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Vanessa’s Variety for the Week of December 12th, 2008

Posted on December 12, 2008 by Vanessa

If you’re in retail I doubt you’ve had time to catch up on this week’s blog highlights.  I found these particularly interesting this week:

  • Search Engine Marketers, I suggest reading Search Engine Land’s post on 9 Myths of Landing Page Quality Score.
  • It’s the giving season, and bloggers are doing their part.  Brian Smith of Comparison Shopping Engines is growing a mustache to raise money for DonorsChoose, an organization that lets teachers submit projects they need funding for, if you are interested you can go to his giving page at  Joe Hall proposes linking to charities to improve their web presence.  Finally, if you Twitter give Squidoo a tweet and they will donate to charity as well.
  • Rand from SEOmoz covers the fundamentals of an SEO campaign in this week’s Whiteboard Friday.
  • As social networking becomes increasingly more popular the need for reputation management grows.  According to the London School of Economics via Denise Shiffman’s Engagement blog “Every 1% reduction in negative word of mouth correlated to .41% growth, while a 1% increase in positive word of mouth correlated to just .14% growth. In other words, reducing negative comments could grow revenue by 300% over increasing positive comments.”
  • Search Engine Guide’s, Stoney deGeyter, takes a look back at what he wanted for Christmas from the search engines in 2002.  To see if he got what he asked for click here.

Bonus Articles

Today is intern Justin's last day, so I asked him to put together his favorite posts from the week as well.  His choices are probably more useful than you may have thought...
  • Everyone working in the marketing department of your company, you may want to read this. The internet has made it much it easier to measure just how valuable you really are...sorry. 
  • Want a job where you work from home making videos about whatever you want while raking in thousands of dollars a month? Well look no further than Youtube. Sounds too good to be true? Well it isn't exactly as easy as it sounds. Building up a fan base on the internet big enough for companies to want to advertise through you will take a while. But here is an article about some of the success stories of Youtube.
  • Do you need to reach more people with your advertising? Well, Google has extended its AdWords products to any mobile device that has HTML browsing, such as the iPhone  or T-Mobile's G1. "This new option will now allow you to display your ads specifically on these devices, create exclusive campaigns for them, and get separate performance reporting."
  • Customer service is a big part of a computer company, and many people will purchase a certain brand over another just because of their customer service. Well, it seems that Dell did not get the memo. Dell is now "charging customers a monthly fee to have access to its United States-based customer service representatives." You can read more about it here.


Is There Room for Textspeak in the Workplace?

Posted on November 26, 2008 by Josh

chat will brb thx 4 ur p8ience 

I recently read a blog post by Frank Reed at Marketing Pilgrim called "R U 2 Casual w Your Biz Talk?"  In the article, Frank is reacting to a WSJ article that discusses the casual use of the abbreviated shorthand, textspeak. I understand that, for Gen Y, textspeak is a clear and concise means of communication. They live in a world where they have unlimited (or hundreds of) texts, but maybe not unlimited calling minutes with friends. A world where it may be easier and cheaper to send an IM or a text than to pick up the phone to call, not only that, people can't hear what you are texting, so it's potentially more private than a voice conversation. Truly, there are some great reasons that Generation Y prefers texting to calling.  For the professional world, textspeak is not considered to be...well...professional; and when it comes to Live Chat for our customers, it definitely does not fly.

Customers want to know that the person that they are dealing with is both competent and capable, and the use of textspeak can diminish the customer’s confidence in the abilities of the representative. The use of textspeak in a service environment is unprofessional and can reflect negatively on your company and its staff. It diminishes the customer's expectations of what your company can do for them. Perhaps a company that sells "really cool" products might find it acceptable to use loose language with sales clientele. However, when dealing with a support issue, where a customer has a potential problem, they need clear language that isn't left to their interpretation. Textspeak can also come off to a customer as smug. Do not presume that a customer is ok with textspeak if they use it during a conversation. They are counting on you to be professional, especially if there is an issue that needs resolving.

