How small businesses can plan for a profitable online Christmas

online christmas salesChristmas is one of the most important times of the year for many online retailers.  December 2013 saw UK shoppers spend a record £11 billion online – a year-on-year rise of £18% . So considering as a nation the Brits spent £91bn online in 2013  and are anticipated to spend £107bn in 2014 , Christmas 2014 looks set to be another profitable period for e-commerce.

If you haven’t already started planning for the Christmas period, then now is the time to get organised. You don’t want to risk losing out on those lucrative seasonal sales just because you haven’t planned ahead.

What will consumers be doing?

Trends indicate more and more people will be shopping online this Christmas.  November and December are still likely to be the key shopping months, but don’t forget a significant number of consumers start shopping in September and October.

  • In the UK 61% of people said that they completed more than half of all their Christmas shopping online during 2013
  • Online sales in 2013 grew by a staggering 19.2% compared to 2012.
  • In 2013 the majority of consumers (49%) planned to do their Christmas shopping in the months nearing Christmas – particularly in November or beginning of December, 27% and 22% respectively.
  • 30% of consumers expect to start holiday shopping before Halloween
  •  22% of women had already started their Christmas shopping by September or October in 2013
  • 28% of women  ‘do their Christmas shopping early to avoid stress’.

importance of planning aheadWhy and what should you be planning now?

So, if time has slipped away from you (as it often does when you are managing your own business), don’t worry it’s not too late to start planning your Christmas activities. Although early bird shopping may have commenced, the busiest sales period is still to come.

Don’t underestimate just how useful an exercise planning is. Putting time aside now to work out all your seasonal activity will save you both time and stress in the long run. A plan helps you keep on track and alleviates the need for any last-minute, poorly executed and panicked promotions. It also serves to inform other members of staff of what is happening and when – keeping all of you singing from the same songbook.

Promotions – put together a schedule of planned activity

Decide on what christmas promotions you intend to do and then put together a schedule of activity. For example supposing you want a special offer to go out in time for this year’s Black Friday and cyber Monday (28th November and 1st December respectively) then schedule in the day your activity needs to go out and work backwards from there. You can then calculate when you need to have all your preparatory work completed.

Get started now on planning your promotions:

Christmas offersSeasonal offers

Offers are a great way to pull customers in over the Christmas shopping period. By our very nature we love a bargain, so think about planning some special yuletide promotions such as:

  • By one get one half price
  • 3 for 2
  • Free delivery
  • Early bird incentives – such as 15% off

Tip: If you’re not 100% sure what offers you going to do then you can always do a teaser for customers. For example, Check out Argos. They have already set up a separate webpage for their Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals for customers – without stating the exact details of what their offers will be.

Email, social media, advertising, blogs

Whatever offers you decide upon, then you need to schedule when you want  your promotional activity to hit. How are you going to tell everybody about all the great products and offers you have if you don’t shout about them from the rooftops in time? So plan in when you are going to send out your promotional emails, publish your festive blogs, launch your promotions on your websites and social media networks and if and when you are going to advertise.

Sales platforms – what are you going to need to tweak

Getting  customers into the right mindset can really help your sales conversions. So think about how you can ‘Christmas up” your sales platforms.

Website: Making your website Christmas friendly is essential. Inspire customers as much as you can by showcasing products that you think will make perfect gifts. Make it easy for customers to find things – try categorising headings such as; stocking fillers, gifts for children, gifts for her, gifts for food lover or gifts for under £15. For ideas on how to get your website ready for the festive season check out some online businesses that do Christmas well like notonthehighstreet.com.

Open a Facebook shopFacebook store: If you haven’t already got one set up, then now is the time to  create a Facebook shop and give yourself an additional sales channel for your products in time for Christmas. With 1.23bn monthly active users, a Facebook store offers a cost-effective channel for small businesses and start-ups to sell directly to an engaged audience in an environment in which potential customers are actually interacting in the here and now.

Multi device friendly: Mobile and tablets play an increasingly important part in a consumer’s purchasing journey. 

“Mobile phones and tablet computers are now used for nearly 6% of all retail sales as Brits embrace shopping from the sofa, the train and under the duvet” The Guardian 2014

December 2013 saw online sales via mobile devices double from the previous year to £3 billion.  With the trend likely to continue, if your website is not already multi-device friendly then now is the time to get it sorted.

Landing pages: Don’t forget to plan in appropriate and relevant Christmas landing pages. If you’re sending out specific yuletide offers and promotions, make sure your message is carried right through and reflected on the landing page. Your landing page has a significant impact on your conversion rate so make sure you don’t just send customers through to a bog standard home page. Make sure it reflects the content of your Christmas promotions – otherwise all your hard work and planning could be wasted. 

christmas stock and resourcesStock levels and resources

If you’ve identified products from last year that sold particularly well or have products you are confident are going to prove popular, make sure that you’ve got enough stock in to fulfil any Christmas orders. This way you can rest assured that any seasonal lifts will be catered for. Equally if you feel you are likely to experience a large increase in orders then decide whether you will need any extra help to manage the fulfilment and despatch. If you think you will struggle then have a plan in place to get more hands on board when you’ll need them – whether that means pre-warning family and friends that they may need to be roped in to help or hiring in temporary seasonal staff. Essentially be  prepared!

prepared earlier‘Here’s one I prepared earlier’

Finally, if you know that the Christmas period will be hectic, have a think about what you can do now to get yourself a bit ahead. This will save you a great deal of time and stress during those really busy periods. For example:

If you have a regular blog write extra articles now, in advance. They are then sitting ready to published when you need them.  The same goes for emails and newsletters. There is no reason why you can’t them prepared in advance when you have a quieter moment.

