customer experience; ecommerce, ecommerce, social media marketing

How to create engagement with customer flow

Customer Flow is like Surfing (2) klein

by Ger van den Buijs, {grow} Community member

Most articles present Customer Journey as a given fact. They presume customers are happy with their purchasing journey. I doubt that. I think there is a lot to gain for customers. I think that the overload of information has made shopping complex and a solution is needed.

Why just understand the customer journey? Aim to optimize it.

I will outline my analysis in 5 views, each with a detailed explanation. The graphics presented in this article build up to new understanding of the customer journey, what I like to call “Customer Flow.”

  1. Hygiene view
  2. Customer view
  3. Market view
  4. Customer flow view
  5. Purchasing Detour view

To read the full article, please follow this link {Grow} where it was originally published.

Digital marketing, ecommerce, social media marketing

What’s the great power of questions in online sales?

Including method for using questions to guide the purchase processP1070688-3

By Ger van den Buijs -FiveDOLPHINS
The Question is a sales method that is widely used in Retail. Check for instance the work of Chet Holmes. I will use several of his strategies in this article.

In E-commerce however, asking questions is rarely used. Internet blogs on digital marketing and E-commerce hardly touch the topic. I think it’s time to change that. As competion within E-commerce is getting more fierce, The Question could be a perfect instrument for differentiation.

In this article I will take a customer perspective. Improving the online purchasing experience for customers is the central theme in the mission of FiveDOLPINS. We believe that realizing a great purchasing experience for your customer will generate very valuable Word of Mouth. Some research even suggests that Word of Mouth has more value than an expensive marketing campaign.

Please complete the following scentence:

The best sales question is a question that . . . .

Later in this article I will complete this scentence with my ultimate sales question, but I am very much interested to know your answer before you read this article. I would be greatful if you would share your view with me.

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Before we take off, I would like to take a moment to go into the four reasons why a customer will not buy from you.

  1. He is not interested in your product. You are trying to sell meat to a vegetarian.
  2. He doesn’t have the budget.
  3. He doesn’t trust you.
  4. He doesn’t think your product has (enough) value to him.

The first two are hard to handle. You better move your focus to people who are real prospects. We don’t deal with these reasons in this article. With reasons 3 and 4 The Question Strategy can be very valuable. That is what we focus on in this article. The next paragraphs will present you how you can use questions to help your customer effectively through his purchasing process.


Pre-orientation phase

The customer is at this moment not yet aware of his need for your product and/or you as a vendor. In this situation the customer’s mind and agenda are overloaded with other topics. This is the time for marketing to attract the customer’s attention with a spark or a short simple message. A question will not yet be productive. It is too complex, too time consuming. Only when the customer decides to direct his attention to you, the game begins.

Orientation Phase

1 Trust questions

Binocular - Gerlos

At the moment a potential customer is in your shop or social media area, he shows at least a slight interest in you and your product. Still keeping a distance, he is scanning options. Anything bad or troublesome is a reason to leave. Your customer will only allow you to ask questions, when you prove that you are willing to grant him your attention.

Listening is a great sales instrument and asking questions is a great instrument to start listening. But pay attention. Nothing is more killing than a rhetoric question, and you are not listening to the answer. You need to earn the confidence of the customer, so he allows you to ask further questions.

The first question(s) is thus merely meant to proof you can listen. Because you are just getting into the relation, you can’t get personal and you can’t sell yet. Your questions are not about you or your product.

Productive questions are about your customer and his journey to your shop. How did he get to know about you? Has he been here before? Does he already have similar products? What attracted him to take a look? Etc. Again, the main thing in this phase is to proof that you can listen.

2 Fact questions

When you have established some level of trust, the next step is to collect facts. Your customer isn’t interested in a general sales pitch. He wants you to respond to his situation, so he wants you to be interested in his facts. Only when you are willing to invest time to understand his situation, he will value your contribution later on. So you will need to ask what he is doing, how often, when, where and with whom, etc. All what is needed to understand the potential usage needs to be asked.

This might already lead to a first learning effect for your customer. Humans are a species of habits. By raising the questions you might open new options to him that were not yet part of his habits.

3 Need questions

The next step is to explore the needs of your customer. Most customers are only half aware of what they want. Their idea is often at too high a level. At other times they sound very focused on one product, but they did not really investigate whether other products would fit better.

Your questions will be very valuable when they lead your customer to considerations he did not even know he had to consider. You run the risk to overcomplicate the story for your customer. Be sure to focus on relevant situations for this person only.

However, when you raise questions that prevent the purchase of a wrong or sub-optimal product, you certainly contribute to your customers purchasing process. Ask him to share his needs and challenges.

For your customer to share this information, he needs to be convinced that you can advise him well. You need to mix the questions with your in depth market knowledge to earn that trust. Together you dive deeper into the case of your customer.

Selection phase

4 Value questions

Libra - Ulrich SchnellWhen the needs of your customer are clear, he feels ready to take the next step. Now your customer needs to weight the values of the different options.

