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September 21, 2006

Create a friendly web site customers want to visit

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Normally, when we talk about making a site “friendly”, we mean user friendly, but this isn’t one of those posts. This time when we talk about creating a friendly site, we mean making it likeable — specifically how to NOT offend customers.
Seth Godin points (via Embrace Pet Insurance) to the FAQ section of the FourPawsDesign site where the owners have decided to take a not-so-friendly approach to handling their customers. Here is a brief excerpt from the site’s FAQ.

“I do not want to place an order online, help!
Unfortunately, we can no longer take phone orders. Customers forget to tell us something and after the order is placed and processed they claim we wrote down incorrect information. By placing an order online we have a record of exactly what you want, especially for custom-designed items, leaving no room for error.

Why can’t I pay with a check?
We are no longer accepting checks or money orders as a method of payment. Over 90% of people who want to pay by check forget to.”

Heh. Despite being amusing to onlookers, it’s insulting to customers to blame them for previous customers’ mistakes. Part of running a business is dealing with problematic people, if you don’t have the personality to do that, you might want to entrust that role to someone else, or at least opt not to do your own copywriting.

You want your site to exude a feeling of warmth and friendliness. Part of doing that is by keeping your site and your copy positive. Show customers how much you appreciate their loyalty, how excited you are about your product and how willing you are to exceed their expectations. Throwing past offenses in their face will cause them to either get angered and leave, or make them feel embarrassed and leave. Neither is a good option.

Custom retention is important. You want first time customers to become lifelong, repeat customers. Customers return to sites that are welcoming. Make your site friendly with a warm tone, clean typography, appropriate color choices, and by providing a great value or service.

When addressing customers, be tactful. I’m not encouraging you lie, but it’s probably a bad idea to tell customers the reason for your no check policy is because they can’t be trusted to remember to write one. If you’ve adopted a no check policy, either give your reason a positive spin or don’t give a reason at all Apologize for not being able to accept checks and move on. Never be insulting.

Lose the blame. No one likes a jaded business owner or to feel belittled. Mistakes happen in business. Regardless if the error was yours or someone else’s, it’s important to move on and not hold a grudge.

It’s easy to get caught up in the product you’re selling or the day-to-day management of your company, but it’s important to remember there are people out there. You’re busy shipping orders because people are buying things. You spend all day talking to customers on the phone because they are interested in your service. Disrespecting them is an injustice. The market has become competitive enough where just having a great product isn’t enough — you have to know how to sell it, and yourself.

Customers return to sites that are welcoming. All you have to do is look at the popularity of social sites to see that users like feeling a connection to the sites they’re loyal to.

Something I found particularly amusing on the site Seth used in his example was how many times they hammered in that they were “a small, family-run business”. Usually, the great thing about family-run businesses is that they try to make everyone else feel like family too. It’s typically what helps them to grow and become competitive with national brands. Unfortunately, that’s not the case here. Customers are made to feel like the bad dog that made a mess on the carpet or the naughty two-year-old who just drew on mom’s perfectly white walls. Creating a site that is friendly and welcoming will go a long way in aiding customer retention.





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