What are You Doing to Turn Away Customers?

“Absolutely nothing!” You respond indignantly. “Why would we want to turn away customers? We do everything we can to woo them!”

Well, maybe not. You may have the best merchandise, prices, and intentions in the world, but inadvertent mistakes can pile up, leading to millions of dollars in lost sales. Debra Ellis, a logistics expert and principal of Wilson & Ellis Consulting, shares her holiday shopping experience:

“Santa is having a challenge with the Ellis family this year. It began with my eight year old son’s request for self-igniting rocket shoes so he can fly around the world. Next came my six-year-old daughter’s request for ‘everyone to be nice.’ The rocket shoes are suddenly looking like a viable option! Weeks of parental suggestions fell on deaf ears, so Santa turned the challenge over to me.

“My son loves chess, so I decided that an electronic chessboard would make an excellent substitute for rocket shoes. (I know it isn’t even close, but Christmas is just around the corner and I am desperate!) I searched through my catalogs at home and decided on the Kingmaster III from a well-known children’s book. Next, I went online to place my order. Time was running out, because the cut-off for regular shipping was Dec. 6. While shopping online, I added a unicycle and a few small items before going to the checkout. I populated all the required fields (name, address, credit card, etc.) and clicked to place the order. I received an error message stating that there were not any items in my cart. The error page did not have any links to escape the screen or instructions. I backed up to my cart to verify the items and tried again, with the same result. I closed my browser, opened another, and started over. When I reached the final checkout, I received the same error message. So, I changed my browser to www.google.com and searched for the chessboard. I found it at the Discovery Channel Store, $40 cheaper, and no additional charges to guarantee arrival in time for Christmas!”

The moral of this story, Ellis says, is that a better shopping experience is just a click away. “Branding, relationships, and presentation all contribute to the buying formula,” she points out. Any little glitch—whether it is broken link on your Web site or a too-early cut-off date—can put off customers. The Dec. 6 cut-off date that Ellis faced, for example, allowed an unnecessarily lengthy period of seven days for order processing. Two days should be more than enough, Ellis says; the shipping deadline could have been Dec. 13. With same-day delivery so readily available elsewhere, why would customers cut you any slack?

It may be too late to fix your operation’s policies and procedures this year, but never too soon to streamline them for 2005. Ellis offers the following tactics to get started:

1. Make sure that your site is always up and running correctly. If you can’t do this in-house, subscribe to a monitoring service that checks for broken links, content, server downtime, and other such problems. The nominal cost is well worth the business salvaged.

2. Ensure that every page within your site has links for easy navigation. If an error page is necessary, include information to instruct customers on their next step.

3. Try entering orders on your site, and redesign it if the process is cumbersome. The best test is to enter orders using a dial-up service. It is easy to forget that more than 60% of all Americans still use dial-up. If your company markets to rural areas, that number goes up significantly. All that cool Web technology is a waste if your target market can’t access your site.

4. Audit your operations from order receipt to shipment. Where are the bottlenecks and how can they be eliminated? 5. Set specific operational goals for each order-processing step. Monitor progress and celebrate every achievement.

6. Review every corporate policy to ensure that it doesn’t inhibit customers from purchasing. Remember, the fewer your rules, the more the sales.

For more ideas and tips, contact Debra Ellis at 828-626-3756 or dellis@wilsonellisconsulting.com.

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