If your business uses Live Chat as a communication option, be sure to review "speaking" guidelines with your staff. Additionally, review transcripts of chats to ensure that your service reps are representing your company in a pleasing way, and that they are not communicating with your customers in a way that is confusing or juvenile. According to LivePerson in face-to-face communications "55% of what we communicate is through our tone of voice, 38% of the message is by our appearance or body language, and only 7 % is by the words we use". Clearly, live chat is does not present a face-to-face option, so the words we use become much more important. LivePerson recommends paying attention to spelling and grammar as part of your basic “netiquette”. They have provided a rather useful list of basic rules to follow:

  • Use correct punctuation.
  • Use proper capitalization.
  • Use of exclamation marks are okay, e.g. "Sure! I'll be glad to help you."
  • Maintain a friendly, but professional tone.
  • Write complete sentences.
  • Use articles (a, an, the) and sentences with subjects and verbs.

Talk to your reps about professional language and what that means for your company. Let your people know, when they are hired, that your office is not a place for "OMG" and "brb" and "ROFL"; especially not with customers!


Customer Service Training: The Representation of the Company Can Depend On It

Posted on October 7, 2008 by Archives

The importance of training new and current staff members is very important in customer service, especially in a call center environment.  The first impression of the company is likely based on how well the representatives respond to customers.

At Gordian Project when we hire a new CSR (Customer Service Representative), we want them to receive the best training possible. Our training consists of educating the representative in what we believe to be customer service’s three core responsibilities, which also happen to be our three main methods of contact. There are many aspects to training a CSR, but in order to properly execute communications with our customers we assign greater values to training on the phones/voicemail, email, and LivePerson.

Assigning responsibility to answering phones is pretty straight forward.  The CSR is tasked with answering the customer service phone lines. Although this sounds simple it is also very important. We have several lines a customer can call into: CS cancellations, CS returns, and CS sales. Depending on what line the customer selects, the CSR assists them appropriately. The importance that we are attempting to impress upon the trainee here is that, each customer, depending on their need, will need to be taken care of differently. There are many reasons our customers call in, some of them being assistance placing an order, order status, product inquiry, checking stock, shipping inquiry, assistance in returning a product or requesting an RMA (Return Merchandise Authorization). A qualified and seasoned representative should be able to help the customer that is calling for any of the above reasons, and not in a robotic fashion.  For instance the person calling in that wants assistance in placing an order is likely unfamiliar with the product, the company, or placing an order online.  Knowing these traits gives the representative the opportunity to forge a relationship with the customer, by helping them with products that may be needed to finish the installation of the product they are ordering, answering questions about our company so they are comfortable placing an order with us, or simply assisting a new internet user place an order.
We find the most efficient way in training someone on the phone is to let them shadow an experienced CSR. In doing this they can observe a variety of calls that we typically receive, and listen to the appropriate language that should be utilized in customer communications. This also allows trainees to ask the experienced CSR questions regarding the calls as they arise. Once the trainee has shadowed an experienced CSR for a set amount of time, the trainee is able to answer calls with the experienced CSR looking on so they are able to assist if any questions arise.

The second duty our new CSRs are trained on is voicemail. It is extremely important in a call center to get back to customers in a reasonable amount of time. Our goal is always returning a call within 24 hours, most of the time this goal is reachable depending upon the call volume. When voicemail queues are checked they are entered into a ticket system that has been created especially for voicemail. The ticket consists of entering any or all of the following information: First and last name, phone number, email, order number, and LivePerson ticket number. Contact type and an inquiry type should also be selected if the customer has left this information. A notes section is provided as well so that the person responsible for returning the call has all pertinent information. We feel all of these fields assist in our response and preparation for calling the customer back. Training a CSR in this area is simple and easy because all you have to do is enter the information left in the voicemail into the ticket fields. The importance we stress in this area is returning the customer’s voicemail within a reasonable amount of time.

The third task is Live Person which covers our email and chat program. All customer emails are sent through this program and they have the ability to chat with us during business hours by simply clicking the chat icon on our site. This area of customer service is also important because a number of our customers use the email and “chat” feature for product inquiries, order status, help with an order, help with a return, etc… The chat feature is becoming more popular everyday as it allows a customer to be connected with a CSR quickly without having to pick up a phone.
Training new or experienced CSRs in this area of customer service, puts their multi-task abilities to use. They must be able to answer several emails in a timely manner while taking chats in-between. Training on this task is similar to phones in that trainees shadow someone that is experienced in LivePerson. They explain how the program works and show them first hand how to answer emails and assist a customer via chat. Learning to answer emails can take some time as the CSR has to also be familiar with our order system and how to check for order status and return status. Our call center feels that Live Chat feature from LivePerson is one of our greatest tools as it allows a CSR to do more than one task at a time.