This phase is more product oriented. During this phase you share a lot of information to your customer. What is crucial to make this phase successful are, however, not the specifications, but the value the customer attributes to these specifications.

To get your customer to weight values and speak out what things mean to him, questions are a great instrument. Open questions like “what would this mean to you” are very productive. They make all the difference. It is so much more powerful to have your customer explain the value to you, than you explaining the value to your customer.

The moment your customer expresses value to certain specifications of your product or service, you get an ideal opportunity to present killer market data. He will be all ears, when you give depth to the value he just expressed.

While sharing information, please keep in mind that you want to help your customer to limit the choice instead of broadening it. An overdose of options will freeze the customer in his action.

Closure phase

5 Objection questions

The next step is to resolve remaining doubts or blockades. Your customer is not able to act until the objections have been resolved. The only way to deal with these is face up. Persuade your customer to put them on the table. Questions are the best way to do that.

You start with questions that ask your customer to summarize for himself the previous phase, by raising questions like:

  • What value do you get from this product?
  • What does it cost you when you continue without this product?

The great thing about questions is that

anything sounds so much more convincing

when said by your customer than when said by you.

When your customer is still convinced your product has value, it’s time to help him solve his objection. In order to take this step, you want your customer to put his objection on the table, so you can isolate and resolve it.

  • What is standing between you and the purchase of this product?

6 Closing questions

No matter how well all the above steps have been done, there is still a high risk your customer will back out of the deal. Almost all customers feel hesitant to decide upon a deal that is sort of expensive with a long lasting effect. You will need to actively close the deal to earn their signature.

Signature - Rob King

The best type of questions you use in this phase are questions that assume the purchase has already taken place. Things like delivery address, fitting delivery dates, follow up service moment, etc are great topics to ask. Use labeling will be helpful. By addressing your customers as owners of the product, they will be more likely to act as such.

The process of asking questions helps closing the deal at a more subconscious level as well. From social psychological research it is known that people who fulfill small requests first will be more willing to fulfill larger requests later on. The fact that your customer has granted you his answers, will make it more likely he will grant you the deal as well.

Also the reciprocity trigger is very much pulled when you use The Question Strategy. You gave your customer your full attention, which he will want to return. Closing the deal becomes a natural next step.

Follow up

After closing the deal the follow up period starts. You want to keep your customer engaged to ensure his next purchase is with you again. It’s a well known fact that it is much easier to sell to a returned customer than to a new customer.

There are several ways to keep your customer engaged. Questions can play a very important role in building engagement. The first thing to do is ask feedback about your product after a period of usage. You can also ask questions to involve your customer in the development of your product, service or business. Their ideas and feedback will serve two objectives at the same time. Your company will realize a better proposition in the market and your customers will feel more connected to you.

How ?

By this time you probably ask yourself how one can do all this in E-commerce. It easy to see how this can be done in Retail and you probably recognize that it is very effective there. But in E-Commerce, can that be done?

I see three challenges. One is the high volume of visitors. Second is the platform to communicate. The third one is the relevance for each individual customer.

Asking questions and acting upon responses take real-time interaction. There is no way you can get the customer to open up when you can’t immediately respond. That requires a communication platform that is real-time. It also requires that answers and questions are grouped together into a conversation.

The second issue is the volume of visitors. How can you interact with all these people? Question is, do you really need to interact with each and everyone? Our vision is that the strategy will also work on people who are only watching a conversation. Like watching a movie, people will connect to the story and build the same trust. As long as the discussions are highly relevant, you can serve multiple customers at the same time.

What about the phasing, how can you ensure you communicate the right type of question? The communication platform has to be able to take that into account. This will be the hardest issue to handle, because there are so many options. Cookies are helpful, but people might have cleared them out. In our vision we have two answers to this:

  1. Use the personalized information available and the customer journey to get as close as possible to the true situation of each customer.
  2. Stimulate cross-customer discussion. Customer based content is getting more and more important. Research shows customers trust information from peers more than information from companies.

Base line is that you make sure customer is in control. Opt-in / Opt-out is essential. Limiting the number of communication items is also important to prevent irritation. Your customers are humans, not data processing engines.


At the start of this article I asked you for your ultimate sales question. Did it change while you were reading the article? I still owe you mine.

The best sales question is a question that

helps your customer right now

to make a next step in his purchasing process.

We have built FiveDOLPHINS with the above strategy in mind. It will fully support you when you want to use questions in your online sales strategy.
I want to conclude with an example company that puts listening and asking questions in the center of its strategy.


Some nice quotes from the Disney handbook are:

Relevance can only be achieve when listening to customers.

You have two ears, two eyes and one mouth, use them in that ratio.

You are always right when you are working on a customer’s request.

‘What time does the 3 o’clock parade start?’ is best answered with a question to understand what the customer really needs.

Disney is a company that handles large volumes of people daily. The Disney mission is to create a miracle experience for each and every visitorduring each and every moment of their stay. And they earn money doing that. Are you ready to take up that challenge in your online shop?

