It’s happened to all of us at one time or another: you order something online, and while you might receive an order confirmation, you hear nothing else from the vendor for weeks. By the time the item finally arrives, you have either completely forgotten about it or no longer need the item. Had you heard from the vendor sooner, you might have made changes to your order or at least been prepared for the delay.
While extreme cases like this are thankfully the exception rather than the rule, they highlight the importance of one vital piece of operating a successful retail business: customer communication. Even the most serious shipment problems can often be mitigated by keeping your customers in the loop and letting them know that you value their business. While staying in touch doesn’t mean you have to update them every hour as you pick, pack and ship their orders, it does mean reaching out at a few key points during the process.
Acknowledgement and Confirmation
Being successful in online sales, whether you’re selling a physical product or you’re a service-based company, requires that you build trust in your customers. After all, people are providing you access to some of the most important details of their lives when they hand over their names, addresses and financial information. They want to know that the business on the other end of the transaction is reputable and trustworthy, and not going to simply take their money and run.
Your communication strategy helps build that trust. It starts with acknowledging the order. Telling customers that you have received the order reassures them that their information isn’t lost in cyberspace, and it gives you a chance to confirm that you’ve received the right information.
It’s also important to send a notification and confirmation when an order ships. Doing so accomplishes several things. Obviously, it lets your customer know to expect the shipment, but more importantly, it creates a paper trail that will protect you in the event that something goes awry. Even if you print postage at home and deliver the package to the shipping center or post office, a confirmation with a tracking number lessens your liability in the event the package is delayed or lost.
Other Opportunities for Communication
Acknowledging orders and sending shipping confirmations aren’t the only times to communicate with customers. Some other important times you need to reach out and touch someone include:
- When you have questions about the shipping address. For example, your postage system may note that it’s incorrect or invalid, or something is missing
- When there will be a shipping delay. Provide your best estimate as to when the item will ship, and offer other options or compensation to make up for the delay.
- After the sale. You can request feedback and thank the customer for the purchase.
Of course, you should always respond promptly to customer inquiries and concerns and thank customers for their feedback when appropriate.
Even if the only times you communicate with your customers is when you acknowledge the order and confirm shipping, that communication should be based around two words: thank you. Start and end every communication by thanking the customer for their business. Even if you are responding to a complaint, by staying positive and thanking the customer for their business and their feedback, you’re taking steps to maintain the relationship.
Your communication with customers should also make it clear that you value their communication and want to hear from them. Make it easy for customers to get in touch with you; include a link to a dedicated email address or feedback form to make it easy for them to send questions or concerns and easy for you to find the messages that need a priority response.
A Word of Warning
While it might be tempting to send your customers marketing messages every time you communicate with them, don’t do it. For starters, if you’re selling via an online site such as Etsy, eBay or Amazon, you may be prohibited from doing so by the terms of service. More importantly, such a practice could be alienating. Instead, give your customers the opportunity to sign up for messages from you, and allow your polite, pleasant and appreciative order communications to help build your brand and attract and retain customers.
About the Author: Frances Yost is a blogger, Internet marketing consultant and entrepreneur who has managed several successful online retail stores over the last 15 years.