It’s happened to all of us at one time or another: you order something online, and while you might receive an order confirmation, you hear nothing else from the vendor for weeks. By the time the item finally arrives, you have either completely forgotten about it or no longer need the item. Had you heard from the vendor sooner, you might have made changes to your order or at least been prepared for the delay.
While extreme cases like this are thankfully the exception rather than the rule, they highlight the importance of one vital piece of operating a successful retail business: customer communication. Even the most serious shipment problems can often be mitigated by keeping your customers in the loop and letting them know that you value their business. While staying in touch doesn’t mean you have to update them every hour as you pick, pack and ship their orders, it does mean reaching out at a few key points during the process.
Acknowledgement and Confirmation
Being successful in online sales, whether you’re selling a physical product or you’re a service-based company, requires that you build trust in your customers. After all, people are providing you access to some of the most important details of their lives when they hand over their names, addresses and financial information. They want to know that the business on the other end of the transaction is reputable and trustworthy, and not going to simply take their money and run.
Your communication strategy helps build that trust. It starts with acknowledging the order. Telling customers that you have received the order reassures them that their information isn’t lost in cyberspace, and it gives you a chance to confirm that you’ve received the right information.
It’s also important to send a notification and confirmation when an order ships. Doing so accomplishes several things. Obviously, it lets your customer know to expect the shipment, but more importantly, it creates a paper trail that will protect you in the event that something goes awry. Even if you print postage at home and deliver the package to the shipping center or post office, a confirmation with a tracking number lessens your liability in the event the package is delayed or lost.
Other Opportunities for Communication
Acknowledging orders and sending shipping confirmations aren’t the only times to communicate with customers. Some other important times you need to reach out and touch someone include:
- When you have questions about the shipping address. For example, your postage system may note that it’s incorrect or invalid, or something is missing
- When there will be a shipping delay. Provide your best estimate as to when the item will ship, and offer other options or compensation to make up for the delay.
- After the sale. You can request feedback and thank the customer for the purchase.
Of course, you should always respond promptly to customer inquiries and concerns and thank customers for their feedback when appropriate.
Even if the only times you communicate with your customers is when you acknowledge the order and confirm shipping, that communication should be based around two words: thank you. Start and end every communication by thanking the customer for their business. Even if you are responding to a complaint, by staying positive and thanking the customer for their business and their feedback, you’re taking steps to maintain the relationship.
Your communication with customers should also make it clear that you value their communication and want to hear from them. Make it easy for customers to get in touch with you; include a link to a dedicated email address or feedback form to make it easy for them to send questions or concerns and easy for you to find the messages that need a priority response.
A Word of Warning
While it might be tempting to send your customers marketing messages every time you communicate with them, don’t do it. For starters, if you’re selling via an online site such as Etsy, eBay or Amazon, you may be prohibited from doing so by the terms of service. More importantly, such a practice could be alienating. Instead, give your customers the opportunity to sign up for messages from you, and allow your polite, pleasant and appreciative order communications to help build your brand and attract and retain customers.
About the Author: Frances Yost is a blogger, Internet marketing consultant and entrepreneur who has managed several successful online retail stores over the last 15 years.
Your small business is your baby, your child, something you’ve created from nothing – and everything its earned is the result of your sweat, blood and tears. As you start to take your business in new directions, and try to make greater profits; it’s not uncommon to find yourself protecting your small business from things that can change, or threaten the “purity” of its brand and mission – even if it ends up limiting what you can get for your business income wise. In this article we’ll take a look at how you can get more from your business, by letting go of some of your overprotective tendencies – and still keeping what you love about it strong as ever.
Let Others In – You’re Still in Control
As your business has grown, you’ve probably started to get a lot more “cooks in the kitchen” as more and more opinions are presented to you about the way you can manage the various facets of your company. It can be frustrating to even consider that someone else might try to tell you what to do with the thing that you’ve built from the ground up. How can they possibly know what to do better than you? What you have to realize is that input from others isn’t an admission of inferiority, and that you’ll end up coming to better conclusions on your own, the more outside opinions you consider. Take time to setup a meeting at least once per week if possible, to hear the feedback and opinions of people who work for and with you – you won’t regret it for a second.
