Is your business using the web effectively as a sales tool? In this article, David Naylor explains how to cut customer frustrations and reach a web-based nirvana.
According to David Naylor, successful businesses are those who employ a ‘do it with me’ approach – those who go out of their way to assist the customer by offering online help facilities, optimised search capabilities, decent product selection tools and, perhaps more importantly than anything else, strong co-ordination between the web and other communication channels: especially the call centre.
If the hype of the dot.com boom had been true – and most of us did think it was at the time – bricks and mortar shopping would be a thing of the past. Commerce on the Internet may not have changed society in the way predicted. But what the Internet has done is to widen the options for consumers and give us more control. The way many of us buy has changed.
Take me, for instance. I recently wanted to buy a new camera lens. First I browsed the Internet for the different options. I looked at manufacturers’ websites, read online reviews and then checked out prices. After that, I bought a photography magazine to check out classified advertisers and made some calls. Once I’d narrowed down the choices, I went to a store and ‘played’ with the lenses. I had no intention of buying, of course. After talking with friends who owned certain lenses I made a choice. Going back online, I found the cheapest supplier in Europe and had them ship the lens to the UK.
In other words, while I did make the final purchase on the Internet, I bought the lens over a period of several weeks, researching multiple sources in several countries, and interacting across several channels.
My behaviour in browsing-shopping-buying is typical of many shoppers today, and the Internet alone cannot support this type of buying behaviour. Unfortunately, too many businesses think it can. What’s more, many processes they implement are still seller-centric – forcing us to do business with them on their terms.
In truth, businesses need to look at their ‘buyer flow’: how they enable the buyer to progress from one stage to the next in the buying process, based on an understanding of all the potential behaviours buyers can exhibit. Having said that, it is a mistake to assume that the desire for customer choice and control in this process means self service. People still need support at key stages and times in the process.
Little surprise, then, that if you ‘do it with me’ (DIWM), the chances of the purchase – and repeat purchase – occurring are much greater. After all, our research at Budd shows that the common weak points in the browsing-shopping-buying process are: lack of appropriate information to guide a decision to buy; lack of appropriate human validation of a
decision; and lack of continuity when the decision to buy is deferred – either across time, channel or both.
Conversely, the success factors for the buyer flow process are ‘simplicity’ and ‘usability’. In a single channel, Amazon, for instance, has designed a process that is simple and easy to use. Its design goal has been to remove the need for human intervention and make the buying experience fast and simple with ‘one click’ wish lists and saved carts. When products and processes are more complex, the weak points in the buying process become the failure points that result in lost opportunities.
Good design practice for DIWM
Let’s examine some specific process design good practices around the principles of simplicity and usability that support the DIWM concept and make the buying process more effective for the buyer.
1) Immediate access to offline and online help
In its classic form, the help process involves human intervention through the use of a ‘call me’ button or live chat. No contextual information for the help is available. If human contact is offered, make this intervention as quick as possible to keep the buying process going.
Today the help options can be quite sophisticated. Used in the right way, sales conversion rates can be increased significantly. Here are some ideas you might consider:
- Make the help context sensitive through an agent screen pop, which shows the same web page as the shopper is looking at.
- Use knowledge of the context to select the agent who is best skilled to handle this type of query.
- Enable the agent to push the right support pages to the shopper’s screen.
- Allow the agent to assist with the online transaction itself – talking the shopper through the screens and entering data remotely which shows on the shopper’s screen.
Co-browsing with a voice call is a very powerful way of getting the shopper to a successful purchase. It is also expensive so less attractive in the sale of low margin products. However, by educating the shopper about how to help themselves, they are more likely to come back and try next time. Take a longer-term view on the cost and benefit of providing such help. Where only electronic contact is established, make sure that assistance is targeted and clear so it doesn’t result in repeat contacts. For the same reason, avoid using e-mail in the buying process.
2) Optimised search capabilities
Search capabilities have become quite sophisticated to the point where they can replace human intervention with ‘automated personal assistants’ or natural language searches. Few of these facilities are implemented well due to poor quality content in the knowledgebase that underpins them. To get the best out of this functionality, the business must have a cross-functional knowledge publishing process.
Searching is most useful for the earlier ‘browsing stage’ of the buying process. It helps shoppers to find the relevant parts of the site and narrows down their buying options by eliminating products based on initial high level questioning. Search results should not just present a list of all pages or documents on the site that meet the criteria. Keep the results relevant and few.
