32 Tips To Make Online Customers Love You
Ian Lurie May 26 2009
I’ve been on a bit of a negative tear lately.
OK, OK. I’ve been on a negative tear since I was born.
So today I’m mixing it up a bit, writing about ways to make customers love you, instead of hate you.
- Make sure your site loads in 3-4 seconds or less on a standard broadband connection. That means that your dual T-3 connection at your office is NOT a good measurement tool. Use the YSlow Firefox plugin to test. Your customers will thank you!
- Provide clear, easy-to-find contact information. On every page of your site. I’ve heard folks say “But then people will call us!” as if that’s a bad thing. If you’re afraid people will call you, maybe you should find another business?
- Send an e-mail to customers when: They place an order; their order is confirmed; their order ships out (include shipment tracking information).
- E-mail your customers 2 weeks after they receive their product or you complete their project. Ask them how it’s going. Ask them what else you can do for them. Folks love that kind of thing. Hell, my family says I’m suffering from a 40-year bout of colic and I still like it when a company pays a little attention.
- Don’t make them log in before checkout. Wow, there it is again. I’ve written about this one at least 5 times in the last year. Imagine you’re at a store. You have a cart with lots of tasty food. You head for the checkout stand. But before you get there someone asks you for your driver’s license. You’d slap them, right? Well, that’s how every customer feels when you demand an e-mail address before they can give you money. Make your customers swoon: Don’t make them login to check out.
- Use large type. Some of us ain’t as young as we used to be. The rest of us sit slouched in our chairs, 3 feet from the monitor. Large type means you can sell stuff instead of buying me bifocals and lecturing everyone else on their posture. Customers will wonder where they’re getting that happy glow – it’s the nice, big letters.
- Take some decent photos. Unless you sell grommets, chances are customers will appreciate a decent product photo. Consider a few detail photos, if your product’s details matter.
- Make stuff easy to find. Whether you’re a consulting company or an online store, the fastest way to your customers’ hearts (besides through their ribcage) is with a clear, easy path from “nice site” to “I’m ready to buy”. Clear product links, sensible categories and a good search engine on your site will all help.
- Group information in a logical way. Think about how your customers shop. Put the pricing info, the quantity and any product options all right near the ‘buy now’ button – all that information fits the final stages of the buying process. Put the product description, selling points and name together with the photo. Customers love that kind of thing.
- If you’re a consultant, tell folks what you do. Then tell them how wonderful you are. Customers want to know what’s in it for them. Every one of your competitors says they’re experienced, are thought leaders and invented the industry. Be original: Tell folks how you can help them.
- Give your customers all the pricing information up-front. If you’re an e-commerce site, don’t hide the shipping cost until the end of the process. Let the customer see the shipping cost as early as possible in the checkout process. They’ll thank you.
- Write standards-compliant code. Clean, standards-compliant code will load fast. Plus, you can design it to render well on cell phones and computer monitors alike. Your customers won’t have a clue about it. And that’s how it should be.
- Go high contrast. Gray text on a black background seems sooo avant garde. Thing is, you’re an engineering consultant. Or you sell sandboxes. Folks who come looking for you aren’t looking for an existential experience. They’re looking for your product or service. Put dark text on a light background and be done with it. Use light text on a dark background only for emphasis.
- Be secure. At least once a year, someone comes to me with a shopping cart system that’s been running for 3-6 months and still has an administrative password set to ‘password’. Yowzers. Your customers won’t thank you for security. But they’ll sure as hell curse you if you let someone make off with the credit card info.
- Be logical about your feature set. I recently made a donation in someone else’s name. I wanted them to receive an e-mail from the organization. But the organization had no way for me to make a donation in another person’s name. Huh? That’s an easy feature to create, and a critical one to have. If you want your customers to really love you, include only the features they need, and don’t leave any out.
- Keep it simple. Your budget’s limited. So don’t include a raft of useless features. Don’t even include features that less than 10% of your audience will want. Keep things super, duper simple. Then, make sure the features you do have are flawlessly executed. Your wallet and your customers will both thank you for it.
- Forget about cool. Please. I’m begging you. I implore you. Just because you love the idea of a Flash-based slide show using the best page-turning techniques 2002 had to offer doesn’t mean your customers will. I say this with utmost affection: Get it through your head. You are not the customer. And your customer doesn’t care about your design team’s Flash prowess.