P1070701-1 40-60--20Thanks for reading my blog and I very much appreciate your feedback.


Ger van den Buijs
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With courtesy to Gerlos, Rob King, Ulrich Schnell and Flickr for the images.
Digital marketing, ecommerce, social media marketing

Why a good sales story doesn’t have an happy end

Including 13 Ways to make your story convert better

By  Ger van den Buijs – FiveDOLPHINSP1070688-3

This blog is about storytelling as a instrument for Ecommerce sites. My objective is to help you generate more sales by using storytelling in a more effective way.

Do you already have your story lined out? If you have, are you fully satisfied with the results it generates? The fact that you decided to invest some time to open this blog most likely means you are eager to improve the effect storytelling has for your company. My intention is to make the next 5 minutes very valuable. I will start with sharing my vision on the role of storytelling in Ecommerce. My vision is different from the main road opinions, because I will approach the topic from a customer perspective. In the second part, I will also outline 13 good tips to get your storytelling to convert better for you.

I would like to start with a quote:Princess

A good sales story doesn’t have an happy end.

It has no end at all.

I leave this quote unexplained for now, but during this article I will touch upon this quote several times.

Achieve the maximum effect

I’m curious what your first association is with the word “effect”? The disadvantage of a blog is that it is not interactive, so you can’t answer me. Most people will translate the word “effect” as sales. And in the end you are right. Bottom line you are in business to earn an income.

It’s helpful however to set a number of intermediate goals. Storytelling can support different intermediate goals. To tell a story in the most effective way, you have to adapt it to your audience. You could describe your audience as being “The customers”.

That definition however does not take into consideration that “customers” is not a homogenous group. They differ in many dimensions. The most prominent difference is their position in the purchasing process. Let’s look at each of the 3 phases: orientation phase, selection phase and closing phase and line out the role of storytelling.

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1.         Orientation phase

Storytelling will increase your organic search results, thus helping your customers to find you. The Google Panda and Penguin algorithms assign your site a higher value, because it provides:

  • Unique content: your product might be a commodity like a cell phone, you and your organization aren’t a commodity.
  • Time spent on site: first time visitors will want to see your story at the first glance, but returning visitors will be open to read more, thus increasing the average time spent on your site.
  • Repeat visitors: people that feel engaged to your story will be quicker to return.
  • Pages viewed: again returning visitors will be open to explore your story in more detail in special pages.

Once the customer has reached your site, your story will make it easier to differentiate your from the competition. We live in an information overload era. You’ll have to help your customer by providing this information at a glance. Photo’s, infographics, drawings and quotes work best in this phase. This is often times called Story Showing.

A company that took this to an extreme is . Their front page is all about their story. You actually have to step into their shop from their story page.

In this phase your story should focus on the experience, on the impact your product will have on his life. A cell phone is not just an machine. It is a means to communicate with your loved one or to show you are a trendsetter and winner. This relates very much with your advertisement. Your story should show a similar message, but a little more focused on your product and / or company.

2.         Selection phase

Storytelling during the selection phase has a different function than during the orientation phase. The customer is now mainly product oriented. Your story should focus on three things: Product, Production and History

  • giving more detail to the stories about the product as presented in the orientation phase. Again hiutdenim does that very well. Each product page shows additional story elements.
  • how the product was produced. A nice example is com website. They continuously emphasis the natural and ethical production process of the clothes they sell.  Harry’s (shavers) gives an extensive insight into the factories and production process. On top of that they communicate they spend time and money on helping people to reach their potential.
  • Burt’s Bees tells extensively about their history with a story one can relate to. com mixes their history, leaning on the cool image of Brooklyn, with their passion for quality and keenness on cost.

During the selection phase the customer is comparing the different offers. He is more focused now, directing his attention to a limited number of products and vendors.  The customer will be looking for more in depth content. If he finds only the superficial material presented at first glance he will get disappointed or bored. You want to provide a real story.

You can supply this additional content in separate pages. That also allows you to be open to questions and comments about your story. On top of your own story, this user generated content will be very effective in this phase. It deepens the engagement between your customers as a group around your company. Check out the website of Emma’s Soap to get a good example.

Storytelling is also an ideal means to position your product in the context of other products and how that combination fulfills specific customer requirements. This is a good preparation for up-selling.

What is important to realize is that the customer will most likely return a couple of times before he makes his decision. He will thus see the same pages more often. It is a good idea to vary the content during his visits. This will keep him hooked onto your site. The messages should of course be consistent, but the variation is necessary to keep the customer interested to return.

3.         Closing phase

The key characteristic of storytelling during the closing phase is trust. The customer is about to pay you money and he has to trust that you will deliver what he expects to get. Your customer wants to understand your drivers. Reversely he wants to see that you understand his drivers. The story you tell should thus focus on the values of your company.

Warby Parker is a company that sets a nice example of combining values with product. Their “Buy a pair, give a pair” policy is a strong value message. Less strong is that they tugged this message away in a separate page only.

