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

What the Best Brands Do Differently to Win Customer Loyalty

In the past, imperfect or incomplete information led users to depend solely on their own experiences or those they heard through word of mouth from friends and family. When they found a satisfactory brand, they usually stuck to it. Brand loyalty was a form of risk avoidance.

Today we live in the age of information overload. Instead of having few sources of reference for reliability of various brands, we suffer from a surplus of opinions, reviews and ideas from too many sources than we can handle. All this information about brands, their past, their service goof ups or even glowing examples of their competition, has slowly eroded the loyalty that customers held dear in previous generations.

Yet, customer loyalty is not dead. Any Apple fan boy or PlayStation fanatic will testify to that. So, how do these iconic brands hang on to their customers for years, while others find it difficult to get a customer back for a second purchase? Here’s how.

1. It’s all in the Experience

A user experience that makes it easy for the customer to find what she’s looking for, an experience that encourages her to shop more, an experience that removes all friction from the purchase process – these are what a customer takes back home with her, more than the actual product purchased.

User experience does not have to do just with your website’s look and feel or your store’s design and layout. It has to do with every ‘moment of truth’ the customer experiences with your brand. This could be via a customer care call, your mobile app or even via a shipping experience. Work towards making it as seamless, quick and intuitive as possible to make your customers coming back for more.

2. Make Customers Feel Special

A good user experience referred to in the previous point, is one that ends up with a happy customer. However smooth your user interface maybe, no matter how great the product itself is, if the customer does not feel wanted or important, the chances of them coming back to your store are dismal.

You don’t have to do grand gestures to make customers feel special. Something as basic as giving a colorful cardboard hat to a child at a fast food outlet, makes both the child and the parent happy. A study by Barclay’s bank shows that “a smile and a friendly hello is the most common reason (59%) why consumers feel loyal towards small and independent retailers.

3. Service is not limited to the Customer Care Department

An organization that has the spirit of service goes out of its way to make sure a customer is taken care of in every way possible. Winning brands encourage a culture of service and problem solving. Every single member of the company is seen as a customer care representative – out to help out a customer the minute they need it. When something as important as customer service is left to be handled by just the customer service department, you’re making sure your service will never match up with the best in the business.

Why, even Craig Newmark – the founder of Craigslist – admitted he begins every morning by attending to customer service calls instead of plunging into emails or meetings.

4. Offer Exclusive Perks

It is hard to be indifferent to a brand that makes you feel exclusive. This does not mean that you should start discriminating between your customers. Rather, it means that the big spenders or more frequent buyers ought to get some perks for investing their time, faith and money in your brand.

The airline industry has perfected the art of making a customer feel exclusive with their ever popular loyalty programs. Thanks to air miles earned from specific airlines, customers prefer to be loyal to the one offering points, instead of shopping around for the lowest cost operator. This makes great sense in a struggling sector like aviation, when a customer is self-motivated to avoid other brands using such a simple and cheap solution. Some other examples of exclusive perks that brands offer are airline lounges at airports to loyalty card members, special discounted rates to loyalty club customers in the case of annual sales by high-street retailers and so on.

5. Wow your customers on a regular basis

Doing a great deed once in a while makes for a happy customer. But, in most organizations; this need to impress your audience to make them keep coming back is truly a flash in the pan than part of the organizational philosophy.

A pioneering brand like Virgin Atlantic takes the job of ‘wowing their customers’ on a regular basis very seriously. From a free chauffeur driven car to and from the airport, in-flight beauty therapists and manicurists for business class passengers, or the world’s first ‘Drive Thru Check-in’; Virgin’s customers definitely know brand loyalty extremely intimately. In founder Richard Branson’s own words, Virgin’s philosophy is to “catch people doing something right”.

5.	Wow your customers on a regular basis

6. Savings vs. Making a Connection

With the economy having barely turned a corner from the recent financial crisis, cutting costs wherever possible is fashionable. A common favorite for cutting costs is the customer care department. Automated call centers are cheap and help a healthy bottom line for one quarter. But what your brand really needs is to have healthy bottom lines in every single quarter to come. This does not come by pinching pennies on things that matter.

A real person on the other end of the phone line costs money – 35 cents vs. $7.5 dollars – but the relationship that you’ll build with that personal touch will payback your $7.5 manifold in the years the customer keeps coming back to buy from you.

7. Make them Feel Like You’re One of Them

While alienating customers is what no brand ever wants, they try very hard to make customers feel special, well treated etc. However, the best brands in the business don’t just proselytize their concern for the customer, they actually go ahead and make the customer feel like the brand is one of them, part of their lives.

