Time for an off topic post!
Well, it’s actually not that “off topic” as it’s still all about selling online, customer service and in general, the proper way of running a business.
So here’s the story:
I’m buying some new machinery (I will do a separate post on that in a few weeks’ time) and it needs a decent air compressor to run it. So I started looking around at online shops in the UK (due to weight/size/warranty I didn’t want to import it) selling air compressors.
As with any such new equipment that I’m not familiar with, I started my research by reading reviews on Amazon. I know that the compressor I have in my home is super loud and not something I would want to use in our office so my search was narrowed down to ultra-quiet air compressors that run below 45 dB rating (that’s roughly the sound level of a quiet conversation).
Amazon’s prices on what I needed were actually very steep so I started looking for online shops that were selling these compressors. And thankfully the prices from many of these shops were a lot more competitive.
Now, the fun part started when I contacted these companies, many of which are fairly large, multi-million pound businesses.
I whitelisted 5 companies that looked best to me – by the range of compressors they had, their prices, and the overall look of their website (how professional they looked and whether they specialise in such tools or just sell them on the side).
Now from the 5 companies that I chose and contacted, I’ll let you guess how many replied to me…
YES! I’m a customer looking to buy a £1000 air compressor and only 2 of 5 companies managed to find the time to get back to me. This was last week, and I still haven’t heard from the other 3.
And it’s not like my message to them was annoying or anything like that – I just asked what dB rating a particular model had and how much the compressor weighs. That’s it – a quick, polite and to the point request.
From the two companies that did answer, one replied within an hour or so (excellent) and the second one was a lot slower, answering after roughly 30 hours.
So this means that only ONE company actually provided excellent pre-purchase customer support, as in my opinion 30 hours is just too long a time to answer a customer query, particularly in 2016.
You do see with a lot of these big companies that they have some sort of policy in place to answer by X number of days, but the timeframes they choose are, to me, ridiculous. I mean, “we’ll reply to you within 72 hours or sooner”…
72 hours, really??
Just take my real life example – I needed to purchase this compressor ASAP and had my credit card to hand, ready to use as soon as my questions were answered!
To then ask me to wait 72 hours for a response, and possibly 72 more after that if I need to clarify anything, is simply NOT good enough.
I’m not saying that everyone should offer 1 hour response as that’s obviously super-fast. But from my perspective, as a customer, when I send an email early in the morning, I expect to receive a reply within 3-4 hours, by the end of that business day at the latest. So that means a 12 hour window to respond.
Which should be more than enough, right?
I’m not talking about one man band type of businesses here, where there is only one “staff member”, doing what they can in a few hours in the evening. These are all big companies with dedicated customer support staff. If they can’t answer a customer query within 12 hours, they’re under-staffed or simply don’t know what their employees are doing.
So what can we learn from this story…
Well something that I have always said – providing superb customer service is KEY and an absolute minimum if you’re looking to build a successful online business! Especially if you deal with technical items that will often require communicating with your customers before they can make a purchase (my air compressor is a good example).
A 12 hour response rate should be standard. If you work full time on your business, check your email/help desk at least 3 times a day, which will bring down this to 2-3 hours – which is what I consider exceptional customer support.
Deal with enquires sent in overnight first thing in the morning. As many people will contact you during the evening when you’re obviously unable to answer (unless you’re one of those people who works on their business 16 hours a day).
Another incredibly important point that most people will overlook, why did I have to contact these companies in the first place? To find out the dB rating and weight of the item. Now, wouldn’t it make sense to put this information right in the product description itself? I mean – you’re selling ultra-quiet compressors, chances are people would like to know exactly how quiet they are, right?
Most of the online sellers I came across have just lazily copied the exact same, two line description from the manufacturer’s website. Again, not a great sign.
In fact, from the reviews on Amazon AND my own experience, I realised that a buyer needs to hear how loud a compressor is. So why not put together a short video and post it on YouTube, so that people can actually see and hear for themselves.
A good seller knows the key worries/questions/problems potential customers will have and creates their offer/website in a way that alleviates these issues and makes it incredibly easy for a visitor to become a buyer.
We can learn A LOT from US based online sellers in this regard. They are light years ahead in marketing compared to the majority of UK sellers. They use YouTube extensively for demonstrating products, often offer Live Chat support (none of these 5 companies did) and in general – when I deal with US suppliers, it feels like they really want my business and will do anything it takes to complete the sale.
It can go as far as creating personal YouTube videos for each customer – something I will show you when I do the other post on the new machinery I have bought. My point is that there are always ways to go that extra mile in customer satisfaction.
This post may sound like I’m rambling about my rather un-lucky, one time experience. But really that’s not the case – this isn’t my first such experience of slow / no response from online businesses.
I wonder – those 3 companies that did not even reply to me – do they have some sort of customer support department monitoring in place? Or do they simply not care? My wild guess is that the customer support person who had to reply to my message was just too lazy OR busy with other stuff that he simply deleted my message.
As most of my blog readers are small business owners, the majority of who take care of customer enquiries themselves, you have 100% control over how this is done. Even if you’re not in front of a computer all day long, that’s not a valid excuse anymore as we all have fancy smartphones that can be used to reply to customers at lunchtime, or whenever else you have a free moment.
Everything is possible, as long as you pay attention to detail and really care about your customers.
Lastly, I can’t stress enough how important good product descriptions are! And by good I don’t mean writing for writing’s sake to get 500 words. No, I mean descriptions that really help customers understand the product and over-come any fears they might have to make the purchase.
Listen to customers and pre-emptively answer their most important questions right in the product description.
If you’re starting a new business and don’t have any past experience to judge from, use Amazon reviews for the same or similar products. You can learn A TON about a product and how customers view it by reading these reviews!
Don’t be lazy and THINK for a second about what your customers want. And then simply give it to them.
P.S. I didn’t name any of the companies in this post, not because I wanted to “protect” them, but simply because they should know better in the first place. And if they can’t be bothered to answer customer queries, then there’s no need for me to try and help them by pointing out their deficiencies. I’ll leave the GOOD sellers to out-compete them instead! 🙂