Successful training is very important for employees that are directly interacting with customers. The effectiveness of being able to assist customers is dependent upon the quality of the customer service skills they are taught, and the tools available to them. The way our employees represent customer service to our customers will determine how our customers feel about our business practices and can be a determining factor when or if they decide to do business with us in the future.

I Stand Corrected: Blogging is More Than Random Thoughts and Voyeurs

Posted on September 11, 2008 by Jeff

Several months ago, we, the staff of Gordian Project, set out to author a blog. Not that all of us immediately found the prospect as inviting as others, but we generally engage a team spirit; thus the eCommerce and Entrepreneurship Blog.

I understood the blog’s driving purpose to be sharing our personal experiences within our given area of discipline as it relates to all things eCommerce. After several months of participation, I thought I would review our blog.

Caveat: I’d never read a blog going into this project, nor had I any desire to. The actual thought of sitting around reading peoples random thoughts makes me feel a bit voyeuristic. After reading Wikipedia’s definition of voyeuristic, it certainly isn’t that. Still, to this day, I’ve had no desire to read blogs other than for the purpose of this review.

I’m not sure it counts as “reading” but the one key area I check out on our blog each month is the Authors section of the home page. The key here is to identify how many posts I have in relation to other staff. I’m not sure what about life turns everything into a competition. This post will launch me forward to eight posts, however, I know I’ve written a couple that haven’t yet made it past the cutting room floor so this number isn’t hard and fast. But going with eight puts me in a respectable position.

Vanessa’s an over achiever at 40, but in all fairness she administrates the blog. I doubt any of her posts have hit the cutting room floor. If light reading and interesting tidbits is your thing, Vanessa’s Variety for the Week delivers. She shares what’s going on around other blog spaces, here at the office, and perhaps her life more than any other contributor.

Matt is our Development Manager. We’re among the elders of the office so I’ve truly appreciated our friendship. I don’t read his posts. I don’t understand what he does beyond the fact that I know he can fix or improve just about any internal process. Any time I walk past his desk he has a monitor filled with gibberish. I simply figure I won’t understand his posts either. Nice picture of his son in his most recent post though.

You might also notice Zach has 11 posts as of today. I’d read his if you only have a few minutes each day. Scanning through his titles, (that counts as reading I don’t care what anyone says) I find his posts most on topic: They include Website Improvements: Test Basic Usability Before Advancing, Google Sitelinks: Capturing My Proverbial Moby Dick, and Google Search Engine Results Pages Illustrated.

As a partner of Gordian Project I have to say bang up job Brian! I particularly enjoyed your Soft Economy Priorities? Time to Paint Your Parking Spaces; that’s leadership.

I’d like to thank Josh for his most recent post, The iPhone 3G Saved My Life. It truly inspired me to write this post. All this time I’d banged my head against the desk trying to come up with another post showcasing the thrilling world of Supply Chain, when all I needed was an iPhone post. Below, the desk I bang my head on as taken with my iPhone.

Jeff's Desk Taken with iPhone

Over time, you’ll notice that Elizabeth stopped contributing as often. I have mixed emotions on this one. Elizabeth so desired to be a mother and now she is enjoying that gift with her daughter, Kara, as a stay at home mom. Congratulations Liz! However, Elizabeth also worked in Supply Chain and guess what that means, I’ve had to cover Supply Chain blogging without her. Thanks Liz!

I’ve actually loved reading Ellen’s posts for the first time as I prepared for this post. Ellen has taken the reins of a department that everyone loves to hate, HR. She sifts through all the big issues like food programs and political sensitivity. What a fun department to be in. Blog post ideas just shoot across Ellen’s desk, I’m sure. Ellen also manages Accounts Payable but I’ve yet to see a post with any real hard numbers.

Ryan takes his job seriously. He’s building a career, a future. He’s a smart guy who understands this isn’t just a 9 to 5 but an opportunity for him to build a foundation for his future. He’s always learning and looking for how to add value to the company. His posts are read as a “Where’s Ryan?” I just hope he’s not building his resume based on Ryan’s Randomness for the Week of June 20th, 2008.

Tim, as partner, bang up job! Please don’t break your run on providing an image in every post. No one does it better than you.

Our blog was launched just prior to Simon’s moving on to launch his own business. Nice work getting in a post you can use as a business cardSmile.

