January 25, 2012
Customer Service, Website Strategy
I had a very inspiring conversation with a client today. The origins of the conversation went back to a chat a couple of months before in which we discussed the all-important question I raised:
“What happens to phone calls when people ring you out of normal working hours?”
This client provides luxury villa rentals worldwide and already had a very successful business from their website http://www.thetopvillas.com/. Always looking for opportunities to advance further, they took the decision to add an all-important detail to every page of the website:
Before you switch off, thinking “my business wouldn’t attract phone calls out of normal working hours”, keep reading – you may change your way of thinking …
The nature of luxury villa rentals means that potential clients could well ring at any time from any country around the world. There was always the ability to email/fill in enquiry forms out of normal hours but the provision of a 24/7 phone answering service took customer focus to a new level.
How they did it
Apart from the obvious (ensuring the 24/7 phone availability message is present in various places around the website), Top Villas utilised a round the clock call answering service. This works as follows:
- If any calls aren’t answered within a set number of rings (during the day) it switches to the call answering service (useful when staff are busy on other calls).
- Out of normal office hours all calls are answered by the call answering service.
It was important to the client for the call answering service to be UK-based and for each call to be handled professionally, with summarised emails of each call sent through to them.
I’ve seen the enquiries logged and also the figures – an increase of, on average, 10 calls per day. That’s around 300 extra calls gained per month purely from having the 24/7 telephone answering availability.
How many businesses would sniff at such extra levels of enquiries?
“But that wouldn’t apply to my type of business”
A company offering luxury villa rentals is more likely to get calls at different times of the day and night (and they vary from into the evening to the early hours of the morning – it’s amazing when some people want to make contact).
A company selling widgets is not so likely. Nor are a firm of solicitors. Or accountants. Or many other types of businesses.
Or would they?
What would it cost to experiment?
Even a simple experiment would work – change the website to have longer working hours listed (e.g. 9am – 11 pm) and set the main phone number so that it diverts to someone’s mobile (or other number) out of hours. Measure, over a test period, how many calls are received and how useful those calls were. After the test period decide whether it would make sense to utilise a call answering service and decide whether you want the business to be available within certain (longer) hours or to be seen as 24/7.
The costs of experimentation are low. The result will tell you one way or the other what you need to do. But if you don’t try, you won’t know.
All I can say is that for one business type (villa rentals) I’ve seen the evidence and it works extremely well. For similar ‘need to be seen available all hours’ types of businesses there’s plenty of reason to experiment. For other types of businesses it could be an experiment worth trying.
January 24, 2012
Competitions – they’re all rubbish. Or that’s what I thought until I realised I missed out on a good one.
I never take notice of those “text [number] to see if you’ve won” type competitions. Nor do I enter competitions where there’s one prize (or very few prizes) and probably thousands of people entering. Nor do I get suckered into giving away my contact details in exchange for some rubbishy little prize or giveaway.
But I am a sinner for I have missed out on a good one. One that shows exactly how ‘big business’ should be doing it.
I missed the early part of the promotion. Somehow it escaped me that if I had visited Pizza Hut between 14th November and 3rd January I would have got a “Don’t Open Me” envelope containing a guaranteed gift.
Then I got an email that started off like this …
And I scrolled down a bit and saw this …
Even though it would be quite likely (feeling pessimistic today!) that I’d be one of the 1.75 million people who won a food gift, just maybe I’d be in with a chance of winning one of the 2,100 good prizes or the 5,000 £20 Pizza Hut gift cards (worth having).
The point is that with such prizes on offer there is a huge incentive to enter the competition in the first place. And even though most people would go back to Pizza Hut purely to get their envelope opened, a good proportion of them would probably eat there at the same time – brilliant marketing!
I’m not usually a fan of big business but the people behind this promotion have grabbed my attention and although offering such prizes isn’t possible for any of you readers, you can still use the concept on a smaller scale. Give away just one iPad, plus 10 of something else, and 50 of something smaller. It’s purely a case of scaling down from the reach of Pizza Hut down to the scale of those who would see your own competition. If you think that 1,000 people may see your competition (e.g. via an email marketing drive) then make them feel that they’ve got a strong chance of winning at least something. If you can ‘do a Pizza Hut’ and guarantee at least something to everyone (even if it’s really small) then everyone feels like they’re a winner in some way.