Red Bull, the legendary energy drink maker, goes out of its way to make its customers feel like they are on their (customers’) side. They create brand ambassadors by being a buddy to their customers. Every year, Red Bull creates and sponsors wildly successful events in the various sporting fields like dirt bike racing or skateboarding putting its brand in the middle of all the youth. Its own sports and wellness magazine, Red Bulletin, gives users health advice, tips to take up exercise and so on. In the process Red Bull has ensured it has made itself a part of their customers’ daily lives.

Make them Feel Like You’re One of Them

8. Happy Employees make Happy Customers

We spoke earlier about customer service being everyone’s responsibility in a company. For an average employee to go out of their way and help customers, they need to be motivated enough in the first place. If your company fosters a culture of distrust, disrespect and lack of communication, your employees are not happy by any stretch of imagination. Expecting unhappy employees to keep your customers happy is a tall order, if not outright impossible.

On the other hand a happy motivated employee who loves his job and the organization, would exude positive vibes to everyone around them, including your customers.

9. Consistently Awesome

Your brand is only as good as your last customer interaction. Truly great brands go out of their way to ensure that every single interaction that a customer has with the brand is great.

This means consistent product and service delivery across every single channel you operate on. That’s a tall order, but then who ever claimed that winning a customer’s heart for life was going to be a walk in the park?

10. Express Your Shared Values

A recent Harvard Study found that customers don’t really care for engaging with their favorite brands. What they really do care about is the fact that their chosen brands share the same values as them. Hence it follows that an environmentally conscious user would prefer a Timberland while a health conscious user might go for Jamba Juice.

These shared values are engendered when brands stand up for what they believe in and share these beliefs with their customers through actions, not just words.

11. Say Sorry When You Screw Up. Really Mean It.

Much as we all would like it, no one is perfect including the biggest brands in the world. Mistakes can and do happen, and there’s only so much you can do about avoiding them.

However, the hallmark of a truly great brand is when they own up to their errors and put things right immediately. A brand that refuses to own up to the error in their ways risks losing customers’ trust and their wallet share. A good case in point is Lululemon and the 2013 incident with their see-through, easily damaged yoga pants. CEO Chip Wilson brushed off the whole issue by saying that his company’s yoga pants weren’t meant for overweight women. The public outcry that followed became even worse when Wilson’s ‘apology’ was so insincere and superficial, that it became the next PR disaster that the brand had to struggle with.

12. Listen to Your Customers

Customers like to be heard. Especially in the current social media age, their voices reach brands directly, instantly.

A good brand keeps its listening ears on and bows to the customer’s needs and opinions as it knows that customers make the brand.

Listen to Your Customers

When Gap launched its redesigned logo in 2010, they faced massive criticism of the new logo from all quarters, especially customers via social media. Customer savvy Gap, put its ego aside and heeded the voice of the user to revert back to its old logo within a week of launching the new one.

13. Show gratitude, Say ‘Thank You’

A brand that gives back to customers and to society at large says through its actions that ‘sales are not all we care about’. For any customer, it is crucial to know that he /she is looked upon as a real person who’s contributed to the company’s growth, instead of just another nameless, faceless statistic.

Anytime a customer appreciates your brand, reach out to them and thank them. Social media is a wonderful platform for exactly this. Create regular email campaigns that thank repeat customers for their business and encourage them to continue showing their love for your brand with their wallets.

Conclusion

Loyalty is the result of a history of positive experiences with a brand. You don’t need gigantic marketing budgets to foster customer loyalty. Just a resolve to treat every customer like they might be your last customer will help ensure that you’ll not see the back of your loyal customers anytime soon.

(Image Source: 1, 2, 3)

How customer reviews can help grow your online business

Part 1 : Embracing customer feedback

word of mouth marketingWord of mouth has always been one of the most successful ways of promoting a product or service. People trust the personal recommendations of friends and family above even the most innovative sales techniques or advertising . But where once word of mouth was primarily the domain of local businesses and limited to personal recommendations from friends and family, the internet has seen word of mouth marketing explode. In recent years we have seen a massive boom in customers sharing their opinions on products and services via specific review sites, digital media, social media networks, discussion forums,  blogs and online retail sites.

“The most influential element driving purchase decisions today is word of mouth.” Word of Mouth Marketing Association

The rise of word of mouth has also seen a change in the traditional purchase journey, having a direct impact on consumers decision-making process. Never before have consumers had so much product and service information at their fingertips. Nowadays, very rarely would I purchase a new item without first checking out online product reviews or would I book an unknown hotel without having a quick peek at a site like Trip Advisor. Online reviews and customer feedback are an integral  part of word of mouth marketing as a way for people to recommend products and share their opinion with others.