Before you jump to any conclusions about why Emily posted her first and, to this day, last post May 19th 2008, I dare you to read it (Dealing with Difficult Customers: Best Practices for Addressing Customer Complaints). She is right now over there fighting the good fight. Without her and her team keeping those customers happy there’s no need for this eCommerce and Entrepreneurship blog.

And finally I’d like to say welcome to Arianna. She brings so much to the table: customer service experience, multilingual, eye for detail and now she’s a vital part of Supply Chain. FYI Arianna…I’m going to need at least one post a monthSmile.

So those are my “collective of experiences, thoughts, processes and updates from people that are not only actively working in ecommerce but are also zealous about the industry.”

The eCommerce Customer Service Checklist

Posted on September 10, 2008 by josh

I came across a list of 50 things every business should be doing in eCommerce Customer Service at the blog. Christina Laun, the author, does a good job of putting together the list (which can be found here). There are a few things that I would add to her relatively comprehensive list:

51.  Look for easy and scalable solutions. You will hear us say this a lot. Given our mission, it’s critical that we find solutions that are relatively easy and inexpensive to implement (in terms of dollars and resources) and solutions that do not require a complete retooling every time we copy and paste our ecommerce platform into a new vertical market.

52.  Don’t reinvent the wheel.  Examine what others have done. Very few internet retailers can afford to create or monetize bleeding edge technology. Don’t be too creative. Do what you know works based on the experience of others.

53.  Look at your competition. Evaluate what industry leaders are doing in your market space. Certainly, you will want stay in the confines of your means and capabilities (see #51 and #52).

54.   Take time to understand customer expectations and where you may fall short. Evaluate what you do poorly and focus on opportunities to improve where you fall furthest short of expectations. This goes beyond treating problems as opportunities. This means you are constantly looking for and recognizing a problem (especially chronic problems), taking a global view, and creating an easy and scalable solution.

I disagree with # 33 from Christina’s list, “Don’t pitch to unhappy customers”. I say sell to all customers. I don’t mean in the Glengarry Glen Ross, Always Be Closing kind of way. I mean let customers know that you’re serious about earning their business. If you have an unhappy customer, chances are that customer still has a need. Look for ways to fill that need in a way that is both satisfactory for the customer and profitable for your company.

Also, listings 51 through 54 don’t necessarily only appeal to the customer service department. These can be applied to every department in your organization.


Consumer Research: An Insight to the Buying Patterns of the Online Hispanic Shopper

Posted on July 29, 2008 by Arianna

Providing excellent service in today’s highly competitive marketplace is somewhat difficult for call centers. Even more difficult is the task of servicing multilingual customers.  Dealing with Hispanic customers encompasses customer relationship opportunities that are not necessarily typical to other demographics. There are a few differences that make it more difficult to “seal the deal” on a purchase, but that can create a pathway to repeat purchases.  I know these things from experience, not only am I myself a Hispanic, Bilingual woman, but I come from a family that encapsulates the Mexican culture.

From my experiences I have learned three key things about Hispanic consumers who decide to purchase from an unknown company and these are the things the look for prior to completing a purchase.  The three key elements I am referring to are: simplicity, relationship and security.


Having a website that is easy to browse and understand is essential when dealing with Hispanic consumers. They want to feel like they understand and have control of the website, not fearing that they may get tricked, or that there is a chance they make a costly mistake. Another feature that may be the most important is the ability to locate a contact phone number; which brings us to the next feature they look for, a relationship.


Having a relationship with our customers can be very time consuming and costly, especially when time is money. With Internet sales sky rocketing, the seller-consumer relationship has dropped considerably. There is no need to talk to someone if you can do it alone, online. Hispanic consumers however, think differently. Though they might be using a different mean (store vs. online) by which they are purchasing an item, a relationship is still essential. Spanish speakers want to be able to ask many questions, talk about the products, and even want to be walked through the ordering process. But the relationship does not stop there. After the sale has been made, Hispanic consumers expect a phone call or an email with updates on their order.  Just as simplicity builds upon the relationship aspect of this purchasing decision, relationship builds on the next point, security.


The relationship that is started with a Hispanic customer brings about a sense of security for the customer. They know two things:

  1. They purchased an item from an actual “person”.
  2. That person took the time to know who they were and what they purchased by simply picking up the phone.