And do you know what the outcome of all this is? I’m going to watch out for future Pizza Hut promotions because ones worth entering come along very rarely. And if you have a future promotion offering prizes that you’re considering then feel free to try it on me and I’ll let you know what I think.
January 23, 2012
For New Year’s Eve 2011 we (fairly late, admittedly) decided to set up a New Years Eve party. We managed to book a hall and then it was time to find a disco. 6 weeks before the day.
Panic set in and my other half contacted someone she found online. I was busy with work so didn’t get involved. The response came back from the DJ that they were available – at quite a cost. At this point I got involved.
Digging around further we found another available DJ and the original one suddenly seemed not such a good option. It wasn’t just the Gallery that worried me (see http://www.disco-daze.com/page6.htm) with its amusing (well, I found them funny) pictures, nor the fact that there were big copyright messages across each picture (WHO would want to steal them?!). Nor was it the relatively sparse information available on the website.
What focused my attention was the entrance of a much better option which made the original option seem poor in comparison. This new option had a great FAQs page (http://www.jmfdisco.co.uk/faq/faq.html) which provided many assurances. It was also up-to-date (for example, having the current Top 10 singles), which shows that it’s being maintained. It even had a load of music ideas to inspire choices for the event (http://www.jmfdisco.co.uk/music/music.html).
Overall, the website sent out the right message about the type of disco that would be provided. The interaction with the company thereafter was also first class – very very professional, leading right up to the night of the disco.
I’m not saying the website was perfect – there were many elements missing and some elements that grated (e.g. the twinkling lights that could have sent someone into a seizure). However, it had a core ‘feel’ to it that was right. Perhaps I was also swayed a bit by the major attempts at SEO going on within the website – you could tell this was someone that took their business seriously and was doing what they could to make it work.
So the second disco got the business and we had to turn down the original one (who by now had dropped their prices a lot to try and seal the deal, not realising that ‘getting it right’ is more important than the price).
If I was the ‘losing disco’ I would have made contact after the New Year just to find out which disco was chosen and see if I could find out why. I’d then go to their website and would try to replicate then exceed the elements that were strong. But no, that didn’t happen.
Strangely, the disco we did choose also dropped the ball afterwards. The night went fine and everyone had a good time. But there was no follow up afterwards. No teasing out of testimonials. No requests beforehand to take photos of the event for use on the website. Nothing at all. So, top marks for getting the business in the first place but zero points for taking the opportunity to get some useful content to add to a section of the website that doesn’t exist but should do (Testimonials).
So what’s the lesson here? There are probably two lessons …
- If your website gets visitors but a proportionally small number of them make contact with you then it’s time to look around at what other websites are visible to people when they’re searching. And then make some changes.
- If your website gets someone who makes contact but you don’t end up getting the business, don’t be afraid to go back to the lost business and ask some questions. Tell them that it would be useful to know how someone else got the business. And then make some changes.
January 22, 2012
Modern Jaguar cars – quite costly, nice to drive, and still not tons of them on the road (so they still feel fairly ‘prestige’).
Apart from the cost of having one, I can’t complain.
But I’ve been on the receiving end of occasional bits of marketing from them and it never seems to quite hit the mark – it never feels ‘right’. Just before Christmas there was a particular howler that highlights why every bit of a company needs to be ‘joined up in excellence’. Here’s the email I received on 23rd December …
Anyone notice the obvious error?
It probably needs to be blown up a bit …
Either Jaguar have invented a time machine that’s going to take me back a few days to before 20th December or they’ve sent out an email (probably thousands of the same email) without realising that they’re promoting something that can no longer be bought because the date has passed.
From a one man band or small company, such things slip through sometimes. From a big company wanting to be perceived as being excellent in every way? That’s just sloppy.
January 17, 2012
Do you have a trademark in your business and want to stop competitors from having adverts appearing within the Google paid search listings?
Then you need to make use of the Google Adwords Trademark Complaint Form (http://services.google.com/inquiry/aw_tmcomplaint), which lets you complete all relevant details including allowing you to grant use of your trademark to some Adwords advertisers (rather than blocking everything).
