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hmm are you working alone for your website? guess you need some planning to sort out things.
here is what i suggest
Try to make FAQ or knowlegde base on website , since most of problems are common try to address the questions there from website only so that people can read and find answer instead of calling , remember no one like to call when they can find answer themselves
For technical stuff i guess take the help of your manufacturers they must be supporting to how to write content and documentation for the products
You are doing fine on buying stuff to improve efficiency , untill and unless you are in profit dont worry for that
This generates a mass of phone calls and e-mails.
I'd do two things.
1) Make the phone number for support a premium number! Not ten bucks a minute premium, but offer them the premium number where you will help them or the non-premium number of the manufacturer.
2) Emails should 90% be fixed with a series of FAQs sitting in on your hard drive (actually, I use notes in my Yahoo account). I find that having these replies already templated makes email support MUCH MUCH easier. As you start to hate those support emails, it becomes harder and harder to reply to the same inane, "READ THE DARN MANUAL IDIOT" type question without sounding terse or rude. Templating the common replies gets you out of that dangerous stste of mind and also makes email support MUCH quicker.
Drive them to their email boxes or make them pay for the cost of a human being.
Get your business super profitable - bottom line net profit...get that bottom line nice and juicy - don't worry about gross revenue - just concentrate on a solid net profit...then go and sell your business. Most smaller businesses sell on a multiple of net profit (not the sexy businesses that sell out to Google but the less well known businesses like the people on webmasterworld). Also, take the next year or two to get your systems in place to make the business run more smoothly and then sell...use the money that you earn from the sale to fund a new business that you truly enjoy...good luck!
Sounds like your site and ours are doing similar things.
I understand the frustration of spending 20 minutes to close a $30 sale.
How we got around it was having knowledgable staff. Whenever a customer asks a question about a product that we have never had before, we login to the backend of the site and put text on the site to prevent somebody from calling and asking the same question in the future. This has the added benefit of having content added to the site on a daily basis... which of course the SE's love. After 7 years of this we have a massive site with thousands of pages of origonal content. A few of our suppliers (in fact the actual manufacturers of some of our products) use our site as a source of technical info.
So unfortunately I feel if you disable your phones for your customers it may have a negative effect on your bottom line. The only solution is employees who can handle the technical phone calls and have the ability to add content to your site.
Sometimes, having people with less technical knowledge on the front line can actually help with a lot of the burden you are facing. If you have someone with less knowledge on the phone, they will be able to turn that phone call faster. Once a caller realizes that they can't ask a million questions about how to do something, they may just order the part and figure it out themselves. Or, the less technical person can direct them to the exact spot on the website that gives the technical details the caller needs to and move on to the next call/email. They can also take phone numbers and/or email addresses that you could batch up to your more technical staff to answer once a day (instead of being interrupted all day long). You may have to write lots of content up front, but it will help tremendously with both customer questions and driving traffic through search results.
Good luck to you.
I'm not sure how this would fit into the business of selling parts, but I wonder if you could specialize in certain types of parts that a) attracted a more knowledgeable customer who needs less help and b) are more expensive and thus more profitable.
I like the idea of a FAQ based on phone questions.
We need more personnel, yet we really can't afford them. Our products are so technical, we can't just hire data entry people to write the description of each item
Toolman, ask yourself these questions:
1. Are you the most knowledgeable guy in the company for the widgets you sell? If yes, you are a technitian, not a business owner
2. Do you do occasional phone customer support yourself? If yes, you are a technitian, not a business owner.
3. Need more personnel, but can't afford it...means your business is in trouble. Big, big trouble. There's something you do that is seriously flawed - not delegate enough, not large enough profit margin, too much money spent in other places, the biggest profit areas are not tapped, etc. What you did is created yourself a J.O.B.
Get yourself out of the day-to-day routines. Take couple of days off. The business will not die. Take your phone number off the main page. Then try to look at things from another perspective. Routine is eating you and your business alive, you need to create processes that will work for you
The amount of phone calls to help troubleshoot their products problem is endless. We support about 20 different manufacturers...
Where are the manufacturer's in this? Sounds like you're doing a fine chunk of work on their behalf, saving them the time, money and inconvenience that goes with customer support, and making them a profit at the same time.
Is it possible to defer certain calls directly to the manufactures?
