For many businesses, the Internet can be as confusing as a tomb full of hieroglyphics.
It’s common for small businesses to ignore the Internet altogether. My dentist doesn’t even have a website or e-mail contact.
Other businesses at least cover the bases: website, e-mail, social media pages, but having these things does not automatically translate into an impact on your business.
Whether a small business with no online presence or an e-commerce company like us, one of the great strengths of the Internet is the birth of new ways to offer better customer experiences.
So ask yourself this: are there parts of your business that could be more convenient for customers and yourself? Can we improve that using the web?
I don’t think the case needs to be made for the benefits of offering a better customer service or the evidence of these claims. Though, this doesn’t mean use online tools as an excuse to shortcut your core customer experience.
A winning formula will take the best customer services you offer and use the Internet to make what is good better or strengthen what needed improvement.
Finding ways to offer a more convenient customer experience depends on your business, and sometimes the investment or difficulty of merely ‘figuring it out’ can be overwhelming. So here are some simple ideas that can get the ball rolling; especially for smaller businesses. A lot of these ideas might be tailored for more traditional, less tech-savvy business owners, but hopefully the emphasis on simplicity will help facilitate some unexplored ideas in crafting customer experience.
1. Offer online booking or scheduling
If there was a central theme to this article, it would be that there are plenty of services that make the work and cost of offering a service online negligible. Online booking is just one of many.
Practically all these services offer free trials, so you can get your feet wet before you have to make any commitment with your wallet.
For any business that is based on reserving time slots, the cost of these services is more than affordable, with starting prices falling anywhere from $5-$50 per month.
Beyond the practicality, implementing online scheduling gives your customers the convenience of setting up appointments on their own accord. At any time, on any day.
There are a ton of simple processes that can probably be improved by a simple, effective service. Booking only scratches the surface. If you have doubts, hit up Google and be surprised.
2. Sell online
Sell online! This might seem so obvious it is stupid, but what if you sell a product or service that you wouldn’t typically think about selling online?
A great example is a local favorite in Middle Tennessee – The Peach Truck.
The Peach Truck is known for their easily identifiable truck and authentic, delicious Georgia peaches. Of course, their ability to grow is physically limited. One of the ways they’ve addressed the demand for their peaches was to find a way to sell online and feasibly deliver their famous peaches nationwide.
For many local businesses, expanding sales online tends to be less common early in the business. For a business that sells perishable goods, even less likely.
Is the Peach Truck’s primary revenue stream still from their point of sale Peach Truck? Yes. But they’ve added revenue streams and scope of their brand just by putting some work in selling online even though they were already giving their core customers a great experience and value. The Peach Truck team understood that with some extra work they could offer a better service and reach more customers.
If you are looking to make the plunge into selling your products online, there are a ton of platforms to choose from. You don’t even have to bother with trying to set anything up on your own website if you use well known marketplaces.
Amazon and Ebay are household names that offer great marketplace solutions for retail stores and other sellers. Keep in mind, Amazon and other places usually charge a small fee for every item you sell on there. Also, because these marketplaces are highly competitive, you could be introducing yourself to new competitors. Ultimately, many retailers find that the tradeoffs to be worth the extra exposure, web traffic, and easy to use platform.
Of course, there are many other marketplace options such as Etsy which are more specialized, but always a great option for anyone selling boutique craft or fashion goods. I recommend digging around if you’re in a more differentiated space and looking to use a marketplace.
Setting up E-commerce for Your Business
If you’re looking for a little more control, setting up your own shop is the way to go. I’m not going to get too in-depth on e-commerce platforms here. There are plenty of resources online that do, and I plan on covering it myself at some point, but some of the better platforms to consider would be:
- Shopify – hosted; easy set-up; simple interface
- Volusion – also hosted with an emphasis on ease of use and user friendly features
- WooCommerce – The best option for e-commerce on WordPress. Great option for smaller shops who already use WordPress.
- Magento – self-hosted; open source; robust but with a high learning curve. They also offer MagentoGo which is a hosted platform like Shopify and Volusion
Keep in mind, there are many other great e-commerce platforms I didn’t mention. If you have kept out of the online marketplace and are looking to augment your selling capabilities, then a little bit of further research into any of these platforms will prove that it really doesn’t take much to get up and running.
E-commerce is a complex and fascinating machine to operate, but the first steps are not as daunting as they might seem.
3. Establish a reliable place to communicate and share information
Do your brand have a Facebook page sitting around collecting dust? A twitter account? An underused e-mail list? Put them to use and use them to deliver important messages.
You can also take it one step farther and use a simple service like Buffer to manage Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ accounts all at once.
