businesses are so "high-touch" that wise marketers would choose to use a website only as an information, branding and lead- generation tool, with real people following up the leads.
Sure, you're right, the auto example is an extreme case. And, no, you can't afford to have a real-live sales person selling that $9.99 CD online. I understand. Even in the real world, we have vending machines, so we don't need a human holding our hand in every sales transaction. It varies with the nature of the product.
No matter how much money and technology some Web businesses throw at automating customer contact, they're doomed to failure. You can only successfully automate something you UNDERSTAND. Unfortunately, many of our dotcom whiz-kids have never had to make a living from real customers in the real world, so they just don't 'get it'. What online businesses DO need to do is understand the customers' needs in the sales process, and fulfil them.
What is really needed, is a caring, thoughtful fulfilling of customers' needs and expectations at every step in their experience with a Web business site. The better all the small steps are performed, the less need there will be for real-time human intervention (and the higher will be the conversion rate). This means;
- A professional, friendly tone to the
- Information about who you are- the company,
the founder, the staff. Let your customer
know that there are real people there
- Sensible ads that don't mislead and set up
- Relevant descriptions from customer searches
of Directories and Search Engines
- Quick-loading webpages
- Easy-to-understand page layout, with clear
- Easy-to-understand navigation
- A Returns Policy and strong Guarantee to
allay fears of making the wrong choice
- A clear description of your products or
services, and clear pricing options
- Secure credit card and information handling
to further allay fears on privacy
- A friendly, easy-to-use shopping cart
- A sincere Thank You, and information about
what will happen next
If all of these things are done, there will be little need for one-on-one selling on most sites. You will already have done the job. Through understanding your customer and providing excellent serivice, NOT by spending more on technology!
Of course, offering some 'one-to-one' contact is a real plus for any business, and necessary for those that are more 'high-touch'. There are now a number of programs, some even free, that allow acustomer to contact a live operator at your site. Check out LiveHelper.com and HumanClick.com. Making it easy for your customer to contact your business site by phone, fax and email should be fundamental.
I read once that the definition of fanatacism was "Redoubling your efforts when you've forgotten your original aim". Solving a lack of customer rapport by throwing more technology at the problem, comes perilously close to that definition.