Direct-to-Customer Commerce

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Strategic insights into the direct commerce industry, including ecommerce, direct marketing and related fields

Customer Engagement v Customer Service

I’m going to write about this again later, but here’s a link to a blog post by Seth Godin on Customer Service.  It’s entitled, The only purpose of ‘customer service’.

He makes a great point about customer service, so contemplate what he says about customer service.  Then, consider how, when talking about social media and marketing, so many people are discussing customer engagement.

I don’t mean to infer that customer engagement is the same thing as customer service.  I don’t think it is.  But I probably do think customer service is more important than customer engagement.

We’re using words in marketing these days, which suggests we can create a nearly intimate relationship between a business and its customers.  And I think that borders on the ridiculous.

I admit, I’m a real fan of Five Guys, a franchise that sells hamburgers and fries.  Their second store is right near my home and I’ve been eating there for a long time.  But I remain a fan, because their burgers remain among the best I eat.  And they’re a good value, from a price point of view.  So, I’m a fan because they continue to provide me a good product at what I consider a good price.

When they fail to do that, they may lose me as a fan.

If you want to set customer engagement as a goal for your company … go for it.  But only after you get everything else correct, first.

Filed under: Direct Commerce, multichannel commerce, Opinion, , , , , ,

The eighth step to multichannel commerce

Step 8 is marketing & promotion.

What a can of worms that is … or at least can be!  And obviously, in a single post, I’m not going to cover this topic.  This is a topic of unending variables.

I really only want to make a few points.  First recognize the difference between the channel or medium and the activity.  You can advertise by mail, market by mail and promote by mail.  Mail is a medium of communications.  Advertising, marketing and promoting are the activities.

Multichannel commerce, it seems clear, by definition refers to conducting commerce (which means generating sales) thru multiple channels.  So, I’m not taking about advertising, which is just sending a message.  I’m thinking about making an offer to a customer or prospective customer to conclude a transaction with me.

We have more channels than ever, for commerce:

  • brick and mortar stores (fact-to-face)
  • paper mail (flyers, postcards, letter packages, catalogs)
  • electronic mail
  • social media
  • web store
  • smart phone app
  • tablet app
  • telephone
  • direct response broadcast (radio, television)

… and I’m probably leaving something out.

So, in the ideal world, your marketing & promotion efforts will generate commerce transactions with your customers.  And it should be your customers choice to use any particular channel.  Your offers, products, promotions should all be visible to your customers across all channels.  And that takes no small effort.

Here’s the next important point:  If you can’t measure it, consider not doing it.  The beauty of direct marketing, direct commerce, whatever you choose to call it, is that it’s measurable.  And with technology you can almost measure everything.  But not everything is worth measuring.  But if you’re not measuring anything, you’re wasting a lot of time and money.  And if you’re measuring so much you can’t comprehend the data or analyze the data, you’re still wasting a lot of time and money.

So, be deliberate about what you measure.  The most basic and most useful things to measure are:

  • customers who got an offer
  • customers who bought
  • how much they bought
  • how many they bought
  • what it cost to make the offer
  • what it cost to fulfill the offer

You’ll know a lot, if you keep these six data points for every channel and every promotion.

Think about this … it’s a lot to think about.

Filed under: Ideas, multichannel commerce, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The seventh step to multichannel commerce

We’re getting there, slowly but surely.

This is the step where everyone wants to start … it’s time to set up a web site.

Some of my consulting colleagues have reported there are over 900 ecommerce platforms, from which a merchant can select, upon which they can build an ecommerce store.  The variables seem to go on forever … but don’t forget the previous six steps we’ve outlined.  Those are the non-negotiables (or at least, should be).

After those, nearly everything may negotiable.  Merchants all think their business is unique and needs features or capabilities which other merchants don’t need.  Or they need some feature tweaked.  The only thing I would remind you of is that changes, tweaks and new/modified features cost money.  So, before you go requiring lots of customizing, make sure the customization you need will actually make more money for you than taking the feature, the way it comes.

Consultants love to help clients customize things … often makes them more money.  But many, if not nearly every, merchant asks for things that do not increase sales and may even increase cost or have other negative impacts.

There is a lot to be said for finding an ecommerce platform that has:

  • experience in your industry
  • experience with your other applications, such as Product Master, Inventory, OMS, WMS
  • uses a technology your staff is already familiar with, so you can make minor changes and fixes, yourself
  • an effective user interface, which merchandisers, customer service reps and others can be quickly trained on
  • a plan to stay up-to-date on marketing and technology improvements
  • already supports your current marketing activities
  • supports your current payment processors
  • a good cultural fit with your present staff

When you select your ecommerce platform, you must include every department in the decision.  Don’t let the technology people drive the decision without major input from merchandising, customer service, finance, operations.  It’s very expensive to change ecommerce horses … and the technology itself is not always the most important consideration.

It’s about people and process … the technology is actually less expensive to change.

Then again, take advantage of the technology to improve your processes and perhaps lower your labor costs.

Filed under: Direct Commerce, Ideas, multichannel commerce, Opinion, , , , , , , , , , , ,

The sixth step to multi-channel commerce

Step 6 is about customer service.

Customer service poses an interesting problem for multi-channel merchants.  A common complaint about customer service at brick & mortar stores is that a shopper often can’t find anyone to even take their money, much less help them with a problem.  And I suspect this is at least one factor in driving some people to the web, where customer-self-service is more possible.

In the direct commerce environment, merchants often are faced with a conflicting dilemma.  Customer service remains an expensive proposition, even when it’s over the phone or via some text based medium (SMS, chat, Twitter, email, Facebook), because it takes so many people.

However, on the other side, customer service is often a merchant differentiator.  So, it’s well within the self-interest of merchants to provide as good a customer service experience as possible.

Seth Godin, in his blog, on Sep 26, 2012, wrote:   The simplest customer service frustration question of all … “Why isn’t this as important to you as it is to me?”

And the reality, it often seems, is that a customer’s problem is rarely as important to the merchant as it is to the customer.  But that is so easy to change, if merchant leadership decides to do it.

Nearly everyone has had horrible customer service experiences and nearly everyone has had great ones.  Customer Service staff needs to have the authority to fix customer issues and the tools to do so.

In addition, customer service should be reachable via a channel or medium of the customer’s choice … a list of options which is continuing to grow:

  • phone
  • web self service
  • chat
  • SMS (short message service), aka text messaging
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • electronic mail

And here’s an important reminder:  Customer Service should come before your web site.  It rarely does, but it should.  Because the moment your web store goes live, you’ll need customer service.

Filed under: Direct Commerce, Ideas, multichannel commerce, , , , , , , , , ,

The State Of E-Commerce Checkout Design

An article by this title was posted last week at Smashing Magazine, a publication about web design and programming.  Very much worth reading.

However, a careful reading highlights factors that have always been true in the larger direct commerce marketplace.  Some of the characteristics of checkout design vary, based upon the size of the merchant (in sales) and the nature of the market which the merchant services.

Thus, when you read about what “best practices” are; or what factors are “common” or “typical”, you should certainly consider those practices.  But you should also conduct A:B tests to confirm these practices make a difference to your customers.  Because their the only customers that count … or should count.

Filed under: Direct Commerce, News, , , , , ,

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