Is it possible to pressurise manufacturers into giving you some support for effectively doing their job for them? Might they, for example, be affable to the idea of offsetting part or all of the costs associated with taking on an employee (or employees) specifically to deal with queries about their products?
Alternatively, could they be persuaded to help offset 'training costs' or indeed any other costs that might help you run the sales support aspect of your business more effectively? It would certainly be in the manufacturers best interests to help you support your, and their, customers.
look at what tasks you don't want to do anymore (answering phonecalls obviously being one of them), and see how you can get rid of them or get payed more to do them. The premium number is an excellent idea. At least some of the questions must be possible for others to answer. Then have an employee screen the incoming mails and answer the easy ones and only forwarding the difficult ones to you. Let the same employee slowly build a knowledgevbase of previous answers so you don't have to give the same answer two or three times.
I hope you get your joy back in your work :-)
We have to drop ship some items and then order in others (due to minimum order amount required from our vendors) and then ship them out later. This generates a mass of phone calls and e-mails.
Hike your prices up ... not just on troublesome products but ones where you can take significantly more profit.
You've been running your business for 5 years - the shape of the market will have changed since you started. First push everything up slightly (test for 1 month/2months). If you get a big negative reaction stop and rethink. If not then hike by a bigger jump.
You should find that more profit will allow you to make you more money which you can invest into new processes and yourself!
If you are uncomfortable reorganising the processes yourself tell your local business support agency - they might be able to give you some advice/coaching for free.
I agree with the Technical Service phone line. We give technical advice on our products too but it's usually just a minute or two before they make their purchase. If I was spending hours a day on the phone, I would definitely have to think about charging those people some dough. There are too many people out there that don't read the instructions and expect someone to tell them how to do it.
Before you start charging people for the call, however, you must have a few things in place so the customer doesn't feel like they have to pay $'s to get technical help. Those being Product Diagrams and FAQ sections. The customer should be able to figure it out themselves if they use the brain the good Lord gave them and read what's in front of them before they call.
Funny side story on this happened last week. Customer purchases product, we shipped to them. Phone call...
Customer: "I just got the products I bought and wanted to know how I should be using them?"
Me: "Did you read the full instructions on the side of the bottle?"
Customer: "Oh, there's instructions on the bottle?"
BTW: It's exhausting to make money regardless of your field. Most business owners give up when the exhaustion sets in. 90% of the people out there just aren't willing to work hard enough. If it was easy, wouldn't everyone be successfuly? Only those willing to push through the pain will succeed in the long run.
It's exhausting to make money regardless of your field. Most business owners give up when the exhaustion sets in. 90% of the people out there just aren't willing to work hard enough. If it was easy, wouldn't everyone be successfuly? Only those willing to push through the pain will succeed in the long run.
Thankyou! Best thing I've read all week (or probably month or even longer).
And you give away your knowledge for free.
But knowledge, patents, software, ideas, brands, functions are the things that count nowadays, not the physical material, which carries/contains them.
People think they may save a few bucks, opening a machine and trying to repair it, instead of buying a new one. But the steel, rubber or carbonite the machine is made of, is only one tenth of the story, five tenths comprise its immaterial functional principles. If people do not have the knowledge of these principles, they have to pay for that knowledge or the technician who has it.
Carefully start to say goodbye to those customers, who don't appreciate this principle.
It is the holy spirit which survived over the centuries, the bricks of the church buildings come and go. You don't even need the latter for a "service".
[edited by: Oliver_Henniges at 4:02 pm (utc) on May 6, 2007]
"just concentrate on a solid net profit...then go and sell your business."
It is far from easy to sell out any sort of (niche) B&M business, particularly if technical or other know-how makes a big part of the story and if - as in may cases - most of this know-how is available only in the owner's brain. Even if you make a million $$ turnover per year as OP; that isn't really very much if you pay too high a percentage to your suppliers. This leads to the second point:
In another thread in this ecommerce-forum someone suggested that margins should amount to 40% if ever possible, unless you rely on five-figure orders solely.
In skatingtoolman's case this would mean he has 400k per year to pay himself, his empoyess, storage, complaints, returns (oh yes: have you tried to return a drop-shipping? gosh..) and all the rest. How many full-time technicians can you pay as employees from that margin? two? three? And if he is a competitive area, where 40% are really hard to acchieve, you'll get an idea of what is going on behind the phones.
1) What's your average margin?
2) What's your average order in $$?