Another example is Delicious Ella. Ella Woodward shares her journey from a chronic illness to recovery. This story respires strength, hope and persistence. The fact that she personally takes time to respond to reactions makes the story even stronger.

The second element of storytelling in this phase is the social positioning. We are group creatures and we feel a need to explain our choices to others. Products define ourselves in the social spectrum. You need to help your customer with a story to tell about his purchase. The values incorporated in your product are in this respect more helpful than the features.

There are two more functions of storytelling in this phase:

  • justify the budget. The fact that money can only be spent once is a huge barrier. Everybody wants more things than he can afford. Even when there is no one to argue the spend, people still feel the need to justify the budget allocation. The story on the product’s impact should remain available, but in summarized format. He knows the arguments, but he needs the reminder, because other needs are also screaming for attention.
  • justify the choice of product. The same need can be satisfied with different products, yours and from the competition. For most products the technical differences are difficult to really understand for customers. The more or less intuitive choice must be turned into words , especially when you don’t want to be the cheapest supplier.

To summarize this part, we conclude that you need to provide your story in different formats at different moments during the shopping process. We have given you some good handles to do this effectively.

Why Not?

What’s curious nowadays is that many companies use storytelling in their content management in social media, so outside their shop. They want their shop to focus on closing the deal. The reason behind this approach is often times that content management is run by the marketing team and the shop by the sales team. The two are just not cooperating well enough. Check for your own company how these departments interact.

For the customer however the story should never end. He needs a continuous reminder of the values of the product and the company. It has to be a consistent and complete experience. When you create a divide between your story in content management and your shop, you waste a lot of good opportunities to persuade the customer to purchase from you. A good (or should I say bad) example is Backcountry. They have a lot of good stories on their site, but these are completely separated from their shop. The stories could be really inspirational when browsing the shop.

How to tell great stories

Building a great story is an art and professional script writing is helpful. But that is not sufficient and only partly required. Your customer is shopping, not reading a book or watching a movie. He has a mission to accomplish. You need to keep the balance between building the story and effectiveness. The following 13 tips will help you:

  1. Sincerity is most important. It will triumph styling. The story has to be authentic.
  2. The story has to be relevant, useful to the customer. Businesses that struggle with storytelling are often to much focused on themselves. They mainly tell how great they are and how long they are in business, bladibladibla. This kind of messages will not be effective. They don’t create engagement with customers and might even turn them off.
  3. Be simple. Make your story easy to understand.
  4. Vary the story. Repeating the same story is boring and makes it appear less authentic.
  5. Listen to the customer to understand relevancy. Demonstrate a thorough understanding of the customer’s problems. Show that you relate to the stories customers tell you about the reason they buy your product.
  6. Include user generated content. Make your story a conversation instead of a speech. Hiutdenim again does an excellent job here. You can actually link your story to the individual tag tight to each jeans.
  7. Be unique. Diversify from the traditional brands where possible. Juniper Ridge became successful by consistently telling about their focus on naturally harvested, wild ingredients.
  8. Include calls to action inside your story. When your customer likes your story, all emotions are ready to close the deal.
  9. Leverage the power of key influencers, either bloggers or journalists.
  10. Get inspired by retail Multi channel companies can leverage the knowledge of their retail sales team within the ecommerce channel.
  11. Get inspired by media. Supply different versions of the story and let personalization drive the display of the different stories at sub sequential visits. Use different media types to enrich the story experience.
  12. Organize your team around the story. The story should run through the veins of your complete team. Don’t treat storytelling as a marketing tactic. Let it be the basis of every communication you share with the world
  13. Enrich people’s lives.

P1070701-1 40-60--20Companies that offer value in the exchange provide a reason to come back. And returning customers are the best thing that can happen to your sale. That is why a good sales story should have no end. It should be an invitation to engage for a long relationship.

Challenge me. What is the barrier keeping your from implementing the above approach?

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ecommerce, real-time marketing, social media marketing

Poll: Social for Customers?

11684351_s 450x300 - kopie

What is the function of social media from the perspective of a customer?  That perspective intrigues me.

Companies nowadays dominate the social media. There has been a lot of research and strategy development on Social Media Marketing. But we know that customers more and more ignore or even block ads. So these ads and blogs don’t seem very helpful.

The question is “what social interaction can be helpful to customers during their purchasing process.”

Thanks for sharing your opinion.P1070688-3


Ger van den Buijs

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customer experience; ecommerce, social media marketing

5 Things E-commerce can learn from Retail: part 6


Automation designIn this blog we will cover 5 topics on Ecommerce automation and discuss what improvements can be made when you implement strategies from Retail:

  1. Automated marketing and ads
  2. Automated personalized content
  3. Automated follow up
  4. Automated customer understanding
  5. Automated interaction and advising

This is part 6 of my series on “5 Things Ecommerce can learn from Retail”. Ecommerce has had it easy till now. It was sailing with the wind and almost all companies were successful. But competition is getting tougher. Ecommerce has become like a normal trade, where some have success and others fail. It has become increasingly important to learn and improve. My vision is that retail selling strategies have a lot to offer.