These two simple facts reduce any fear that they might have had from purchasing from a new vendor. Thus allowing the customer to relax and patiently wait for their order.

These three features, while often difficult to provide, can and will give a company a competitive advantage. When fully satisfied with the above, a Hispanic customer is more likely to become a return customer. Loyalty has to be one of their greatest attributes. When a Spanish speaking customer finds a company that provides them with a relationship, that company becomes a “friend”; a friend whom you trust and continue to do business with. 

Opportunity for Growth

According to there are 37 million Hispanics in the United States alone.   An estimated 15 million use the internet, and this number is expected to increase by 20% year over year.  Based on these attributes and our desire to create these relationships, we ourselves have been able to track remarkable results in this demographic.  We have experienced a 4.7% increase in repeat purchases with this customer base. We understand that a customer will not be purchasing a faucet monthly or even yearly, but the fact is that with our Hispanic customers, loyalty stands and we see that revealed in our numbers.  As this market continues to grow so does the opportunity for all internet retailers. 


Blogging Live: Merchandising Workshop--The Golden Rule of Online Merchandising

Posted on July 16, 2008 by Vanessa

The presenter for this session was Bryan Eisenberg, Co-Founder Future Now Inc.

Bryan is a great speaker, he got his plugs out of the way and let us all know that his company has gone public and his new book is coming out any day now.  He was also nice enough to share that the audience there was a talented hard working experienced group, and that he thought the challenges we are facing here are at a different level than those he has experienced at the many other conferences he speaks at.  He then added that he believes there is a disconnect between what we are saying about our websites and how great they are and what our websites actually look like. He goes on to say (this quote and the others are paraphrased) "At work we wear superhero capes, and disconnect ourselves between who we are when we go home and shop."  He believes that there has been more change to commerce and customer behavior in the last 7 years than the past 500.  He explains this theory in discussing what people do when they watch T.V. and that television advertisers have had to essentially surprise people to get their attention.  This is because as he states "People who are watching T.V. are multi-tasking, in fact a Yahoo study shows that 40% of the people that are watching T.V. are asleep".  His point about this was all leading up to the revelation that those who are shopping online, can't really be actively doing something else, like sleeping, while they are shopping, he reiterates the point by reminding us that these customers are actively involved in our websites.  He challenges the crowd to stop being so busy with the daily tasks that seem urgent and instead re-focus and on the important.

Future Now Studies

His company, Future Now Inc., consults websites and benchmarks the industry.  One of their studies showed that 76.7% of internet retailers did not pass their test.  He adds that this is "Frightening".  He lets us know that we are getting better at optimization according to his studies, but those of us who have been only using Google products will need to move on to something more sophisticated if we want to keep up, his explanation is that Google products are cool because they get smaller retailers started with testing and optimization but there is a reason they are free and it is because the paid versions offer more.  (As an aside, and this is me, I have talked to other retailers of our size who have tried analytics solutions that they paid for and went back to Google analytics, so this may be true for some of these solutions, but I don't think that it is true of all).  Now back to the customer experience study that his company released, the 2007 Future Now Customer Experience Study found that the average score was 43 out of 100, and of the retailers that were looked at, only four would have passed.  Some of the things that they looked at were: Product presentation, delivery options, checkout processes, and customer service information.  Some of the things that they deliberately left out because they didn't believe they were factors related to the actual customer experience were price and the ease of finding products.  *Update, Bryan was nice enough to clarify that he didn't say that these points were not part of the customer experience, and let me know that one of the reasons these pieces were left out of the study was the ease of measuring.*(I agree in some aspects, but the ease of finding products is questionable as far as I am concerned, as I think it is a big part of the experience.  Take for example if I went shopping in a store today and I had a hard time finding what I was looking for, I then get frustrated and have to find help, in the internet retail world that would mean calling a customer service rep or sending an email or reaching them by LiveChat).  Bryan then started sharing some of the results of the study: 62% of online retailers only had a brief blurb in the product description, only 11% had exceptional ad copy (he did clarify that this was the only opinion question included in the study), 67% of customers who come to an online retail site to buy leave because there was not enough product information.  He boldly states what we should all already know, but I guess it needed to be said "If you don't have enough copy and the right images people will not buy from you".

