Restoring The Personal Touch

by : Kent E. Butler

There are now 126 Billion websites where you can buy anything from disposable diapers to nuclear weapons. More business is done on the Internet in one month than France has done in the last 10 years. You can email any human being on Planet Earth in less than 15 seconds.

Those are algore facts - meaning I just made them up. My point is, we're living on a planet that gets more wired every day. As the commercial says "We're changing everything". Maybe not. Some things never change, or maybe I should say they shouldn't change.

You can buy a pair of designer shoes on the web and have them delivered right to your door, or desk. Or, you can go to a shoe store and get personal attention from the sales associate, get the shoes properly fitted, chat about one thing or another and leave with your purchase. Which is the more satisfying experience? Unless you're a serious Type-A personality, it's got to be the latter - and maybe even then.

Why? You got personal service from someone who at least seemed to be interested in your wants and needs and took pains to satisfy you. With the former situation, if the shoes prove unacceptable you have to email the vendor for a return authorization and ship them back - about as personal as a parking ticket. At the store, you know before you leave how happy you're going to be and maybe how much your feet are going to hurt.

Am I a Luddite advocating the abandonment of the web as a commercial platform? Not hardly. I'm suggesting there are ways to combine technology with attention to the individual. Here are some possibilities:

  1. How inviting is your homepage? Is it friendly, easy to read and reassuring? Reassuring? Yep. You doubtless know there are many more people wary of buying on the web than there are those who do so fearlessly. So you need to put them at ease from first contact, just as you would greet and welcome people entering your store. Empathize with them regarding their concerns (riptoffphobia, I believe), act accordingly and you will improve your return.

    My completely unscientific poll of web surfers confirmed my suspicions: People are put off, even threatened, by an abundance of whirling doodads, flashing thingamajigs, and critters popping in and out all over a site. You won't have a chance to provide personal service if they won't stay a while. You have to set the scene in the first ten seconds. How about a text-only welcome message that pops up while the site loads?

  2. Examine the text on your website through the eyes of a prospective customer. Bear in mind the prospect couldn't care less what you want to sell, only what will satisfy his/her needs and wants. Pages of variations on "BUY NOW!" will seldom be read, much less acted upon. The questions the prospect is usually asking are, "What's in it for me; what will it do for me?" and "How much is it?". Do you have some rewriting to do?
  3. Don't disappear behind your autoresponder. It can be a good and valuable marketing tool, but that's all it is: a tool. People don't normally have any emotional involvement with a hammer or a clock radio - they're just tools.

    Your autoresponder cannot replace you and your personal attention to your prospect. Your sales letters may be warm and fuzzy, while still pushing your product or service, and they are probably as personalized as you can make them. Terrific! But they're still "just" sales letters - very important, but no substitute for you.

    A thought (I have them sometimes...): When a prospect opts-out of further autoresponder mailings, email her/him and ask if you can be of service or help find what she/he wants. It may just be the person recognized and objected to electronic bulk mail and will buy with some personal attention. Don't harass them, of course.

  4. Seek feedback. Don't assume that just because you've provided a place to email you that a prospect will do so. Be proactive (sorry, corporate buzzword), not passive. Ask your prospect what he/she wants, thinks or has questions about. Ask the person to drop you a note (Doesn't that sound more personal than email me? It does, too!) and be certain to respond within twenty-four hours. At the very least, you might learn about something that needs your attention.
  5. Publish an address and phone number where you can be reached. Are you crazy, Butler? Not necessarily. I think doing so is a strong personal statement. It says I'm available to help you, I have nothing to hide and I'll be happy to talk with you. It's a potent confidence-builder. You don't have to plaster it across every page in foot-high characters, just make it easy to find. I think it highly unlikely you'll get many calls or snail mails.

You'll think of other ways to humanize your online business. By all means,use the latest technology, if you wish. Just keep in mind you're asking people to part with their money and they want to know they're dealing with a real person in case there's a question or problem. And that person is you.