Just by thinking ahead and planning in advance you can avoid any nasty surprises and keep your stress levels lower. And if you really have no time at all then think about some seasonal outsourcing – it may well be worth it in the long run!

Further reading for some more Christmas tips:

 

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this subject, so please do leave a comment.

 

11 Simple Tactics to Gain a Quick Sales Boost

There come times in all businesses when things slow down, revenues drop, and customers don’t seem too keen on buying more goods from you. Thankfully, such phases are just that – phases – and they change for the better sooner or later.

As a business owner, there are a number of things that you can do to push the cycle from a downswing to an upswing with a little bit of imagination and a lot of persistence. Here are some time tested tactics that will help you turn the tide and get your business back to busier, more profitable times.

Creative Pricing

If nothing else, the one thing that is in your control about your business is the price at which you sell. Instead of going the boring route of pricing your products by simply adding a margin to your total cost; get a little creative with your pricing to attract customers’ attention and tempt them to buy more.

a. One-day sales

Pick a specific high margin product category and discount it deeper than you normally would. Announce that you will be having a one-day sale for this product category and promote it heavily across your store, local media, email newsletters, direct mail inserts and so on.

Often people stock up on products that carry a very deep discount even if they don’t need to use such items immediately. By limiting the discount period for just one day, you are creating a sense of urgency and playing on users’ fear of missing out (or FOMO, as it is now called).

b. BOGO

Getting anything for free has a unique charm to it that a mere discount cannot match. Use the Buy One, Get One free tactic with items that have very different margins. By keeping a high value, low margin product at full price and bundling it with a high margin product for a BOGO offer, you’re protecting your margins while simultaneously playing into the users’ psychology of jumping for a free product.

Another approach is a Buy One, Get One half off. Here, a user sees the offer as a 50% discount on an item, which is a fantastic deal by most standards. However, in reality, all you are offering is a 25% discount on the two items put together.

c. Coupons

Falling back on coupons to gain a quick sales boost is a time tested tactic. In 2013 alone, US shoppers redeemed $2.8 billion worth of coupons. This number shows us that given the option, there’s a huge market out there that will gladly use a coupon to save some extra cash. What really matters is ensuring that you target the right media for promoting your coupons. In 2013, 91% of all coupons were distributed through Free Standing Inserts (FSIs); while only 50% of redemptions happened through FSIs.

CouponsSource

Build a larger bundle and offer deals on it

Advertising value discounts on high priced items makes users feel that they are getting a great deal, as compared to giving percentage discounts. For example, $100 off on $500 seems like a great deal, but saying 20% off on $500 does not seem all that attractive.

Promote higher value items and offer value discounts on them. This works in two ways. It makes the user think they’re getting a better deal than if you expressed the discount in percentage figures and it gets you a higher revenues by selling a higher priced item or bundle of items than just a single low priced item.

Brand partnerships

Partnering with a non-competing brand is a great way to reach out to new customers. Create special offers on your products especially for customers of your partner brands and use their promotion platforms to reach out to their customers. As a quid pro quo, offer the same benefits to your brand partner. That way, you gain access to a new customer base and entice them with a great deal, while your existing customers get an awesome deal on the products and services offered by your brand partners. A win-win situation all around!

Deep discounts to specific customer groups

Kill two birds with one stone. By offering special offers and deep discounts to closed user groups like your Facebook fans or your email subscribers, you create a need to belong among your users.

The deals and offers encourage more users to sign up and you get a higher uptake for your offers while simultaneously growing your mailing list or your Facebook fan base with people signing up to take advantage of your offer.

Target abandoned shopping carts

According to research by the Baymard Institute, about 67% of all shopping carts online are abandoned for one reason or another. Users who arrived on your site, browsed through your products, even chose one of them clearly saw something interesting about your brand and products to begin with. Whatever their reason for abandoning their purchase midway maybe, you can always tempt them to come back and complete the transaction with a timely abandoned cart win back email.

Typically such an email contains the item that was left ‘abandoned’ in the user’s cart along with a gentle reminder to complete the purchase. In the event of no response to the first email, a follow up email with a special discount will definitely nudge the most tightfisted buyers to complete their transaction and make a purchase.

Referral programs

People tend to form friendships and close relationships with other people who share similar tastes, interests and overall demographic profiles as themselves. If that is the case, the friends and family of your existing users are a goldmine of customers waiting to be tapped.

Offer special incentives to your customers for referring their friends to your service. Also offer a one-time sign-up bonus for the friend who joins you through a referral to sweeten the deal for both parties.

Repeat user offers

By now, we all know that it is WAY cheaper to retain and cultivate existing customers than to attract and convert new users into customers. Tap into your existing pool of repeat customers and offer them special deals for newer purchases.

Offers like ‘Get $X off on your next purchase’ push customers towards that next purchase a little sooner than they would have planned otherwise. Another option is to have offers that kick in on making cumulative purchases. For example, offering a completely free product when a customer turns in three used wrappers of your product is a great way on ensuring three purchases and offering a worthwhile gift in return to the customer.

Rewarding repeat purchases on a consistent basis tells users that you value their loyalty and often costs a lot lesser than what you would spend on marketing to brand new customers.

Social media activities tied to a purchase

Most brands carry out contests and interactions on social media to encourage engagement with users and build buzz. Unfortunately, most of these contests have very little to do with making a purchase.

Share a Coke campaign

Change that during tough times, by building contests that revolve around a purchase. The 2013 Share a Coke campaign was a clever way of making customers buy Coke cans with their names on them and asking them to share the pictures on social media. It got Coke some great engagement, brilliant buzz and amounted to being one of Coke’s most successful promotions (in revenue terms) in recent times.

You don’t have to have a huge multimedia campaign and pockets as deep as Coke to do something like this. All it needs is a great idea that resonates with your brand and its users, and you’re all set!

