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This 38 message thread spans 2 pages: 38 ( [1] 2 > >     
Dealing with the Telephone
Handling the flood of questions

 4:51 pm on Aug 18, 2005 (gmt 0)

We are told to make the toll free telephone number visible on every page of the web site.

This increases customer confidence. However this leads to the web version of 'RTFM' (Read the F*ing Manual), which I call the 'RTFWS' syndrome.

We have flat rate shipping, we explain everything clearly on the website, but still customers ask the same questions over and over.

We are thinking of implementing a voice mail system with various informational messages,'they maybe blind, but maybe they aren't deaf', to screen out most of these.

Whoever said, customer service, doesn't cost, put pays, was
definitely not an accountant :)



 5:18 pm on Aug 18, 2005 (gmt 0)

> We have flat rate shipping, we explain everything
> clearly on the website, but still customers ask
> the same questions over and over.

Its one thing to have the message on the site, but its another thing to present the information in a way that the customer will read and understand it. You still have buyers calling you even if you put the text in 72-pt flashing red text. ;)

The phone is a way for buyers to cut through the noise. You can tell in the first few seconds if the caller is asking questions which is leading to a sale, or if they are in the research part of the buying cycle. (Refer to Vegas WW - Overture PowerPoint for more details on buying cycle). If I know its not a sales question, I keep it short. Usually "is there anything else?" ends the conversation.

I am in the same boat as you and am thinking of having a simple voice mail system referring buyers to the web site for everything except for phone orders.


 6:33 pm on Aug 18, 2005 (gmt 0)

We have our "Frequently Asked Questions" link directly under our phone number, it has helped cut down on calls of basic questions. We have it formatted like this:

Call Toll Free: 1-800-555-5555
Or view our "Frequently Asked Questions"


 7:40 pm on Aug 18, 2005 (gmt 0)

I think sometimes customers just ring to make sure you are a bone-fide company. They are just after some re assurance rather than just giving their money to anyone. If you answer their questions nicely you'll get the sale.


 9:00 pm on Aug 18, 2005 (gmt 0)

>>I think sometimes customers just ring to make sure you are a bone-fide company.

That is a certain percentage of our calls. We get 2 or 3 phone orders for every web order. I suspect that most people are just more comfortable giving a credit card number to a stranger on the phone than typing it in a browser.

One tip...

When somebody asks a good question about a product, add the answer to the content on your site. Acomplishes two things, one it keeps the fresh bot coming back. Two, slowly cuts down on the phone calls.


 9:51 pm on Aug 18, 2005 (gmt 0)

i've always said, scrap the phone number

you'll lose a few sales from the people that are too lazy to read your site, but you'll save a lot of time and/or staffing costs


 11:21 am on Aug 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

A F.A.Q page definitely helps to cut down the number of calls, but you will always have people still call you with stupid questions. (This is what we call 'human nature' :))


 11:29 am on Aug 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

i've always said, scrap the phone number

I think that depends on the type of business. If you're selling aircraft carriers online, and maybe make one sale a year (but it makes you a large sum of money), then a phone is probably a pre-requisite.



 1:27 pm on Aug 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

My approach is that whenever I get what I would consider stupid questions, is that I am responsible for this. I never blame the customer. I blame myself for not working hard enough to make everything clear and inspire confidence at the same time.

That people call with stupid questions, tells me that something is not smooth or effective enough in the way the Web site communicates with them.

I consider this an opportunity to improve.


 2:19 pm on Aug 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

My theory is that customers called with stupid questions just to see if they are dealing with a legitimate business...or to see if you are still in business.


 2:41 pm on Aug 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

Email or phone, they still waste your time. Here's a transcript of an actual customer service eMail conversation. Keep in mind that we are a wholesale-only site. The word 'Wholesale' is plastered everywhere, in big bold colorful fonts. Thousands of customers, and nobody else has ever been confused about our simple pricing system (each line excerpted here represents a separate eMail, sent or received):

Are these prices wholesale prices for businesses that try to buy large amounts of your product?
--I'm not sure I understand your question. As it says in the right hand top corner of every page onsite, our minimum order is US$100.
Is your discounted price the same as a wholesale price?
--All of our prices are wholesale. There is a standard price for the 3-item minimum, and a discounted price for 12 or more.
What kind of business do you have not a very good one....! You suck you cant even answer my question! How can you get business if you say the same thing over and over! You don't even attempt to try and answer my question!

