Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Make Your Web Site About Your Customer

Such an easy thing to say. If you read my last post you may or may not have made a list of the things your customer does when she comes to your office or calls you on the phone. 

This is the place to start planning how to make your site about your customer. Take this list and work through it one item at a time. Write it down.

Here is an example - take a payment.

How would you let a customer make a payment to you on your web site? If your answer was "I can't let my customer make a payment on  my web site", then write down the reasons you think you can't.

Again, using an insurance agency as an example, this is actually a very hard question. Here is a list of some of the problems:

  1. How does the customer know how much to pay?
  2. What if the customer enters the wrong policy number or payment amount?
  3. What if I can not figure out who made the payment or for what account?

These are all valid questions for an insurance agency. They generally do not send the customer a bill for car insurance or homeowners insurance. The bill generally comes from the insurance company.

Start with #1. Is there any way to help identify the customer? Do some of your insurance companies have online payments? If so you can provide a list of those companies as hyperlinks to the correct web page for your customer to make the payment on that site.

If not, can you create a screen that asks your customer for their name, policy number? Can you build a data base table to compare that information with your existing customer information? If so, this will keep you from taking payments from people you do not know.

Of course this table has to be kept up to date. How will that be done? Will the better customer service be worth the effort? Will the better customer service help you make more money? The only way to know is to do it and measure results.

You still have the problem of accepting the correct amount for the payment. Because of the basically non existent availability of current data from your insurance company that actually sends the bill you are not going to be able to be certain of the amount of the payment. If your customer comes to your office or calls you, you are able to look at the bill they have or call the insurance company, or go online to the insurance company to confirm the amount.

For an online customer, the current state of insurance technology does not enable your system to do this. The solution I suggest is to put wording on the payment page that your customer has to check to agree to saying the payment is a conditional payment pending your human review on the next business day. This wording and agreement should keep you in compliance with the insurance laws on cancellations and estoppel.

Then  you have the technical matters of creating or using software with your web page that will securely accept the payment. This kind of thing is easy to find and affordable.

So is this worth it? Well,  my question is "Is it worth it to take a payment when a customer comes to your office?". If the answer is "yes" to that, then I believe the answer is "yes" to this. 

Let me give you a real example from my life. I pass 4 gas stations between my house and my office. I only buy from two of them. Two do not have "pay at the pump". I don't even look at the price for gas at these two stations. As far as I am concerned they simply do not exist as a place I will do business.

Is your not being able to take payments online, 24/7/365, making you non existent to your customer? More and more it does. Plus you are never even in the picture for many potential customers. You are like the two gas stations that think they are open for my business but I don't think that at all. And as the customer, I am the only one that matters.

Believe it or not, price is at best the 5th reason for a buying decision. First is relationship, next are some combination of service, perceived value, perceived quality and ease of doing business. 

Do you have any online relationship? Does your customer have the ability to interact with you online? If they do not, it is kinda hard to have a relationship. And that online relationship is just going to be more and more important.

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