Are You Ready to Serve Your Customers Online – And Do It Right?
As with many industries, a vast percentage of your business is likely shifting online. And it’s happening much more quickly than anyone anticipated. Even if you’ve been offering online service for years, few businesses were prepared for a shift of this magnitude.
Successfully pivoting to ecommerce requires more than putting up an online shopping cart. You must provide the same high-quality service online as you do in your show room. If you aren’t certain whether your site meets that standard, go through the following list and determine whether you need to make changes.
Maximize self-service options
Self-service is the entire point of ecommerce sites and customer portals. They allow customers to find information, transact business, and manage their affairs themselves. Many homeowners would prefer to find and purchase products without going through a service rep. Contractors want to print old invoices and pay their account balance without contacting your accounting department. Your site should offer self-service options for every stage of the sales cycle: from pricing and inventory checks, to submitting quotes and orders, to paying invoices and tracking account history. Note: self-service is not a replacement for traditional customer service. There will always be issues customers can’t resolve themselves and times when they will want to speak to a real person. The goal is to add self-service as an option to the many services you already provide.
Be a trusted voice
Your staff’s knowledge and experience are as relevant and valuable as ever. As your customers move towards more self-service and have fewer face-to-face interactions with staff, you must find ways of continuing to share that expertise through your site. Resources such as buying guides, product FAQs, and how-to explainers are all ways to educate your customers and help them find the right product. Your service staff are the key to creating this kind of valuable content. Not only do they know your products, they know your customers and your customers’ common questions. Have your marketing team or a freelance writer build a library of educational resources based on input from your service staff. Your goal is to make your site the go-to destination for product information and education. Helping customers find the best solutions for their job or home is a reason for them to choose your site over your competitors’.
Create product experiences
Since we can’t reach through our monitors to hold and touch products (yet) your site should do as much as possible to create a fully developed sense of your products. For example, simple videos where someone handles, describes, and/or demonstrates using a product can be highly effective. (There’s a reason “unboxing” videos are a top category on YouTube). Even better, offer ways for your customers to interact with products. For instance, an online door configurator that builds a composite image lets people experiment with different options when creating custom doors. A visualizer tool could let a customer upload photos of their home and then try out different siding or roofing options to see which they like best.
Merchandize and personalize
Merchandising should be an element of every ecommerce site the way it is for every retail center. Strategically promoting and pricing specific products is a great profitability strategy. You can merchandize even more effectively with ecommerce platforms that allow you to personalize content to different users. For instance, your homepage might display different products based on the customer profile. (So roofing customers might see tiles and shingles, whereas remodelers might see cabinets and fixtures.) Or you might show your “A” customers special offers not available to “B” and “C” customers. Your Marketing team should have a plan for selecting and highlighting products throughout your site the same way they might plan retail displays or end caps. If your platform allows personalization, have your team come up with some ideas for how to segment your customers.
Ecommerce is NOT set it and forget it. Technology and customer expectations are constantly evolving. Taking a proactive stance towards technology and integrating new, relevant tools can make a huge difference for your business. Open APIs are essential to doing this. APIs are bits of code that allow software programs to interact and share information. Open APIs are accessible to developers so it’s possible for businesses to build their own integrations with other programs. Building custom integrations means you can serve your customers in ways your competitors can’t. For instance, think about all the applications your customers use to manage their businesses, such as cabinet design programs, job management apps, and billing software. If your site could integrate with those platforms, allowing customers to see information about their jobs when browsing your products, you would be a one-stop shop for your customer’s entire business! Even if you aren’t in a position to build custom integrations today, make sure your ecommerce platform has open APIs so you have freedom to grow in the future.
Whether your business has a solid online presence or you’re just entering this space, this is a moment for action. Take a critical look at the online experience you’re offering customers, think about the experience you want to offer them, and start planning the steps you need to get there. That will set you on the right path to successfully serving your customers wherever they are.
Simon Sikora has been working in ecommerce in some form for over 25 years. As the COO for a millwork company in the northeast, he grew online service to be roughly 20% of the business. He is now the Director of Ecommerce Products for DMSi Software.
This article was originally published in the November 2020 issue of Lumber Co-Operator magazine.