Promote your offers everywhere possible

As a business owner, your goal ought to be to provide maximum exposure to your business and brand. Self-promotion may not be something that you live by in your personal life, but it’s a necessary survival skill in the big bad world of business.

All the smart offers and coupons and discounts that you conjure up deserve to be seen by as many potential users as possible to maximize sales. Enable this by inserting your offers and deals on any available free medium around you. A coupon on your receipt or purchase confirmation email, a free sample with your delivery slip, a special offer on your thank you page or tear-away coupons pinned to community notice boards at your local library, supermarket or even Laundromat.

Upsell your products

Another great way of bumping up your revenues is by promoting your more expensive products instead of focusing your cheapest ones. People may be buying the cheapest version of your product out of sheer ignorance. Educate them about a better product out there, tempt them to buy it by offering a special deal on it. Keep in mind though that the expensive items you promote are not entirely out of the user’s league. Now that would be a surefire way of losing a willing customer.

Promoting an expensive product alongside a mid-priced one has another benefit – it makes the mid-priced product look a lot cheaper psychologically than it really is. This is a good way of promoting sales for the mid-priced products.

Break down your price

A lot of sales never happen because users often get scared away by the price tag of your products. While bringing down the price of your products may not be possible always, you can definitely work on the perception of price that your users have in their minds.

Break down your product price from an absolute value to a per unit price. A line like “Insurance that costs you just 50 cents a day!” sounds a lot more attractive than “Premiums as low as $180 a year” and breaks the perception that an annual plan will be unaffordable at this point in time.

Conclusion

Growing sales in a tight market is not easy. Every player in the business is up to his best tricks to pull his business out of the rut and you’re just one in a crowd of millions.

However, that does not mean that sales growth only happens in prosperous times. There are opportunities aplenty if only you’re willing to get a little creative with your selling and marketing.

Web analytics for small businesses: why you should embrace your Bounce rate

web analytics bounce rateAs a small online business owner if you haven’t already discovered Bounce rate then you are missing a trick. This helpful, easy to understand measurement is arguably one of the most useful metrics around.

Web analytics help you measure, evaluate and ultimately improve the performance of your e-commerce business. However, the reality of running a small business means time doesn’t often afford you the luxury of becoming a specialist in any one area. Instead you are in a constant state of flux as a salesperson, accountant, marketer, administrator and even web analytics guru!

” If you could only choose one metric to look at, Bounce rate might be your best choice” Google Support 

So if you want to get started with web analytics and measuring the performance of your website but aren’t quite sure of where to begin then this is where bounce rate comes into its own. It can help you quickly and easily understand your online performance, enabling you to implement improvements.

What exactly is bounce rate?

In a nutshell, Bounce rate measures the percentage of visitors to your website who only view a singe page for a short period of time before leaving. For example during a visitor session a single hit on a page will be a bounce. So unlike many metrics with bounce rate it is usually the lower the percentage the better you are doing.

If your bounce rate is really high then it may indicate that when visitors arrive on your site there is nothing there to engage them or make them want to visit any other pages. Pulling no punches, web analytics expert Avinash Kaushik puts it in terms of customer experience as;  ” I came, I puked, I left. Literally that’s the definition”.

Before we examine this further there are of course exceptions to this. Bear in mind that there are some pages that when having a  high bounce rate is not an issue. For example if:

  • your website is a single page website
  • the page you are reviewing contains all the information your user requires , such as a contact page, an information page or your blog where visitors have just come to read your latest post offering.

Also, if you haven’t added a tracking code to your webpage you may also see a high bounce rate so check for incorrect tagging.

Why is your bounce rate so useful?

Rather the focusing on the general bounce rate for your website it is of more value look at the bounce rate for individual pages. Excluding the exceptions we’ve just mentioned above, a high bounce rate can help highlight areas of your website that are letting you down and need improving. Most importantly it helps you ask yourself the right questions. For example :

  • Is my content relevant to my target audience?
  • Do my landing pages match up with the offer /promise/ I”ve  enticed them to you website in the first place
  • Do my search term keywords and key phrases accurately reflecting the content of my website
  • Is my website easy for users to navigate or confusing for them to get around.

Bounce rate is a straightforward, easily understood measurement that can allow you to quickly highlight potential problem areas of your website – giving  you a focus and starting point from which to make improvements.

What should you be aiming for in terms of an acceptable bounce rate. Obviously bounce rates are going to vary for page to page, business to business but Avinash Kaushik offers the following benchmark from his personal experience. He suggests anything above 50% is a worry and that  getting a bounce rate under 20% is difficult. So I would imagine aiming for around 30-40% sounds a sensible target to work towards.

How can you improve your bounce rate?

Once you’ve identified those pages with a high bounce rate what can you do to improve on them? Have a look at the following suggestions and think about how implementing them could improve your visitors overall experience and as a consequence reduce your bounce rate. Which in turn increases the likelihood of engaged visitors and higher conversions.

landing pageLanding Pages: Don’t underestimate the importance of your landing pages. If your bounce rate is high you may want to take a closer look at how your landing pages are working. Firstly are they pertinent to the email, banner ad, social media link or key word search that your visitor has clicked through on. If there is disparity between the promise and the actual landing page then visitors will simply leave. In other words makes sure your landing pages matches the message you are conveying in your promotional channel. Ideally you should have a separate and specific a landing page for each specific offer or ad campaign.

Content ImageContent: Take a critical look at the content of the pages that have a high bounce rate. Are they written with your target audience in mind?  Your content is the backbone of your website and should be central to everything you do.  The higher the quality of your content the higher the likelihood you will attract AND retain visitors and thus reduce bounce. So ask yourself is your content:

  • Compelling and engaging
  • Interesting and informative
  • Concise and digestible
  • Relevant, targeted and reflects your visitors information needs
  • Fresh and up to date?