So, if you sell widgets and you have a good relationship with ABC Ltd and DEF Ltd, but not XYZ Ltd, you can include ABC Ltd and DEF Ltd as being ‘Authorized Entities’, which lets them advertise your widgets while excluding others. XYZ Ltd wouldn’t be allowed to use your trademarked name as part of their Adwords campaign. This could be particularly important in cases where people may try to sell your widgets at reduced prices in order to gain in other ways (which devalues the market positioning of your widgets pricing).
What if you haven’t got a registered trademark?
Well, there’s nothing to stop your competitors having adverts appear when people type words that are related to your business. So, if you haven’t trademarked ‘WidgetsCo’ then all your competitors can have an advert appear when WidgetsCo is typed into Google. How much business does that lose you? It’s difficult to tell but at some point you may decide that it’d be more beneficial to get your trademark registered, instead of losing business to competitors who are capitalising on your name.
January 16, 2012
You receive the email that someone has starting following you on Twitter. You look at their profile and it shows similar to this below …
You see that they have numerous followers, are following many, and have done 52,823 tweets.
To some people that would be impressive. To others it would be oppressive.
To find out whether to follow them back you have to go through a process of looking at their profile and getting a feel for what they’ve been tweeting about recently. Within the first half of Monday they (the example in the screenshot above) had sent out 20 tweets. For example:
You would have to make a judgement call on whether their tweets are the types of thing that are useful to you and whether you’d want them filling up your stream of tweets. Personally, I wouldn’t – purely because it’s just too much. We all have too much to fit into the same 24 hours we are given each day and people who tweet too often can be perceived as contributing to information overload.
Twitter themselves could make our life easier. Perhaps, instead of the standard email they send when someone follows you, they could add a bit more information such as:
Average tweets per day
Average times retweeted per day
That information would give you a good indication of how many tweets you’d likely be receiving (if you followed them) and also give you a feel for how well their tweets are received and then retweeted. So, if you saw figures like this below, you’d not get a particularly warm feeling about the quality of what they’re tweeting about …
Average tweets per day: 50
Average times retweeted per day: 5
However, turn this on its head and it may look worth investigating in more depth:
Average tweets per day: 50
Average times retweeted per day: 250
As information overload continues to grow, those of us in business are going to focus more and more on how we can get a concise view of the information available. Companies like Twitter have the ability to make our lives easier and, if they really thought about it, could offer a great range of premium level add-ons, for a modest fee, that would be well worth the money.
January 16, 2012
e-commerce, Guest Blogs
Custwin are always happy to accept guest posts when the subject is of relevance to businesses that want to gain more from their websites.
This guest blog is from Palmers Department Store and I thought it particularly worth noting the reference to the high percentage of orders being placed outside normal working hours. Something that Custwin are very keen on is looking at the bigger picture. In terms of e-commerce websites the bigger picture can often mean people researching during working hours but they make their actual purchases in their own time. So, if you see people going to your website during the day but not buying, it’s not necessarily negative but is purely part of the research-buying process. On with the blog …
Emma Sturrock, E-Commerce Manager at PalmerStores.com looks at what retailers need to think about when setting up their own e commerce websites.
“Online shopping has been around since the 1990s and has grown into a very competitive business in which consumers can compare, research and make quick purchases at any time of day. Here at Palmers around 75% of orders are placed outside of the normal 9-6 trading period.
In order to capitalise upon the increasing trend towards online shopping and stay one step ahead of the competition we have had to embrace changing consumer behaviour. Gone are the days when a retailer’s ecommerce website included simple pictures and brief descriptions of its products – nowadays a successful ecommerce website needs to offer so much more.
As more and more consumers cite detailed and visual product information as the most important factor in making a purchase you need to design not only a great looking product page but one that’s simple to use and gives the user all the information they need to make a decision to buy.
An accurate and descriptive product title is the basis of a good product page so remember to keep it as short and as descriptive as possible. Remember too that search engines will use the product title in their search results, so think about search engine optimisation and add keywords wherever possible.
Detailed and accurate product information is the most important element of our product page design – without it you can’t possibly hope to make a sale. We give customers as much information as possible such as product details, specifications and available options. As with product titles you should add well-optimised, keyword-rich descriptions too.