The first blog on this topic covered customer education . The second one was on building customer value. The third blog was on removing obstacles. The fourth blog was on persuasion. The 5th and last blog was on the importance of showing activity to customers.

I intended to write 5 articles about my vision that Ecommerce can learn a lot from retail. Now that that objective is accomplished, I still have ideas left. There is at least one that I want to share with you, so I decided to add that to the series. This blog is about automation, a key topic for Ecommerce. To heat up the discussion right away, let’s start with a statement:

Automate as much as possible, but not more.

I have to admit I more or less copied this quote from Albert Einstein. His quote is:  “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler”.

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1. Automated marketing and ads

What is easiest to automate is advertisement. People actually expect advertisement to be automated / programmed. Advertisement can be characterized as the confrontation with a certain product without having taken action to look for that product.

Automated advertisement however has its limits. We see more and more “ad avoiding” customers. A typical example is that “ad-haters” troubled the video service Hulu so much, it decided to offer an ad-free service as an additional option.

The modern version of advertisement is content management. It is more acceptable, because the company actually gives something to the reader. But as more and more companies started to use this strategy as an alternative for advertisement, the overflow of content offered is overwhelming. People start avoiding content as well.

What’s liked best is photo and video. When offered to a customer, video also looks like a photo. Instagram and You Tube are rising in popularity as marketing media. In my vision the main reason is that a picture is the best acceptable way to communicate an unrequested message. Because of the holistic experience photo is the best medium to be catchy, fun, unique in a split second.

I like to compare this to the ads in magazines. People love the flashy magazines for their beautiful ads. The value is in the photo itself, not in the advertised product. That’s why nobody ever complained about the huge portion of advertisement in these magazines.

2. Automated personalized content

Personalization is hot in Ecommerce. There are many tools to produce content that matches the profile of the customer. Examples are:

  • presenting similar products
  • presenting complimentary products
  • presenting “other people also looked at”
  • adjusted sorting based on customer journey
  • less frequently used: special deal offers related to the customer journey

These are Ecommerce improvements that help the customer navigate through the site. It’s like a shop assistant showing you a cardigan that goes really well with the trousers you are trying on. This is really a win-win approach. It safes time for the consumer and the shop increases its conversion.

What can still be improved is collecting the feedback of the customer to the proposed products. The tools collect the click, but it would be great if the customer could actually reply something like “I like that, but it’s too expensive”. The shop assistant goes through a very steep learning curve with each individual customer. It would be great if that would be possible on internet as well.

3. Automated follow up

One of the best conversion boosters in Ecommerce is automated mail marketing. It is also widely used in retail. There are many strategies for this and all have a great impact on sales. To mention some:

  • Advice on how to use the product
  • Products that go well with the product just bought
  • Renewal of the product, at the end of the normal use period
  • Hot deals your customer might not want to miss
  • News and innovation about product, the assortment or the company
  • Congratulation at customer’s birthday.

All of these strategies build on the well known fact that it is much easier to persuade an existing customer to buy a next product from you than to persuade a new customer to buy a product from you for the very first time. It is said to be a factor 6 easier. The reason for difference is TRUST. The existing customer has experienced your service and taking that your service and product were good, he will not have to cross the trust barrier again.

We see two types of behavior here. Many consumers like these messages. This leads to the high conversion that results from these mails. But we also see ad-avoiders, who have opened free mail accounts specifically to receive these mails and trash them. Most customers will do both. Their choice of strategy depends on the relation they feel towards the company. Here Ecommerce can learn something from retail.

Ecommerce is very quick with asking for mail addresses. But when the relation is not yet build on trust, you will get many fakes. Retails spends more personal quality time with the individual customer, building the trusted relationship.  Now the customer is more likely to give his real email address and marketing mails will be much more effective. The advice would be to accompany the request with more and more personal attention, not to reduce the request for email addresses.

A second form of automated follow up is the ad banner, Google Adsense, Facebook targeting etc that are triggered by tracking the customer continously during his internet presence. Much is known about the income these advertisement generate for companies like Google and Facebook. There is also quite some information about the income it generate for the banner/advertisement hosting sites. Much less is known about the conversion they deliver to the company that pays for the ad. Of course, every situation is different, so it isn’t easy to compare. The most objective available data we found showed an average Click Through Rate of around 0.1%. That still doesn’t say anything about conversion. We have other research from SeeWhy that shows that this kind of traffic is 15 times less effective than mail traffic. Might we be looking at the cloth of the Emperor? If anyone can help me to objectively measured conversion rates of these forms of advertisement, I would be most obliged.

Might we be looking at the cloth of the Emperor?

What I do read a lot about is about people avoiding or blocking Adsense and banners. Adblockers are very popular in the App stores. Up to 35% of all ads are blocked. Google reports that less than 45% of ads are actually viewable.