Think Like a Customer

He moves on in an effort to explain further, "customers are like toddlers with money, their favorite question is why.  Why is this product better?  Why should I buy from you?... They have all of the same questions but less attention span than a child".  Next he starts showing examples of a search he did for digital camera on both and, the screen shots showed a list of cameras and a list of attribute refinements, but the attribute refinements listed are based on pixels, and brand, etc.  He then asks the crowd if we have ever bought a camera and gotten frustrated about the speed in which it takes pictures and been disappointed when the camera was too slow.  Yes was the prominent answer in the room and those that didn't answer seemed to be able to sympathize with the example.  Bryan then asks us all why we aren't merchandising it if we know the problem exists?  Like a lot of other things that Amazon does well it was the one site that he found, that sold cameras that had reviews about the speed of the camera.  While other sites may have had reviews, they weren't used in the attribute refinements or the descriptions, but because Amazon is Amazon there is a Firefox plug-in called Pluribo that will "magically summarize the user reviews on most electronics pages".  (Cool tidbit that I didn't know about, does that mean I am kicked out of the nerd club?) 

Understand the Decision Making Processes

As a sociology major Bryan learned about personality types and how that effects purchasing decisions, he gave us a site called that summarizes Myers Briggs personalities for reference.  He thinks that marketers are intuitive by nature but that we need to think more like our customers that are probably the opposite as 72% of the populations is a sensing type and not intuitive.  He adds that spontaneous personality types like top sellers and new releases, those that are considered humanistic like reviews, but methodical people will search by the category, and those that are competitive will search by a specific term.  He adds that if we don't have the ability to showcase our products in this way our customers will bounce.  He uses as an example as he had a success story about how the changes Future Now suggested for their movies category page dramatically increased sales.  He gives us a lesson on how we can add reviews to our product description when it seems appropriate.  What he does is look at all of the reviews for the product he is working on, he then begins to plot them on a graph.  The graph is categorized by positive v. negative and logical v. emotional.  He adds to this by giving us some more examples so that we can put what he is saying in to perspective "25% don't have options to enlarge the image, 65% don't have multiple images, the basics are what is missing not the innovative.  Too many websites have difficult to read fonts, and that is coming from a study where the average age of the sample was 30.  13% of those reviewed don't let the customers change the font size, 61% don't offer live stocking, 59% don't offer expedited shipping, and 41% don't provide assurances during the checkout."  By assurances he means showing the returns or shipping policies at checkout, and having copy that reads on the order of: Easy returns policy, money back guarantee, free return shipping, etc.   He continues "45% display customer service hours, 59% correctly answered email questions within 24 hours and of those the answer was completely irrelevant 50% of the time".  He gives an example of and how they received higher scores because they were able to answer the question properly and able to do so within two hours.  He then adds that only 20% of multi-channel retailers had order online with in store pick-up, which seemed to be a common theme throughout.

The Golden Rule of Merchandising

Bryan then asks us all what the Golden Rule was, in unison the crowd chimed "Do unto others as you would want done to you".  Bryan agrees and then explains that the Golden Rule of Merchandising is similar but has a twist to it; he remarks confidently "Do unto others as they want done unto themselves".  He closes by reassuring us that he knows and agrees that there is a balance between being customer centric and staying within the numbers.

Q and A

This is also paraphrased.

Q: Why would we need to move away from Google Optimizer and studies have shown that customers don't like to read so why should we add to our copy if we want them to read it?

A: Google Optimizer isn't bad because it gives retailers that aren't currently optimizing or testing at all to start out small but once you get good at it I would suggest moving on.  As far as ad copy goes it should help the customer reach their goals, there is a saying that ad copy should be like a women's skirt, short enough to be interesting but long enough to cover the essentials.  Test what works so that you can balance what customers want to read and what they need in the product information.

Q: If you had to suggest what should be optimized and by whom what would it be?

A: Web analysts are hard to find but find someone with a background in analytics and good designers and copywriters so that you can test all of these areas.

Q: What was the Firefox plug-in?

A: Pluribo and it only works on some categories right now.

Q: If you had to suggest the top 3 priorities that we can implement now what would they be?

A: There is a hierarchy of optimization that you can find on our site that lists several steps in the hierarchy.  Off the bat I would say better copy and better images but this could take a lot of resources.  On an intuitive level you have to think about what gives people assurances throughout the checkout.  If you are thinking on this level then you would consider general usability, because online shopping is like the evolution of cell phones, they may be different but the basic functionalities are done the same.  Accessibility, how easy is it to get to your site?  Functionality, make sure that everything works.  Then start looking at 404 errors, when I was shopping for that camera I clicked on a ad and I got a 404 error, not only did they pay for the click but I was an automatic bounce, and I will make sure to tell Raul about it after.  Then start moving on to in stock messaging and more.