Product options for your ecommerce product page should also be simple to use and easy to understand. Regardless of whether it’s a single colour selection or different sizes it should not detract from the user experience – if options are required it should become an integral part of the design and layout of the product page.
The add to basket button is your call to action so should draw your customers’ eyes and be easy to see. We make sure our ‘add to basket’ button stands out and works with the design of the website and page.
Believe it or not quality images can make or break a sale. All images need to be of the highest quality possible while also being as small a file size as possible for accessibility. We’ve included a rollover zoom facility to let customers see the product up close, and add additional images in the form of thumbnails which the user can click or rollover to view larger versions.
Customer reviews and ratings are a great way of engaging customers and encouraging them to help other users make buying decisions. We have included an option to let customers leave a review, or Tweet or Facebook the product to their friends and followers.
Finally, ensuring that the buying process is as easy as possible is key to a sale so don’t force customers to login to make a purchase. Once a customer adds an item to their basket and proceeds to checkout make sure all they need to do is fill in their details and click pay. If you make people sign up to create a user account you’ll lose potential sales – it’s as simple as that.
Also remember that security is crucial in encouraging a potential customer to buy from you. All card payments are secured by SagePay, but we also offer other secure forms of payment, such as PayPal and Google Checkout. For customers who may still feel daunted about the security of online shopping, we have provided a ‘call me back’ option should the customer want to pay over the phone.
So there you have it – these are just a few of the many elements that make up a good ecommerce website. The list is by no means definitive and everyone’s requirements are different but by giving some thought to your product display and together with your buying process you can be confident that your online presence is as efficient as possible.
January 11, 2012
The most important Custwin blog you’ll read in 2012
It’s generally considered rude to use capital letters online as it’s seen to be ‘shouting’ but BIG CHANGES is something that needs to grab your attention because the big changes are going to affect every single business with a website.
Google are making live ‘Search plus Your World’ which, in a nutshell, means that we see the dawn of Google search results becoming much more driven by ‘social’ factors than by traditional SEO. For the full details see the Google blog here. And here’s more information on the CNN leader story.
Very soon, when people search Google for something they will be able to see results personal to them – results that are based on previous searches they’ve made, people they’re connected to, and more. The concept of being ‘number 1 in Google’ will disappear as we know it because each person can feasibly have different search results appear.
Say you’re a holiday company and sell holidays to Canada, and you have a reasonable organic search engine position OR a PPC advert. If someone searches on ‘holidays to Canada’ you will still appear in both organic search or PPC advertising BUT if that person is connected to people that have made comments about holidays to Canada, then that person is going to look at the ‘personal contact’ information before anything else.
Who will that person trust – the viewpoint of someone they know or a company they’ve never heard of? If the person they know says that they should go to Canada via a particular company then they’re probably going to accept that personal recommendation.
Take that concept and apply it to every type of business in existence.
How businesses will die
Here’s what’s going to happen to companies who just rely on traditional SEO and PPC, and don’t take heed to what’s changed…
- Rates of clicks on Google visibility (organic or paid) will drop.
- Competitors will get stronger (if they have acted on the changes).
- Businesses will die.
That’s not being over dramatic – it’s going to happen.
Google vs Facebook
Why are Google making this change? Well, they give reasons via their blog but to cut through the rubbish the answer is simple: Facebook have them running scared.
Google know that Facebook has strong ‘social’ power – that’s why it created Google+ They also know that Facebook could possibly introduce a proper ‘search’ element into their system and integrate it with their existing ‘social strength’. This change is all about Google fighting back against Facebook and ultimately, to protect its PPC revenues.
However, what’s highly amusing in all this is that Google, in allowing ‘social’ to play a part in organic search results are going to take people’s attention away from not just the organic results, but from the PPC adverts. Who is going to click on a PPC advert when they can see commentary from people they’re connected to?
Perhaps Google have a plan on how to make PPC still work within such a new system. I can’t see yet how it would do, unless they radically overhaul the system. But it’ll be interesting to watch and I believe we’ll start to see more financial figures being ‘hidden’ from Google. We could see them disclosing revenues /profits gained from PPC advertising but not the numbers of clicks (because the clicks are likely to decrease over time but Google may have compensated by increasing the costs per click).