Your aim is to guide the shopper from the browse stage in to the buying stage – not to confuse them with less appropriate choices. A search should identify and group relevant products, provide links to useful tools (see below) and perhaps provide background material the shopper can download. Simple page links should be limited to two or three.
Good search facilities reduce the need for human intervention. The search words used by shoppers are also useful for tracking preferences and making sure you’re speaking their language. Analysing this data should be done as part of a continuous improvement process.
3) Product selection tools
Product selection tools enable the shopper to research precise options and come to decisions. They are often presented in the form of a sales or ‘needs discovery’ script similar to one a salesperson may use. In financial services you will find rate calculators and often side-by-side product comparison tools. Do not use these tools to drive the shopper to one option, but rather to help them narrow the field. This keeps the shopper in control and provides a level of validation to their buying
decision. Provide follow-on actions after the options are presented. These could include registering a call back request, completing the application online, or requesting details in the post.
Sometimes the shopper’s personal circumstances mean that they need a more complex solution. It is important to capture these cases early on in the process with qualifying questions. Don’t leave it to the end and offer ‘no suitable product’. Conversely, don’t make the tool too restrictive in its options so that the shopper gives up. Just like an automated voice menu application, good practice demands that there is an opt out / ‘contact me’ option at each step of the way. Build it like the shopper thinks and behaves – not how the business is structured.
Don’t forget that the options presented in an online selection tool should also be consistent with the offers and recommendations being made in all other channels.
4) Continuity and consistency across channels
The buying process will often cut across channels due to shopper preferences, personal circumstances or internal constraints. This is more likely for some products, such as financial services, where human validation of a decision is often preferred. The critical factor for a successful buyer flow in this situation is ensuring continuity of the process and consistency of the offer across channels.
Ensuring continuity when shoppers switch channels mid-flow is not always easy. There are technical, process and data integration constraints to consider. When designing across channels, aim to minimise the amount of duplicated work that is required and ensure processes work in each channel. For example, advertising an 0800 number and specific web address for a new offer should mean the same information is available – and consistent – on both channels. If I can download a brochure about the offer from the website, I expect that the agent can e-mail me the brochure when I call. In my recent experience, one bank was not only unable to e-mail me the brochure, but also the agent was unaware of the terms of the offer published on the website.
Clearly, operational systems and processes, including customer relationship management (CRM), need to be sophisticated to deliver consistency and continuity across channels. As usual, it is not just about the technology enabling the functionality.
5) Continuity and consistency over time
By its nature, any change of channel includes an element of time. For all the examples in point 4, time elapses between the contacts on different channels. Shoppers should be able to ‘come back to where they left off’.
In a single channel, the technology to achieve this is quite well developed. The saved shopping cart idea is now common. It is clearly harder to achieve across channels and over time without good technology integration as a base.
As well as continuity across a single buying process, the longer-term lifecycle aspect should also be considered. Some websites personalise home pages based on the last visit and the searches the shopper made, for instance. Other companies
assess how and what the shopper bought the first time and then tailor outbound marketing activities and channels used. This type of marketing is a whole different subject so I’ll stop there. Just remember to consider the time aspect of both the immediate buyer flow and the longer-term relationship you are trying to create.
It’s not just what you do…
How you implement any of these practices in your business is just as important as what you do. Shopper behaviour is enormously complex and often unpredictable. Learning what works and what doesn’t over time, and in a structured way, will enable the DIWM processes to be continually improved rather than ‘tinkered with’.
The right approach is to pilot new practices and determine which will have the best impacts. To measure these impacts, the right metrics must be in place. At Budd, we talk about the ‘leaky bucket’. This metric helps you to measure the return on investment at each stage of the buying process. How many shoppers are dropping out between the browsing and the buying stage, and what are the root causes of that? ‘Leaky bucket’ will help you track baseline costs and lost revenue opportunity at each stage of the buyer flow so you can see which pilot ideas will have the biggest impact.
Piloting will help you to achieve results quickly if you get the right team involved across the business. This is not just about the web designers and technical specialists, but operations, marketing, product development and compliance. It is not
about setting up a project team, but ensuring the right people are contributing and learning the lessons that the pilots are teaching on a continuous basis. The key to success is shifting the culture from selling to helping buyers buy through processes that ‘do it with me’.
David Naylor is a director of Budd in the UK, a member of the LimeBridge alliance, which operates in 11 countries
Tel: +44 7855 806189
Website: www.budd.uk.comYou can read more about businesses that are building brands in the age of greater consumer choice and control in Alan Mitchell’s book: “Right Side Up”