Q: Who is doing all of these things really well?

A: We published a list and some sites may have improved by now, but I know one is BlueNile and others I would have to get back to you on.  Some websites did really well in certain categories for instance scored really high in customer service.


Is the Customer Always Right?

Posted on June 25, 2008 by josh

The short answer is “Yes?”. Your customer is the reason you’re able to stay in business, especially in these tight times. This does not, however, definitively mean that “the customer is always right”. Harry Gordon Selfridge, founder of Selfridges department stores in the UK in 1909, is credited with coining the phrase “the customer is always right”. Mr. Selfridge likely did not intend to be taken literally. Rather, he used it to change the psychology of his customers and employees. Customers would, perhaps, feel that a company cared for them. Employees would be continually exposed to the notion that a customer could not be wrong. Presumably, this would result in a prevailing attitude among employees to treat customers positively, regardless of how the customers treated employees.

The unfortunate thing is that customers have latched onto a widespread disposition that they cannot be wrong. Even more unfortunate, as a privately held, small business, we are not able to afford the Nordstrom customer service model. We have customer complaints. But, we were unable, financially, to accommodate every customer request. It may sound terrible to think that a company would take the stance that the customer isn’t always right, but it’s true. Please do not misunderstand. We love our customers and we absolutely want everybody to be delighted with their shopping experience. However, there are situations where a customer’s expectations are not met, but we have made every effort to build clear expectations for the customer before they buy.

I’ll give you an example. A customer buys a valve with low profit margin from without contacting our customer service team, thinking that the valve will work with their existing plumbing. The specifications for the valve are clearly stated on the product detail page. The customer must read and agree to our web site’s terms of use, including our returns policy, before they are able to create an account or place an order. The customer receives the valve that they ordered in good condition and their plumber tells them that this is not the right valve. The customer immediately contacts and tells us that they received the wrong product. In researching the issue, we discover that the product that the customer ordered was the product that was sent. The customer simply did not order the correct valve. No problem. We are able to accept the product in return. However, the customer feels that should make it more clear that the valve does not support all types of plumbing and does not want to pay to ship the product back to or pay a restocking fee. The customer has already read and agreed to the returns policy which makes both clear. has made every effort to stipulate what type of plumbing this valve will accommodate. So we say “No. Your order is subject to the policies that you agreed to upon buying”.

The customer then files a dispute with their credit card company. is charged a processing fee for the dispute that is greater than the profit margin of the valve. ultimately wins the dispute and we receive our money for the sale, but we still have to pay the processing fee for the dispute. You may ask yourself, “Why don’t you just change the returns policy?” We thought of that. The cost to pay to return the item to and the cost associated with processing the return is potentially even greater than the cost of the credit dispute processing fee! Either way, we lose.  On the flip side happy customers come back and we may be able to make up the costs then.

So, to recap, we set an expectation of what product the customer was buying and how the customer would have to return it, should they elect to do so. The customer agreed. The customer changed their mind when they discovered that they made a poor buying decision and asked to pay for the mistake. In this case, the customer was not “right”. At this point, has to evaluate whether or not it is valuable to lose money on this customer. For various reasons, it may be valuable to lose money on a given customer, but not “always”.



Dealing with Difficult Customers: Best Practices for Addressing Customer Complaints

Posted on May 19, 2008 by Archives

We all know it is easy to get along with people you know, like, work well with, and have things in common with, but when it comes customers, sooner or later, we all encounter that difficult patron. That difficult customer could be any of the following: a complainer, picky, frustrated, irate, or just plain angry.

Circumstances that Lead to Complaints

We get our fair share of angry customers. For the majority of cases, there has been some type of error on the customer’s side, such as ordering the wrong product or entering the wrong address; sometimes, it is our fault. At times, it seems impossible to please an angry customer; they expect us to do something that does not make sense for the company and goes against our policies. But to them it makes sense, because they are looking at it from an emotional perspective instead of from a business aspect.

