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Customer Retention for Online Businesses

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Running an online business is, in many ways, similar to running a business with a physical storefront. However, it’s not always obvious how customer retention techniques from the “real world” can be utilized on the web. As a shopper, often the biggest reason I return to a store is because of a great experience with a sales representative. I know I’m going to get the same great service that I got last time, so I don’t even think about going anywhere else. With an online business, your website is your sales representative – so how can you give your customers an experience that will make them want to come back? Here are a few ways you can get your hard-earned visitors to return for a second or third visit.

Be Personable
Authenticity and integrity are what everyone wants when they’re shopping. What’s the hallmark of a lousy, underhanded salesman? Jargon, exaggerated claims, and deceptive practices can turn your enthusiastic shopper into someone else’s enthusaistic shopper. So how can we be personable and trustworthy online?

Everyone craves a personal experience no matter how they’re shopping. When writing about your products or your company, try to cut down on jargon and provide the necessary information in a concise manner. Smashing Magazine has a fantastic article on some common copywriting blunders that we highly recommend checking out.

Another great way to be personable with your customers is pretty obvious: put yourself out there! Many customers are still concerned about the safety of buying purchases online, and seeing that a website is run and maintained by a real person just like them will do wonders to ease their distress. A personal story, a photo of yourself and your staff, or simply utilizing an informal, casual tone when writing your copy will endear you to your visitors and turn them into customers.

Update Your Content
The concept here is pretty straight forward: if I decide to take a peek at the website I previously looked at or purchased from a few months ago, and the website looks exactly the same, what incentive do I have to dig through and see what might be new since last time?

This doesn’t have to be a huge overhaul of your website every few months, but something as simple as a refreshed home page is often enough to catch the attention of a returning visitor. If you’ve got new products, show them off! Having a sale? Your visitors should know about it! Gone above and beyond for a customer? Get a glowing testimonial and slap it right on the home page where everyone can see it! Your home page is by far the best place to focus on if you’re updating content, but fresh content everywhere is a recipe for success.

Even if you don’t have anything new to show off, update your content to showcase different things or emphasize different benefits of your product or service. All you need to do is catch their eye, and their curiosity will take care of the rest.

Utilize Social Media
It seems like the whole world is on Facebook and Twitter. If you and your business are not, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity for what is essentially free advertising to a captive audience.

Think of it this way: if I’m a web-savvy customer (and these days, everyone is) and I like what I see on your website – whether I buy anything or not – there’s a pretty good chance I’m going to check out your Facebook or Twitter page. If I “Like” your Facebook page or follow you on Twitter, I’ve now essentially signed up for you to advertise to me at your leisure, at no additional cost to you.

That’s not to say that you should bombard your Facebook friends and Twitter followers with advertisements, but when you have a new product to announce or are throwing a big sale, who better to get the word out to than people who are already interested in your products? Furthermore, your customers are one click away from sharing your posts with all of their own friends or followers. Now that’s word-of-mouth!

Customer Service is King
We could write a whole post about how customer service can affect your business, but let’s focus on two important concepts: make it easy for your customers to contact you, and underpromise/overdeliver.

Communication is critical for anyone making an online purchase. Sometimes, even if your website is rich with info about your products, a customer may have a question. Your customers will come up with things to ask that you never even dreamed of! Providing an email contact form that’s easy to find, at the bare minimum, ensures that no question goes unanswered. If you have the resources to offer more direct service, such as a phone number, go for it – your customers will thank you. Ensuring you reply as promptly as possible goes a long way to making your customers feel good about their decision to buy from you.

Simple communication is paramount to the post-purchase process as well. From shipping questions to feedback or support, your customers will want an easy way to get a hold of you once they’ve made a purchase. Be there for them when they need it, and they’ll be back.

The concept of underpromise/overdeliver is one that’s been around for as long as the sales and service industry has existed. The idea is simple: by carefully managing your customer’s expectations, you’ve set yourself to blow your customer away with a great product, great service, and great support. When you consider the alternative – failing to live up to the expectations you’ve set for yourself – your customers walk away feeling lied to. A classic bad example is your local telecom company; many of them offer great discounts or free bonuses up front to mask hidden fees or unexplained charges

So how do you do this? The number one rule is be honest. Never make claims you our your product can’t back up – it’s that simple. The second rule is to manage expectations. If your shipping takes five days, but your website quoted a ten-day delivery, they’ll be ecstatic when it shows up in six — and that’s one day longer than it was supposed to take! They got their product four days earlier than they were expecting, and they’re thrilled.

If you can give customers more than what they expect on a consistent basis, you’ll start building a loyal base of clients who will be back often.

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