Today’s world celebrates contact-free solutions, hence the golden age of video conferencing and the rise of ecommerce. Customers and businesses alike have been leaning evermore heavily upon ecommerce for the last few years. It looks likely that this year will be one of the busiest ecommerce seasons ever seen.
Mike Lambert, Chief Operating Officer at Green Mountain Technology, estimates that total package volume may jump to as much as 70% more than that of last year. This anticipated pressure has prompted couriers such as UPS and FedEx to pose additional charges on deliveries.
All this means that businesses are going to have to be inventive, adaptive and above all, prepared to deliver a satisfactory Customer Experience. Let’s identify some key areas to focus on to make sure you can provide this.
Scale Up Your Customer Service
The truth of the matter is that the added strain is bound to result in hiccups to your usual service delivery. Some of the preparation you should be doing is about damage control. You want to build a relationship with your customers that is trusting and understanding. That way, if the worst does occur, they’ll remain loyal to the brand.
So how do you get customers on your side? Simple: provide them with impeccable customer service. Technology such as a predictive dialing system can help you deliver this.
When you have a reputation of reliability, your customers will thank you by remaining loyal during the hardship that is to come. They’ll see hiccups for what they are – a one-off, rather than your standard strategies. But how can you build this loyalty?
Use a Customer Journey Map to Prepare
Brand-customer relationships are unique from company to company. This fact necessitates the practice of market research; the objective being to gain an understanding of your customer.
The better you understand your customer, the more effectively you can anticipate their needs and concerns. The more effectively you do this, the more sales you’ll make and the more customers will keep coming back.
To do this, many companies create something called a ‘customer journey map’ which details the distinct stages that their customers encounter while associating with a company. They will often use product lifecycle management software to record and monitor these different stages. From there, they can generate an overall visualization of the lifecycle of their customers’ engagement with the brand.
These stages may be categorized as:
- The awareness stage.
This stage involves creating content that serves to get the attention of potential customers. It can come in the form of blog posts, social media posts, or podcasts to name just a few. It should introduce to customers the problem that your product can provide a solution for, and guide customers to the product.
- The consideration stage.
In this stage, customers already know about the type of product you supply, however they will be considering their options. This means they’ll be looking to your competitors and you will have to make sure that your brand stands against this competition.
- The purchase stage.
At this stage, the customer has decided on your brand and is seriously looking to buy. But it’s not a done deal yet. This stage needs to be managed in order to keep the browsing and buying experience as seamless as possible. Customers will want to have recourse to support, product information, and frictionless payment options.
- The retention stage.
Once a customer has made a purchase, that’s not the end of the customer journey. You want to ensure that they keep coming back. This can be achieved using exclusive existing customer deals and giving out samples with purchases.
- The advocacy stage.
The final stage in the customer lifecycle involves asking your existing customers to advocate for your brand to new ones. This can involve engaging with customers, as well as inviting them to produce user-generated content like reviews.
In the retention stage of your customer’s journey, there’s an opportunity to personalize marketing that you send them. Now that you have their details you can send them exclusive offers and coupon codes. You can even go as far as to send them birthday cards and invite them to take part in competitions.
Try to make your customer feel like they are part of something. By actively engaging them through means of something like a competition, customers will be more inclined to shop with you again. You have established a sense of community that will keep your customers coming back through thick and thin.
The holidays also offer an excuse to host these kinds of competition. For example, Starbucks has held contests for customers to submit their own red cup designs to be used on the iconic cups over the holiday season. This campaign prompts customer engagement and establishes the brand within the community.
A word about managing expectations and false promises. If you know that you aren’t going to be able to deliver due to increased order volumes, be sure to acknowledge this. A loyal customer will be understanding and all customers will appreciate being notified in advance rather than suffering unexpected delays.
An uptick in orders is likely to result in items potentially going out of stock and customers may have to pay additional fees for timely postage. Ensure your customer understands why this is the case using notification emails and disclaimers on check-out pages.
Prepare For Shipping Challenges
As mentioned earlier, shipping costs may be inflated over this holiday period as courier services invest in additional resources to cope with the colossal influx of expected online orders. It’s important to inform you customers if you plan to increase costs, and if so, why.
These heightened prices may deter potential buyers, but there are some digital marketing strategies for small businesses to try when attempting to make the most of this holiday season.
Organize Your Inventory in Advance
This may seem like a fundamental tip but many businesses underestimate the importance of having an organized and prepared inventory. Make predictions on the volumes of orders you are likely to receive and stock your inventory appropriately.
Once it arrives, ensure your inventory is organised and arranged in such a way to maximize efficiency and expedite stock-taking procedures. A cluttered and unorganized inventory will result in arduous product retrieval that makes mistakes more likely.
Consider using inventory management software to keep a better track of your stock. This will provide you with automatic reports when stock is running low and can measure the rate at which items are depleted, among other useful features.
