Keep Your Business Competitive Online by Simplifying Customer Service

The marketing doesn’t end when the customer takes the bait

Marketing might best be described as the process of getting customers to show an interest in your offer. As we’ve often said, it can get customers to your business but it doesn’t necessarily make them buy—that comes down to the staff. The success of a marketing effort, especially in the Internet era, also can depend on the systems your business employs with customer inquiries.

We recently had an online experience where the process of dealing with a customer inquiry was more complicated than applying for a housing loan. We had booked a family holiday to the East Coast of the United States and I was searching online for rental cars. I found the one I wanted and the pricing was good. But I had a few questions.

After spending some 20 minutes reading the FAQ page, I was allowed to send an email with my three questions. After submitting them, I received what looked like an automated response, but was signed by a customer service rep saying the company could not provide me with rental rates via email. I thanked the rep for the response but pointed out that I was not asking about rates and that I had not received answers to any of my questions.

Back came an apologetic reply claiming the rep wasn’t able to answer any of my queries. Now, I wasn’t asking questions of Einstein proportions here, I simply wanted to know: whether the vehicles were two- or four-door; what ID was necessary for me, an Australian resident, upon pickup; and if there were any additional charges upon collecting or returning the vehicle.

The company did provide me with an Australian contact/booking phone number—which I rang only to find it was an incorrect number. I then emailed the Australian office only to be provided with another U.S. email address. We’ll await the outcome of this one. Of course, most people probably would have given up by now. I’ve persisted only because the company’s pickup point is ideal for what we require; otherwise, I would have quit at the second email response.

Whatever marketing the rental car people are doing; whatever effort they are putting into their website; whatever they offer in pricing, locations, and vehicle choices is being undone because they’re creating more hurdles than a steeplechase race.

A successful site is simple to navigate.

Sadly, this is an all-too-common consumer experience—particularly online—where customers are herded into standard FAQ boxes with no allowances for inquiries that fall outside the norm. And as most of us can attest, many inquiries come with some extenuating circumstances that require a little bit of personalized customer service.

Another example of a business ­failing to simplify its customer service: I was buying a video camera online, a model that was no longer available in stores. The company informed me that it was temporarily out of stock but the camera would be relisted on eBay in 10 days—perhaps I would like to check back for the listing then?

Now, I like trawling through eBay for new product listings about as much as I enjoy mowing my lawn with an apple peeler. I politely suggested that, once it was relisted, perhaps someone could send me the link in order to make the purchase as easy as possible—which, to the company’s credit, it did. Still, I can’t help but question the motivation behind sending me back into the competitive den of eBay, where I may have easily found someone else’s product.

The fact is your customers are lazy, idle layabouts who want everything done for them yesterday. Okay, that’s a little harsh, but you need to do everything to make each purchase as seamless an experience as possible.

Every unnecessary store policy and each additional click of the mouse is one more barrier between your customer and a successful sale. People can’t be bothered. Their attention spans are short. If you can’t get them what they want quickly and easily they’ll find someone who will. The No. 1 reason for buying online is not price, but time. Understand that and you’ll turn more of your inquires into sales.