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Feed the Need!

How come folks seem to want it all right now? Some say the culture these days is a product of the MTV generation. Some suggest it's because lots of humans who are now decision-making adults cut their teeth on Sesame Street educational sound- and sight-bites. Others say “instant” is the inherent promise of the Internet. Whatever the reason, you need to hard-wire this into your brain: Most of your customers have very little patience online. They get frustrated easily. They want and expect instant gratification and when they don’t get it, they feel like you’ve broken your promise.

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Whatever your own opinion on the subject may be, if you want your online business to succeed, you've got to play by the rules your customers set up. They want instant gratification? You feed the need.

Many folks these days take the Internet speed of life for granted - and the wait through a long download is downright objectionable. The "Gee Whiz" curve is flattening out fast, particularly in the world of e-commerce.

"A web storefront operator has only to make one big mistake and the customer is gone forever. There are no second chances when it comes to shopping on the web."1 We've talked about lots of reasons folks bail from an online shopping session, but let's look at some of the things you can control that will meet their very real need for instant gratification.

· Get your site to the customer fast. A common benchmark is “The 8-Second Rule”. Your page needs to load in around 8 seconds, and do that on a 28.8K dial-up line -which is where most people still are, or your prospects will start bailing. But without getting out my intergalactic stopwatch that measures picoseconds, you certainly need to incorporate strategies that get your page to download quickly. Server speed and server capacity matter, but your own “page weight” matters most. If it weighs more than 35-40K, put it on a diet - ruthlessly. You also need to determine "how your audience accesses the Internet, as well as how many users might hit your site at once and where they're located … Without this information, you can never be sure your site will perform well."2

· Make sure your site is available 24/7 at least for shopping. If you’re really serious, support (outstanding) customer service 24/7, too.

· Keep your navigation obvious and your design uncluttered, so folks can find what they are looking for fast.

· Be hyper-vigilant about the status of your ordering system. If it isn't working at the moment your customer decides to go for it, that's pretty much the end of your relationship with that customer. 

· Make sure your online ordering process is as effortless as a hot knife slicing through butter. There's instant gratification and then there's instant gratification - the perceived intensity of the latter, when the decision to act has been made, is more instant <grin>. 

· Being able to communicate the in-stock status of an item is a huge help. Making sure that information is correct is critical. Guess what happens when your website says an item is available and your customer, after ordering, gets your e-mail saying the item is on back-order for 30 days?

· Make sure your customer service is top-notch, and particularly that it has the ability to respond quickly to queries of any kind. A response that takes a week is almost worse than none at all, and it’s criminal how many e-businesses are guilty of both.

· Keep your content streamlined: make it vital, concise, and only what is necessary to the 5-step sales process. Your customers have no patience for fluff.

You simply can't fight what your customers need, expect, and demand. If you can't or don't want to feed your customers' need for instant gratification, there are lots of companies just a click away who gladly will. 

1 "There are no second chances when it comes to eCommerce." David Strom, Web Informant #230, 3 January 2001. 
2 "Performance." Cade Metz, ZDNet, February 19, 2001. 


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Hey Everyone,

My good friend Roy William's Magical Worlds of the Wizard of Ads: Tools and Techniques for Profitable Persuasion is being released. I just finished my preview copy and I recommend it highly (it's a wonderful preview to the Wizard Academy). Get yours today and enjoy some of the Wizard's magic.

The Technology Gap: Part II

Yep, I haven't finished venting yet. As I said before, it takes a fair bit of aggravation to get me going like this. But I really have had it with e-tailers who hide behind technology to do a job that properly belongs to a real human.

By now, you know about my terminated order (see The Technology Gap: Part I) and my insistence that when problems present themselves, the simple intervention of the human touch might save you from losing a customer. I'd like to turn my attention now to those insipid, syrupy and totally useless e-mails many e-tailers automatically generate in response to their customers' queries.

I like being thanked and appreciated as much as any Earthling, but only if the words have substance. If I read one more touchy-feely "our customers mean everything to us and we greatly value your business" that is not backed up by superlative service, I'll scream! I should warn you - Martians can scream really loudly.

Take my recent experience with Netflix.com. I loved the idea and the site really sings with expressions of concern for its customers. I was sold immediately, and they didn't even have to work that hard to get me. Filled in my information, set up my rental queue, got my first batch and sat back in a DVD Zen state. Then an email informed me there was a problem with my credit card. Obviously technology-generated, it asked me to amend my information or supply a new card, and that my pending order would be held for 10 days. Notice I had no pending order. Hmmm - but O.K. I did what they asked and discovered the expiration date was listed incorrectly. I corrected it, then replied to the return address on my error announcement, letting them know what I had done.

The email bounced back. Turns out, you can't reply to one of Netflix's billing error letters. You have to go to the website and locate the appropriate customer service e-mail contact. So I did, sent the email again and got another machine response: "Thank you for your inquiry." It wasn't an inquiry. Meanwhile, their system burped yet another "get your act together or else" email to me. It took three days and four e-mail iterations before I finally got an email that looked as though an actual human had written it and informed me everything was resolved. Good thing I'm both a motivated and an understanding customer. Someone fainter of heart or shorter of fuse would have cancelled his or her membership long before! My point in all this? A whole thirty seconds of speaking with a human on the phone and this problem would have evaporated (not to mention the human could have gone beyond “solving” into real relationship building). Not only did they never call me, I couldn’t call them either. There’s no phone number, toll-free or otherwise, that I can find on their site.

