Direct-to-Customer Commerce

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

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 fifth step to multichannel commerce

Step five is building a content management system … a nice overview of CMS appears in Wikipedia — click here.

The principle idea behind CMS is to both capture all the content you develop about your company, your products, your services, your people, etc.  And make it available, in a consistent way, for use in any media.

Of course, the most common use is on web sites and in emails.  But it can also be used in the social media … and should be.  Because at its essence, social media is a private publishing solution, which enables you to build your own subscriber base, present your own content, and advertise your own company.

Thus, content becomes a significant asset, which should be created, maintained and leveraged as much as possible.  A CMS enables these functions.

When you consider how difficult it can be to create good content for your company, and the increasing opportunities to leverage that effort across multiple media for multiple purposes, the obvious value of content management simply explodes.

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

Are you using Social Media for Customer Relationships

If you’re not, you probably should be.  When your customers mention you in Twitter, on Facebook, or in any other social media, they are giving you feedback — good or bad — and it’s your chance to interact with them.

Don’t let these opportunities go by.  And don’t let social media only be the domain of the marketing staff.  Because social media are not just for distributing promotion codes or advertising messages.  Social media are for venting.  For praising.  For bashing.  For ….

Social media are your chance to demonstrate you are listening, paying attention, and willing to do something.

New tools are coming out regularly … they are very affordable for most companies.  You should monitor the social media with the same discipline and focus as you give your phone calls and emails.  Well, maybe more focus, because a lot of companies try to avoid answering the phone and take forever to answer emails!

Filed under: Ideas, Opinion, , , , , , ,

The last step in direct marketing channel integration

I had lunch earlier this week with a old and tenured friend, who runs a personalized mail business.  As with many, if not most or all, direct mail production companies, his business is suffering some.

He asked me to peer into the future and tell me what I thought was going to happen to the industry.  I won’t claim that my insights are better or more predictably accurate than anyone elses, but here they are:

First, I think the efficacy of direct marketing is being publicly proven — again.  For example, as I posted earlier.  The DRTV business is growing in this economic downturn, because of the reduced price of network TV advertising.  General advertising agencies don’t have budgets from their clients to “over pay” for television time, so DRTV is proving how much stuff you can really sell over TV, rather than just advertise it.

Second, while retail sales are flat or down, ecommerce and mail-order sales are flat or increasing (this according to US Dept of Labor statistics).  Retailers continue to commit increasing resources to their ecommerce initiatives.  Chicos FAS even “replaced” their CEO because he had not devoted sufficient resources to their “direct” business, which was growing faster than any other segment.

Third, internet based retail stores are great “buying” channels, but poor “shopping” channels.  Even with ubiquitous broadband access, you cannot flip thru a web site the way you can flip thru a catalog.  Interestingly, the big catalog companies, such as LLBean and Lands End and others, continue to drive business to their web site by mailing catalogs.  And their web sites are continuing to grow as the point of origin for more and more of their total order volume.

Fourth, electronic-mail does not replace paper-mail (at least, not yet).  By all reports I’ve heard, response to email marketing is 10-20% of response to paper-mail marketing.  That means if you get 2% response to a catalog, you’ll get 0.2% response to an email effort — at best.

And even if the email marketing effort is statistically more profitable, the gross sales and net income remains dramatically lower than traditional direct marketing efforts.  So, all of these merchants who are trying to save money by shifting declining resources to electronic marketing will likely find they will have to return to a more balanced budgetary strategy.

The more difficult question is when will this rebalancing occur — almost impossible to predict.

So, here’s the question I think we need to be contemplating more:

How can we integrate the web as a response channel to paper-based direct marketing efforts, in order to document their efficacy?

And in my opinion, this integration should be more than back-matching orders to mailing files, or forcing customers to enter “source codes” from their catalog.

Let’s have a little creativity in response tracking

Filed under: Direct Commerce, Opinion, , , , , , ,

One Problem with Email Marketing

One of the economic realities of paper-based direct marketing is that the cost of production and postage provide an incentive for the marketer/merchant to optimize certain aspects of the marketing effort, such as:

  • duplicate address elimination
  • householding multiple names at the same address
  • analysis to eliminate unlikely responders or select likely responders
Unfortunately, the cost of email marketing is so low — and it gets to almost nothing when the the volume of messages gets very large — that the cost of the processing to clean lists or optimize responsiveness costs more than just including all the dupes and poor responder names.
I don’t really have a solution to propose for this, since economics are what they are.
But I do believe that, in the long run, failure to minimize unnecessary emails will lead to continuing issues to marketers — just as it did for paper-based direct marketing.
Any ideas?

Filed under: Direct Commerce, Opinion,

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