Web Design Button on KeyboardWebsite design and navigation: You may have a great product and top quality  content however if your website design means navigation is difficult and your pages lack curb appeal then visitors are not going to bother to stay around and find out more – they’ll take one look and leave. So make sure your website design is well structured, clearly laid out, easy to navigate and looks appealing.

SEO for beginnersTracking code and keyword/ key phrase optimisation: Firstly check that the pages with a high bounce rate have got a tracking code. Sometimes when you are adding a new page it is easy to forget to add in the tracking code and consequently this incorrect tagging this can result in high bounce rate. If you tagging is all as it should be then spend a bit of time researching your keywords and phrases. Make sure you optimise the content of your pages to accurately reflect the search terms that are bringing users into your site.

call to actionCall to action: Sounds obvious but a surprising amount of landing pages don’t have a clear call to action. When an interested visitor clicks through to your site, it should be immediately apparent what it is you are asking them to do next. Visitors won’t want to play a guessing game so make sure your call to action is unambiguous and clear to see.

 

Bounce rate – useful resources:

Here are a few useful websites and interesting articles to help you get to grips with bounce rate a bit better:

  1. Goggle Support Bounce Rate 
  2. Avinash Kaushik talks bounce rate in this short video
  3. Standard metrics revisited
  4. Kiss Metrics – what you can learn from your bounce rate 
  5. Morevisibility – improving your bounce rate

We’d love to her your thoughts and experiences on this post, so please do leave a comment.

Tennis ball image courtesy of Feelart/FreeDigital/Photos.net

 

 

8 Smart Ways to Handle a Transaction Gone Sour

Every instance when a customer has to pick up the phone and contact customer service, is an instance of friction and dissatisfaction that lingers in customers’ minds long after the interaction is over and done with.

The first reaction to a situation like this would be to try not to mess up to begin with! However, problems have a way of cropping up in spite of your best efforts.

Causes of a Bad Customer Experience

An average e-commerce company can face various types of issues that lead to a bad customer experience. From timed out transactions to payment gateway trouble to problems with the product, delivery issues, even after sales service issues.

Among the most frustrating aspects of customer service, the need to contact a company over and over again to fix the same problem is a huge source of irritation. Other factors that sour a customer’s service experience include being passed around from one agent to another during a single call and impolite behavior by a customer service representative.

Another study pins the blame for bad customer on long wait times, confusing automated customer care systems and inattentive and inexperienced customer care representatives.

The Cost of a Bad Customer Experience

Few things are as difficult to overcome as a case of bad customer experience. The old adage of ‘Once bitten, twice shy’ hold true as day for a user who gets the short end of the stick from a company. Risk aversion being an inherent aspect of human behavior, customers who face a bad experience once tend to shy away from having any dealings at all with the offending company. Switching loyalties to a competing brand or bad mouthing the offending brand to family and friends or on social media are common responses to negative customer experiences.

Studies show that 89% of customers who suffer a bad service experience will leave your brand for a competitor’s. According to the Global Customer Service Barometer’s findings, customers are almost twice as likely to talk about bad experiences with a brand as good ones. The problem however does not end with negative word of mouth. This negative word of mouth, combined with customers dropping off your charts after a bad experience lead to a real loss to your company annually in monetary terms.

According to KISSmetrics, the average value of every lost business relationship in the U.S. amounts to $289 per year. On being added up, lost business due to bad customer service costs the global economy a staggering $338.5 billion per year!

However, a botched service episode is not the end of your company’s relationship with the customer. There have been enough and more cases of successful service recovery, with the customer ending up pleased instead of being completely frustrated.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Bouncing Back from a Bad Customer Experience

1. Listen to them patiently

Listening. That’s the first rule of customer service. While many may consider customer service as a job that requires good conversational skills, the most vital asset any customer service rep can have is a great listening ear.

Have the patience to hear out a customer without bias or prejudice. Often customers are agitated and angry at a problem that your product may have caused them. It is the customer service representative’s job to calm them down and settle into a cordial space before proceeding. Ask questions at the appropriate times to get all the information needed to help in solving the customer’s problem.

2. Identify the problem

In order to help the caller effectively, the customer service representative must get to the root of the problem using some pointed meta-questions that answer the

  • What is the exact nature of the problem?
  • When did the problem initially occur?
  • What actions (if any) were taken to stem the problem?

Other details like purchase data, ownership, warranties and service records may be pulled out of databases to supplement the customer’s information with background data.

A customer service tool like Zendesk or Zoho is a great asset in pulling out customer histories, maintaining records of current conversations as well as helping agents get product information and troubleshooting tips instantly.

3. Own up responsibility and apologize sincerely

As mentioned earlier, most customers who contact a customer service desk, do so when all else fails. They are usually frustrated and irate at your company for the immediate problem that they’re facing.

Owning up responsibility for the problem and apologizing for the trouble that it caused them goes a long way to pacify an incensed customer. Be earnest in the apology, a cosmetic one does nothing but make the customer doubt your company’s credentials even more.

There could be cases when the problem is not really your company’s fault and has occurred due to external circumstances beyond your control. However, in such cases too, apologize. The reasoning is simple. You are not apologizing for causing the problem. You are expressing regret that your customer is inconvenienced and this empathy is something that the customer needs to know to feel better.

4. Find a solution, quick

The keys to customer satisfaction in such cases are speed and accuracy. In fact, according to a customer service study by Parature, the number one priority for a customer during a customer service interaction is speed. They expect a resolution to their problem within a single interaction, avoiding the need for repeated contact with the company.

