Hiding from your customers

By Beacon Staff

From time to time, I stumble across online businesses that forget that first and foremost, they are a business – not a website.

TWO this week.

I generally find these things when I need service from a business for the first time. Perhaps the dream of the typical internet business owner is to put up a website, get buried in sales, hire a gorgeous assistant to deal with everything (you know, sales, shipping, etc) and sit back and just watch the money roll in.

Thennnnnnn reality hits. You’ve got a real business, Lucy.

People email, call and fax real businesses. No matter how well you’ve explained something, there will be someone who needs help. Or missed that page, or didn’t see the FAQ, or didn’t scan Google for something that seems totally obvious to you. No matter how much you’ve automated – which I’m all in favor of – there will be some things you just need to deal with.

The obvious missing “secret” here is to remember that you are not your customer.

That’s the ticket to differentiating yourself from that uncommunicative guy who owns the other online store that sells what you sell (much less the other 372 stores).

Your customer came to you because your site was easier to use, your price was better (let’s hope it was more than that), your service and guarantee was better, you know more about the topic, and so on. NOT because you are so smart that you make people’s hair hurt when you talk with them.

Here’s a simple example: Several months ago, Brad Fallon suggested that I put our toll-free number at the top of the page of a retail sales website that I run. Seems obvious when you think about it, but I hadn’t done it.

“All the contact info is on the contact page at www.blahblahblah.com/contact.htm, so why should I have to put it at the top of every page too?” is the boneheaded programmer response. You know who you are. Ignore Brad, I dare ya, smart guy.

Having learned to listen to successful people first and question later, I did what Brad said and it has resulted in sales that we clearly wouldn’t have gotten. People call with quick questions – things that tell me “Put this in a more obvious place on the website”, or “Make this more clear – because it obviously isn’t”, or similar.

Which reminds me of places that don’t even have a toll-free number, online business or not. I know what you’re thinking. “Geez, calls are only $4 to $6 an HOUR, why do people need a toll-free number?”

Doesn’t matter. Don’t worry about the why, worry about the needs and wants.

It made a substantial difference in sales 10 years ago when we added a toll free support line at my software company, even though all the calls came from people who had money. It still makes a difference to people today. You heard me right. It made a substantial difference in sales when we added a toll-free supportline.

A toll free line can be had for pennies a day plus toll charges for inbound calls. So I’d say this when you ask me why you need a toll free line: “Geez, calls are only $4-6 an HOUR, why don’t you have a toll-free number?”

Don’t forget: there are still some folks who won’t use their credit card online – even though most credit card auths go over the net anyway. I think they want the comfort of talking to a person, the internet thing is the fall guy. These folks really don’t like the online business that tries to be the faceless, personality-void corporate entity.

If you have an online biz, don’t hide from your customers. If you’re the only one who actually helps them, you’ll end up being the only one getting their money too. Sure, automate everything you can – but don’t eliminate service.

Enhance it.

Got a business or marketing question you’d like Mark to write about or want to learn more about him? See Mark’s site or contact him at mriffey@flatheadbeacon.com.

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