My hypotheses however is that, on top of the above, most people have a trained blind eye for these banners and ads and just ignore them all together. There has been a research on the effectivity of advertisement. They let people read a newspaper with ads in between. One mayor expensive ad was tweaked. The advertised product and the brand of the product clearly didn’t match. None of the participants noticed.

4. Automated customer understanding

Now we are getting to a more difficult topic: understanding the customer. There are many companies that try to innovate in this area. Conceptually there is one problem. One customer account mostly represents one person, but not always. Possibly the account is used by the whole family, leading to different behavior. Similarly one person has different roles in his life. Employee or employer, husband, father, tennis team member, care taker for his elders, etc. Each role will also lead to different behavior. Without interaction it is pretty much impossible to understand an individual. What is easier to understand is the trend in behavior by the mass of consumers. That is where the tools in Ecommerce focus on.

When you look at this from customer perspective, you will feel little appreciation for being treated as average. Every customer likes to be treated as a unique person. Mismatching are quickly causing irritation. In this area retail clearly still has an advantage.

Retail invests in focus on the individual. A shop assistant will ask what the customer wants and what he wants to achieve with it. In this way he can understand the customer as a total person. The weak point in retail is that it is much harder to get the statistics. In Ecommerce every movement is measured and chances of follow up actions can be calculated. In retail that hardly has an equivalent.

The difference between Ecommerce and Retail can be summarized as

Ecommerce works from statistics of actions to predict the needs of one customer


Retail works from their understanding of individual customer needs and tries to predict the general trends in behavior.

Ecommerce has the potential to combine both approaches, when it would be possible to interact in an open environment with the customer. This is different from the customer service chat. It should be experienced as an open interaction where the customer can act and interact without barriers.

5. Automated Interaction & advising

Ecommerce has many forms of automated interaction. You can distinguish two types, static and dynamic. Examples of the static type of interaction are the frequent asked questions (FAQ). By predicting the question, Ecommerce can give the answer on a static page. This works very well and save a lot of costs.

Reviews might be a form of personal interaction or also a form of static interaction. That all depends on the response times. When reviews are not answered or with large delay, they are a form of static interaction. The customer still gets a sense of past interaction, but he will not expect to have any interaction himself from the company. When the response follows quickly, they become a form of personal interaction.

Ecommerce also has the automated assistant. These tools allow the customer to formulate a question. The tool will then try to understand the question, may propose some alternative questions that might cover the original question and then supply an answer. Of course this is also a great cost saver. The success of these tools vary much with the complexity of the question. These tools are in a squeezed position. When the question is very simple, you could have solved it with a well organized FAQ. when the question is complex the chance of providing a satisfactory answer is very limited. Basically these tools are FAQ with a search index.

Ecommerce has since a number of years the customer service chat plug-ins. These brought a great improvement. This is a form on personal interaction that is oftentimes very effective. The customer is served personally by the service center. Mostly the name of the shop assistant is published, which gives a more personal image to the service center. What is automated is the push of the box. I personally find this highly irritating, but apparently other people have a hard time finding the plug-in.

In retail personal interaction has a much bigger impact. There are a number of elements that contribute to this effect:

  • the shop assistant is physically visible
  • eye contact between customer and shop assistant communicate the (absence of) need for assistance.
  • while communicating, the customer perceives the focus of the assistant on him.
  • Non verbal communication is added to the pallet of interaction
  • when returning more frequently, the shop assistant and customer will recognize each other. This creates engagement.
  • customers can oversee / overhear the interaction of the shop assistant with other customers and thus experience the service mentality of the company. This also creates livelihood.

If Ecommerce could implement some of these elements, the impact of interaction could further increase engagement and conversion. Going back to the statement at the start, we should automate everything possible, but not more than the possible. In my view customer interaction can not be automated adequately. At least not at this moment in history. There might be a time in the future when computers/robots will understand humans and can really interact, though I don’t like the idea of it.

What do you think?
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With courtesy to for the photos

customer experience; ecommerce, real-time marketing, social media marketing

5 Things E-commerce can learn from Retail: part 5


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.

The Library of Virginia 2899347424_7f9416a299_mIn 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?
Andrea Corò 14509525083_a021561731_m

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.

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2. Belonging

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.

3. Trust

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?

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With courtesy to Andrea Corò, The library of Virginia and for the photos

customer experience; ecommerce, social media marketing

5 Things E-commerce can learn from Retail: part 4


4893508228_9f130ce264_mThis is part 4 of me series on things Ecommerce can learn from Retail. The first one was on educating your customer. The second on about building customer value. The third blog was on removing obstacles.

Say that we have done all that, the next step is to close the transaction. The final decision is really a difficult step. Most customers are hesitant. Even when you have done everything right, your customer might still fear the moment of decision. Any distraction might make him slip away, so in retail the sales assistant works closely with the customer and puts the right pressure to help the customer to take his decision. Mind you, we only mean ethical methods. Quoting from Jay Abraham:

Presuming you’re convinced that your product solves the problem of your customer or fulfills his dream, you have the moral obligation to help him decide.