Instead of making your customer service representatives figure out a solution for each customer’s problem from scratch, it is a good idea to have a customer service handbook readily available containing the most common service requests and product problems and the step by step resolutions to each of them.

Automate this process by uploading the handbook into your customer care tool or CRM and allow agents to use simple search functions to pull out the appropriate solutions in a jiffy.

5. Deliver, with the customer in the driver’s seat

Once the solution to the customer’s problem is figured out it is imperative to let the customer choose the next course of action. Offer them all the options they can pick from and let them indicate their preferred solution.

This does two things effectively. First, it puts the customer in the driver’s seat and makes them feel empowered. Second, it absolves the customer service agent from future blame as the solution that you finally go ahead with, is based on the customer’s explicit preference.

At this stage, depending on the severity of the problem, it is a good practice to offer a partial or complete refund of the user’s transaction amount as a goodwill gesture towards them. Some companies offer a special gift card or a high value coupon to customers as a peace offering. This gesture has the added benefit of having the customer return to you for a new purchase.

6. Follow up

Most companies end their customer interaction at step 5. But a company that intends to excel in customer service ought to go one step further and check how well the solution has taken root. This can be done with a customer satisfaction survey emailed to the customer a day or two after their last interaction with the company or even better, with a personalized call to confirm that all is well at the customer’s end.

The surprise element in this gesture will delight most customers, increasing their preference towards your brand in the process. A follow-up also helps to identify any loopholes in your customer service process. If the customer continues to face the same problem as before, this fact will be highlighted through a follow-up activity.

7. Document to prevent repeats

While most problems that customers face are commonly faced, expected problems to which you typically have ready solutions; sometimes there are brand new issues that crop up which increase the scope of your service processes. Every time such unique problems crop up, set up a system to document the entire troubleshooting process end to end, including:

  • Document the problem
  • Dig deep and find out why it happened
  • Find a solution / document solution offered
  • Include the problem and the corresponding solution in the standard operating procedure manual and train staff on how to deal with it
  • Set up a system to prevent a recurrence of such a problem

8. Update customer records to improve service for future transactions

In this era of big data and extensive customer records, every piece of data helps in improving customer experience and offering them personalized service. Make sure that every interaction that your company has with existing customers is recorded and updated into their individual customer records. These records form a rich customer history which you can fall back upon in the event of a future interaction with the same customer.

Records of past service interactions also helps to improve conversion rates of future transactions. By offering a live discount coupon or spontaneously displaying a specialized offer to a customer who had a bad experience in the past, you can increase their chances of completing the current transaction.

Case Study: Winning Back Customers’ Trust with a Smile

Customers are not an easy lot to please. But a company committed to delighting its customers does reap the rewards in kind. Southwest Airlines – America’s favorite airline, is renowned among other things for its great customer service.

But even the best guns in the business misfire sometimes. But Southwest being Southwest, managed to turn the situation on its head and created yet another happy customer. Here’s how the whole episode unfolded.

A Southwest customer B.J. Schone, had his brand new suitcase badly ripped on a trip from San Diego to St. Louis. In spite of repeated requests for a solution to his problem, he got nowhere. Frustrated, Schone sent this colorful letter to Southwest, detailing his woes:

Case Study: Winning Back Customers’ Trust

Southwest Airlines, played by the book and went a step ahead. They not only apologized and reimbursed the customer for the actual price of his suitcase, they even took a leaf out of his book to create a similar colorful reply and poked a little fun at themselves in the process.

Case Study: Winning Back Customers’ Trust
What a great way to make a customer feel special and show off your fun-loving side!

In Closing

Customer service can be a challenge or an opportunity based on your point of view. Research shows that customers prize the quality of a brand’s customer service even above price. Over 55% of users would pay extra if they were guaranteed good customer service.

Lose customers to bad customer service or earn a premium over your competitors by offering customer care that truly cares for the customer – the choice is pretty simple.

10 tips for creating successful online advertisements

online display advertisingWhat does it take to create a good online advertisement?  How do you successfully fill an empty space of say 300 x 250 pixels with engaging and informative content that culminates in a successful click-through to your landing page?

Delivering your promotional messages through online advertising needs more thought than you’d initially think, especially considering the often limited size you’ve got to work with. So we’ve put together 10 top tips  to help you create effective online advertisements.

Banners, skyscrapers, leaderboards….

Once you start advertising your business online you’ll come across all sorts of terminology for different types of online ads; there is text only ads, image ads, display ads, static ads, animated ads, banner ads, leaderboards, skyscrapers, medium rectangles and so on. However whatever  the size and type of ad or advertising campaign you are planning, be it on a website, blog, email or though an advertising network like Google AdSense, there are some universal criteria that can really help get your advertisements working for you.

 10 top tips to help you create effective online advertisements

marketing goals1. What is your goal

Before you even begin getting creative, you need to be clear on the purpose of your advertisement. What is it you want to achieve? Is it a brand building exercise, is it to increase sales, drive traffic or promote a new product?  You’ll find once you have a specific goal it makes it far easier to create the right content.  It is also important that when once you have your goal you have a clear idea of how you are going to measure success. Will it be number of click-throughs to your landing page, number of actual sales or  percentage increase in traffic to your site?

target audience2. Who is your target audience / ad group

Who your ad aimed at is another essential consideration. Your content is likely to differ depending on the ad group you are targeting or how you intend to segment your audience. Different demographics are likely to respond differently to particular content. So think about who you are aiming your ad at and what they are most likely to find compelling and engaging.


copywriting tips, copywriting for small business, how to write copy, digital marketing copy, copywriting online3. AIDA

