Are You Making It Hard For Customers To Buy From You?

What every marketer should worry about most is minimizing obstacles during the buying process—even if all it means is lacing up a pair of shoes. Run through this customer pain-point checklist to see if you're in the clear.

One Saturday afternoon, a management consultant with retail expertise happened to be in a crowded and very busy athletic shoe store where he saw a harried sales clerk repeatedly offer a particular off-brand to his customers. After watching two sales snatched from the jaws of well-known (and more expensive) national brands, the consultant couldn’t resist asking the clerk what this smaller company’s secret was. Was there a special sales incentive? Did the store have too many of these shoes in inventory? But the clerk just pointed to the crowds of shoppers needing attention and then explained, under his breath, that this particular brand saves him a lot of time on busy Saturdays, because they ship their shoes to the store with the laces already laced up.

This is the third in my series of blog posts on customer complaints and problems. In the first I talked about the steps you should take to deal with a complaining customer, and how you might even be able to convert a complainer into an advocate. In the second I talked about why you should always try to discover more complaints, both to understand better what flaws your product or service might have, and possibly to generate even more opportunities for converting complainers into advocates.

But what every marketer should worry about most, what should keep you up at night, is whether you have done all you can to minimize the obstacles your customers encounter during the buying process. Before trying to exceed your customers' expectations, and before trying to provide them with whatever memorable experience you've cooked up, just be absolutely certain you're providing basic, flawless, well-executed processes that remove any and every obstacle preventing a customer from selecting your product—obstacles like having to lace up a pair of shoes before demonstrating them, for instance.

Folks, if your company isn’t already doing everything on the checklist below, then you just aren’t making it as easy as possible for customers, so quit whining because you really don’t deserve their loyalty.

On your website:
•Use standard navigation features
•Make sure phone numbers appear on every page
•Provide "talk to someone" or "chat" buttons throughout
•Provide "contact us" buttons making it easy to email your company, and be sure to specify how much time will likely be required before a reply is sent

At your call center:
•Make sure the choices on your interactive voice responders (IVRs) are coordinated with the choices shown on your website
•Rely on short menus for your IVRs, in order not to tax a customer’s memory
•Provide options to leave a number for callback
•Allow the customer to hit 0 at any point to reach an operator

On your outbound email campaigns:
•Always include a phone number in the email message
•Provide direct links from the email message to whatever pages on your website correspond with the subject matter
•List clearly the alternatives to using the website

At your stores, branches, or physical outlets:
•Provide phones for calling the contact center directly
•Make self-service desks available for information
•If you have an online offering (and you should), make sure that PCs are available in the store for those customers (and sales employees) who want to use them

Be proactive with your notifications to customers:
•Contact the customer in the event of an unexpected problem or failure
•Contact whenever necessary to protect a customer’s best interest (credit card fraud, nearing the limit on a pricing plan, about to incur a late fee, and so forth)
•Provide this and other information to the customer in a way he can control (choices with respect to alerts, frequency of contact, privacy controls, etc.)
•Reach out to customers to manage their expectations appropriately whenever lengthy or time-consuming processes are involved

It’s really very simple: If you want to sell more shoes, then ship yours out with the laces already laced up.

[Image: Flickr user kidoki]

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  • Maydayp

    wish Kobo would read this post. they are a very unfriendly company to buy books from. Though I had very good customer service when my kobo broke.
    Awesome post.

  • Teresa Allen

    Great common sense service ideas!
    Teresa Allen, Author: Common Sense Service: Close Encounters on the Front Lines

  • Ove Halseth

    And never ever send out email from a no-reply address.
    It's like telling "We don't want your feedback"

  • Amber King

    Great checklist. When marketing, think like a consumer. What would make me buy that? What features do I want? Doing so will make you understand what they want and need. A laced up shoe is a simple idea but look at the result.

  • AnneCGraham

    You hit the nail on the head.  When I show the CEO groups I speak to how to conduct Value Creation Conversations with their top customers, the #1 comment that comes back is always "you're too hard to do business with"... and its costing them millions in lost opportunities.  Yet many executive teams never take the time to have that oh-so-essential conversation, and salespeople tend to focus on making the next sale.  There's a huge gap that needs to be closed.  Step 1 is to have the conversations.  Step 2 is to 'staple yourself to an Experience' by looking at every touchpoint a customer might experience, not just in the early stages of a buying decision, but right through to after-sales service issues and eventual product disposal.  The 'disposition' element is one where a lot of companies are leaving money on the table and a bad taste in the customer's mouth.  Go ahead... staple yourself to the Experience you create for customers and then ask yourself if you'd do business with your company... or find a path of less resistance?

  • Hilton Barbour

    This list is fantastic but arguably self-evident for companies truly committed to customer-centricity. Those that view the requirements of the list above as unnecessary OPEX are "playing" at customer-centricity. Thank you for such tangible, simple (and obvious) examples.

  • Martin Oddy

    More of a customer service checklist than anything specific to the web (i.e. conversion rate optimisation), but good stuff nonetheless.

  • ericbrody

    As you say, it is very simple. But difficult to always be able to execute given the number of steps in the delivery of that value (even shipping sneakers with the laces already tied). 

    But what every company should be doing is mapping their customer's journey from their perspective – from pre-sale investigation through to post-buy experience. 

    Identify which steps are enhancing and which are detracting from the experience. And then consider these four actions:

    1. For those steps that are detracting and not adding any value (and causing you unnecessary expense), consider cutting them out entirely. 
    2. If they are essential to the process, how can you improve them? 
    3. For others, are there ways to streamline them to improve the customer's experience?
    4. And lastly, are there ways to build on them to add even more value to the customer?

    But it does get back to Don's point –– if you want to sell more shoes, ship them with the laces  already laced up. 

    Eric Brody