Thursday, 21 February 2013

Human engagement - even more important in the online world

It has always struck me as almost laughingly inappropriate that interaction with online customer service facilities invariably commences with the customer having to click a button labeled ‘submit’.  Now, while I accept that the word has a fairly broad meaning, the way I first became familiar with ‘submit’ was in the school playground, uttered by a bully who had me in an inescapable and very painful arm lock!

Surely there is a more engaging way to welcome customers into your online environment?  And while we are on the subject, my other bugbear is emails from corporate entities asking you to do something – or maybe even buy from them – but their email address starts with ‘donotreply@’.

Many companies seem to believe – if indeed they give it any real thought – that the nuances of communication no longer matter in the online world when they are not dealing face to face with their customers. So I started thinking about which businesses communicate in an engaging manner online and it tended to be the smaller businesses that nurture their brand carefully and have probably grown up since the dawn of the internet or perhaps because of the internet.

This in turn got me thinking about Amazon, which is currently getting a fair amount of stick over various issues, but probably remains a favourite supplier for most us and has grown, against many expectations, to be enormous. How did they get to be quite so big and successful? Richard L Brandt’s book One Click – Jeff Bezos and the rise of provides a number of answers besides Bezos’s driven personality and his policy that it would be the ‘stupidest decision’ to seek profitability in the early years. 

What drove Amazon’s success initially and has played a big part in maintaining it ever since is communication, which Bezos saw as even more important when you do not have the opportunity to look your customer in the eye.  After all, he reasoned, unhappy (online) customers have the ability to spread complaints to thousands through chatrooms and news groups. So among the early tenets of Amazon’s customer experience were:

·      Allowing customers to getting well into the ordering process before making them create an account.
·      Reassuring wording by the into-basket button such as ‘you can always take it out later’.
·      Giving conservative estimates on delivery times so that any surprises are positive rather than negative.
·      Allowing negative book reviews on the site – a proposition that seemed extraordinary when it started.

As first went live – from a garage in which old doors had been turned into desks - they all listened for the bell that had been rigged up to ring every time a sale came through.  It was only a couple of days before the bell had to be disconnected – it had become just too annoying.

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