You control a lot of customer expectations. Social networks have given a lot of businesses a great platform to communicate with customers. Be consistent with communicating important information on a couple of these platforms. Not only will you be rewarding customers looking for it, but they’ll learn to know where to expect information. That expectation is like a vitamin or nutrient playing a small part in building up the strength of the customer relationship.
For instance, I am an oblivious person. I always overlooked all the signs about my YMCA’s holiday hours. Lucky for me, I know that they are really good about updating their Twitter or Facebook. Instead of using the possibility of holiday hours to keep me on the couch, I passively and quickly found the schedule.
Granted, I had to discover this, but now that I know this, I rely on it. I expect it.
The convenience is tiny. Just knowing how much this was a problem at my previous gym (or worse, my college’s gym) builds a lot of goodwill. It makes me and my time feel valued.
It’s an anecdote, so take it for what it’s worth, but the value in relevant anecdotal testimony is that it highlights that no customer thinks alike. Online presence helps accommodate customers who fall under different umbrellas.
For me, calling to ask about the schedule is more commitment than it is worth, especially considering that the gym is an activity that comes with natural resistance.
Spread that Information like Genghis Khan Spreading his Legacy
There is a lot of vital, time sensitive information; especially in location based businesses. The last thing you want to do is have a customer waste their time. Establish an information stream. Help customers find it.
Food trucks are great at this because without up-to-date, reliable information, their customers don’t know where to find them. I’m waiting for the trendy restaurant that either posts their wait times on busy nights, or maybe even has some sort of SMS functionality where I can text in beforehand and get an idea. Because most of us customers are not always rational (and have, well, never made a reservation in their life ).
E-mail, SMS, Website, Twitter, Facebook, and so on.
Find what works for you.
Keep it simple and narrow options if you have to.
Your customers will thank you for it.
4. Offer paperwork and forms online
At this point, I hope you realize that if you’re expecting anything more than brain-crunchingly obvious and simple ways to improve your online presence, you’ve come to the wrong place!
Once again — small improvement and incredibly easy implementation options come to the forefront.
Make some use of that website! If there is paperwork or any applications that are routinely filled out, put it up there in a PDF file on your website and make it easy to find. Tell your clients they can print it out and fill it in beforehand, e-mail it, or even fax it.
Even better!— you can look into a service like Wufoo or Formstack that handles online form building and submission. For a small fee each month you can save your more tech savvy customers some hassle and wait times by letting them handle forms beforehand if they want.http://usimprints.wistia.com/medias/urhj35jzh5?embedType=seo&videoFoam=true&videoWidth=715
A demonstration of how easy it is to sign up and create a form on Wufoo
5. Anticipate customer needs
Let’s say that you know you’re generating some business through your website. Maybe it isn’t a lot, but there is some. Your website is pretty standard. It has information about who you are, what you do, how much it costs, and where to find you.
With a small amount of work, you can do a lot more. If nothing else, solve some common problems. Even if they are problems that impact your business more than your customers. Don’t underestimate the value of teaching customers how to be better customers. If we know things we can do that help us receive better service, we are going to do them!
Say you’re a dry cleaning service, and in addition to adding online booking for your pick-up and delivery service: why not put simple reminders or a very simple process at the end of the booking process? Maybe you have problems that have happened because there have been items left in pockets, or can recommend a process to make pick-up and deliver easy. You have nothing to lose by putting that information in the right place at the right time.
In this case, a bullet point of important reminders on your confirmation page will go a long way.
Smart businesses catch on to these customer needs and fill them up the same way you’d use caulk to seal cracks and seams.
Your customers aren’t expected to understand how your business works, just like at USImprints we can’t expect everyone to understand why vector art is important for a good imprint. Otherwise, as businesses, our services wouldn’t be as valuable. You can offer expertise while saving your resources for the work that truly demands it. At the same time, you can create customer loyalty that you wouldn’t otherwise.
Anticipate customer needs anywhere you are able to!
None of these are groundbreaking ideas, but the question can always be asked — are there any simple things we can do to offer a better customer experience (online)? In many cases, the solutions may be much easier than you realized.
You can’t put a price tag on convenience.
Up! Up! — and away!
I’ve worked enough with people who are technophobic to varying degrees, so I understand how big the barrier can seem. Granted, if you are reading this odds are you might not fall into the target audience of this post (we can only hope they aren’t using AOL anymore), but if you know someone like this, share with them and play a small part in showing how easy it is to greatly make their customers’ experience with their business better.
Technology isn’t the ultimate solution to customer needs. Nothing beats strong relationships, but with a little bit of extra work, we can at least make things easier one balloon at a time.
Or maybe what I’m trying to say is — if we put our customers first — then maybe we’ll find ourselves on an adventure in a cool floating house. (and while I’m at it, this is awesome)