In part 1 we look at the benefits customer feedback can bring your business and how to encourage it. And in part 2 we will examine how best to manage negative customer feedback.

The benefits customer reviews can bring your business

As a key part of a customers decision-making process, we take a look at the many benefits positive customer feedback can bring your business.

  • Help drive sales: Since so many customers now look at reviews prior to making a purchase positive feedback can help drive your sales. For example, supposing a customer was deciding between purchasing a product from you or a similar product from one of your competitors (all other variables being equal), if your product had no customer reviews and your competitors had positive customer reviews, the likelihood is your competitor is more likely to make the sale.
  • Improve conversion rates:  Customer reviews are a great way to win over wavering purchasers. They can address and remove any  lingering doubt a prospective customer may have over making the final purchasing decision. For example suppose I was wavering over whether to buy a particular dress as I had concerns about how the garment would stand up to washing. A customer review stating that they had found the garment kept its shape well after washing is going to help remove any remaining doubt I have and mean a higher probability of an actual sale. 
  • Improve brand trust and credibility: Online businesses who embrace customer feedback are more likely to benefit from improved consumer trust in their product or service. It helps enforce brand credibility by conveying to customers you are confident in the quality of your products and service, you value your customers opinions and are a transparent and trustworthy business.
  • Additional sales tool. Positive customer reviews can work for you as an additional sales tool. You will find many customer reviews outline the different features and benefits of a particular product or service – helping you reinforce your sales message to prospective customers.
  • Build customer relationships. Providing the opportunity for customers to engage with you by being able to provide feedback on your products and services, shows your customers you that you value them – their opinion matters to you.
  • Research tool. Customer reviews are a great, qualitative method of getting some feedback from customers as to what products are working well and what could be improved. For example if a number of customers are highlighting a similar issue with a product then you know it is something you probably need to investigate. Remember we can all learn from a bit of  constructive criticism.
  • Helps SEO. Including customer reviews on your site is an additional way of adding fresh relevant content to your website helping with Search Engine Optimisation.

customer feedback7 ways to encourage your customers to give feedback

So how can you encourage feedback from your customers? Obviously the best way to ensure positive reviews is to offer a great product, exemplary service and all round excellent customer experience. However there are also a few ways that you can help things along and prompt customers to feedback.

  1. Have product reviews visible on your website (both positive and negative).  Customer reviews should be somewhere visible on your website. And make sure you have a balance of positive and negative reviews. Overwhelming positive reviews can look a bit contrived and less believable.
  2. Ask for it. Don’t be afraid to contact customers who have recently purchased a product to solicit feedback. Customers who have just received a product or service are usually more willing to take time out to write a review.  A simple email a week or so after customers have received your product expressing that you hope they are enjoying their new purchase and asking for some feedback work well and show customers you care.
  3. Make it simple to submit a review. Make it as easy as possible for a customer to submit a review. If the process is complicated and they have to swing through hoops – customers simply won’t do it. If you have a review page then make sure the link is clearly visible and use it in email correspondence.
  4. Respond to comments . Show customers that you appreciate them leaving a comment by replying to them. This applies to both positive and negative comments (we’ll  examine the best way to respond to negative comments in part 2 of this bog). If someone has taken time out of their day to offer feedback on a product or service, comment on Facebook or read and remark on a blog post, then try your best to respond. It shows you value what they have to say and increases the likelihood that they will engage with your business again.
  5. Offer an incentive.  You do need to walk a careful line here and not over incentivise . What you don’t want is people sending in product reviews just to receive an incentive as these reviews are more likely to appear insincere. However entry into a monthly free prize draw can work well. Or,  you could send an incentive after they have submitted a review as way of a thank you. This way you know the reviewer hasn’t been influenced by the incentive alone .  
  6. Interact on your social media sites. Try to create an environment where your customers see a face behind the business. Remember people like to deal with people. So interacting on social networks, writing blogs and so on can convey  a business that is interested in engaging with their customers which in turn makes customers more likely to respond.
  7. Exploit customer feedback to its full potential. When you think about it you’ll realise that you can actually receive customer feedback in a number of different ways – not just through customer reviews. You may have some feedback during a telephone conversation with a customer or in an email exchange. Some of these me of these off the cuff remarks can make excellent testimonials that you can use on your website (just make sure you ask them for permission).