Flattening the Curve
Flattening the curve is a phrase that refers to the stretching-out of an upward graphical curve so that growth takes place over a larger amount of time, reducing the rate of growth. If we think of such a curve representing the amount of orders received over time, we can try and apply the idea of flattening the curve in order to reduce the rate that orders come in at.
This will mean starting your campaign at an earlier date than usual. As a result, you will have longer to process and deliver the orders that come in earlier, and there should be a more manageable quantity of later orders. With virtual products, like top video collaboration tools, this is less important – but for physical products, it can help avoid overwhelming you.
So how do you get customers in the festive spirit in advance? Well, you shouldn’t be launching a full scale sales campaign straight away, but just try to get the customers on your mailing list and those who follow your content thinking about Christmas and Thanksgiving.
- Writing blog posts relating to festive things – like present-wrapping and gift ideas
- Signposting customers to these blog posts using your newsletter email
- Offer customers an incentive to order early by presenting them with time-limited offers that expire around the time you expect sales to ramp up
- Send out reminders about final shipping dates via email newsletter, and note them on the website
- Create gift guides and share them in advance
- Add holiday-themed touches to your website to get customers in the right mood
A great example of this is Black Friday and Cyber Monday. With the amount of traffic this shopping event attracts, it is no longer viable to limit this event to just one day. A lot of retailers have started to stretch Black Friday offers over the course of a week to cope with the undoubtedly huge quantity of orders.
Alternative Pick-up Options
With additional delivery fees deterring customers, and a huge number of packages to be dealt with, it is among everyone’s interests to ease the flow and innovate new options for customers to receive their items
Here are a couple of ideas companies have had so far. If you’ve got some better ideas and you know how to set a conference call, notify your team and work them in. Remember: time is of the essence!
‘Buy online and pick up in store’ is the disappointingly clumsy phrase behind the fetching acronym BOPIS (what regular people were perfectly happy to call ‘click-and-collect’). It’s an alternative to direct delivery that has the advantage of avoiding the additional courier charges for the customer.
You can simply order the products to your store at the normal rate and notify the customer that it’s there. The customer gets the added advantage of a tangible experience of going to a shop and seeing the item before accepting it. Collaboration between your ecommerce team and retail stores is vital for this.
The downside is that this method only works for a specific type of business i.e. large brick-and-mortar stores with an equally large local consumer base to tap into. Without either of these attributes, the allure of BOPIS’ convenience is mitigated to the point where it no longer seems worth it.
A variation on this approach is to have pick-up lockers. The principle is exactly the same only rather than customers coming directly into the store for their order, the product can be placed in a locker for collection. Collection requires the use of a code that doubles as an indicator that the item has been collected and that that locker is once again available. This minimises in-store congestion, and can be more convenient for both customers and staff.
Depending on the courier service you use, small businesses can take advantage of this as they can often send their parcels to dedicated pick-up points. They don’t need a brick-and-mortar location, like they would with BOPIS.
Make sure you are communicating effectively between departments. This is particularly important for teams that are working remotely. The customer lifecycle management approach only works if the constituent parts notify the rest of the operation when something goes awry. For example, if the head office is made aware of an issue that is likely to cause delays, make sure there are procedures in place to trickle that information throughout the entire company.
Any offers advertised on social media, in emails and on the website should be known about by call handlers so they can provide customers with correct, in-depth information regarding these offers. Consider maximising the fluidity of your communication channels by investing in a virtual business phone system and other technological innovations.
Site Design and Management
The smallest things can dissuade a customer from sealing the deal, so you need to make sure your ecommerce checkout page is as seamless as possible. Chiefly, shopping cart abandonment occurs as a result of insubstantial loading times. Nobody wants to be waiting unnecessarily for 5 minutes, card in hand and ready to go. They want a payment process that is as frictionless as possible.
The same goes for mobile. More and more people are forgoing the desktop experience in favor of the more convenient pocket alternative, so if you’re still thinking of your mobile website and app as secondary to your main site, think again. Treat the app and/or mobile site as an entity in its own right that is deserving of every bit of attention you afford the main site with.
This year is going to be big, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be an intimidating prospect. It is anything but. The potential rewards of this opportunity are immense, and businesses who follow the basic tips outlined in this article will see significant growth over this period. Convert any lingering anxiety and intimidation into excitement, and wholeheartedly commit to delivering the best service possible.
Richard Conn – RingCentral US
Richard Conn is the Senior Director, Search Marketing for RingCentral, a global leader in unified communications and fax services.
He is passionate about connecting businesses and customers and has experience working with Fortune 500 companies such as Google, Experian, Target, Nordstrom, Kayak, Hilton, and Kia. Richard has written for sites such as Multibriefs and Nextdoor.