Return to: GROK Dot Com 7/15/2001

Shaking Hands Internet-Style

I've noticed when humans close a deal, they shake hands on it (I won't bother telling you what Martians do!). I guess it’s sorta like signing a contract, but much more informal. Still, it has the cachet of a binding action that inspires confidence and trust. Thing is, you can't reach your hand through the ether and reassuringly clasp your customers' hands every time they make a purchase (and they’d positively freak out if you could!). So, in lieu of your hand, offer your customer your assurances through effective e-mail communication.

I'm talking specifically about what goes into the fifth step of the sales process: how to manage the close. This is not about the possibility of future e-mail relationships with your customer; it's about finishing the job at hand in a way that inspires confidence, trust, and delight - so they'll want to stick around for a future relationship.

Joe Consumer has worked his way, yes, delightedly, through the first four steps of your online sales process. The two of you have tackled Prospect, Rapport, Present and Qualify successfully (see Do the 5-Step and Dance Your Way to Higher Sales), and Joe has decided to buy 2 Whidgettes and 1 Thisit from you. He's filled out the order form, selected his preferred shipping method, reviewed your policies. He clicks the submit button for the secure transaction. Now what?

If you are on top of things, you immediately give Joe a page that visually confirms his order. It has an order number on it and a list of what you are going to send him, cost details specified to the last penny, and the expected ship date. You include both a toll-free customer service number and an email customer service address. You remind Joe he can print this, using his browser's print feature, for his records. But do you stop there? Nooooo!!

Now you send Joe the first e-mail associated with this transaction. If you’re sharp, it goes out at the same time you generate the confirmation page. He gets it immediately, and he is impressed. It confirms everything that just happened online. It lists all the pertinent information. It thanks Joe for his business. It repeats the contact information in case of a problem. It restates your guarantees. Most comforting of all, it lets Joe know you are on the ball and really did process his order.

Assuming everything goes well and Joe's Whidgettes and Thisit are in stock, the second e-mail you send is a confirmation of shipping. It references the order number you sent the first time and lists all the pertinent information. It confirms what is being sent. It estimates arrival. It provides package tracking options. If one of Joe's Whidgettes is on back-order or discontinued, your second e-mail is going to detail the issue and explain Joe's options. He can wait, he can cancel the order, he can accept a partial order, he can order something else - maybe at a discount as compensation for the inconvenience. You bend over backwards to make Joe happy. Then make his case a priority (you do have a system for that, don’t you?) so he doesn't have to wait long for the second handshake after he makes his choice!

Wondering what this would actually look like? Well, Land's End confirms beautifully, perfectly - not even I can find fault! Check out this sample of a Land's End e-mail shipping confirmation.

When Joe's package is delivered, you've finished Basic Handshaking 101 and can move on to more advanced forms of handshaking … where you shake Joe's hand as you lead him to other offers you are dying to give him, and he is dying to receive - even if he doesn’t know it just yet.

The classiest acts I've seen track Joe's package, wait a few days, then follow-up with a "How Did We Do?" e-mail (personalized, of course!). Here's Joe's opportunity to sound off. Maybe he's so thrilled you can use his words as a testimonial (with his permission)! Maybe he's had a problem, and you can use the info not only to make him happy but also to make improvements to your system. Maybe he doesn't reply … but at least you cared enough to ask, and that's worth a lot of goodwill all by itself, isn’t it?

It's at this point you can let Joe know you'd like to stay in touch with him, because now, and only now, have you really demonstrated to Joe that there's true value in doing business with you. Now you can begin "managing your customer relationship" (see Yo! It's MRC, Not CRM!) Here's where you can offer the option of opting-in, via direct hyperlinks in your e-mail, to other customer perks. Maybe you have a newsletter. Maybe you will provide advance notice of sales exclusively to subscribers. Maybe you can offer great savings on discontinued products or bundled packages to your loyal customer, Joe. Maybe you will let him preview new stuff before it even hits the web page. Maybe you've got affiliates Joe would like to know about. The list of maybes is endless, and every “maybe” really is a “why don’t you.” (I know, I can be SO subtle.)

So shake that virtual hand. Use email to cement the relationship, then use email to maximize it. Done right, Joe might even send you an email thanking you! 

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Return to: GROK Dot Com 7/15/2001

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