No, Really – We Don’t Want to Talk to Customers!
As bizarre as that sounds, it is the idealistic goal of any ecommerce strategy. If I can do business with you digitally – meaning through my web site, automated/triggered emails, SMS, robotic chat – and never have to talk to you I will have minimized my costs of sales and maybe someday I can get rid of those pesky phone agents. The classic example… I double dare you to find a phone number on Amazon.com. They have a number, but it’s not on their website, you have to use Google to find it. Heck, there are entire websites dedicated to helping you find and use customer service numbers.
No doubt this strategy is working for some. We all make purchases online without talking to anyone. And I have had some remarkably successful chat experiences – human-driven as well as robotic (I’m guessing ;). And relative to total revenues and transaction volume you would not believe how small the call centers are for some of these ginormous on-line retailers.
But I find it a bit of a reach to be advocating or predicting that your 800# will cease to exist, or that the phone is a relic destined to die like the CB Radio (if you don’t recognize that reference you are at least a millennial, and have for sure never watched Smokey & the Bandit).
What I am finding in my journey is that the prominence or scarcity of an 800# has a lot to do with the culture and values of a company. Take sweetwater.com as an example (love you guys!) – the largest online-only retailer of musical instruments and pro audio gear. Their 800# is prominently and proudly displayed on their website. And when you buy, you get your own engineer assigned to you. And if you call from a number that they recognize you are routed to your engineer. What’s even crazier is I get calls after I place an order to make sure everything is OK – oh snap! – they called me yesterday to tell me my engineer has changed and to introduce the new guy!!
Do they have to do this? No. Then why? Because that’s the way founder and CEO Chuck Surack wants it to be. As he says, “we believe in doing the right thing”. And it’s working. Business is booming because they have built an amazingly loyal following – and loyalty is a hard thing to achieve in the online world.
Which brings me to my lesson of the week.
I’m currently working with another “largest online-only retailer of [fill in the blank]”. They’ve got an amazingly loyal fan base too. I’m talking to them because they want to be MORE proactive about engaging online shoppers on the phone. And their AOV (average order value) is less than $100 USD. Huh?!
Many of the products they sell are consumable goods – think a 60 day supply of whatever. And with thousands of SKUs, for products that may seem similar, product selection can be challenging. Yes, they have chat agents (real ones) and they are doing a great job helping buyers find the right product. But they also know there is only so much they can do in chat. Their 800# is prominent and its 24 x 7, but if you do call and are on their website, the phone agents can’t easily direct you to recommended products on the site like the chat agents can. Moreover, they believe if they are proactive about getting you on the phone when it looks like you need help, and digitally collaborate with you while you are on their website to make it easier for you to find the right products, that you too will become a loyal fan. And that $100 order is more likely to turn into dependable bi-monthly repeat business, and you are likely to buy more.
Sounds like smart business to me.
What’s your take? When is your customer worth a phone call? How valuable is loyalty in your online world? At what point is the AOV too small to warrant that human touch?
I look forward to your thoughts.
Thanks again you for your time!
About David Holmes: I started my career as a sales guy, then became a developer for Deloitte after getting my MS in Decision Sciences. While at Deloitte I moved into IT consulting. I bagged my first marketing gig with KnowledgeWare in the early 90’s. Then this start-up called CST came along and asked me to be their first marketing guy. I had an awesome ride – rebranding the company to Jacada and taking it public in 1999. After 14 years I decided to try something a little different, but always had Jacada in my rearview mirror. After two more CMO gigs I am “back home”. I now have this amazing opportunity to help this 25 year old company launch more new offerings and create more new markets.
I’m married to an awesome woman from Uruguay (yes, I totally out-kicked my coverage!) and I’m becoming a rock star late in life with my new band!