An oldie but a goodie! AIDA stands for Attention, Interest, Desire , Action and is a really useful acronym to apply to almost any kind of copy writing. So when you are thinking about the content of your online ad focus on how you will first grab attention – for example a new product or special offer; then create interest and desire – what benefit is it going to bring customers to make them want to find out more. Finally there must be a clear call to action.  Following something like the AIDA model is a really helpful copywriting guide to ensuring you’ve got all your bases covered – especially if you are new to putting ads together.

call to action4. Call to Action

A surprising number of ads don’t have a clear call to action leaving consumers to guess at what it is the ad is directing them to do. You need to be clear about the purpose of your ad and have very visible call to action – for example, register now, sign up today to our special offer, trial our product , join our community, read this article or enter our competition. Of course it’s up to them whether they make the decision to take up your instructions  but a strong call to action will help pull in a customer whose attention and interest you have caught.

advertising design and layout5. Layout and design

With all sorts different ad sizes, some very small, it is important you layout your text and images in a visually appealing manner. The look of you ad is really important so try to make your layout as clean and clear as you can. There are some excellent tips outlined in this article by 99 Designs including:

  • Using standard ad sizes
  • Clearly defined frames
  • Instantly readable text
  • Headline and body copy different sizes
  • Using imagery well and only when you need it.


brand recognition6. Brand consistency

Keep your branding consistent across all your platforms. Always include your logo and try to keep to the same font, colours as your landing page and website. Random styles and mismatching designs are only likely to confuse customers and won’t help you with brand recognition. Your design should flow seamlessly from your advertisement to your landing page and website.

misleading advertising7. Don’t mislead

Don’t mislead consumers by trying to entice them to click-through with something that actually has no bearing on the purpose of your advertisment – potential customers will simply walk away. Your advertising message should clearly reflect content of your landing page and vice versa.

 

 

landing page8. Landing page

Don’t forget your landing page. Research shows that a good landing page can help improve conversions and reduce your bounce rate. You may have put together an excellent ad enticing visitors to click though, but all your hard work will be wasted if you haven’t thought about your landing page. It should be specific to the advertisement rather than just the homepage of your website. A good landing page should:

  • Be specific to a particular campaign
  • Have a clear message the reflects the proposition in your ad
  • Well thought out page design and layout
  • Recognisable and consistent branding
  • Clear and easy call to action.

company logo9. Always remember your Logo

As a bit of a final checklist before you send off your ad make sure that you have included all three of these essential components:

 

  1. Logo
  2. Message / proposition
  3. Call to action

test and measure10. Test , measure and tweak

Finally, don’t forget to keep testing and measuring your ads and tweaking them accordingly.  Go back to your initial goal measurements – have your ads achieved their goal? There is nothing wrong with a bit of trial and error so keep testing, measuring and tweaking to maximise your response rates.

Useful Resources:

Google AdSense Guide to ad sizes

99 Designs: Design tips for more clickable banner ads 

IAB Ad Unit Guidelines 

 

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this subject, so please do leave a comment. 

Billboard image courtesy of scottchan/FreeDigitalImages

Soccer ball image courtesy of hin255/FreeDigitalImages

Standing people image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalImages

Clapperboard image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalImages

Design definition image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalImages

Signpost image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalImages

Mercedes Benz image courtesy of franky242/FreeDigitalImages

Not everything has a price tag: 12 free business tools you mustn’t miss

Setting up a business these days is as easy as setting up your own website and rolling out the red carpet for visitors to your online address. The tricky part is making the business a success and sustaining your success once you achieve it.

With 16 million new websites launching every month, the competition out there is intense. The only ones who cut through the clutter and rise above the also-rans are the ones equipped with the right tools of the trade. And no, these tools don’t have to cost a fortune. They can be free or nearly free and yet do as great a job as you might expect from a paid software. Here’s a roundup of 12 essential FREE tools that will have you cutting your costs and ringing in the profits from day one.

1. Hello Sign

Signing off on documents and legal papers is often a time consuming process with snail mail coming into play. Thanks to Hello Sign, you can remove physical documents from the equation by electronically signing off on that important agreement or sealing that contract online in seconds. Hello Sign helps you secure your information with SSL encryption during file transfer. Files stored in Hello Sign are secured using a “state-of-the-art Tier III, SSAE-16 certified data center with ISO 27001 certification.

Hello Sign
The tool allows you to invite multiple team members to sign documents, integrates it with various apps like Gmail, Google Drive, Google Docs, Evernote and a host of others. The best part? Your electronically signed documents through Hello Sign are legally binding as physically signed documents thanks to compliance to the ESIGN Act 2000, the UETA and the European Directive (EC/1999/93).

2. Hootsuite

In this socially connected day and age, being active on social media is a necessity for any brand. The real problem is that just one social network will never cover all the demographics that your brand caters to. You are bound to end up with multiple social media accounts ranging from Facebook to LinkedIn to Pinterest, depending on the profile of your audience. You can now easily manage all your social networks from one place using the free version of Hootsuite.

Hootsuite
Hootsuite lets you post on different social networks simultaneously, reply to posts by fans on any network all from one place, auto schedule posts, monitor activity and more. Hootsuite’s own URL shortening service Ow.ly lets you shorten your links and post them on limited character networks like Twitter. The free version of Hootsuite even offers analytics so you can stay on top of all your accounts and ensure maximum ROI from each.

3. MailChimp

Just as social media is a must do, so is email marketing a necessary staple of your marketing plan. With one of the most popular mailing services on the internet, your business will not be left behind in the race to the users’ inboxes. Mailchimp offers a generous free plan that lets you send out 12000 emails a month to a maximum of 2000 subscribers.

