Posted on February 26, 2008
Filed Under (General) by jennifer

Just about any e-tailer or e-commerce business owner you ask will tell you that the customer is number one. But as surveys of online shoppers have shown (heck, just recall the last time you shopped online or ask the person in the next cube or your friends and neighbors), that’s not always the case.

To find out what great online customer service is all about, I spoke with Lauren Freedman, the president of the e-tailing group; an analyst at JupiterResearch who covers customer relations/service; and small business owners just like you. You can read the results of my findings, as well some great customer service stories, by reading my article, “Customer Service with a Virtual Smile,” which was just posted on Ecommerce-Guide.com today (Feb. 26).

In a hurry and just want some quick tips? Here you go:

Top 10 Tips for Exceptional Online Service on a Budget:

Tip #1: Provide a toll-free/800 number on your home page, merchandise pages, contact page, and checkout pages.

Tip #2: Make sure you have people who are familiar with your products answering the phone(s) and that they answer calls in a timely fashion. As anyone who has ever been put on hold can attest to, five minutes can seem like an eternity.

Tip #3: Make your contact information easy to find and provide an e-mail address for customers who prefer to ask questions via e-mail. As with phone calls, make sure e-mails are answered promptly, if possible within 24 hours of receipt if received during normal business hours.

Tip #4: Include a return policy, privacy policy and a guarantee (regarding quality, security and/or shipping) on your site.

Tip #5: Provide a detailed, easy-to-find list of frequently asked questions (FAQs). Having excellent, comprehensive FAQs that really address customer issues is a great time and money saver, said Freedman, as the better the FAQs the less questions customers will have to call or e-mail you about.

Tip #6: Make checkout easy, and include a variety of payment options, such as PayPal and Google Checkout, in addition to traditional credit cards. Per the e-tailing group study, on the sites with the best customer service, customers clicked no more than six times from selection of product through checkout.

Tip #7: Provide online order confirmation and send an e-mail confirmation with the order number and contact information.

Tip #8: Let customers know when their order has been shipped. Order tracking has become very popular and allows customers to see the progress of their order.

Tip #9: Make sure orders are delivered on time. While this is given as the ninth tip, a late or undelivered order is often the top reason for a customer telephone call or e-mail and why they may not do business with you again, particularly if the order was needed by a certain date or the customer paid extra for overnight or two-day shipping.

Tip #10: Provide a personal touch or a little something extra. Although this is the last tip, in many ways it is what customers remember most.

Have a customer service story or tip you’d like to share? Post a comment!

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This Monday, February 11, I attended the Small Business Summit in NYC, which is remarkable on two levels: 1) that I, a confirmed introvert and hater of crowds, would pay money to attend such a thing and 2) that I (who hate cold weather — and man was it cold Monday — and have repeatedly been unable to make it into NYC because of last-minute car and health problems) actually made it. Proof, I guess, that miracles do occur.

Even more remarkable: I stayed for almost the whole thing — and kind of enjoyed myself. I even got up in front of entire ballroom of people and asked the VP of Marketing of Dells’ SMB (for small and mid-sized businesses) Group the following question:

As a marketing expert who has interracted with a lot of small and mid-sized businesses over the years, what is one of the biggest yet most easily correctable mistakes you have seen/see SMBs make in terms of marketing and/or promoting their business?

She responded by talking about how important it is to state your message or value proposition as simply as possible and tell prospective customers what makes you unique or at least different from the competition. Then she went on to discuss the importance of social networking, a subject that was discussed or brought up over and over again during the course of the Summit.

As anyone in business knows, networking, that is, making contact with people who might hire you or use your services at some point, is an essential part of doing business — and the reason why there are events like the Small Business Summit (which, btw, I highly recommend you attend next year).

While not naturally gregarious, I can do the smile, head tilt, shake hands, “And what do you do?” thing with the best of them. My issue, however, is with online networking, what is now referred to as “social networking” or the use of “social media,” sites like Facebook and MySpace and LinkedIn. While I see tremendous value in getting in front of people, having that face-to-face interraction, I am somewhat skeptical as to the actual value of Facebook and LinkedIn in terms of actually helping to grow one’s business (unless, in the case of Facebook, you have a product or service aimed at the 16 to 34 crowd).

Yet speaker after speaker at the Summit extolled the virtues of using social networking/media. (You would think these people were getting kickbacks from Facebook and LinkedIn — and maybe they are.) Speaker after speaker (and I am not exaggerating) said, “You need to have a Facebook page, a profile on LinkedIn, and a blog!” (For the record, I have two blogs, one for business and one for personal musings, and a LinkedIn profile — and profiles on several other business-related sites.) After the third or fourth person said this, I actually wrote in my notebook, “Get Facebook page.” (However, after reading this week’s articles in The New York Times on how hard it is, if not downright impossible, to delete a Facebook profile, I am having second thoughts.)