- Always ask why. I am not going on an anti-Flash rampage in the previous item. Flash has some great sales applications. But always ask yourself, “Why am I adding this?” If you can’t come up with a good reason, right away, trash it. And no, “customers will think it’s cool” is not a good enough reason. Because they won’t. 99% of the time, if you’re justifying something with the ‘cool’ argument, it’s your ego talking.
- Use validation as a helping hand, not a baseball bat. If a customer leaves a form field blank, don’t yell at them. Messages like “Name is required!” won’t make them feel good. It makes them feel like they’re back in elementary school. Try “Please enter your name” instead. Language is a powerful thing. Use it wisely. You’ll win more business.
- Save their work. If someone does leave a form field blank, show them the same page again, with all their data still in the form. Buying online or making a sales request isn’t supposed to be a Kafka-esque nightmare. So don’t make it one.
- Offer ways to stay connected. Let folks sign up for an e-mail newsletter or subscribe to a latest news feed (or a special deals feed). Let ’em find you on Twitter. You’d be surprised how many folks appreciate that sort of thing.
- Don’t be sneaky. See that ‘Register for our newsletter’ checkbox in your information request form? Is it checked by default? Change it to unchecked. That’s not a decision your customers want made for them. And you’re not some smarmy huckster, building spam e-mail lists. So take the high road. They’ll love you for your integrity.
- Teach. Help your clients and customers make a good buying decision. That may sometimes mean they don’t choose you. But they’ll remember you helped them, and they’ll be back.
- Make them feel special. Give past customers a special deal, just for being them. Too often, brands work like crazy to bring in new business, while they treat the old business like carpet lint. Turn the tables. Check in to say ‘hi’. Send them a coupon. Watch your existing customers bring you new ones a mile a minute.
- Don’t stereotype. Dell tried this ridiculous ‘Della’ site for about a week. The site was supposed to focus on women, so they offered stuff like ‘The hottest laptops that match your lifestyle’, including pretty colors and stuff. That’s possibly the single stupidest marketing campaign of 2009. Never, ever assume your audience is a niche demographic. Especially if you’re targeting all women.
- Name stuff for your audience. I’ve written about this many times before. Don’t confuse branding with labeling. If you sell spoons, knives and forks, call them spoons, knives and forks. You can explain why your product is really ‘quality steel flatware’ after the customer finds what they want. Use clear terminology, and your audience will beat a path to your door.
- Be descriptive. Along the same lines as the previous hint, make sure you completely describe the page in the page’s title tag and headline. The title tag is particularly important: It shows up in search listings. I want to know if your site is about car bras before I click the search listing, end up on the wrong kind of site and die of an embarrassment-induced stroke.
- Write scannable content. Use bullets and the like to break up the page. Have no more than 14 words on a line. Don’t make folks read 10-line paragraphs, because they won’t. Make your site easy for visitors to scan, and visitors become customers.
- Test your site in every browser. At a minimum, make sure your site looks and functions well in Internet Explorer 7 and 8 (6 too, if you can), Firefox, Opera and Safari. It doesn’t have to look exactly the same in every browser, but it should work, and look good. Trust me, your customers won’t notice a thing. And that’s good.
- Be accessible. Use the tabindex attribute to let folks tab from field to field in a form. Use clear ALT text for your images. Make sure your site is understandable in a text-only browser like Lynx. You never know who will come to your site using a screen reader or something similar. If they do, you can help them out with a few simple steps and win a customer for life.
- Have a friendly 404 page. Help customers find what they need, even if they did get your page URL wrong. Use a friendly 404 page, not the hideous default page that your server delivers. I explain how to create a 404 page here.
- Check for errors and fix them. Your server logs every kind of error thrown by your site: From 404 ‘page not found’ to 500 ‘oh my god you broke my spine’ type stuff. Review the list periodically. Fix what you find, even if it’s a “user error”. To a customer, there are no user errors. Only errors. So fix those errors and you’ll have more happy customers.
Don’t worry, I’m not turning over a new leaf…
CEO & Founder
Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent Inc. He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes.com and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad:Tech. Follow him on Twitter at portentint. He also just published a book about strategy for services businesses: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle. Read More