Robert Cialdini is one of the great researchers and publishers about persuasion. We selected 7 of the strategies he described in the book he wrote together with Noah Goldstein and Steve Martin: “Yes – 50 Secrets from the science of persuasion”. You will see that these are common practice in retail, but hardly used in Ecommerce.

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1.         Personal message

Research shows that a personal message will generate more response than the same message, but communicated anonymously. Cialdini’s research shows in increase in response from 34% to 69%, just by adding a personal message.

Most likely the message on your website is that you are a great vendor, offering great service and selling a awesome product. Still 98 % of visitors leave your site without a purchase. Looking at those people who put products in their shopping basket, still 70 % abandons your site. Is it a coincidence that this fraction seems to correspond with Cialdini’s 34% that acts on an anonymous request?

It is important to realize that the this game is not easily won. Research shows that real and intentional interaction will be effective. Cialdini presents research that shows that fake smiling might even deliver negative results.

Ted Rubin stresses in his marketing methodology that REAL creates TRUST. And because of that REAL wins over PERFECT. Stimulate your employees to invest their personal brand and effort in your company. Yes, that means that you will have to trust them.  In this social media era you will not be able to be successful without a trusted customer support team. Please watch this video to listen how Ted Rubin positions your employees as key assets. I want to thank Econsultancy for the production the video.

2.         Small gift

A small gift has a great effect on people’s willingness to act. Cialdini’s research shows how a small gift of two peppermints in a restaurant did increase tips by 14 %. Do the same thing in a more personal style and tips will increase even 23%.

The gift must is most effective when given unconditional. You’ll run the risk that a customer will take the gift (for free) without buying a product. But don’t worry. Research shows that an unconditional gift achieves 45% more response. Why worry about the small gifts when you can increase sales with 45%.

3.         Small Request

You want your customers to choose for you, and for your product. This is a big request. Research shows that people say yes to a large request more easily when you ask a small request first. Cialdini shows in an experiment that the number of people saying yes to a particular large request rises from 22% to 53% by asking people a small related request first.

This is in line with knowledge build up in the science of User Interaction Design. It is advised to get people to click on something in your site. Once they have clicked, they are more likely to buy. To make this effective, the click has to be an answer to a request from you, not a pure navigation click.

4.         Labeling

You are a intelligent and innovative marketer. You take up new developments fast, to stay the leader in your market. That is why you will start implementing this policy today. By attaching a label to a person, he is more likely to show behavior corresponding to the label. Use labels as ‘decisive’ and ‘fast’ when addressing customers in the shopping cart pages and you can expect them to be more likely to show decisive behavior.

5.         Active commitment

You want customers to return to your webshop. Returning customers are much more likely to buy than new customers. But how can you get people to return? Cialdini describes how people tend to act as they predicted to act. And that predicted behaviour is more likely to be social desirable. This leads to the proven conclusion that when you ask people to return to your shop they will be likely to say yes (the social desirable answer) and then act accordingly. In retail this is common practice. In Ecommerce we just say thank you, without asking for the confirmation.

6.         Relative pricing

When confronted with a price, a customer will first not really know what to think of it. He will use relative pricing to build up to a decision. Not surprisingly the Forrester research shows that uncertainty about the price is an important reason to abandon the shopping cart.

Cialdini shows that a price is more acceptable when a customer is first confronted with a more expensive product. He describes how Williams-Sonoma doubled the sales of a product by introducing a more expensive version of it. Suddenly the product became the sensible priced product. This is very helpful when the customer is hesitant. Buying the most expensive version is not easily done. Buying the second in line suddenly is a very good compromise between desire and sense.

7.         Avoid loss

People will react much stronger when faced with potential loss, than when faced with a potential gain. Whether the customer will perceive potential gain or loss is a matter of how you present the message. “Try our product at a discount” is proven to be a lot less effective than “Don’t let this bargain slip”. The unique offer and the short duration put some pressure on the customers to prevent the loss of the discount. It’ll be just the little stimulus that your customer needs.

What do you think?

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With courtesy to Seyyah Hatun and for the photo                   P1070688-3

customer experience; ecommerce, social media marketing

5 Things E-commerce can learn from Retail: part 3

Remove Obstacles

rockThis is the third in my series of 5 articles on things E-commerce can learn from Retail. The first blog was about the importance of educating your customers. The second blog talked about ensuring that the customer perceives value  instead of price. This third blog is about the next step. We are now in the situation that the customer has selected a product.

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Though the customer has added a product to his shopping cart, he is likely still not ready to buy. The shopping proces is not completed yet. Forrester research shows that 70 % of all shopping carts are abandoned. The number one reason (44%) I’ll share with you at the bottom of this blog. The second reason (41%) for shopping card abandonment is “not ready to buy”. Next, another 27% of customers want to compare more prices. Your customer experiences an obstacle, and that is not good for you, nore for the customer. Now what would a retail shop assistant do in such a situation? And what can an E-commerce site do?

