There was a time, not long ago, when a good variety of merchandise was the only hook needed to attract eager consumers at online sales and auction venues. If you offered the goods, customers would flock to your virtual doorstep in droves, impatient to pay you a price for those prized items.
Those days, however, are over. The newness and novelty of shopping in a virtual store—or bidding and winning in an online auction—are behind us, the mere experience of conducting an online transaction having lost much of its luster.
Today, more and more online retailers have recognized the growing importance of the "customer experience"—how well the customer is served, how comfortable the customer feels, and how often the customer returns—as the compelling element of attracting and retaining a customer base. No, it's not longer a matter of goods alone. Serving your customers well, and gaining their loyal and repeat patronage, is critical to the long-term health of your business.
Read on to discover what often happens to first-time customers and what you can do to entice them into a long-time relationship with your business.
The sobering statistics
To reiterate, today's online shoppers are interested not only in what they will be served but how they will be served. If you invest your efforts only in the particular merchandise you offer, ignoring your responsibility for the customer's shopping experience, you'll soon find you're lagging behind your competitors.
Don't believe it? Well, have you ever wondered what might have happened to those customers who only shopped once or twice at your online shop? Here are some revealing statistics presented by renowned mystery shopper and customer-service expert Vickie Henry, CEO of Feedback Plus, Inc. Read why some customers don't return:
Consistent attention to the simplest elements of customer service is often all you need to build a loyal customer base
- 1 percent die
- 3 percent move away
- 5 percent buy from friends or familiar acquaintances
- 9 percent decide they prefer the competitor's product over yours
- 14 percent judge by a first encounter and decide they weren't satisfied enough to return
- 68 percent leave because they feel they were treated rudely or with indifference
Remember, with millions upon millions of items available online on any given day, be they up for sale or open for bid, it's likely that another seller will be offering the same sort of thing you're marketing. It's that other seller's opportunity, then, to greet customers with a bigger smile and more attentive customer service and sales policy than you. Look out! That competitor might just steal the customer you just ignored.
Not to worry. There's plenty you can do to retain your visitors, convert them from lookers to buyers and possibly even do a bit of customer stealing yourself.
It's the little things
Delighting customers and gaining their loyalty doesn't necessarily require grandiose efforts or massive marketing campaigns that might be difficult to sustain. In fact, your consistent attention to the simplest elements of customer service is often all you need to build a loyal customer base. Here are a few things you can do to keep that customer satisfied and coming back for more:
- Always follow up after a transaction to ensure the item your customer purchased was received intact and as expected.
- Ask for your customers' feedback (and really want it) regarding how they felt about their transactions with you.
- Listen to your customers. They're the ones telling you if you're doing well or not.
- Sweat the details. Look for ways to continually improve your correspondence, your packaging, overall product appearance, quality and so on.
- Under-promise, then over-deliver. Customers should be delighted at how well the product and service has exceeded their original expectations, not the other way around.
Successful sellers have learned it's best to let the buyer decide when they've been satisfied
It doesn't take a Herculean effort to show your customers you care. Some small-business owners are discovering they're better equipped to establish and foster good interpersonal relations with their customers when compared to the often distant and pre-recorded personalities of the larger firms.
Since you're dealing in the virtual world, you can't physically greet customers with a broad smile and a welcoming glint in your eye. Instead, you'll need to project that happy and helpful attitude in your online presentation, handling of the sale and post-sale follow up.
Customer satisfaction—in their minds, not yours
"Of course my customers are satisfied—just ask me and I'll tell ya."
Though it may sound a bit contrived, there's more truth than fiction in this seller-centric sentiment, more than many sellers would care to admit. For this reason, this is a trap that's easy to fall into: believing your own praises.
Experts often remark that, to truly excel in customer satisfaction, a seller needs to have a genuine passion to serve customers, considering that satisfaction level as important as the earnings tendered. The wisest of the successful sellers have learned it's best to let the buyer decide when they've been satisfied.
"Real customer service comes from the heart," notes a veteran seller. "If you don't truly and deeply value what the customer means to your business' health, you may as well not bother."
These comments underscore the need to let the customer—not you—determine what's satisfactory and what isn't. By this approach, you'll ensure you remain totally and honestly customer focused. Whether you like it or not, you don't give out the grades here, the customer does. The wise seller keeps a pulse on his or her customers' satisfaction as a way to understand which direction the business is going.
At the end of the day, it's an undeniable truth that customer service should become and remain a seller's top priority in the effort to develop lasting customer relations. Here's a final statistic to consider: It costs an estimated five to 10 times more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain a returning patron. The math is simple and the benefit is well worth your effort every time.