Meeting Customers Needs

Catering for customers’ needs can mean the difference between winning and loosing sales.

Not only do you need to provide customers with an efficient and professional online experience, you also need to allow customers to contact you by ‘their’ preferred communication method.

A good web site should offer a clearly labeled ‘contact us’ page that includes business contact information such as the business e-mail address, phone numbers, fax numbers, office/store locations and postal addresses. Online contact forms, live chat facilities and toll free phone numbers are also great additions.

Let’s look at some of these contact options in more detail.

e-mail addresses

Your business e-mail address should appear to be professional.

When deciding on the name of your general enquiry e-mail address, try to use an account name that is easy to spell and without hyphens or full stops.
A popular choice is ‘info@’ followed by your domain name.

It is best to use an address that includes your web site domain name rather than an ISP provided e-mail address. For example, info@gilletts.com.au portrays a more professional image than suzzie@bigpond.com.

Using an address with your domain name means that if you change ISPs in the future you can still take your e-mail address with you. A generic ISP e-mail address also has a greater chance of being accidentally deleted by your customers when they scan their inbox to remove spam.

Contact forms

To cater for customers who are out of their office, you need to provide a contact form on your web site as an additional means of contact (rather than as a substitute for an e-mail address.)

A benefit of this contact option is it allows you to pre-populate your contact form with questions that will help you to answer customers’ enquiries more efficiently.

Contact forms can ask for a name, address, phone number, the department the message is intended for (eg. sales or support) and questions relevant to your type of business or product range.

For example, our Gillett’s Jewellers web site regularly receives enquiries regarding stock availability. The stock availability often depends on the jewellery finger size required. Most customers did not previously indicate the required size in their messages to us. To overcome this issue we simply made the first line of the contact form request people to enter their finger size. This small step has saved us sending countless additional e-mails to customers asking for the finger size information.

We have now found that we receive approximately equal numbers of messages originating through the contact forms and e-mails which clearly shows the value of offering both options to your customers.

Phone numbers

Many people are now accustomed to ordering or enquiring online, though some customers still prefer to place their orders or enquiries by phone. So make sure that you include your business phone number on your web site.

If you visit a web site and can’t see a phone number for that business, what impression does that give you? ….. Providing a phone number adds credibility and a reassurance that you are a ‘real’ business.

If you sell products internationally or interstate, you can also provide toll free phone numbers. There are now very affordable toll free options available to businesses. Some packages allow “calls to be received from more than 40 countries with costs ranging from 20 cents to .50 per minute” according to David Watson, Manager of Tangible Solutions, a Brisbane based telecommunications company.

You also need to understand your target market, and if, for example, you are trying to sell products to the US, you should appreciate that US customers often expect that a toll free phone number will be available to them.

Live chat

There is often an element of the ‘unknown’ in any online transaction – whether it is a reluctance to actually make an online purchase; not being familiar with the particular merchant; or uncertainties regarding a product. Unfortunately even the smallest doubt can result in an abandoned shopping cart.

An effective tool to combat this problem is a live chat online service. There are dedicated online live chat services available for businesses that allow you to write messages to your customers in real-time. These services can allow your customers to ask questions and you to provide answers and reassurance much more quickly than e-mails can. The benefit of live chat is you are talking with the person at the exact time they are making their purchasing decision.

It is important however to only use business specific chat services that are limited to discussions between you and your customers. These services need to be distinguished from ICQ and similar open forum services that are accessible by the public and are not recommended.

We currently use the ‘Live Person’ service provided by the US based company Live Person. We have found that it works very well in quashing those niggling questions that would otherwise prevent sales. The feedback received from our customers who have used our live chat service has been overwhelmingly positive.

This particular service includes a graphic icon on each page of our web site that lets customers know when we are ‘online’ and available for live assistance. When we are ‘not online’ the icon also doubles as a message bank that allows customers to send us e-mails. The image itself is very prominent on the web site and encourages customers to contact us.

Implementing as many of these options as are possible, will ensure that you satisfy all of your customers’ needs and take you a step further towards attracting new sales.

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Sharon Wild writes ecommerce articles for Qld Business Review, she is also Strategy & Marketing Director of e-JAZ.com.au

Sharon Wild
Strategy & Marketing Director of e-JAZ, Sharon has been involved in the e-commerce community for several years. She successfully manages Australia's largest online jewellery store, Gillett's Jewellers.

Sharon can be contacted via email on sharon@e-jaz.com.au