Here's another:
<i>Do you have drop shipping?</i>
--Sorry, we do not have drop shipping.
<i>You did not understand me. Do you do drop shipping?</i>

Hardwood Guy

 3:12 pm on Aug 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

"That people call with stupid questions, tells me that something is not smooth or effective enough in the way the Web site communicates with them.

I consider this an opportunity to improve."

Great point Harry! If you really analyze what's happening on the other end and why the same questions are being asked, there's room for improvement. We have our toll free # on every page in full view. By listening to the questions and asking oursleves why we were getting them, we found the information or links to that information was not in a good visible location for the consumer. We made some changes and the calls dropped considerably.

I think the dumbest question I've heard is:

"What's your phone number?" This after a few minutes of discussion after they CALLED us!

I find phone contact to be important in our business because there is more to buying something than just placing the order. Some products we sell can't be used effectively in some situations. It cuts down on errors and "I don't need that now, can I return it?" But then our orders can vary from $ 500 to $25,000 so getting it right the first time is crucial.


 7:24 pm on Aug 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

I consider this an opportunity to improve

I agree completly.

Why would you dislike customers ringing up for your service? your there to provide that service to them in the best approachable way whilst keeping the sale lead in the back burner. I really like the idea of having FAQ under the contact details - this could cut 'stupid calls' down alot - but if this was my business I would rather someone call me that have a quick flick through and move on to the next competitor site. If the calls get to much hire an telephone operator to take care of these - a moving business requires you and your employees to move with it..

Just my thoughts :)


 7:38 pm on Aug 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

We have a great, well-written FAQ always being updated and improved. We have wonderful explanatory text which automagically appears to explain all sorts of issues onsite.

...doesn't matter what you do. You're still going to get dim bulbs asking you who's buried in Grant's tomb. It's unavoidable.

Just keep your eyes on the prize: turkeys will often give you their money if you are patient enough to humour their mental deficits. Boy, do I ever sound like a snob! Oh well.


 11:08 pm on Aug 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

Like everyone else, we've wrestled with this for years. We've even tried paying phone staff based on commission, but the problem is that we get 10 informational calls for every 1 order call.

I really believe there is a business opportunity here. We would gladly pay some service some $$$ per month to answer these kinds of phone calls (95% of the questions could have scripted answers quite easily, since they are the same questions again and again). Imagine just one person working a US-based call center answering lines for dozens of Web sites and handling these base-level questions.


 11:24 pm on Aug 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

>> I really believe there is a business opportunity here. We would gladly pay some service some $$$ per month to answer these kinds of phone calls (95% of the questions could have scripted answers quite easily, since they are the same questions again and again).

Certainly there is a business opportunity, but it's not one that's been undiscovered. There are plenty of companies running call centers that do exactly that, handling both incoming customer service and sales calls.


 11:37 pm on Aug 22, 2005 (gmt 0)

"but the problem is that we get 10 informational calls for every 1 order call."

Sounds like you could add more pages and go into more detail on product specifics. Maybe you do because I don't know what type of business you're in. I've also found using a forum helps tremendously, providing you have enough traffic to support it.

We started our forum 12 months ago that has 5,000 posts by now, with many professionals involved in our line of work contributing. They're not affiliated with us and yet do it in their own free time to answer consumer questions. Of course we funnel the repititous question crowd into the forum from the contact us page. It basically goes like this:

Buy From Us? blah, blah, blah
Freight Questions? Contact us here.
General Consumer Questions? We suggest trying our message board first, blah, blah, blah

Having that message board has proven to be gold nugget for several reasons. I always send those looking for free advice there when they call and they're always very thankful--then the word spreads.


 12:44 am on Aug 23, 2005 (gmt 0)

We had someone from NASA call us today to get a sample ($3) product. They currently buy from the largest company in our sector but we're a lot cheaper so they want to see what we can offer.

Definitely worth it to have a phone number on the site when you get calls like that. This could easily be a million dollar a year contract and our site is only 8 days old.


 9:58 pm on Aug 23, 2005 (gmt 0)

Sounds like you could add more pages and go into more detail on product specifics. Maybe you do...

As others have noted, putting even more information on the site won't help with most shoppers. For example, for each and every one of our products we state how long it will take to arrive ("receive it in 1-2 weeks"), yet "how long will it take to get it" is one of our most frequent questions.

Then there are other questions where you know the caller is completely naive about the product, and won't really understand any answer you give (akin to a car buyer asking the salesman "is this a four-door or front-wheel drive?") It's not that I blame them for asking, but the answers won't help them in their purchasing decision because they don't understand enough about the product in a general sense.

