I wanted to post a quick thought here that all store owners should consider.
Change can be good — sometimes — especially if it is meant to decreased expenses (thus directly affecting the bottom line.) However, change that has not been planned out properly or change that does not take into consideration customer needs and wants can cause trouble.
I recently worked with a store owner who thought that switching shipping companies would save them some expense over the previous shipping company (which did a great job … but had slightly higher prices.) In theory, and on paper this might have been true. However, without proper planning and without taking their current and potential customers interest into consideration, the event turned out to be a disaster … causing long time customers to leave, new customers to never return (even canceling orders), and a customer service nightmare for those working the phones.
You see, the store may have thought that looking at the sheer numbers (from a shipping rate standpoint only) that the one carrier with lower rates would have saved them money. It makes sense … if you only look at that.
But running an ecommerce business — or any business for that matter — means you must take into consideration much more than just “perceived cost”.
The customers feedback all basically said the same thing … “I’d rather pay a few dollars more to get my package on time and fast then to not get it at all or get it much later than expected.”
Considering the lifetime value of customers that will not be realized due to leaving, the new customers never returning, and the bad word that is surely to spread across the internet about them, the company has dug themselves a hole that is going to take a lot of energy to correct. Rather than saving money on shipping they ended up losing a ton of money both now and also potential future realized revenue.
So the next time you consider making changes to your shipping (or anything else to save a few bucks) operations, make sure you do your homework first, plan next, and when all the information is presented, be sure to choose the option that benefits your customers most.
It is said in business that customer acquisition is an investment but profitability is built on customer retention. In other words, it typically costs you more to sell to a new customer than it does to a current one. As a result, your profits are higher when you sell to those who have already purchased from you.
Customer retention is essential to business growth.
So how do you earn customer loyalty and retain their business? Like any successful relationship, If you want customers to be loyal to you, you must be loyal to them. Your product must deliver on its promise as advertised—but that is just the beginning.
Here are some tips to help you keep your current customers coming back for more:
Provide Exceptional Customer Service
Often times, customer service can be a key differentiator for companies that sell similar products. In today’s digital age it is all too common for companies to hide behind “digital walls”. Often times this elusive nature can lead to lost sales not to mention decreasing customer confidence. When customers have questions or problems they want them addressed—by a real human with real answers, not just a scripted list of FAQs or automated phone system. Two ways to accomplish this are through posting customer service phone numbers on your site and considering Live Chat type systems.
Stay in Front of Your Customers
You can’t foster customer loyalty if your customers forget you exist. You must stay in contact with them on a regular basis preferably with information that ultimately benefits them in the end (remember it about the customer not you.) Two ways of staying in front of them are through email and RSS feeds. The key here is to feed them information that helps them. Promotions on products, sales etc… all work and should be a part of your communication but don’t neglect the need to provide them with valuable content that helps better their position.
This could be showing them new ways to use your product, complimentary products that may work well with the one they already have etc…
Develop Customer Friendly Policies
If you want to keep customers happy you must offer flexible policies. Don’t make it hard for them to return an item, get support for current, broken, or discountinued products, etc… Be flexible and understanding of their needs and above all else, make it right for them. Put these policies in place and honor them. If you don’t, your customers will run to the competitors that do never to return again.
Consider Implementing a Rewards Program
Loyalty or rewards programs are a great way to foster long term relationships and repeat sales. Rewards can be managed in just about anyway you can dream up from earning discounts on future purchases to earning products at various levels. Just make sure your internal systems can handle the route you adopt.
Just about anybody can sell on the internet. Selling profitably and doing it for sustained durations is what separates real businesses from short run fly-by-night operations. If given the chance, I’d rather build a sustained business that lasts many years than build a business that is here today gone the next. Profitability is a key element in this equation.
Unless you have been hiding under a rock or living in a cave recently you’re well aware of the issues big auto maker Toyota faced with recalling cars due to faulty accelerator pedals.
Watching this unfold I found three important things that ecommerce store owners can learn from it.
Toyota has put in place a method to remedy the accelerator problem and are working to correct it, but they are now also faced with what might be an even bigger challenge—rebuilding customer confidence.
Ecommerce store owners take note, here’s what we can learn:
Speed. The speed at which they addressed the issue from the customers perspective was slow. It has been reported that many customers have vented frustrations over the slowness to respond to the issue, and the lack of a “public face” being tied to the issue.
You see, as we know, customers expect a number of things and one of those is speed. Speed in shipping, speed in customer response times, and speed at correcting any problem if one should arise are just a few.
When a problem arises customers want someone to stand up, take blame personally, and fix it fast. According to reports and feedback gathered from consumers, Toyota failed (at least in many consumers eyes) to address the issue fast enough. Yes, they are doing it now, and that is a good thing, but many customers confidence has already been shaking by the initial response time.
Service. Customer service, quality, and reliability are some of the top ways Toyota has been able to distinguish themselves to this point.
At least in the customers eyes, Toyota did not provide the level of service they (the customers) are use to when it came to this problem (again, initially). Toyota reports that they are indeed working on, and have remedied the issue, and are in the process of shipping out “the fix”, but as we’ve seen, some damage may have already been done in the eyes of the customers.
Depending on how they handle this issue from here on out will determine how well then can rebuild customer confidence. Handle it properly and they should be able to correct the initial perception, but it would have been better to have addressed it from the start the way customers expected it to avert this confidence problem entirely.
Growth. Growth of all business is welcomed. It’s what we strive for. Growing too fast however can cause problems.
I heard one reporter say that Toyota set out as one of its objectives to overtake GM as the world’s largest car manufacturer. And they succeeded in doing that. But that success came with a price.
It’s the old “quality vs. quantity” issue. The fewer of something you make (in general), the more attention you can pay to its quality. The more of something you make, the less time there seems to be to devote to quality (at least this is the way it tends to work out.) This is why sometimes you get better service from a small business (who knows you by name) over larger businesses where you tend to become just a number.
In this case, Toyota grew, but they may have grown at the expense of quality—at least temporarily. It’s not always good to be the biggest—it quite often is better to be the best at what you do.
If that means slower growth, then so be it. Your growth will breed quality and for that your customers will remember you.
So what can ecommerce store owners learn from Toyota?
- When issues arise, be fast and open to inform your customers of them, take blame if required, and correct those issues asap. It’s inevitable that at some point you’ll encounter customer service issues. It’s not a question of if, but rather when (even the best can’t avoid it.) How you deal with these issues when they arrive is what will determine your outcome.
- Grow your company at a rate that your internal operations allow. If the infrastructure is not there to keep up with growth, your company will have to sacrifice something to keep that growth alive and that sacrifice usually ends up hurting in the end.