Customer feedback in the form of reviews, questionnaires testimonials, ‘likes’ and ‘sharing’ can all have a positive impact on your business. So finding ways to encourage customers to converse with you makes sense. In part 2 of this blog we will be looking at how to manage negative feedback.

 

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

Thumbs up image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Survey Form image courtesy of tiramisustudio / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

10 Things Missing In Your Site Design

Web design is such an organic field of work that every day, there’s some new insight being uncovered, some new dimension being revealed that will make visitors to your site stay on just a tad bit longer. From white space to parallax layouts to responsive design, there’s some new ‘it’ thing that’s always on the brink of sweeping web design world by storm.

However, while fads come and go; some design basics stay true irrespective of which year it is. These are the fundamentals that you simply cannot afford to mess up. Stuff like the Gutenberg Rule of eye movement.

Dimitry Fadeyev explains the Gutenberg Diagram below as he breaks down the process in which the human eye consumes content on a page.

The Gutenberg Diagram

The Gutenberg Diagram

Fadeyev elaborates, “The Gutenberg diagram splits up a page into four quadrants: the “Primary Optical Area” in top left, the “Strong Fallow Area” in top right, the “Weak Fallow Area” in the bottom left and a “Terminal Area” in bottom right. It suggests that the bottom left area of the page will get least attention as our eyes scan the page from top left to bottom right and that our glance would end up in the lower right portion of the page.”

Let’s do a quick roundup of little things that you might have overlooked in your web design – things that can cost you big in terms of website conversions.

   1. Showcase the Product

As elementary as this may sound, make your product the star of your website.

This becomes more crucial considering how humans are such visual creatures – 65% of us learn best through images and visual stimuli.

Product Showcase

Travel planning app Tripit does a great job of putting its mouth where the money is. With large images of the app on a desktop and mobile screen displayed upfront on its home page, it gives users a sneak peek into what to expect inside the app without even downloading it.

Showcase your product clearly with large, attractive images, preferably depicting users actually using it. If your website is an ecommerce site, make sure every product has multiple images available from various angles and that the images can be zoomed in if needed.

If your product is a software or an app, show off screenshots of the awesomeness that is your product, allowing visitors to make up their minds easily about it a la Tripit.

   2. Clear CTA

A typical landing page or website homepage has a number of things going on simultaneously. What is it that you want your visitor to do on your site? Is it to check out your product demo? Is it to sign up for your newsletter? Is it to buy products that you’re selling? Make sure your visitor knows exactly what is expected of her while on your site.

Use a single, clear and direct call to action telling your visitors to perform the key conversion oriented tasks that you want them to. Drop words like ‘Submit’ or ‘Know More’ from your CTA and replace them with action oriented copy. Create a sense of urgency to prompt immediate conversions, nudging along the procrastinators among your visitors into action right away.

CTA

Constant Contact’s utterly simple, yet superbly effective homepage has one loud and clear CTA.

Make sure your CTA button stands out from the rest of the page – make it bigger than other buttons, use a color that jumps out from the color scheme on your page – basically make sure it’s unmissable.

   3. Useful Microcopy

Microcopy is one of those little design touches that delight by virtue of being so unexpected. While whimsical microcopy does have its own place, it is more important to ensure that every single element on your page is geared towards one thing only – giving your users what they want as easily as possible, hence increasing the chances of converting them into actual customers.

Microcopy

Microcopy works beautifully in areas like form fields, error messages or even little ‘next step’ pointers across a website. It tells the user exactly what it expected of them without being intrusive or loud. Also, it adapts to various use case scenarios, serving up customized content, instead of having the same microcopy plastered across the site all the time.

   4. Visual Hierarchy

Visual hierarchy is the order in which we consume content and images. It is applied in web design by using images, text and their interplay to create a distinct and unmistakable message for the user.

With visual hierarchy, a good designer draws in the user’s attention to important pieces of content using images, arrows or even playing with the size of the text in and around the focal point of the page.

Pamela Wilson illustrates visual hierarchy very simply in her post “Design 101 | Successful Design: Who’s in Charge Here?” with two striking images.

No Visual Hierarchy  Visual Hierarchy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                   No Visual Hierarchy                          Visual Hierarchy Employed

The image that uses clear visual hierarchy (the one on the right) focuses the reader’s attention to the most important part of the message – bit about ‘lowest prices’. Using that as the hook, the ad reels in the user’s interest and offers all important information in a clearly discernible manner.

   5. Speed

While loading up your website with the latest bells and whistles, you’ll sometimes end up with a site that is too bulky to open on slow internet connections (thank God, those are only a handful these days!) or open so slowly that users lose interest and leave the site even before the site is completely loaded. This need for speed is even more important in these days of the mobile web.