I've also found using a forum helps tremendously

I would LOVE to have a forum, and we've considered it several times. I really think that once it gets rolling it would be a great resource for everyone. We tried it years ago, but it never took off, and it became more of an embarassment (due to lack of activity).

I've searched for call centers of the type I'm thinking about and haven't found any. I've found plenty that want to sell you a DEDICATED center, but we (and zillions of others like us) don't need that - we need a shared solution (5-10 calls/day). If anyone can point me in the right direction I would appreciate it.


 9:05 am on Aug 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

For example, for each and every one of our products we state how long it will take to arrive ("receive it in 1-2 weeks"), yet "how long will it take to get it" is one of our most frequent questions.

Definitely not a stupid question.....Look at it from my viewpoint as a potential customer. I want the item in a week, and I can't see why your page is so vague.

So (rather than going elsewhere where they are more precise and say: delivery 7 days) I decide to give you a chance to be more precise in my particular case.

Maybe I've reasoned that you only ship, say, on Wednesdays. If so, an order placed by midday Wed will be delivered in a week. But one placed at 13:00 Wed will sit in a pile for a week before shipping....that is one possible explanation for the vagueness of "1-2 weeks"

Or maybe orders of 1-10 are immediate, but larger orders are dropshipped and take longer.

"1-2 weeks" is being vague about the delivery model. Potential customers almost have a duty to seek clarification in specific cases.


 9:22 am on Aug 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

1-2 weeks is a bit vague, but I still get customers calling to see if something is in stock where it clearly states 'despatch in 24 hours'. It also states 'this product in stock now' but they still continue to call.

Then, there are those who just want to confirm that this is the right item, even though the product page may say "Manufacturer Part Number Description, Suitable for use on the Manufacturer XYZ" and they call and ask if this is the right item for the Manafacuturer XYZ (if it were the XYZ2, I can understand!).

Although I got one of the best ever last week - though an email. "Do you do the ABC product?" (ABC in the email was a hyperlink, direct to the page of the product and ABC was actually the product title, copied word for word from my site!)

You can never stop these people calling (maybe the stock from previous places was wrong, maybe they have got the wrong item from another company, maybe they just want to confirm you are a real company - all valid reasons that we may never really find out)


 10:12 am on Aug 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

"Call Toll Free: 1-800-555-5555
Or view our "Frequently Asked Questions"

Oh, THAT's a good tip! Thanks.
Our phone sales run about 40% larger than our cart sales and are probably more likely to result in repeat sales. Some especially complex orders are easier to handle online.

Then there are a few idiots who place an order online when they should have phoned it in. Really important express order should be phoned in to assure we have the product in stock.

We constantly use phone in information to polish our FAQs and product presentation.


 11:24 am on Aug 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

"Then, there are those who just want to confirm that this is the right item"

Absolutely! We get many calling asking if these are first quality goods we offer. Althought it's seen on the home page, how to place and order page link, people still want to verify if we're selling the exact same thing they've seen in a local retail store.

That toll free number does have drawbacks though, including the common "what's the price?" Whenever I get that question I ask "how long have you been on our website?" The response is always "Not long, I just called the toll free number."

The FAQ section is also valuable. Although we have a FAQ link clearly seen on the top of every page the same questions are asked. However, we didn't implement this until recent and the number of repititous questions dropped considerably. Location of important page links should be considered, preferably at the top of every page and not buried "under the fold"


 1:42 pm on Aug 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

I'm considering a FAQ gauntlet they need to exhaust before they get to see the phone number. In other words, scroll menu says: "I have a question about (please choose)--->Did these responses answer your question? If not, please call us toll-free, at 123-456-7890."


 7:21 pm on Aug 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

> "Not long, I just called the toll free number."

"Hi, can you do me a favor and order off the web store? This will help me get your order out today." Customers usually say yes and are very understanding.


 8:09 pm on Aug 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

1-2 weeks is a bit vague

But they'll get the same answer if they call. I don't want to turn this into a thread about the difficulties of shipping, but since several commented: the exact timeframe depends on many factors, and not all of them are knowable when the person calls. For example: which (or what combination) of the 14,000 widgets we sell they select; where in the world they live (and by "where" it isn't just which state or country, but even if they are in a rural vs. urban area, are they residential or commercial); the shipping method we choose based on these factors; and just where we happen to be in the ordering cycle(s) with the maker(s) of their chosen widgets.

In short, "receive it in 1-2 weeks" is a general but accurate assessment based on our experience with thousands of packages. By contrast, our number one well-known competitor states "ships in 5-7 days", leaving the customer to guess about time-in-transit. At least we tell them when to expect it at their door.