Ultimate sales machine

The Ultimate Sales Machine strategy (Chet Holmes) for this step in the shopping process is to meticulously take the following steps:

  1. get the obstacle on the table,
  2. isolate it,
  3. resolve it.

The superstar sales person sees each objection as an opportunity, because it proves that the customer is nearly ready to buy. You should not let this customer slip. The customer has a mission, he wants to satisfy a need or fix a problem. When you are convinced your product is right for your customer, you have to help him to resolve the obstacle.

In Ecommerce obstacles were first approached in a completely different manner. Ecommerce was very busy with removing obstacles in the software and user experience. In retail terms you could compare this to making sure the paths are cleared from boxes and the products are displayed neatly. The focus was on optimizing the large stream. And many still do. Examin your own site and check what percentage of individual visitors are actively serviced?

Until about two years ago E-commerce thus ignored the individual case. The obstacles from customer perspective were left untouched. By ignoring the individual dilemma, we caused the customer to leave. That’s how we got to conversion figures as low as 1-3 % or even worse. But we have started realizing that each sale ís in individual situation, with one individual customer.

Two resolutions have been developed. The chat with customer service and (customer) reviews. We see a great impact from both tools. Expecially peer reviews are trusted by customers, though most people know that a part of these reviews are in fact faked. In my blog on Customer experience in the social media era I showed proof that “Word of Mouth” is measured to be a hundred times more powerful than a marketing campagne. People in this era put more trust in the information from peers than the information from the shop as an “institute” . The issue with customer reviews is however that they are static. The customer has to find a review that more or less answers his question. Again the customer will wander off to other sites to find the right review to answer his question. This is time consuming from customer perspective and a lost opportunity from sales perspective.

Knowing that customers need peer information to handle an obstacle in their purchase process we want to ask this question:

Can we leverage that cross customer influence much more and give it an active role in Ecommerce? P1070688-3

What do you think?
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With courtesy to Flickre and Angi English for the photo.
NB: Number one reason for shopping cart abandonment is shipping cost.

customer experience; ecommerce, social media marketing

What E-commerce can learn from Retail – part 2

Build customer value

Sale - Sale - SalePurchasing a product is a process. So should sales be. As a customer, you ‘re not ready to buy when you are early in the process.

Imagine yourself in a retail shop. You just started to orientate on a new photo camera. Now the shop-assistant approaches you and from the first moment (s)he keeps pushing you price deals. How long will you tolerate this?

What you need is information like the newest developments in technology, the product variants that are available and the strengths & the weaknesses of the different brands/models and information about what other customers like best. And most important: what does this mean for me? You are not interested in price deals for products you don’t even want. Do you find this hardly realistic? True, in retail, every shop-assistant knows how to differentiate between orientation phase, selection phase and closing phase.

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Now look at your own webshop. What do you see? Most likely you see price deals, more price deals and even more price deals. We are completely used to that model. We treat every customer as a target for the next transaction. We are not in the air to help the customer, we are there to score conversion. The fact that customers move from site to site in an attempt to get the information they need is considered normal.

Please help me with this puzzle: if the conversion ratio of an average shop in my branche is 2%, does this means from customer perspective that – on average – he pays 50 visits to a shop (mine or my competitors) before he makes a transaction? I think it does, but can ecommerce be so ineffective?

50 Visits to decide on one transaction doesn’t sound acceptable, left alone desirable? I know that visiting a website takes a lot less effort then visiting a retail shop. Still I am certain we can do better. Customers will feel really helped when they can limit the visits before they feel ready to make a transaction.

Research by The E-Tailing Group shows that most people start their orientation with an open mind about the product. In branches with information intensive products 84% of all ecommerce customers start with browsing the internet for ideas. Only 16% of the respondents start with an analysis of the options right away. When asked 40% of the respondents answered they would prefer a shopping experience based on their needs.

Can E-commerce build value for the customer by working from his perspective before offering a price deal?P1070688-3

What do you think?

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With courtesy to for the photo.

customer experience; ecommerce, social media marketing

5 Things Ecommerce can learn from Retail – part 1

 Educate your customer

4612732045_e1e6061b69_zCustomer education plays a central role in the ultimate sales strategy. With educating your customer you offer them help. You also express you care about them making a wise decision for their particular situation. That makes education a powerful instrument for getting customers to connect to you before their transaction.

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What’s more, it is also an essential strategy to maintain the relation with your customer after the purchase. This can greatly influence your success in turning a one-off-sale into a returning customer. Check out The Ultimate Sales Machine by Chet Holmes. Chet Holmes gives many creative examples how education of customers caused sales to boom.

E-commerce can learn from retail in this field. E-commerce is generally very good at providing specifications. Automated interfaces of product specifications provided by wholesale or manufacturer make this very easy. The challenge for E-commerce is to shift its focus to the meaning and impact of specification in order to fulfil the need of each individual customer. Is e-commerce capable to provide more then just the product? If not, harsh price competition will be the result.P1070688-3

What do you think?

Thanks to Ralph Daily and for the photo.