In the big changes I see that Google have created Frankenstein’s monster – it seems like a great idea but they may not have quite pieced it together properly and it could come back and bite them.
What should business owners do?
Every business owner, without exception, should get themselves onto Google+ and dedicate time to fully understand how it works. Start off with personal interests and connections and go from there. Become the person who can speak with authority when people talk about Google+ When you’re at the point that you’re searching Google for all sorts of things and you consistently see ‘social’ type results coming up, then you’ll know you’re in the right mental frame of mind.
Step 2 is to empower staff to do the same. The more that staff are connected to and interacting with people they know, the more potential for them to pop up when people are making a search. Say, for example, you’re the holidays company – if a connection of one of your staff is asking questions about Canada holidays and one of your staff has made a comment about them, then your staff member becomes the link between the buyer and you making a sale.
Step 3 is to become a market leader/authority/go-to company. So, using the Canada holidays example, nurture anyone who has been on a holiday to Canada via you – if they make great comments about it via being Google+ enabled then that’s going to spread to everyone they are connected to, who may be searching for holidays to Canada in the future. If you create a fantastic guide to Canada on your website, that’s really useful, then people will mark their approval and so send people in your direction. That’s just the tip of the iceberg of what you can do.
Step 4 is to constantly watch your competition. Type phrases into Google related to your competitors and see how they appear in social search. Chances are that for now, there won’t be a lot but over time that will change. You have the opportunity to lead your market.
Those 4 steps are a simplistic view but are a starting point.
As I’ve already said, I don’t often using capital letters but this is probably the most important blog to take note of, and act on, in this coming year. Lucky Custwin clients get relevant input/help as part of the existing arrangements.
“But I haven’t got time for all that!”
That phrase “but I haven’t got time for all that!” rings permanently in my ears. Typically, when I talk about things like blogging, email newsletters, making website content stronger, analysis of website visitor patterns, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. – all things that build online strength and visibility.
But guess what people? Time has run out. All those who have ignored the need to push their online strategies forwards are going to be in for a rough ride and now there’s no choice but to play catch up.
For the sceptics amongst you, who aren’t going to take action, I ask one thing only …
Print off this blog and put it in your file called ‘2013’ within an envelope marked ‘open me in 2013’. Look at how your year has gone and re-read these words – you may find that any downturn was totally avoidable. And if 2012 went ok and all this social search stuff didn’t get rolling as fast as it could (which is a possibility) then take that envelope and change the date to 2014. Whatever the year the decline happens, without acting, it’s going to happen for one reason only: Google have put too much into this and they have a serious competitor in Facebook – they are going to do whatever they can to make Google more ‘personal’ to people, which will damage those companies who haven’t taken action.
There’s a well-worn phrase of “people buy people”. We now enter an era where that changes to “people buy people both offline AND online”. Anyone who chooses to ignore that chooses to kill their business.
January 9, 2012
Customer Service, Email Communications
We live in an information-heavy, highly competitive, world of business. Everyone is trying to get business wherever they can and we are increasingly seeing savvy businesses who are openly sharing their knowledge/tips with people who choose to receive information from them (for example, email newsletters, tweets etc.). By creating useful ‘content’ that people look at some of the time, what’s created is an ongoing awareness of the person/business who supplied that useful content.
However, I believe that we’re already at the point where people are inundated with things they could read and useful tips they could follow and while such methods carry a lot of value, it’s going to take a lot more to stand out from the competition.
I believe that in 2012 and beyond we may start seeing a much more ‘personal’ approach to interactions and one such method could be through electronic cards.
I’ve long been aware of electronic greeting cards but they have never featured heavily in my ‘things to focus on’ and it was only when receiving one at Christmas 2011 (thank you Sian Murphy) it stood out as being one of only a few ‘truly personal’ things received during the year. OK, I expect other people got the card but the point is that it went beyond pure business and so struck a chord. It made me suddenly more aware of the person who had sent it.
For many people in business, this may seem like a lot of hard work. To those who don’t see it as a waste of time, there could be some value in reading on …
When you go to the website http://www.jacquielawson.com you find a large range of electronic card types that can be sent. Birthday, Christmas, Get Well, Thank You … the list goes on and on.
