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Dealing with the Telephone

Handling the flood of questions

4:51 pm on Aug 18, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

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 :)

3:34 pm on Aug 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

FWIW, my Contact Us page says:

"Answers to most questions are found in our FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS. If your question is already answered in the FAQ it may receive a delayed reply. BEFORE YOU SEND, CLICK HERE." (All-caps text is hyperlinked)

It helps. Also, because our biggest source of pointless calls by far is the Paper-Catalog-Request, the top of the page says in bold red all-caps font:


If despite that, they still type in a catalog request, they get:

"This is an automatic reply to your query at WidgetWorld.com, based upon the keyword: <catalog>"

--with a repeat of the previous text. Works well. Every now & then we nonetheless get a phone call asking for a printed catalog. When they call, I'm just floored. I wanna call them 'dummy' or even more impolite terms, but I force a sweet and smiling tone, and gently acquaint them with reality. Once we've hung up, that's when I let loose with the exasperation, expletives and ridicule...to my handy assistant's sympathetic ear.

4:03 pm on Aug 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

The opportunist in me says, if people want a print catalog, then make it. But then, make them pay for receiving it and include coupons to built repeat purchases...

You really have to listen to your customers. They know best.

4:08 pm on Aug 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

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?

Only one of my websites (not the one in my profile) is stritcly eCommerce, and part-time at that. But yes - Phone calls which result in sales are usually 2 to 4 times our average sale. The people are usually calling about something we don't stock and which is not listed on the website. Our website invites people to call if they don't see the exact item they need.

Additionally, about 1 out of every 4 phone calls results in an over-the-phone order, or a web order placed soon after the call.

Yesterday I literally had my hand on the door handle to leave my office. Of course the phone rang and I decided to stop and answer. The person was looking for 50 of something we don't list or stock. But one of our suppliers has the item. It resulted in a quick $250 sale. If we didn't have the phone number, that sale would have gone to someone else.

Regarding the printed catalog: I would estimate that about 1 out of every 6 people that calls eventually asks about a printed catalog. It is usually not the primary reason they call though. We run on a tight budget that doesn't have room for a printed catalog. However, based upon these requests, it has slowly moved up on my list of priorities and we will have one in the near future.

4:57 pm on Aug 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

You really have to listen to your customers. They know best.

Yes...and no. Left to their own devices, your customers want everything for free. Your customers have champagne tastes on a beer budget. Like spoiled children, your customers demand the moon on a silver platter.

We're wholesalers of shiny precious metal widgets encrusted with gemstones. Everyone and his mom wants a free catalog so she can get the inside poop on how much such luxury widgets really cost. If a toll free number gets them a free catalog, it's no skin off their backs and they're delighted at the opportunity to goof around at your expense. If you're old enough to remember those old real estate broker commercials on TV, they're "Looky-Lous".

We sell in great bulk at very low margins. Catalogs cost a fortune to print and mail; the numbers game of return on investment is profitable but slim after the overhead of printing, data-entry+labelling labor, and postage. Catalogs are out of date the moment they're mailed because prices and availability change on a daily basis. In my trade at least, most catalog-requestors are (er, how do I say this in a polite forum?)...engaged in onanistic activity. They're not retailers looking for wholesale products, they're retail buyers looking to "get it wholesale".

I think the same principles (should) apply to retail items sold on a one-by-one basis. I happen to know that products I wholesale at circa US$3.00 each are resold in bulkmailed glossy catalogs for as much as $60.00 each. It's obscene. It's for suckers, and little old ladies who fear their computers. Yes, it must be profitable or these merchants wouldn't keep stuffing our mailboxes with their obnoxious treeWare. But speaking for myself, both morally and practically I'd rather not have dumb victims as my main bread and butter customer base, or my business model dependent upon that kind of markup to sustain huge sales-prospecting overhead.

"Mark my words," says I with sagely wagging finger and great pride in my amazing grasp of the obvious, "the days of printed catalog merchandising are going the way of the dinosaur."

Does Amazon have a printed catalog? Does eBay? Why cater to Luddites? Why kill trees, produce all that toxic ink, fill landfills, burn all that petroleum to ship all that pointless paper? I say, good riddance to the paper catalog.

I submit to you that like a good parent, you need to establish some healthy boundaries, some limits, some contact with truth and reality. Saying yes all the time to their every whim and fancy is a disservice to both you and them. My website is a godsend. All they need is already at their fingertips. A paper catalog would be completely redundant, pointless.

OK, that's my rant. It felt good. Ah.

5:27 pm on Aug 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

NOTHING stops requests for a paper catalog on our 800 number. "Sorry but we don't have a printed catalog" takes about 10 seconds to say on the phone. Live with it.

We do have something of a catalog that we enclose with orders and get some response. Not much. Test the demand for a big catalog by printing a small sheet of specials to enclose with online orders.

5:38 pm on Aug 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I view a catalog much like a phone number (the topic of the thread). It is another marketing tool that can be used to connect with your potential and current customers. As has been said in this thread, every business is different. The usefullness and implementation of an 800 number or a catalog must be evaluated within the context of each individual business.
5:38 pm on Aug 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

A small sheet of specials might be OK, I guess...except for me, its only function would be to get them to go to my website again.
8:48 pm on Aug 25, 2005 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

A small sheet of specials might be OK, I guess...except for me, its only function would be to get them to go to my website again.

Yes, that's the main goal. Believe me, you probably don't want to get into the catalog business. The downside of putting together a full paper catalog is huge. Many fail. Might want to do a small booklet; test it cheaply by including it along with internet packages. If it's really a goldmine, then mail some out to prospects or repeat web customers.

As usual, Test, Test, TEST.

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