Mailchimp
Design your own email using Mail Chimp’s many readymade templates or create your own design using its drag and drop design editor. Every email designed in Mail Chimp is automatically mobile friendly. Grow your email subscriber base by creating email collection forms in Mail Chimp and posting these forms on your site, blog or on your social networks. Get detailed email analytics, carry out A/B tests for your email design, CTA or even the subject line for maximizing conversions.

4. Manta

If knowledge is power, Manta is your key to unlimited power over your potential clients, suppliers or even competitors. Manta is a powerful research tool that pulls out data specific to small businesses from across the United States. All you need is the name of the company, industry or the city where it’s located to get detailed information about it. From contact information, to the name of the business owner, to user reviews, business hours, types of products and services offered to number of employees, Manta covers a wide range of information that can be immediately applied to your business intelligence process.

Manta
Not only does Manta offer detailed information on specific businesses; it also offers professional advice on how to run your own business. Get tips from experts on marketing, operations, latest business management practices social media and technology all in one place through Manta.

5. Google Drive

Most Google products need no introduction and Google Drive is no exception. With cloud storage and cloud computing becoming the ‘done’ thing in connected business today, having a Google Drive account not just saves you some precious dollars, it also serves as an easy conduit between all the various services that Google provides. With 15 GB of free data, you can store or backup important data in any format on Drive and retrieve it anytime, anywhere. The storage capacity on Drive can be expanded at any time based on your growing storage needs for a small fee.

Google Drive
Drive can be accessed from a web browser, from a downloadable desktop app or even a mobile app. Drive can also be used by other people from your team who can be invited to view all or specific files stored in your cloud folders. Users can view, edit and download files from Drive based on the permissions set by you – the owner of the folder.

6. Skype

Say ‘goodbye’ to huge travel bills or even gigantic telephone bills. Skype and its free teleconferencing facilities lower both your travel and communications bills. Use Skype as an instant messenger for quick communication between your teams. Client meetings need not take up all day with a quick video or even plain audio call made on Skype to any corner of the world. Connect your cellphone to Skype to make and receive calls directly from your handset through your data plan or WiFi connection.

Skype
Skype can also be used to share files and folders instantly through its built in messenger system. All you need for a transcontinental call is a decent internet connection, a webcam, a microphone and speakers; that’s it. Skype works great through its downloadable desktop, tablet or mobile apps.

7. Wave

Most new businesses struggle to manage their finances unless they have a proper accountant on board or on call. However, good accountants don’t come cheap, while the Wave accounting app comes for absolutely free! Wave offers a range of accounting and financial management tools, most of which are totally free to use. Among the free features are the ability to create invoices for each client instantly from within Wave.

Wave
It manages your cash flows and balances your books for you automatically. Keep track of your finances using Wave’s expense management feature. What’s more, you can manage your personal finances and investments through Wave’s free version as well.

8. Asana

Working on multi-team projects can be demanding in terms of the number of people to manage, the variety of different opinions from each member and the never-ending trail of emails that often miss out on key communications sent out. Avoid all this confusion with a simple, easy to use and free project management and collaboration tool – Asana. Asana allows you to collaborate on unlimited projects with unlimited number of tasks for absolutely no cost, as long as the number of members in each team do not exceed 15.

Asana
Asana helps in bringing all information regarding a project in a single place. It helps create schedules and timelines, assign responsibility for various functions, track progress of tasks, get automatic updates on various milestones, download data from a shared project and more.

9. Rapportive

Imagine if you knew exactly what your contact is planning to do this weekend or what university she graduated from or even what articles they are reading currently? These would undoubtedly be brilliant ice-breakers in any sales conversation. More than ice-breakers, such information would allow a savvy sales person to plan their pitch based on the user’s interests, background and future plans. Rapportive is a free email plugin that works great with Gmail and Google Apps and provides you exactly this sort of information.

Rapportive
How, you may wonder. What Rapportive does is, it integrates the information from a user’s social profiles into their email account; so when that user’s name and email address show up in your email contact list, you are shown a complete summary of the user – their email ID of course followed by other social details, education, work experience, status updates, network of common contacts and so on. As a free add-on to Firefox or Chrome, Rapportive is easy to use and endlessly useful.

10. Zoho

Small businesses are often disorganized in the way they approach their most vital function – sales. Zoho is a free CRM tool that aims to alleviate this specific misery that most small businesses face. Zoho handholds a rookie sales team by identifying individual visitors to your site, qualifying them with profile information and historical data, nurturing them into viable leads and then following them through to the point where they turn into paying customers and beyond.

Zoho
The rich profile information that Zoho gathers is unique and offers a 360 degree view of each user that can be tapped by the sales team to fine-tune their sales pitch based on their needs and profile data. The data obtained from Zoho need not be viewed in isolation. Integrate Zoho with other apps that your business uses like Gmail, Twitter, MS Office or even QuickBooks to get the most out of this multifaceted tool.

11. WordPress

With the advent of the World Wide Web, every writer can fulfill their dream of reaching out to millions of readers with a simple blog. Current marketing wisdom also pegs blogging as one of the most important content marketing activities any business can hope to undertake. One of the forerunners in the blogging world, WordPress makes life simpler for all by allowing users to create and host blogs on its platform at absolutely no cost at all.

WordPress
So post blogs about the latest goings-on in your company, interesting updates on industry happenings, analytical pieces on things that matter to your readers – you are only limited by your imagination for the types of content that you can post on your corporate blog. What’s more, WordPress blogs can even be turned in full-fledged e-commerce websites with a simple shopping cart plugin like ShopIntegrator. Talk about being a truly multi-dimensional tool that’s totally free!

12. Populr

Conversion of a website visitor into an actual customer is the endgame of nearly every website currently live on the internet today. All digital marketing efforts typically aim at this overreaching goal across all websites. There are many aspects of marketing that affect conversions, but the final mile that is the most crucial is the quality of your landing page. Populr is a free tool that allows businesses to create their own custom landing pages from scratch to maximize conversions.