The website makes it very clear (see http://www.jacquielawson.com/commercial.htm) that commercial use of the website is not permitted and sets the ground rules. However, it also says that people within business can use the website to send e-cards on certain conditions (which all seem fair to me).
Many businesses (including Custwin) have clients where there is a more personal relationship – perhaps not ‘go down the pub for a beer’ in many cases, but more than purely a financial transaction. For those types of relationships, a website such as this could be great for strengthening the relationship. Here are some thoughts about how people in business could use such a website in a way that is truly personal …
- Birthdays – on each client birthday select and send an e-card that most closely matches the personality of the client.
- Christmas – select e-cards that match certain types of client personality, ideally personalising the message on each one.
- Summer holiday time – send contacts an e-card that reflects your upcoming time on holiday, so that they know you are going to be away.
- Big occasions – if you know that a contact has a big event in their life (e.g. wedding, birth of a baby, or even something that warrants a ‘With Sympathy’ card), then there will be e-cards to match.
- Thank you – with life being so busy it’s all too rare that we take the time to thank people we’re in contact with. A thank-you e-card could help.
When used in the spirit of how the Jacquie Lawson website is intended (i.e. not used for cold hard commercial gain), the use of e-cards can add a more personal element to the interactions you have with people that you know. When you add that to the more ‘business’ way that you interact with people (e.g. email newsletters) and it’s totally genuine and personalised, then I’d suggest that this can be only a positive thing to do.
And the best bit of all? In the UK it costs just £7.25 per year to send unlimited (obviously, within reason) e-cards. If such a small financial cost plus your time to invest in sending personalised e-cards is palatable then you may want to consider ‘Getting Personal’ in 2012 and beyond.
January 8, 2012
Design, Google Images, Website Strategy
Recently I went through my definition of hell – taking one of my daughters to the Cath Kidston shop so that she could spend a voucher.
While the brand is very popular with so many people, the mass of flowery, patterny, stuff, significantly overpriced for what it is (in my view), is just not my cup of tea. If you’ve not seen Cath Kidston stuff and are a bit older, then think: Laura Ashley on drugs.
I said to my daughter “but all this stuff is so similar to each other – same style bags but with different colours and patterns”. To me, the layman, I couldn’t see how someone could decide between one bag and another, but as my daughter homed in on what she wanted it struck me that what she liked may be hated by someone else – it all comes down to personal taste.
Here’s a test – look at the image below and decide which of the bags would appeal most to you. If none of them did, and you were a Cath Kidston type of buyer, you’d probably be attracted by numerous other variations of bags within the shop.
Take another test – do a Google Images search on the phrase ‘cath kidston bags’ (or any subject you’re interested in) and look at the ton of images that appear. Whatever your subject of interest, your eye is going to be drawn to a few items whereas others will not get your attention.
For ecommerce website owners there are two key messages to take away from this:
- If you sell products that people may want to browse through (for example, a particular branded range, or a particular type of product – such as egg cups), then you need to have numerous options on display because people expect to have lots of choice. The person that comes to your website one minute is going to be completely different to the one the next minute. This is like people in the Cath Kidston shop – one buyer will really like one bag but another buyer will really like the identical style but different pattern/colours. The key is to try and cater for as many types of tastes as possible.
- If you sell such products on your ecommerce website then you need to ensure that the images you use (plus surrounding page content) are fully optimised so that they have higher potential of appearing in Google Images, because that can generate a lot of traffic to your website from ‘visual’ browsers. If you haven’t done this then you’re losing a lot of potential business.
This principle also applies to non ecommerce websites. You could be offering tailored holidays, garden buildings, or anything else that may involve interaction rather than an instant website purchase – if your imagery is not extensive and strong enough then you will lose potential business.
If someone walks into a Cath Kidston shop and likes that sort of stuff then there is a big enough range for them to find their way to the checkout. The same applies to websites where something visual is available for people to buy.
How do you know whether your website is losing out? Simple:
- Analyse how many people get to certain pages within your website (those pages that have images of what you want to be selling).
- Determine how many of those went on to buy/make contact.
- If the numbers aren’t favourable then identify what search keyword phrase brought each person to your website. Then type each phrase into Google and see what other websites appear and see how their products display compares to yours.
- Then go to work on making your offering stronger.
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