A Business Technology Place

Practical advice for educating employees about your eCommerce platform

There are two groups of people in your eCommerce organization that are on the front-line of dealing directly with customers each day: the help desk and the call center.  Yet when we think about the software development release cycle, it’s easy to focus all of our attention on the planning, development, and testing cycles for release management  and forget about the people who provide operational support.

The work to keep the help desk and call center in the know is not difficult, but it does require periodic and intentionally focused effort. There are a few things I’ve learned over the years to help keep the front line up-to-date.

1. Make sure they are on the distribution list for release notes

You may release distribute release notes via a blog post, email, forum, group ware, etc. The point is to make sure the help desk and call center are hooked into your distribution method. The purpose of the release notes is to inform the two groups about incremental changes taking place with the eCommerce site.

2. Schedule a full site review at periodic intervals

Since the help desk and contact center may have higher turnover than some areas, it’s a good idea to offer full site reviews for new employees. I’ve seen full site reviews as a series of screen shots as well as a live demonstration of the site.

Screen shot documentation is useful to have for reference, especially if there are screens that are several clicks off the typical purchase funnel path. But the screen shot compilations are time consuming to maintain and easy to push to the back of your “to do” list. So you have to carve out time to do it.

Regardless of if you update such a document with each release it is good to have an off-line screen capture document created at least once each year so that you maintain a historical archive of screen flows. That makes marketers and historians happy when they want to peer into the past.

There are a few important aspects to capture in the full site review to give the help desk and call center targeted information that they may need to resolve customer questions:

* How the customer finds information for additional help. This might include email, eChat, FAQs, and the phone number listed. Pay particular attention to the FAQs. They are often forgotten and may contain outdated information.

* Who to contact if product information needs to updated. Customers may often want to get clarification on the product description or specifications. If the eCommerce product page contains incorrect product information or could use an adjustment, the help desk and contact center need to know who the product manager is so they can have it updated.

* How pricing works. Make sure the agents know how pricing works on the site, especially delivery pricing.

Other important questions will come up during your review that are specific to the content and flow of your site. A full site review also gives you a chance to hear about voice of customer concerns directly from those who talk to the customer. So you can expect to learn things you didn’t know, or really didn’t expect to hear about how customers are using the site.

Communicating go-live deployments

The work of eCommerce deployments doesn’t end with go-live sign-off.
If you work with eCommerce platforms then you know the happiness of after go-live deployments. The actual events of go-live deployments can be an adventure when unplanned events ‘happen’. But the work doesn’t end with the final sign-off and completion of the deployment plan.

There are a series of tasks after deployment.
One important step is to gather information from listening posts such as voice of customer collection areas. The success of the deployment is really based on how the customers use the system. Unwritten and unspoken voice of customer responses are visible by monitoring the key metrics of the site such as conversion rates, average order value, number of items in the cart, etc.

Don’t underestimate the value of communicating the success to other stakeholders.
I’m not referring so much to the confirmation email that usually goes out to the project team and direct project stakeholders. Certainly, that is an important communication to send. It let’s everyone know that the project team has successfully deployed the new release and that customers are now able to take advantage of the new features.

But there’s a way to get further benefits out of the release by notifying other company stakeholders and customers. This communication summarizes what changed and the value it provides to the customer. In other words, what problem did it solve.

Company stakeholders love this type of communication. It’s a group win that shows a team successfully navigated processes, approvals, and company friction to create something that adds value. People like sharing good news with others, especially clients. So a success communication is often shared again through forwarding. It’s the original viral communication within an organization.

Keep the communication simple and on point.
A good release communication  is simple and shows the changes visually. Often times this is done through a blog post or an email. The communication should be written in common language to engage the audience best. I like avoiding charts, tables, and highly structured templates.  (It’s not a specification!)

The communication should be upbeat. Let the customer know how excited the team is to deliver value to them. It’s why the team works and this work is a reflection of the team and the commitment to customer value.

