A buyer's hellish experience
There's a joke - you've probably heard one of the many versions of it - that I think of as the "demo" joke. My favorite version is the one starring Bill Gates:
Bill Gates died and found himself standing in front of St. Peter, who was sizing him up.
"Well, Bill, I'm not sure whether to send you to Heaven or Hell. After all, you helped society enormously by putting a computer in almost every home in America, and you gave away a lot of money. But, you also created that evil Windows program. It's a close call, so I'm going to do something I've never done before: I'm going to let you decide where you want to go."
Bill replied, "What's the difference between the two?"
St. Peter said, "Well, I'm willing to let you visit both places briefly, then you will have to decide."
"Fine, but where do you think I should I go first?"
"I leave that up to you."
"Okay, what the Hell," said Bill. "Let's try down below first."
So Bill went to Hell. It was a beautiful and clean. Bill saw a sandy beach with clear waters and lots of bikini-clad women running around, playing in the water, laughing and frolicking about. The sun was shining, the temperature perfect. He was very pleased.
"This is great!" he told St. Peter. "If this is Hell, I really want to see Heaven!"
"Fine," said St. Peter, and off they went.
Heaven was a place high in the clouds, with angels drifting about, playing harps and singing. It was nice, but not as enticing as Hell.
Bill thought for a quick minute, and rendered his decision. "I think I'd prefer Hell," he told St. Peter.
"Fine," retorted St. Peter, "as you desire." So Bill Gates went to Hell.
Two weeks later, St. Peter decided to check on the late billionaire to see how he was doing in Hell. When he got there, he found Bill shackled to a wall in a dark cave, screaming amongst hot flames, being burned and tortured by demons.
"How's everything going?" he asked Bill.
With his voice filled with anguish and disappointment, Bill responded, "This is awful! This is nothing like the Hell I visited two weeks ago! I can't believe this is happening! What happened to that other place, with the beautiful beaches and the scantily clad women playing in the water?"
"That was the demo," replied St. Peter.
Welcome to online banking.
I'm writing this article as one my ears - the one covered by a headset - is being accosted by some very perky and mind-numbingly repetitive music, while a professional "voice" tells me how easy it is to "bank the way you want to" and "have access to your money, any time of the day or night, from anywhere," and how online banking will "put you in control." Too bad the reality - which is why I'm on hold at the moment - is such a mess.
Just like everyone else in the world, and partly because I want to be able to bank from anywhere in the world at any time, I have lately become an active evaluator of online banking, bill paying, and invoicing services. I started with my local bank, and found their services to be somewhat limited, which is a real shame - we love doing business with our local bank. I have gone to the other extreme, opening an account with a large, Fortune 100 type bank. There were more services, but when something goes wrong, the quality of the phone support is iffy. Sometimes the person is well-trained, sometimes not.
I finally ended up at a worldwide bank that appears to have put the complete infrastructure in place, and appears to provide consistent, friendly service when you need it. It's been good so far, except for the aggravating announcements while you're on hold.
The while-on-hold announcements break all rules of marketing and common sense. Here they are, making you wait, wasting your time and patience, NOT serving you. This is not the time to tell someone how wonderful you are. Their personal experience at that moment is more powerful than any marketing message.
It's like someone coming to paint your house, tying you up in the living room, and proceeding to do the most terrible job imaginable - painting the couch and the carpet along with the walls, for example - and, the entire time, excitedly telling you how he has the world's best reputation for customer service. Yes, it is that rude and that ridiculous.
What is your buyer's experience?
Of course, as I've been going through this process, I've been analyzing it from the buyer's perspective. Sellers of online-based services, as a group, make some definite errors and do some things right...here's a list.
1) Let them try it before you ask them to sign up. I've noticed a trend lately toward asking people to sign up for a service - a 3-month free trial, for example - without really giving them an easy way to "tour" or "try" the service first. People don't want to sign up unless they are sure that the service meets their needs. It doesn't matter if it is "free." Signing up and learning the ins and outs of using the service takes time and effort. That's not free. If there is no way to see the service first, they will be suspicious.
Some sleazy marketer probably convinced the CEO of the company that it's better to get people to sign up, and cancel later, than to not sign up at all. Some will continue the service because they have so much already invested - even though they don't like the service and despise the company. Microsoft, anyone?
And there will be people who sign up and forget to cancel, allowing the company to make money dishonestly. They're playing the law of averages. They're also playing the buyer for a sucker. Not a good idea if you want to stay in business for the long haul.
Here's an example of not being able to take a tour. On the TOUR page for FreshBooks, it looks like you should be able to click on one of the three boxes (Manage Your Invoices, Track Your Expenses, Track Your Time), but nothing is clickable. The only clickable thing on that page is the link saying "Try FreshBooks for FREE." Is this intentionally deceptive? If so, they got some bad advice. You don't promise a "tour" and make the page look like a "tour" and then - not deliver a tour!
Bank of America, on the other hand, makes it easy to either "watch" or "practice" all their online services, using their "Learning Center." All of the tutorials are excellent and worth a look. If you're on the site for a while without clicking, a chat window comes up. Unfortunately it also comes up during non-business hours, so when you're online at 9:30PM ET and the chat window comes up, and you click on it, the next window will respond that no representatives are available right now. They do provide the toll-free numbers, however, and when you do get a rep, he/she is always enthusiastic and informative.
2) Give people a way to talk to a real person. I am soooooooo tired of calling companies and getting an automated voice who gives you every option but the one you need - and no way out. It is so refreshing when you call a company and a real, live human being answers the phone - and is trained to be able to help you. If companies like Vanguard can do it, you can, too.
3) Don't play ads while people are on hold. People work while they are on hold. It's difficult to type emails and write other documents while someone is telling you all the wonderful things about their obviously terrible service. And it's really irritating to hear the phony, intrusive voices excitedly tell you how much they care - while they keep you on hold for ten minutes. Just play some nice soothing background instrumental music, with no vocals, with the volume turned down.
4) Understand what people want to do on your website. If you're not mapping out every step of what everyone wants to DO on your website, you're bound to be frustrating people. This is vitally important. It is also seldom given half the attention it deserves. There is no substitute for getting input from users and watching users try to use your site. Yes, it's an extra time-consuming process. It's also one of the most important things you can do to increase revenue.
Every time someone comes to your site, and leaves frustrated, you've reduced your own market potential by one customer, and handed that customer - and all future business from that customer - over to a competitor.
Why are companies so lax when it comes to website navigation? It's like a retailer opening a store - and when you walk in, some of the produce is stuffed in with the canned goods, potato chips are in with the ice cream, and the candy is interspersed between the hamburger in the meat department. When you go to a clerk to ask where something is, he turns his back on you and scurries off. This is how bad many websites are today - still. After all these years.
5) Tell people how things work. Explain what will happen after they buy. Explain how the product or service works, what the steps are, and what they can do if they have a problem. Explain, explain, explain. So much copy on the web is generic selling hype, rather than "explanation" copy. People want to be educated on the web, not pitched. They want to know what's going to happen to them after they say "yes." They want answers. Give them answers!
Every single buyer who comes to buy your product or service has options - lots of them. When they are in "purchase" mode, they are intense, determined, and as efficient as they can be. If you are just as intense, determined and efficient about understanding what they want and how they need it served up on a website, you'll make more sales than those competitors who are not paying much attention to what buyers want and how they need it served up. Life will be more heavenly than hellish.