This is part 5 of my series on “things Ecommerce can learn from Retail”. The first one was on educating your customer. The second one was on building customer value. The third blog was on removing obstacles. The fourth blog was on persuasion.
In this blog I want to talk about the importance of visible activity. What we mean with visible activity is the behavior your customers show to other customers.
Look at the photo of the restaurant at the top. What does it tell you about the restaurant? What emotion does it create for you as a potential customer?
Now ask yourself the same questions about the second photo. Let’s analyze the significance of the difference.
1. Easy & smart decision making
I went out for dinner lately in a town we didn’t know very well. Selecting a restaurant can be quite a challenge in such cases. What I always look for, like most people, is a busy restaurant. Why? To me, the number of customers in a restaurant is social proof that the service and food that that restaurant delivers are good. I know that a busy restaurant will most likely mean I’ll have to wait longer. But, unless I am really in a hurry and just need to grab some quick food, I will follow the advice of the crowd.
When I visit a website, I never get any impression of other customers. Some tell me how many orders they have handled or how many happy customers they have served. But that has a different impact. I just see a number, not the activity itself. It is abstract. Actually seeing customer activity happening ticks the social proof much harder.
The number of customers is just one dimension. It makes a lot of difference when I notice that other customers are frequent visitors. Frequent visitors will have more personal interactions with the personnel. They will express their preferences and the personnel will know these. This ticks the emotion of belonging. You clearly see a group and you can belong to that group as well.
Within Ecommerce you hardly get anything comparable. In Social Media some customers might give these types of feedback. Data shows however that customer interaction on Social Media is very rare. The main function of those platforms seems to be to push information from companies to customers. Because of the massive information overflow in Social Media, the customer messages will go unnoticed, unless they are extremely funny.
A second reason why Social Media and Ecommerce are not showing this type of “belonging triggers” is that most companies are afraid of personal communication. They prefer the safe professional approach. Customers however do not get attached to companies. They get attached to people. That’s why you need to empower your social media personnel to express their personal brand and the company brand in their own way. Ted Rubin is one of the people who has laid the foundation for this approach.
The third reason why I want to see other customers is to check the atmosphere. Does this restaurant or shop fit me? Seeing the personnel and customers tells me a lot more then the color of the site or the wall. I don’t say that design is not important and not able to communicate atmosphere. I just think that people communicate atmosphere stronger. Having a match with the atmosphere will help me to determine whether I trust this company.
4. Quality service
There is however one thing that is communicating atmosphere and trust even stronger. That is interaction. Seeing people interact gives an immediate and very strong emotion. In job interviews the first moment of interaction is crucial. The same holds for commerce. The way interaction is done, means a lot to people. In communication only 7% of the information communicated is verbal. The other 93% is non-verbal communication. For written communication that will be different, but still people will look for the non-verbal communication “between the lines”.
Within Ecommerce we have no platform to really interact publicly. Ecommerce has plug-ins to interact with customer service, which is a good facility. Unfortunately that communication is not visible to others, it is not open. Fact is that today’s customers have low trust in organizations and they are allergic to selling communication. Customers put much more trust in feedback from other customers, so you will need to work with customers on an open podium.
Social media does allow people for open communication. In practice that communication is hardly interactive. Much of the “between the lines” information is lost or misinterpreted. That might be the reason why asynchronous communication oftentimes leads to more problems instead of solving them.
This hits the second aspect of interaction. I lately read a research paper that showed that most customers using social media expect a response within an
hour, and a growing group expects a response within 10 minutes. The latter was seen as exceptional demanding.
The next story will shed a different light on that. Recently I was in our local supermarket, which facilitates self scanning of the products. I decided to buy a very expensive type of Italian pasta for a special dinner. When I tried to scan the pasta, it didn’t work. It always works, so this was exceptional. I went to the girl filling the rack to ask what to do now. She didn’t know and went to her floor manager. Without saying a word he walks off with my pack of pasta. Get the picture? How do you think I felt? And how do you think I felt after standing there for one minute?
I am certain that he didn’t stay away for more than 3 minutes, but by then I was feeling really lousy. The floor manager already anticipated that and gave me the pack for free. He knew that the waiting had pissed me off.
So let’s not fool ourselves in Ecommerce. The requirement customers have is real-time interaction. That doesn’t mean you can solve everything instantly. But they expect you to respond instantly and to get clear communication about the way forward.
A helping interaction with the customer, will grant you lifetime engagement. But when doing this publicly, this will have a huge impact on other customers as well. Seeing how your company interacts with other customers will create a lot of trust with all customers.
What do you think?
With courtesy to Andrea Corò, The library of Virginia and Flickre.com for the photos