And then it happened. There I am, listening to yet another speaker natter on about Facebook and LinkedIn and wondering, as I often do, if anyone besides a mortgage broker or recruiter has ever actually made money or gotten a job or at least a solid lead from having a LinkedIn profile, and this guy stands up and asks the question (which I am somewhat paraphrasing), “I have a profile on LinkedIn and a lot of contacts, but besides having a lot of names, what’s the point?”

To this brilliant question, which I have been wanting to do an article on, titled “He Who Has the Most Contacts on LinkedIn Wins! (Wins what, though, nobody’s sure.),” a VP of Marketing at some global internet marketing company responded first, “I’m probably the wrong person to ask. I think I have around 1500 contacts, which is probably too many, and don’t really do anything with them” — then quickly shifted course and said, “I know of thousands of success stories of people using LinkedIn!” Yet he couldn’t name one.

You know what LinkedIn’s great for? Showing off to a bunch of people you already know how many people you know and who you know (unless you are one of those people who totally defeat the purpose of LinkedIn by hiding your connections — like we really care, please). As stated above, I have a profile on LinkedIn, which I acquired when I was researching an article on online networking. And yes, I occasionally get and send invitations to “link in.” Yes, I occasionally check out people’s new connections (when I’m really bored). And yes, I direct prospective clients to my LinkedIn page so they can see recommendations of my work. And I know other people who do the same.

But besides giving people the ability to show off how self-important they are, does this “tool,” LinkedIn, have any practical value? Yes, yes, I know that mortgage brokers and recruiters LOVE LinkedIn, and have gotten business from networking on the site. And I know it’s fun to find former colleagues and classmates. But have you, my fellow small business owners, can you tell me or write to me sincerely that LinkedIn has actually brought you business? If so, let me know — leave a comment so others can read of your success and learn.

(Btw, since writing on my personal blog about LinkedIn, I received an invitation to link up on LinkedIn from the gentleman I sat next to at lunch at the Small Business Summit. For the record, I accepted, though I sincerely doubt anything will come of it.)

As for something truly useful, check out 15SecondPitch.com. The founder, Laura Allen, spoke at the Summit — and gave one of the best presentations of the day. She spoke about the importance of having a good, quick pitch and offered 10 tips for creating this pitch, which I will paraphrase here:

1. Be the first to ask “What do you do?”

2. Avoid the “kitchen sink” pitch — i.e., narrow it down.

3. Learn how to give a third-party pitch — i.e., recommend someone else.

4. Know the four steps to pitching: who you are, what you do, why you’re the best, and the call to action.

5. Use the 15SecondPitch.com pitch wizard to help you create your pitch [which I did].

6. Pitch “as if,” meaning with confidence that you will get the job.

7. Create an avator to pitch for you, using a tool like Sitepal.com. [This one I don’t like so much.]

8. Don’t just pitch the person in front of you; pitch to their whole network.

9. Skip the hard sell.

10. Create a pitch for every niche — i.e., if you have more than one specialty or business, create a separate pitch for each.

Of all of the presentations I sat through (over six-plus hours of them), this is the one that resonated the most. AND, I actually went and registered on the site and created a pitch! AND within 24 hours, my new pitch appeared on the FIRST PAGE of Google results for my name. Very impressive.

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Posted on February 8, 2008
Filed Under (Advice, Tools) by jennifer

Nearly everywhere you look online lately there’s a widget. Just go to Facebook or MySpace or any type of social site and you’re bound to come across one. Indeed, according to Internet market researcher comScore, in November 2007 nearly 148 million U.S. Internet users had viewed a widget.

But just because widgets are popular and cool, does that mean you need to jump on the widget bandwagon? And do branded widgets (which often function as ads or are ads) increase traffic and sales for online businesses?

Btw, if you are like me, and not born with a silver microchip in your mouth, you may be wondering what the heck a “widget” is.  (To me the word still conjures up visions of Spacely’s Sprockets or something you would find in a Rube Goldberg Machine.) While there are many definitions, in today’s wired world a widget is more or less defined as a third-party application, often created using Flash or JavaScript (though it can really be pretty much anything), that contains rich media (photographs or audio or video clips) and functions as a (typically) fun add-on to an existing web page.

If all of this still doesn’t quite make sense to you, read my article on widgets, “Wiley Widgets Popular, But What About Profits?” where I provide several examples of widgets in action/how they are being used to generate interest, traffic, and revenue.

For the article, I interviewed Andrew Lipsman, a senior analyst at comScore, which developed a measuring tool called Widget Metrix last year to track widget usage. The main takeaway:

While widgets are typically free for individuals to download, creating one from scratch can cost money, with the amount depending on what exactly you want to create. And having your own widget may not be right or necessary for your brand or your site, cautioned Lipsman. While younger, more Internet-savvy users are more likely to view and download widgets, older or less bell-and-whistle-seeking users could be turned off. Additionally, by monetizing widgets too quickly you could “drive away or limit potential users who see them as too commercial,” he said.

Still, with their growing popularity and ability to deliver rich content and links back to your website, widgets should not be ignored.

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