Here are 5 common "mistakes" that I have come across that have driven me cruhh-aye-zeeee as a (potential) customer.
Playing hide-and-seek with your customers
Making your customer rummage around your website to look for contact details is probably not a good thing, especially if you have a customer that is lacking patience. Actually, from a business point of view, the amount of patience a customer has should be irrelevant. Your website is an extension of your company/business and the image it projects should reflect that of your company. Apparently, out of more than half a million websites sampled by vSplash in 2011, 24% of them have an email address on the website and 13% have a phone number. Yes, 120,000 or so websites with email addresses displayed may sound impressive, but what about the other 380,000 or so websites that aren't even playing hide-and-seek with their email and just don't have one displayed at all?
As a customer, I would be having second thoughts and dubious impressions of a company website with no way of contacting the company. I'm looking for any form of contact - an email address, a phone number, a contact form, social media links.. anything that will let me get in touch with you, the company. Making me click through all your webpages, or spending eternity trying to scroll to the bottom of your pages because you have a fancy schmancy script that keeps elongating the page with more products, is going to make me lose patience very very fast. Enough to simply close the window and move onto a new store that causes less angst and answers all my questions (whether I am aware of them or not) without me clicking for help. You think I'm being melodramatic? You try scrolling to the bottom of this website and see how far down you get before you give up!
Recommended Quick Fix:
This is a no-brainer - make it blatantly easy for your customers to contact you. You can place social media and email links or icons at either the top or bottom (or both!) of your website as many businesses already do. You could also create a separate page with all your contact details to consolidate all the information. It is generally advised to include phone numbers too, but I personally think that it's much safer for everyone to initially correspond by email. A written transcript of the communication is a lot more reliable than a phone conversation - less chance of miscommunication due to bad lines, or pure forgetfulness and then having to play "I thought I said ..." afterwards.
Making your customer talk to your automated phone system
We have technology advanced enough to have not-too-bad voice-recognition programs, but they're still far from perfect! How many times have you stood there sounding like an idiot, yelling into your phone "Aww-stray-lee-ahh!!" and having the robotic voice on the other end ask you "Please say yes if you are calling from Lithuania."? This is much worse when you're in public. Trust me. It was not pretty. If you haven't experienced this, count yourself lucky! You may want to watch this video by Basic Bananas to understand why it's so frustrating.
Whilst I like the idea that things are automated and hopefully more efficient, this is one example where technology might trip you up and drive away your customers who can't reach you in good time.
Recommended Quick Fix:
Pick up the phone and talk to your customers! If you absolutely cannot do that (especially for small business owners who often have to play all the different roles a business requires and don't have enough hours in the day to also play secretary), record a friendly, succinct voicemail message or use a virtual secretary service. Dave Donelson, from The Dynamic Manager, has some practical advice for business owners who choose to use automated telephone answering systems. Jeff Mowatt delves into some of the psychology behind (irritated) customer responses on the phone and explains how to avoid these situations.
Poor customer service and/or communication
So, you finally get through and is communicating with a human being (you hope!) via email or telephone. You think you're getting somewhere with your enquiry. And then, there's silence. You don't ever, ever hear back from the person you were corresponding with again. Or you get an email link to a free coupon code sent as an apology.. that leads to an error page. Or, you get a screenshot of a parcel tracking enquiry with absolutely no text, explanation or even a signature (which has recently happened to me and I tell you, I was not impressed. Especially when I had access to that same webpage using my tracking code and could obviously see the same thing the customer service rep could.)
Why on earth would a company shoot themselves in the foot like that?
According to James Surowiecki's column in The New Yorker in 2010, sometimes poor customer service boils down to budget. He goes on to explain that a lot of companies think they're providing better customer service than they actually are because improvements, benchmarks and such intangible things have been implemented but the crux of the matter is that customers remain dissatisfied because their problems are still not being resolved. Furthermore, some companies would rather concentrate on potential customers and hence, pour resources into sales and marketing whilst neglecting their existing customer base. Oops.
Recommended Quick Fix:
Treat your customers the way you would like to be treated, and you'll be fine. That means not only listening to their questions, problems, complaints or compliments, but really hearing the message. And appropriately acting on it! If you make a mistake, honesty is the best policy.. as well as a thousand apologies and perhaps, a bit of grovelling depending on the scale of your mistake. The worst thing you can do is ignore the issue and hope it will go away. Even if you're lucky, and it does go away, chances are your customer will be long gone too (along with their friends sometimes).
Making your customer fill out a background check before allowing them to complete their purchase
This is one major, major turn-off for me as a customer. Not only does my irritation grow with the number of text fields, drop down boxes and numbers I have to input but so do the number of questions I have. Why do they want to know my hobbies and income? What are they going to do with the information? Oh no, are they going to spam me? And so on..
Recommended Quick Fix:
Make your forms as succinct as possible. Have only the bare minimum fields you will need to ensure delivery of your goods or services - things like customer names (full names, especially for international post), a current and working email address, mailing and billing addresses and any payment details you may need to process the transaction. Less crucial things like birthdays, newsletter sign-up preferences and such should be left optional. You might even want to consider a "Guest Check-out" mode if possible where the customer has a choice of a quick checkout. Christian Holst covers the checkout process in more depth in his article on Smashing Magazine.
Lack of an introduction or background to the business
Have you ever stumbled upon a website that had an interesting product, but was made by a company you've never seen or heard of before? Personally, I would feel a bit uncomfortable making that purchase until a few doubts were clarified. Especially if the website looked "dodgy" for whatever reason - broken links and pictures, pages that lead to my browser warning me of security problems, etc.
Simple questions that most of us would be asking (sometimes subconsciously) to establish a certain level of trust that is needed to buy something off the internet. These questions may include, amongst others:
- Who are these people/this company and where are they located? Are they local?
- Will these people/this company take my money and run?
- What happens if I don't like the product? Will I be stuck with it forever? Can I return it? Will there be penalties?
- How are these products made? Are they going to be toxic, or affect me adversely in some other way?
Recommended Quick Fix:
Having a little blurb (or blurbs) somewhere on your company website will do wonders in creating a more trustworthy environment for your customer, I believe. Not only does it provide a focus for our website (so the customer doesn't aimlessly wander around, confused about what your website is all about) but will hopefully allow the customer to understand your company, its ethos, culture and story. Obviously, don't write a book about it and label it as your "About" page - chances are, not many people will stick around to read it. Something simple and succinct to convey the message is all that's needed! As a customer, at least I will feel more secure in knowing that the website belongs to a real company or person (based on the information provided, of course) and may even overlook or forget some of my other initial trepidations. Especially if I really, really like a product on the website.
Phew! I had intended this to be a quick post with 5 major peeves but it took on a life of its own, it seems.
Have you come across some bad business practices? Have you been guilty of commiting some of these oopsies? Add to the list and share your stories! After all, this is the best way to learn - from our collective mistakes.