In the last year alone, I earned a spot on lists like Inc. Magazine's Fastest Growing Companies, Top 40 Executives under 40, and Entrepreneur of the Year -- and I attribute a majority of my success to the fact that I follow a specific set of business practices. Here are the six principles we use to wow our customers (and earn repeat business) year after year:
- Price: Offering thousands of products definitely is an advantage in the pet industry, where prices determine your placement in many search engines or websites. However, learning how to beat the pricing game is always the best strategy. Try offering bundles of your best selling or similar products at a discounted price. You can hire a graphic artist, make your own labels, and prepackage several items to make a new or bundled product that no other store offers. You will find that most customers will buy in bundle, especially if they feel they are getting a better value.
- Cost of Shipping: Over the last several years, we have tried a variety of online shipping price strategies. They included a weight-based shipping price (actual shipping costs), bundled items (lower shipping prices) and an average built-in shipment cost ("free" shipping). We have found that most customers do prefer the third option. Even though the cost is built in, the consumer likes to believe they are getting something for free.
- Follow-up Letter: Online consumers don’t want to feel like a number. They require the same care and courtesy as a customer you deal with face to face. Send them a thank you letter, along with any information pertaining to their order and a means of contacting your store in the event of an issue with their purchase. A simple email really goes a long way. I can’t tell you how many customer have thanked us for taking the time to send them an email. Many are repeat loyal customers because of this gesture.
- Returns: Make sure your return policies are clear. The first thing your return policy should say is the length of time allowed for a return. Do not hide important information -- post the return period, any restocking fees and what you do and do not accept. The return process should always be handled very delicately with an offer to exchange an item for one your customer needs. Most customers are returning items because they weren’t right (too small, too large, wrong color, doesn’t work). Help them find the product they do want, or offer assistance or recommendations.
- Mistakes and Errors: Mistakes are bound to occur. After making a mistake, the first thing you should do is apologize. Then, inform your customer of your intentions to get it corrected, when it will be corrected, and the timeframe in which you will provide them with a refund. For example, when an error occurs in our shipping department, we send the corrected item same day, throw in a free item for the consumer's pet, and offer 10 percent off the customer’s next purchase. This gives us a chance at future business and makes them feel appreciated. It also gives us another chance at making things right. Plus, when we began offering this service, our feedback ratio increased. While some of the customers acknowledged we made an error in the feedback, they also acknowledged how quickly we worked to fix it.
- Customer Feedback: We invite all of our customers to leave feedback regarding their experience with our company. We want everyone to know that not only is feedback an important way to inform other potential customers of the way we do business, but it allows us to reflect on any errors made and how we can fix them. The interaction with customers is the most integral part of an online business. Your online customer could have chosen any company to do business with, so you need to make sure they remember your company positively and come back next time.
If you follow these simple yet underrated guidelines, the next time customers need to make a purchase online, your site will be the first place they go. Talk about a win-win for everyone! A little customer service can go along way.
Tricia Bolds is President/CEO of Gulf Coast Pet Supplies, which is making strides towards healthier, happier pets.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.