Grok Caveats:

· Always have a functioning reply address in any communication you send, particularly if you want your customer to resolve something.

· Have a human being who sounds like a human being respond.

· If you are in the process of resolving a problem with a customer, don't send additional "or else" letters until you know the disposition of the first attempt.

· Have a way folks can call to speak with a real human when the going gets tough.

Then there was a little to-do with MLB.com. What an amazing offer they have: listen to streaming audio broadcasts of any baseball game aired on radio anywhere in the US, and the entire season costs only $9.95. I have a little baseball-nut buddy and went immediately to sign him up. It was pure hell negotiating the order process, and I don't know how many times I submitted and resubmitted the information, including my credit card number. At one point, with no confirmation whatsoever, I was told the account already existed. You can probably understand my concern and what motivated me to write a detailed letter (no customer phone number here, either) asking the status of this MLB Audio account. And did I get a pertinent response? Nope. Two weeks later, I got this:

Dear Fan,

Thank you for your e-mail. For your convenience we have progressively strengthened our Audio Frequently Asked Questions section. After evaluating your e-mail(s) we came up with a detailed and comprehensive list of questions and answers. We urge you to check our new Audio FAQ page as we are hoping that this will answer any and all of your questions.

Please visit this page at FAQs . As new issues arise we will update our FAQ's accordingly. We are currently looking into ways of making information more available to our users. Thank you again for your patience and your continued support of MLB.com.

Best regards,

Brendan & Jason

Customer Relations, MLB Advanced Media

Bless Brendan and Jason and their "progressively strengthened" FAQ, but my name is not "Fan," and I still don't know Thing One about the status of my account!

Grok Caveats:

· When you are responding to a customer-generated query, address the reply to the customer: Dear Grok or Hi Grok or Whuz Happenin' Grok.

· Provide a personalized response to a personalized question. If the FAQ didn't work the first time, why should the customer have confidence it is going to work the second time? Sometimes, in the name of service, you've got to repeat yourself.

Now hear this: no human is going to stick around for long if she doesn't feel she's being heard or her specific concerns are being addressed. You simply can't send out the same form letter for every problem. Customer service letters your customers can't reply to is not customer service.

Here's what you can do: Get a flesh-and-blood, thinking, feeling human being to monitor your in-coming mail. Think of this person as your Customer Service Gatekeeper - the person who can direct queries to the appropriate answering agent. Sometimes that agent will be the system, with its form-letter responses. Other times, the agent MUST be another flesh-and-blood, thinking, feeling human who can provide personalized replies and solutions that don't come across as complete non-sequitors. It doesn't take much brain-power to figure out if your customer is trying to solve a problem you've notified her of, she is NOT making an inquiry. This customer does not deserve to pawned off to The System.

Now, here's the ONLY first-response automatic form letter I'll ever find acceptable (modeled on an experience I had with Cafepress.com):

Dear Valued Customer (even better, use her name),

This is an automatically-generated letter to confirm we have received your e-mail. You can look forward to a response from us within 24 hours. If your circumstance requires personalized attention, we will assign a customer service representative to you who will stay with you until the issue is resolved to your satisfaction.

Sincerely ….

Can it be done properly, with a minimum of fuss? Absolutely! BCF Direct (Burlington Coat Factory) generated this automatic reply to an e-mail question about the exact dimensions of a rug:

Subject: We have received your message

Thank you for contacting BCF Direct Customer Service. We have received your mail message, and you will be contacted by a Customer Service Representative within two business days. We

handle all issues on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Please do not re-send your message unless you do not hear from us within two business days. Our business days are Monday through Friday.

Thank you for your patience.

23 hours later, they supplied this response:

The dimensions for this rug are 2 feet 10 inches by 3 feet 6 inches.

Thank you

Not your most touchy-feely, hyper-personalized exchange, but perfectly suitable (even though they did use the passive voice!). BCF Direct impressively underpromised and overdelivered. Guess what? They got the sale! And that's how everyone stays happy.

Take a few minutes to think about how you would like to be treated in these situations - we all are consumers, after all. Then, delight your customers, as you would like to be delighted: give them humanized, personalized service, and knock yourself out in the process. Given the alternatives of disgruntled customers, even more disgruntled ex-customers, and bad viral press, wouldn’t it be nicer to be remembered for carefully attending to the details!


click here for a printable version of this entire article

P.S. If you enjoyed this issue, why not share it with your colleagues and friends? They'll appreciate it.

GROK is taken from the landmark novel "Stranger in a Strange Land", by Robert A. Heinlein. It is a Martian word that implies the presence of intimate and exhaustive knowledge and understanding. Our "GROK" is a keen observer of the world around him and he takes a particular interest in the World Wide Web. The folks at Future Now like him a lot because he's taught them that "sometimes the price of clarity is the risk of insult."

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