Search DC to White Light

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Calling a "Forum" Customer Service

Somewhere, a marketing guy with a little [enough to be dangerous] IT knowledge or a smart IT guy [with zero customer service experience] came up with a terrific idea:  "Let's create a forum for our product.  It's a win-win (hate that reference).  We let users solve their own problems.  We cut down on the calls to our service department, and we get great product feedback."
Really?  Really!?  That's what you want?
It must be.  Because a lot of companies have embraced the forum as their sole customer service option.  If you want a list, just search for "companies+len+won't+do+business+with" and you'll find a number of them.
I recently was called to consult to such a company.  After they said that they were firm in retaining that method of communication, I passed.

"Do you guys ever read the forum?" I asked.

"Sure.  Uh, our webmaster does."

"And what does he tell you?"

Boldly, "We get a weekly report!"

"What does that tell you?"
" many people joined the forum that week, how many returned and how many posts."
"What about content?"
With reserve, the reply was, "Uh, Jim, what else?"
Jim replies, "Well, when Tim [webmaster] reviews it, if he sees something interesting, he sends it to me."
"And you're the marketing guy?" I ask.
"So, what do you see that's interesting?"
Now, proud, Jim speaks loudly.  "Are you kidding?  It's a wealth of information.  The feedback (there's that magic word they love to quote) tells me if we're saying the right things in our ads and to our distributors."
"Nice.  What about problems - say two or three people who can't get a solution to a problem so they go bonkers on your product online?"
Here's a great retort:  "Our manuals have so much detail...everything's addressed.  And we make them available online."
I wanted to say, "Are you nuts?" but managed to utter, "I don't understand.  If everything's answered in the manuals, why maintain the forums?"
This just keeps getting better...
"Because people are stupid."
That was where I knew I needed to distance myself from this group of cetrioli. (Shadrools for you folks in Jersey.)
But I stuck around because it was getting to be fun.  "What about extra-site exposure?"
"Negatives about your company or a product on other sites.  Ratings on Amazon and other sites?  Ratings on sales sites like Home Depot, Lowe's, Penney's, whatever.  How about"  I rattled off a couple more.  Do you know what's there?  I mean, my experience tells me that those ratings are much more important than anything you say on your site or in a thirty."
"How would you value a 2-star rating on an Amazon sales page versus a negative post on your forum?"
A little more silence.  My mind shot to My Cousin Vinny and the line, "I'm done with this guy."  It took many years but I've learned to keep those thoughts to myself.  It's still fun to think it.
Full disclosure:  Scope+Focus, Inc. operates Emperor's Valet, a group that does an in-depth research for negatives on a company.  Everything from the mainstream ratings mentioned above to nasties as would appear in someone's blog or facebook post.  It's not a tough thing, luckily I have a guy - everyone needs a guy - who wrote a really neat search algorithm.
That said, I was going to do a search and get back to them with it as a freebie but sometimes you just think hell with it, let 'em languish.
Now if you guys in Jacksonville are reading this, well, now you know why we didn't hit it off. 
And for the rest, please!  I'm doing my usual Rodney Dangerfield begging.  If you're relying on a forum to take care of your customer service, don't move.  You're standing on a land mine.  Well, maybe you should move.  It's gonna go off either way.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

If You Want Visitors, You Have to Prep for Them

Seriously.  If you had a restaurant with a faulty front door that made it hard for diners to enter, would you not have it fixed immediately?  Or if the phone went out and you couldn’t book reservations or take carry out orders?  You wouldn't be standing on the desk of your telephone service provider?
And yet, multiple points in your site can have the same deleterious effect on the bottom line.  I once again repeat my cry, “Don’t take the word of your web marketing or IT person.  Check out your site in depth.  Place orders.  Contact the 'contacts.'"  Even look at the products or models that are featured.  You may be surprised.

Here’s what I see on a pretty regular basis: 

·     404 errors.  When someone gets a “Page not found.” it stops them in their tracks.  “Negative brand contact,” we would call it back in the 1400’s.  Today that often is enough to send the visitor off to another site

·         Forms that don’t work

o   “Cute” departures from name, address, etc. that force people out of the expected for no apparent reason

o   Forms that delete on linking…someone fills out a form and clicks “next” and you tell them they forgot to X and send them back to a now-empty page that they spent time completing

o   Asking for unnecessary information.  I will take it this far:   if you ask for a zip code before you ask for city, A) you’ve departed from the norm (see bullet 1, above) and B) if you have their zip, you know their city – it applies to a lot of those boxes

·    Scripts:  Seems everyone takes high speed Internet for granted.  Page weight apparently went the way of the buggy whip.  So designers dump all sorts of scripts – java and other – onto a page.  Most users, especially mobile ones, don’t have browsers set to map videos, images or scripts.  So the page takes forever and continually hops around the screen.  Amateurish and annoying.  Too often I get the dialog box that says, “A long-running script is preventing page from loading.”  Are you kidding?  Why don’t you post someone at the front door who holds up their hand preventing shoppers from entering.  Same result. 

·     Login confirmations:  You have someone log in.  They don’t remember that they’ve been to your site before.  They try to register and are told that that user name or email address is already registered.  You send them to a “forgot whatever” page.  Then, you make them re-enter the information they already entered.  (Not smart) and then you tell them an email has been sent to that address, and it doesn’t get sent.   (Happened to me yesterday.  Tried 3 times.  Never got an email.  Probably not going back.

·    Contacts:  If you’re taking the cheesy way out, that is, your database folks convinced you that “Contacts” is a great place to grow your database, change that thinking.  Sure, you’ll grow your database, but don’t make that the goal.  Make helping the customer the goal.  Don’t:

o   Force them into categories (silos for you MBA folks) with dropdowns on topic

o   Make them give you their life history.  If you’re selling the product they want, you’ll get that down the line

o   Offer only a form.  Give them an email opportunity

o   Tell them you usually respond within 24 hours and then take 3 days or, worse, not respond

o   I’ll reiterate – dump the form information if they have to return to it because they didn’t do things in the order you want 

Not worth your time to load Xenu or a similar link tracker and check out the site?  Would it be worth $50,000?  If that’s what you’re paying someone to tell you it’s right when it isn’t, it could be what it’s costing you – not to mention the lost revenue.  So do it.  Get an independent review or, better yet, do it yourself.  Check out the site on different browsers, a desktop, laptop, a couple of tablets and a lot of different phones.  If you see something you don’t like, remind yourself that thousands, maybe millions, of folks would use these very devices to visit you.
If your site is your business, it’s not micromanaging to check it out – to see how you as a customer experience it.  If you don’t like it, fix it.  No, you don't want to find out any of this, right?  Open an ostrich farm.

[Addendum:  after posting I received a great email from a friend.  Here's a suggestion to try, if you're ready to see the responses...add a dialog box at checkout that asks, simply, "What could have done to make your shopping (ordering, whatever you do) easier?"  Dare you do to it, and to read the responses.]
Let me change the title.  If you want visitors, you have to do some of their work for them.  Don’t want to hear that either?  Lock the door.