Invest More in Marketing
Even if you’re investing a small amount of money in marketing your small business, chances are you’ve limited your spend based on protecting yourself from the risk of a larger investment. You may think this is being prudent, and you’re just being responsible with the limited funds that you have. Sure this may be true, but have you ever wondered how much profit you may be missing by not investing in the marketing that will bring in real, high-volume business? If you want your business to deliver more profit to your pocket, you need to make the investments that will make a difference. Consider a tailored marketing campaign like direct mail. Target your best customers by customizing each print piece with their unique name, business logo – or even preferred set of products. Variable Data Digital Printing makes all of this possible, and offers you the opportunity to increase the spend of your customers by marketing to them on a targeted level. This is just one example of how you can grow your business by investing more in your marketing; but no matter the approach, you need to increase it sooner or later.
Eliminate Waste: the Easiest Way to Save Money
Businesses are the essential driving force behind the US, and the global, economy. The private sector has a massive role to play in the lives we lead, from the way we shop for groceries or a new gas supplier, through to the latest tech gadgets and inventions that are undeniably changing our world. These are areas where the private sector performs well, and in the process, helps shape the way we live and the choices we make. But business, far from being a negative thing, is actually one of the most positive contributors to the wider community in our country – not only in the sense of the goods and services they provide for consumers, but also in the various socially responsible ways they interact with their local communities.
Perhaps one of the most obvious benefits businesses bring to an area is the opportunity of employment, with Kansas City jobs in particular in big demand. Unemployment is a personal tragedy for every person it afflicts, let alone their families and dependents. Businesses create new jobs, and help reduce the number of families who are unemployed in the process. This creates a community that is more confident about its abilities, and has more money to spend by virtue of the increasing productivity of the local labor market. In this sense, it is crucial to encourage new businesses to start, in order to provide these opportunities for others.
When a business starts up, it needs to find suppliers and service providers for its own needs. Furthermore, new businesses will be needed to cater to the needs of new staff members, and the cycle continues until a thriving economy is born, fuelled by businesses creating wealth and opportunity. Businesses don’t just create opportunities for themselves and for their own, but also for existing businesses, and the organizations they serve. This means there is a ripple effect caused by a new business starting or moving to town, where the money created from the new business spreads out.
A big issue for most business owners, tax revenues are one of the primary ways companies can give back to their community. This money will be notionally used to good ends, funding various government departments, services and programs. Businesses contribute a huge amount to the local and national economy through the tax burden they bear. This extends beyond corporation tax to include tax paid on any purchases, and a variety of other tax changes that have affected small businesses.
Businesses do much of their giving back through providing opportunities for employment, and through paying the substantial taxes they are required by law to contribute. But businesses also often go one step further, doing charity work of their own accord to cement their local reputation for being a caring, socially aware brand. Some employers allow staff to run charity fundraisers and events, as part of boosting their team morale. Companies build schools, invest in sporting schemes for kids, and generally back a range of solid, strong, charitable causes every year.
Aside from the aforementioned fundraising activities, there are a number of ways in which businesses can give back to organizations in need of charitable assistance. For example, there are plenty of charities that will accept a car or boat donation as well as money. Employees can donate a boat for charity in the name of the business and make a positive impact in the office as well as the rest of the world. The list of charities that accept these types of donations, such as a boat, is surprisingly long, so it is definitely worth investigating.
When businesses start up, or move to a new location, the whole area achieves the benefit of a bump from the experience. Businesses can bring new customers to an area, with money in their pockets to spend, while also shaping how a community develops. For example, a café may have a strong community role to play by virtue of its location, history or staffing. In this example, here is a business having a role that extends way beyond its original purpose of making money.
People can all too quickly associate private business with profit and therefore greed. This is unhelpful, given the power of money to change communities and provide much better resources for those who need them most. While shareholders may profit directly from a company’s success, the local community benefits massively from this kind of event, with new customers buying from their businesses as a result. Snapping up and renovating old buildings is another example of where companies can deliver a public good – just because there is a profit motive doesn’t mean businesses are any less concerned with the best solution for the community.
Business creates opportunity through delivering direct and indirect employment, while generating huge sums in tax revenues, which can be applied to funding schools, social projects and the military. Our economy needs businesses for the jobs they deliver, the services and products they produce, and the investments they make in our local communities.