Populr
These landing pages can point to various marketing vehicles – text ads, display banners, product reviews, email campaigns and so on. Populr allows you to use their drag and drop editor for quick designs. You can alternately pick from their library of landing page templates that suits your business. Share your work with your team, collaborate on editing and creating the most effective page, track all your changes along the way – just a few of the many benefits that Populr offers to the average website owner.

Conclusion

This is just a partial list of the hundreds of free or almost free apps out there for every imaginable business need. Just because someone recommended an expensive software to you does not mean it is right for your business. Take stock of your business needs, identify free apps that fulfill these needs. Venture out to pay out of pocket ONLY for cases that do not have an effective free solution available. After all, a penny saved is a penny earned!

Online customer feedback: Part 2 – dealing with negative comments

negative customer feedbackCustomer reviews, both positive and negative, can be of real value to your business. They can help grow sales and enable you to better understand your customers. In part one we looked at the importance of embracing online customer feedback and part 2 we examine how best to deal with negative comments.

A mix of positive and negative reviews can help improve consumer trust in your business so don’t be afraid of negative feedback. Essentially it’s all about how you deal with comments – the ultimate aim being to turn a dissatisfied customer into a satisfied one. Remember negative feedback has its place:

The benefits of negative feedback

It is important you understand how negative feedback  can actually be beneficial to your business – that way you are better equipped to handle complaints, poor reviews and hostile comments.

Provides a balance. Negative reviews help balance out positive reviews. Indeed as we can see from the research above consumers are more likely to trust reviews when they see both positive and negative comments. Overwhelming positive reviews can actually make consumers question their validity. Of course, it’s about getting the correct balance – clearly a lot of negative reviews is not going to work in your favour either! By balance I mean for example, if you had 15 positive reviews and one or two negative reviews that users can see you have quickly and efficiently dealt with, then you are probably striking a happy balance.

Constructive criticism. Genuine negative feedback can offer you real insight into your products and services. So instead of automatically going on the defensive and dismissing any negative feedback, rather take on board what your customers have to say. After all these are your end users and they may be providing you with valuable insight and information into how you can better improve your product or service.

Educates customers. By responding to some comments, you can actually educate other customers. For example supposing a customer comments that they are having difficulty using a particular element of a product, your answer can guide the customer through the process and point them to where they can find help on your website such as your FAQ page. This information is then there to help other customers who may experience the same issue. You have successfully dealt with the negative comment and educated other customers at the same time.

Feedback on areas outside your immediate control (eg. external suppliers). As a small business owner you may well be reliant on third-party contractors to fulfil certain elements of your business. Feedback from customers about an area which you may have outsourced to a third-party – for example packaging or delivery –  can help keep you in the loop about the service your contractor is providing on your behalf. Too many negative comments may mean you need to investigate the situation with your supplier, after-all it reflects on your business.

Introduce best practice guidelines

Before looking at how to deal with genuine  negative feedback, we should mention those comments that you will need to take a different approach. For example any feedback that is offensive, derogatory or submitted by internet trolls are not genuine comments and you should not be engaging with them. Simply remove them from your website as soon as possible. It is a good idea to put in place some guidelines or rules of engagement that visitors  wishing to engage online must adhere to or risk being removed. For example:

  • No swearing or profanities
  • No personal attacks, bullying behaviour  or derogatory comments
  • No explicit photos or images

Take a look at other businesses forum guidelines and it will help you put together a best practice list for your own site. For example Google’s Product Forum’s posting guidelines will give you a good starting point.

How to deal with genuine negative comments

So, how can you best deal with genuine negative feedback from customers? What is the best approach to take?

Don’t ignore them. You need to deal with negative comments as soon as possible – ignoring them can just make things worse. As we mentioned above, if comments are in breach of the guidelines you have laid out you will need to remove them. If not you need to respond as soon as possible. A quick response shows that you care about your customers opinions and will ensure that the issue is nipped in the bud and doesn’t snowball into something bigger.

Be transparent. If it is your fault (or the fault of a third-party contractor) and you have genuinely made a mistake then don’t try to hide it and don’t be afraid of saying sorry. For example something along the lines of ‘ We are very sorry that on this occasion you didn’t get the service you expect from us, we would like to rectify the situation by…..’. can work well. Also, offering a replacement, a voucher or some other incentive by way of an apology for any inconvenience caused can also be constructive.

Look at things from your customer’s perspective. Try to remember that most of the feedback you get from customers will be genuine. The majority of your customers will simply want you to listen, take their comment seriously and provide a solution to whatever the issue may be. So before you reel off your response without really thinking just take a moment to consider the situation from your customer’s point of view and try to emphasise with how they may feel. Just because something isn’t a big deal to you, it may well be a big deal to your customer. By trying to understand this you are more likely to respond appropriately.

Remain professional, polite and pleasant.  It’s not always easy to remain calm when someone is having a go at you or your business – especially when you feel that their comments are unfair. Remember when people are frustrated they can be emotional and write things in the heat of the moment, you must however not respond in the same defensive manner. At all times respond professionally, politely and pleasantly even if you are arguing a point or disagreeing with the comment. This way the argument will be less likely to escalate, your customer is more likely to calm down and your professional manner will reflect well with other customers who may be viewing the exchange.  And if you do remain professional throughout and follow through with a solution, then your customer is more likely to return, not spread negative feedback any further and even convert into a loyal long-term customer.

Finally, just think about what you as a business can take away from each complaint. What can you learn from it and what may you need to change in order to prevent more negative feedback on a particular issue.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this post so please do leave a comment.

Image courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net