If an error occurred on our part, we are always more than happy to help the customer and fix the error we made. When the customer is at fault, it can become a little more difficult. While we want to provide great service and help the customer, we have certain polices in place to ensure that the least amount of money is lost and that all processes are correctly documented.

Tactics for Dealing with Difficult Customers

What we have found in our customer service department is that the best way to approach the angry customer, is to treat the problem as an opportunity. Below are a few tactics we use when talking with our customers that may fall in to the category we are discussing.

Empathy - We try putting ourselves in the customer’s shoes, so that we can get a better understanding of their perspective. By letting them explain their situation, even more than one time, they know you care, understand, and are listening to them.  Which we are, but if the customer service representative is not genuine about it, the customer will know.

Respect - Any customer service rep that has been in the field long enough will know that it is difficult to respect an angry customer who is yelling at you. Most of the time, the anger is not towards the rep directly, but they are upset about their situation and we are the person they get to take their frustration out on. Staying calm sends a message to the customer you have respect for them.

Know how to Apologize - Sometimes customers just want to hear and know that you are apologetic about their situation, even if it isn’t your fault directly.  Offering an apology regardless of what you can do about the situation will often alleviate some of the stress the customer is feeling.

Take Responsibility - If the error is one made by the merchant; we always take full responsibility and assist the customer so that their problem is solved.

Having to talk and respond to angry customers can at times be stressful. When those customers are over demanding and unreasonable, it can be very hard to deliver great customer service. If you equip your customer service reps with the right tools necessary to handle the upset customers, they are more than likely going to arrive at positive solutions and the customer may return in the future because of the way the problem was handled.



Accessorial Service Charges: The LTL Nightmare

Posted on April 17, 2008 by Jeff

Here’s the scenario…

Customer places an order for a DeWalt DG2900 Heavy-Duty 2900 Watt Gas Generator. The size and weight of the generator require that the order ship LTL or “Less Than Truckload”; LTL is commonly referred to as freight. At the time the order was placed this particular model was out of physical stock. In an attempt to go that extra mile for the customer we shipped the order direct from the manufacturer and third party billed to our LTL account (carrier to remain unnamed).

The order processed and shipped from the manufacturer as expected. However, going that extra mile proved a long walk.

What we didn’t know at the time the order shipped was that the customer’s ship to address was a construction site. You might ask “why not?” Good question! Ask your carrier to present you with their additional fees schedule and they’ll present you with something called “Accessorial Service Charges.” It can be pages long: corrected Bill of Lading, detention of vehicle with power, lift-gate service, and residential delivery just to name a few. Several of these charges are dynamic charges, like “fuel charges”, which are calculated in real time and change regularly. If you attempted to identify every possible scenario at the shopping cart for checkout, shopping cart abandonment would go through the roof, due to excessive over estimates for shipping.  This creates a hole in the system that will continue to siphon funds if not corrected.

One of these Accessorial Service Charges is what’s referred to as “Limited Access Pickup or Delivery.” The additional note is “churches, construction sites, schools, etc.” Who knows what etc. refers to, possibly the driver’s whim? Did you catch construction sites? The long walk begins. At the time of delivery, the driver tacks on a limited access pickup or delivery fee as well as a corrected Bill of Lading fee to be paid at the time of delivery by the consignee or customer. As you might guess the personnel at the delivery site generally have no authority or means for paying these additional fees. The delivery attempt is abandoned by the driver and we are quickly contacted by our customer. I assure you this is NOT the customer experience is shooting for.

You see, the Bill of Lading that is generated at the time of pickup is the contract between shipper and carrier. Once in transit, all additional responsibility, not identified prior to shipment, is the burden of the consignee or customer. And by the way there is now a “redelivery” fee assessed, because the initial delivery attempt was abandoned. In this case, as the shipper, the only way to remove these charges as a customer burden was to refund the customer’s credit card for those fees. The customer still had to make the extra effort of ensuring funds were physically available at the time of redelivery.

The moral of the story is when you plan to go that extra mile for the customer, make sure you complete the journey. We’ve since done the extra work to amend our LTL contract to include all accessorial services as the burden of the shipper, removing any responsibility of the consignee. There is more work to be done to insure we are covering actual shipping costs at the shopping cart, but the customer experience is now intact.
By the way, by amending your LTL contract to include all accessorial services as the burden of the shipper, you’ll also then save yourself the “corrected Bill of Lading” and “redelivery fees”. Hole PLUGGED!