A huge factor in slow websites is the amount of graphics content that it carries. Use large images, sure. But instead of using print quality images on your website, optimize them for web use before using them.

Another issue that slows down websites is having no caching information on your images. On the topic of caching images to help them load faster, Mark Isham advices “To cache your images, update your webserver configuration to provide an Expires header to your image responses from the server. For images that do not change often, you should specify a “far future” Expires header, typically a date 6 months to a year out from the current date.”

Use a tool like Page Speed Grader that will check how fast your site is vis-à-vis worldwide averages. It’ll also help pinpoint reasons that may be slowing down your site.

Remember, speed is crucial for any website. Even a 1 second delay in page response leads to a 7% drop in conversion rates.

   6. Planned User Flows

Most websites look like a collection of pages designed in isolation, with no relation to one another, no real thought given to transitions from one section to another.

Designing your website based on a user’s expected journey across your site is step one in web design. These expected user journeys or ‘user flows’ as Morgan Brown call them in his article about designing user flows that lead to conversions, help in visualizing where a user arrives from and what path she might take to eventually convert.

User Flows

Conversion in user flows is often measured at page level, but for a website to actually be profitable, conversions are needed at the overall site level. This means sales, subscriptions, viewership, and loyalties. To fulfill this overarching need, designers need to also see how user flows within each page merge into those of the next leading up to the final goal in one seamless action.

   7. Product Recommendations

Research shows that users actually look forward to product recommendations on ecommerce websites. A full 56% of online shoppers would return to a site that offers product recommendations.

Recommendations can be made to returning visitors based on their last viewed items like the ones on Amazon’s home page. You can also offer similar products to what the customer is currently viewing on the inside product pages.

Another option is recommending complementary products to buy along with the product being currently viewed.

   8. Upfront disclosure of costs

Imagine hunting through tons of online shopping sites for that one elusive spare part for a broken home appliance and finally finding it on Site ABC. Super, right? Now imagine your dismay at finding out at the checkout page, just before you pay that the shipping cost is actually higher than the cost of the item itself. Bit of a bummer, I’m sure.

Most shoppers feel the same way and will drop off mid-purchase on discovering hidden costs like shipping or convenience fees at the very last step. This is one of the biggest causes of the abandoned shopping carts epidemic that plagues most ecommerce sites.

   9. Trust Marks

When a user arrives on your site, it’s your job to put them at ease and help them find exactly what they are looking for. A lot of times, even when a customer finds what they’re looking for on a site, they hesitate from making a purchase from the site as they feel insecure about trusting it with their payment information.

This is a very real problem. A Trustmark Attitudes and Perceptions Study in 2013 by Harris Interactive found that 89% of consumers are hesitant to interact with a site they do not trust.

Another 73% from the same study felt that their personal and financial information were safer in the presence of a trust mark.

Use trust marks wherever possible on your website. Trust marks could range from logos like McAfee or VeriSign to your own shopper protection guarantees like the one eBay has on its site and on their email communication.

Trust Marks

It does not matter if you are not an ecommerce site and don’t sell anything on your site. Building trust goes beyond collecting people’s financial data. It extends to them considering your site as a bona fide authority for information that has been trusted by millions of other users like them.

For ecommerce sites, trust marks are almost as important as payment gateways. Place recognizable trust mark logos like McAfee or VeriSig on the payments page to build a user’s confidence in the security of your financial network. Also place them across your site at strategic locations to reinforce this message in a more subliminal manner.

10.  Social Login

One of the major headaches that the proliferation of websites has caused for users is the need to remember tons of username and password combinations. With the security loopholes that are being brought to light every other day, passwords keep getting more complicated and consequently tougher to remember.

What if there was a way around this predicament? Social logins give users and website owners a ready solution.

Social logins are plug and play tools that can be built into your site, which will enable users to log into your site using their social networking profiles. This eliminates the need to create a fresh username and password for your site and makes the user’s web experience completely seamless.

Social Login

The benefit to a website owner is two-fold. Social logins reduce the user’s hesitancy to use your site, while simultaneously giving you rich social profile data about each user via the social login app.

Conclusion

While artistic web design will make your site stand out from the clutter, it’s only websites rooted in web design fundamentals that will give you the returns that you’re hoping for. Invest your time and energies on improving these aspects of your website before you launch into hyper expensive marketing campaigns to promote it.

Lay a strong foundation and your skyscraper will stand tall for years to come.

Image Source: 1