Customer focused eCommerce: Return Policy

I recently made a return to Costco for a misbehaving GPS unit.  My experience was made easy in large part because of Costco’s friendly return policy.  The store clerk didn’t give me a hard time or ask me any detailed questions.  I didn’t even need to fill out a form.

But the real find in the transaction was a feature of the Costco web site.  It was worthy of putting into the Customer focused eCommerce best practices archive on the Merchant Stand blog.

Provide return/warranty information on the customer receipt and status lookup pages

I had purchased the GPS three months ago on the Costco web site.  I knew I was going to try a return and so I went back to their web site to print a receipt.  I located my previous order history in the order status section.  As I was reviewing the details of the transaction, I noticed that the Costco return policy was printed at the bottom of the status/receipt page.  Brilliant!  Where I was expecting to have to find this information on some FAQ page it was right there.  A two-fer of sorts for me I was able to print the receipt and validate the return policy and instructions in one step.  Bravo Costco!

For those wondering how it read.  Here’s a copy:


Shop Confidently
Membership: We will refund your membership fee in full at any time if you are dissatisfied.

Merchandise: We guarantee your satisfaction on every product we sell with a full refund.
Exceptions: Televisions, projectors, computers, cameras, camcorders, iPod/MP3 players and cellular phones must be returned within 90 days of purchase for a refund.

How to Return: Simply return your purchase to any one of our Costco warehouses worldwide for a refund (including shipping and handling). If you are unable to return your order at one of our warehouses, please contact customer service or call our customer service center at 1-800-955-2292 for assistance. To expedite the processing of your return, please reference your order number.

Customer focused eCommerce: Find and Flow

Much of my working life has revolved around eCommerce sites.  I’m both a practitioner and a customer and I look for patterns and features of a site that add value and utility to the customer experience.  I was thinking about a few of my “lessons learned” over the past several years after I went through a search-and-find exercise with my daughter for something she’s been saving to buy.

Here are two rules of customer focused eCommerce that site owners should follow:

1. Make sure site search works well (Find)

Don’t make the customer look for the product by clicking through multiple layers of categories and then searching for the product in a sea choices.  This is the Internet and electronic commerce, so take advantage of product indexing and let the computer sort through hundreds, if not thousands, of products in seconds.

Site search rewards customers that already know what they want.  Those customers will be more likely to look for a search function to cut down their total transaction time.  If you enable the customer to find what they are looking for immediately, you’ll increase your odds that they will stay on the site to and continue shopping.  Most of the well known eCommerce sites like Amazon, eBay, and Wal-mart do a fantastic job of this.  Compare their search features to some of the financial institution sites and you’ll see a big difference.

Site search also rewards customers that may not know exactly what to call a product they want.  In today’s rapid product life-cycle time and ever changing model names, a customer may only know a piece of the brand name or product name.  Site search is a very valuable tool in this situation.

In my experience, I’ve been able to draw a direct correlation between sites that offer site search and the end goal of a purchase.  The sites that provide search results for product key words or specific product names have a higher percentage of customers using the Internet channel and completing a sale. My experience has mostly been with financial services and products.  However, the concepts are the same regardless of industry.

2. Keep it simple (Flow)

This is a challenge for many marketers and site owners.  Bottom line is keep your site flow simple and don’t don’t clutter the screen with too much information.  Customers tend to scan site pages looking for either products, deals, or contact information.  If the site and ordering process are too complicated, they will leave.

Get to the point.  Everyone expects a cross sell area.  But don’t overdo it.  Nothing is more annoying than multiple cross sell pages to get through checkout and then additional cross sells after order submission.

Your site should be worthy of a sell based on good content and simple straight-forward sales practices.  Creating a sales process that contains too many pages only gives more opportunity for confusion and customer abandonment.

If you want to get an overdose of cross sells, extra clicks, and pages then visit Dell or Vista Print.  To see a nice simplified experience try the Amazon 1-click ordering button.