Back on topic: Sun818 brings up a point we recently tried: giving an incentive to customers to order online. We offered a 5% "online order" discount, and we had many takers (though certainly most probably would have ordered online anyway). We saved on the manpower in servicing the phone, so why shouldn't the customer save a bit too, eh?


 10:33 pm on Aug 24, 2005 (gmt 0)

I think a lot depends on what you are selling and what niche you are serving.

If you are, say, Newegg and your market is electronics/computers at rock bottom prices and you serve the market niche that is most concerned about rock bottom pricing, you do not want phone calls. You want high volume, low cost transactions.

If you are, say, Tiffany, you sell very expensive designer goods to the niche that cares far more about brand image than cost. While you certainly do make sales off your website, you want and expect customers to call you and/or visit your bricks and mortar.

Most companies are somewhere in between. For us, we sell branded designer apparel. While we certainly love our shoppers that complete their transaction 100% of the way through via our website, we also love to get phone calls.

Some of our best customers simply will not order on the website. They will use the website and then call in their order. Given our price points and margins, providing this level of personalized service is of obvious benefit to us.

Apparel, especially women's apparel, can be difficult to describe completely on a website. We provide excellent quality pictures of our goods on our site and do extensive work with fitting models to be certain that our sizing charts match the way our clothing actually fits. But, women's bodies are all different and sometimes its just *easier* to talk to someone about how individual styles might look/fit.

Also, colors do not come through well on the web. At least, not true representations. From a picture, you can tell than a red is, well, red - but you cannot tell if it is necessarily a warm red or a cool red. Even if you can, you cannot be sure that your particular monitor is showing the color the way that it will show in real life.

Certainly we get a lot of calls that don't directly lead to sales, but we gain a TON of useful information that helps us. We stumbled into a market segment we never would have considered because a couple of women happened to call us and ask about it. That market segment will probably end up being 3-4% of our 2005 revenue and has tremendous growth potential for us. No additional investment beyond a few additional PPC keywords and emails to a few key influencers was necessary.

So, while occasionally we have to deal with people asking questions way out in left field, I'm generally excited when the phone rings and look for reasons to try and keep someone on the line rather than try to figure out how keep them from calling in the first place.

So, when thinking about your phone lines, you need to think about your business first. Sometimes what appears to be a cost center might actually be a profit center.


 1:08 pm on Aug 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

One thing that worries me about this thread, but in a sense is an opportunity to me, is that people perceive their customers as annoyances. One should be honoured to receive a phone call from a customer, even if it cuts in the margins.

If the goods' prices/ margins are too low to cover for 1-800 expenses, then remove the toll-free. But I don't think it's wise to send a mix message to customers, telling them we welcome their calls while praying that few of them actually phone in.

Even if we are discussing this topic here, far away from most of our customers, thinking negatively about customers will reflect in the way we answer the phone, handle orders even through the Web site's copy.

The Read the F** Manual approach is not customer friendly. Forcing customers to pile through a list of FAQs before contacting us is not in their benefit. Considering how volatile people surfing the Web are, the last thing I want to do is make it difficult for them to get the information they need.

While all these tactics and this annoyance attitude may save us some bucks in the short term, in the long term, it will cost us more. I'm not absolving myself from this as I also put "barriers" between the customer and me. I also get annoyed at stupid phone calls. I'm trying to change that, because I believe that in the long term those with good service will beat the competition. The more I believe this, the more it will translate in the copy on our Web sites, our phone support, our page layout and on how well wew handle and process orders. It's like a religion.

And guys, as I said above, it is an opportunity for me. If you don't treat your customers with due respect, someone like me will come over and take your market share.

Give your customers a chance.


 1:26 pm on Aug 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

John Naisbit writes in one of his books that even though there is all this wonderful technology, people will still want a live person to do business with; a personal contact. He calls it "high tech/high touch". It's the warmth of another human being to cozy up to. So that's part of the problem.

One thing I've learned from 18 years of running multi-unit franchised restaurant operation is that people don't want to read anything. Unless it's quick to absorb, anything longer than a few words becomes a blur. Perhaps your FAQ can have a bolded first sentence that is no longer than a few words so each point can be quickly scanned.


 1:27 pm on Aug 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

No one has picked up on my comment that phone in orders tend to be much bigger than online orders.

Anyone else share my experience with this?

This 38 message thread spans 2 pages: 38 ( [1] 2 > >
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