The days before February 14 (Valentine’s Day) were a busy period for small businesses as ‘relationship people’ went on a tensioning spree.
When we say we love people, we try to constantly remind them of how special they are. And Valentine’s Day is a wonderful day to show this to our loved ones.
I also acknowledge that some people do not see the fuzz and hype around February 14 because of its history and the fact that showing a loved one you care about them should not be a ‘once a year’ affair.
But this post is not about the acceptance of valentine or the lack thereof. It is about online vendors, the cash out queens and kings, whom I and many others have grown to patronise due to the convenience of shopping, not just from your phone, but from social media — where you are already casually chilling anyway.
For the purpose of this post, online vendors are people who make sales through Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook.
Over the years, I have helped small businesses set up their pages on these platforms and have facilitated sessions on how they can maximise these social media tools for business growth. I have noticed that we pay so much attention to the technicalities of running the business while we neglect the most important part of it all — how the business interacts with its customers. As an online business owner, have you thought about how your customers feel at the ‘seeming’ end of a transaction?
From my personal experience and that of my friends and acquaintances, here are a few things online vendors should consider as they work to grow their businesses.
It is okay to have a set time for business hours for your (intending) customers communicated through your business page profile or pinned posts.
The timeliness of your response, especially during business hours, may be the reason you are able to close a particular sale or not. Personally, I have made payment to a vendor at about 1am. It does not mean that I expect my product at that hour of the night. In fact, the vendor already made it clear that shipping could take 24/48 hours to get to me.
However, a sale has been made. According to a research by Sprout Social, the average business response time is around five hours. I would say that is a lot of time wasted. I recommend a response within 30 minutes, especially during business hours.
Attention to delivery details
Guys! This has been the bane of my anger for some weeks now. I have had to shop for gifts for a few good people in my life between December and February and it is unexplainable how something as straightforward as a delivery date instruction could not be adhered to because the vendor just couldn’t care.
I have had people receiving their birthday gifts a day before or after the actual date. These experiences are some of the defining factors as to whether I will be a returning customer or not. No matter how great your products are. Pay attention to details!
Know when to share account details
This might be new information to you, but it is true and important. You don’t want to send your bank account details (too early) while a potential customer is still trying to get some information out of you in order to make up their mind. You could come off as not being interested in their needs. And you don’t want to have to be asked before knowing it’s time to share.
I remember reaching out to a personalised jewellery vendor to make one for my friend. I sent the exact type I wanted from her catalogue. She responded to my question regarding the durability of the product, then I sent the required photo and text for the locket. She informed me of the delivery fee and I said ‘no problem.’
One thing about me and my schedule is, I can be really busy and available at the same time. So, it is easy for other engagements to take my attention. I mean, after the type of conversation we had as described above, the next thing I expected was payment details. 24 hours later, I got a message from the vendor asking if I wanted to go ahead to place my order. Well, it is safe to say I was worried for him or her. Point is, don’t be too early or too late to close a sale.
These sets of people are the reason you can comfortably say ‘you are in business’ and because of that, you need to put in processes that can make them feel acknowledged and remembered. For example, how do you explain buying from an Instagram vendor for the fifth time, and for every time you have to place an order, you are expected to send your delivery address and phone number rather than confirming if you want your product delivered to the same address as the last? Think about it.
I co-own an online food vendor — Ofada Factory — where we specialise in the best Ofada sauce for deliveries within Lagos and I sometimes have to attend to enquiries and take orders.
One of the questions I have had to respond to is on how many servings can be gotten from our 1.5L bowl. To us, answering this question honestly is important. If I tell a client that a 1.5L bowl of our ofada sauce can serve 10 people when it can serve only five, we could lose a returning customer for life.
As much as online vendors are investing in photography and video editing classes in order to get the best product representation, it is also important to represent the real deal and be honest in your delivery and quality.
Customers are not the same
Whoever gets to handle your business pages will need to understand that customers are not the same. Some are really cool and easy, while others aren’t. And because Mr A bought without questions, it doesn’t make that the standard you expect from your other customers. Customer service representatives should have standard operating procedures they work with, however, be smart enough to treat each customer as required.
I hear some online vendors ‘forget’ to say the words “ thank you” after receiving payment for an order. I am told some would end it at “payment received.” LOL, my dear, you are doing yourself. Thanking your customers will help you build a better relationship with them. Remember, returning customers and organic evangelists of your brand are major goals.
Feedback – did you like it?
This might be a bit difficult for small businesses with less hands and multiple orders to process. However, returning to a customer to ask if they received their package and if they liked the quality of your product will go a long way in building a better relationship between your brand and your customers.
Some might not come back to complain even when there is a defect in their delivery, but asking such questions allows them to open up to you for an opportunity to make your services better.
Don’t ghost customers
‘Ghost’ here is borrowed from the popular relationship slang which in this case would mean leaving a person’s message unattended to. I see this happen a lot when the product is out of stock. Whether it has been clearly stated to be out of stock or not, do not miss an opportunity to cross sell.
Your response to a person asking for a product that is out of stock could be as simple as, “I am sorry we do not have that particular product anymore but we have something similar and quite beautiful that I think you might like. Can I share photos?”
You could also attempt to send them to another vendor who sells what they need. This might seem inconceivable to some but it is the right thing to do. This way you are building a stronger relationship with a potential customer who can begin to see you as someone who can point them in the right direction for quality and trusted service. Whether you are making direct income from this or not, it will be far more profitable than ghosting customers because you don’t have what they want.
Ultimately, people want to patronise businesses that make them feel seen and valued. While quality of product is a prerequisite of any successful business, customer relation is the little detail that courts loyalty and long-lasting relevance.