Feel-good ordering

May 01, 1999 9:30 PM  By

No matter how well targeted your mailing lists, how inviting your photography, or how compelling your product descriptions, you can lose sales if customers have a hard time placing orders. And since the majority of catalog customers order by telephone for speed and convenience, it’s imperative that your phone ordering service is up to snuff. n Ordering by phone should feel comfortable and familiar to a catalog customer, not like an onerous chore. Any customer who calls your catalog to order should get the sense that you are delighted to hear from her and eager to assist her. Your accessibility and responsiveness will determine the first impression you’ll make, so it certainly helps if you answer the phone quickly. More than two rings, and the customer is most likely already impatient.

The rep’s greeting should feel like a welcome and an invitation, not just an instruction to provide information. If you use interactive voice response (IVR) prompts up front, make sure they sound like a “real” person-someone you’d want to talk to and order from. Customers are put off by a generic or computer-sounding voice.

If all your phone reps are busy and your customer ends up waiting in a call queue, she doesn’t want to keep hearing the same recorded message. It’s irritating, and it increases the likelihood that she’ll tune out altogether while she’s waiting. Then, when a rep finally answers, the customer may use up precious seconds of talk time reorienting herself-and possibly complaining about the delay. She’s also more at risk for forgetting part of her order.

Contrary to popular belief, most customers who order by phone don’t first fill out the order form as a worksheet. Instead, they rip pages, circle items, dog-ear corners, or use “stickies” to mark pages, so make sure you put your 800-number on every spread, if not on every page. You don’t want to make the customer search for it when she’s ready to order.

If you start the ordering process by asking for a source code and customer identification code, make it easy to find these critical numbers by printing them in boxes or highlighted areas. It also helps to put this information in more than one place, such as imprinted on the order form as well as on the back cover.

It’s also less stressful for the customer-and more efficient for you-if the item numbers are easy to find. Separate them from the copy block, print them in boldface, or use ink in another color. And for items that come in several colors, list color names in the sequence they appear in pictured items. If color names are evocative but esoteric, provide more space for bigger swatches. “Smoke,” “foam,” and “sea” sound lovely but could be gray, gray, and gray. And if the color name is printed on the swatch, be careful about the readability of reverse type.

Helping your customers shop often means helping them figure out what they want. Catalog customers who call in orders often seek the reps’ advice and opinions about everything from product quality to the attractiveness of the gift wrap. But order reps may need additional training to effectively recommend products to a customer.

For example, if a customer asks how a pair of shorts really fit, your reps can respond, “Our buyers say the shorts are cut fairly high in the back. Would that style work for you?” Or your reps may get more involved in the sale, comparing a customer’s measurements to those of the fit model. But you need to establish standards for answering customer requests for advice, then to train your reps well and be sure they get enough supervised practice time. A bad recommendation could end up in a return or, worse yet, a dissatisfied customer.

Also, the more personal contact or experience reps have with the merchandise, the more informed and persuasive their advice or sales pitch can be. A well-stocked sample case near the order-taking stations lets reps address such customer concerns as whether the burgundy is closer to maroon or to purple.

Your reps must also understand your sizing system for all merchandise and have easy access to detailed product specifications, including composition, measurements, and care and usage instructions-particularly if these are not part of your catalog copy descriptions. In addition to having up-to-date, well-written manuals and on-screen descriptions readily available, hold product tryouts to enable reps to see and touch the goods, which will enhance their understanding of your line and help them present it persuasively.

Managing information capture If you want to let the customer order her way, you’ll need some flexibility in the sequence for capturing information during a call. This is particularly important if some of your customers aren’t frequent catalog shoppers who are used to the order-placing drill and know to have their credit cards ready. Less experienced customers may start the call by saying, “I want the blue dress on page 37.” It’s to your benefit if your reps can take an order regardless of how it’s given.

Arrange your order processing system software to be flexible enough to accept special requests such as sending a gift to a different address or express shipping. It’s demoralizing to a shopper when what seems like a simple request is met with an announcement that “I’ll have to process that as a separate order.”

Make it clear when the customer can expect to receive the merchandise, not when you’ll ship it. Customers shouldn’t have to translate the time frames in their heads. They’re more likely to worry about late delivery or have overly optimistic expectations if they have to figure it out for themselves. If express shipping isn’t your standard mode, it’s helpful to ask customers if the delivery date meets their needs or if they’d like to use an expedited shipping method instead.

When a customer calls to order from a print catalog, she assumes that everything you’re offering is available, and she’ll be disappointed if any item is not in stock. Whenever you’re in a low stock situation-and certainly after you drop a sale book-help the customer by checking availability at the beginning of the call. Don’t put the customer through the process of capturing or verifying credit card or shipping information until you know that you have goods to sell.

If an item is not in stock, you have two options. One is to offer a substitute good enough to make the customer happy today. The other is to let the customer know when the item she wants will be available. An upbeat explanation-”We’ll be able to deliver that to you on the fourth”-is more likely to save the order than “That’s out of stock. Would you like me to backorder it for you?” And make sure that the reps have immediate access to the date that the item is expected back in stock.

Your customers expect fast, helpful, and convenient service regardless of how they order. Technological innovations such as IVR, database marketing prompts, and real-time inventory have made it easier for reps to better serve customers. But there’s nothing like old-fashioned courtesy and attention to detail to make buying easy for customers. n

Like catalog customers who order by phone, online shoppers put a premium on speed and convenience. These tips can help you simplify their ordering experience:

* Keep labeling consistent. For instance, make sure the product category titles displayed across the top or down the side of the home page screen match the titles used on the screens themselves.

* Provide easy-access links to your order screen, policy information, and frequently asked questions (FAQ) page from your home page and every other “selling” page. And in addition to providing shipping and returns information, be sure to make accessible your privacy policy and security policy, both of which are necessary to gain consumer confidence.

* Display your 800-number on every screen in case customers need live support-even if they can “click through” to connect to a live rep or request an immediate callback. Not all customers like typing dialogue on the fly, nor will they all have separate phone lines.

* Give customers the option of registering permanently so that they needn’t give you their personal and contact data each time.

* Ensure that making changes mid-order is obvious and easy. If customers want to change the quantity, color, and shipping method, they shouldn’t have to start the online ordering process from scratch.

* Make sure the language on-screen is understandable and friendly, similar in style to what customers would hear if they were speaking to a rep. And unless your customer base is primarily techies, avoid Internet jargon and slang.