Friday, 26 December 2014

7 Awesome eCommerce Platforms For Small Businesses

As consumers increasingly turn to their PCs, smartphones, tablets, etc. to make buying decisions, small businesses are starting to realize the need to keep up with online operations to cope with the plunges and peaks of consumer demand. The solution?

An online store.

Take a minute to think about it now. Where would your customers shop after closing hours? What’s the one thing you could do to please customers? What’s the one step that you think would change everything?

Most successful businesses today sell products and services on the Internet. So you need to stop and consider all the possibilities before competitors take the lead.
Like any business model there are challenges to opening an online store, with the prime one being selecting the right eCommerce platform to launch your business.

Although the promise of saving money and time by hiring a developer to build an eCommerce site from scratch can be tempting, the reality is that they could end wasting a ton of both.
Luckily, there are powerful eCommerce platforms specifically designed to meet your needs – allowing you to increase sales and attract more customers. Whatever you sell, if you are running on a well-equipped eCommerce platform odds are there will be other businesses having the same needs, so new features and tools will be developed and available to you in a reasonable amount of time.

While there is no perfect platform and there will be tradeoff in picking one over another, I find the following seven provide more flexibility and a low barrier to entry to build an eCommerce store:

1. PrestaShop 



PrestaShop is a popular shopping cart software with great potential. It is designed to help businesses build a functioning web store and despite it boasting advanced features such as web 2.0 innovations, the platform is speedy, lightweight and easy to get acquainted with.

Some out-of-the box features offered by PrestaShop include catalog management, search engine optimization, responsive themes, promotional tools, multilingual shopping cart, recently viewed products option, payment extensions and international shipping. There’s also an official marketplace for additional add-ons to connect your online store to other platforms you use.

The best part of all this is that PrestaShop is free to use with no monthly or transaction fees. This makes it perfect for those who are just starting their online store and need to keep costs as low as possible until profits start rolling in.

2. BigCommerce 



BigCommerce assists small businesses in creating professional online stores so they can increase revenue. The all-in-one eCommece solution includes a secure shopping cart, website, marketing tools, and mobile themes. You also get advanced features such as product reviews, ‘you may also like’ suggestion, zoom, etc.

The design is 100 percent customizable, so a business can easily use its custom design without the BigCommerce branding/logo. BigCommerce’s customer service philosophy makes it easy for the user to get started: there’s a fold on the homepage reading ‘how can we help you.’ But you get all this in $24.95 a month.

3. Shopify 



Shopify lets you choose from more than 100 designs to create your online store and add products. Websites are customizable and include a shopping cart compatible with American Express, VISA and MasterCard. A modern admin interface, build-in blog interface, and apps available for almost any advanced functionality, make Shopify a viable option.

Shopify merchants can also sell their products anywhere with Shopify Mobile (includes a build-in mobile credit card reader) and Shopify point-of-sale (works on the iPad). Pricing starts at $14 a month, but merchants have to pay transaction fees for hosting and other services.

4. Magento Community Edition



Magento Community Edition allows small businesses to sell in online markets with no hassle on fulfillment, translations or pricing. A huge benefit of using Magento is that it can be easily integrated with marketplaces like Amazon and eBay, enabling users to easily manage their business from the back end.

The highlight of the Community version is that it’s extensible: it can be used to do almost anything you want in an online shop. While everything isn’t bundled in the default version, it’s either there in the extensions, or in the skills of the Magento contractors that can be hired at affordable rates.

5. WooCommerce 



WooCommerce is built on the back of WordPress blogging platform. It is fast and easy to manage, with great support and documentation. Small businesses using WordPress can easily install WooCommerce to get started. Because of this tight integration, it is recommended for businesses that envision content marketing to drive sales of their products and services.

It lets you set up a shop with lots of options including flat rate shipping, bundled PayPal and card payment options, physical product inventory, coupon campaigns and tax settings. There are no price tags associated with WooCommerce.

6. SpreeCommerce 



SpreeCommerce offers a full set of features and is built on common standards, so small business owners using this platform don’t have to forego speed to market, innovation or efficiency. The modular solution allows you to easily configure or replace any store functionality, so that you can build a storefront exactly to your specifications.

SpreeCommerce customers also get to use Wombat, the new automatic integration platform that connects a storefront to its backend operations. It intelligently routes product orders and data to ensure the right information is at the right place at the right time. It’s free to get started with SpreeCommerce.

7. Selz 



Selz offers simple ways to boost sales with an eCommerce store that offers a beautiful buying experience. You can start selling products quality without the need of all the bells and whistles of a full-blown eCommerce application.

The quick and easy eCommerce platform allows you to add products within minutes, and businesses don’t even require to have a website; you can get a web store with a custom domain, share the link and start selling. You can also use Selz widgets on your pre-existing blog or website as opposed to having a complete store. Selz also includes handy features such as shopping cart integration and responsive themes. Users can sign up for free, and only pay a fee of 5% + 25c when you make a sale.


To find the best platform for your needs, you need to look at what is best for your customer experience… and your budget! If you’ve tried any of these solutions, or have another favorite, please share in the comments!

Monday, 22 December 2014

7 dumb mistakes to avoid when approaching investors


When pitching to investors many entrepreneurs make mistakes.

We’ve identified 7 of the dumbest mistakes which should be corrected before approaching an investor.

1. Pitching the wrong money

Many people waste time sending business plans to any investor that they can find (Banks, Angels, VC’s, Crowdfunding etc).

If you are scattered in your finance-raising strategy, you’ll experience rejection, frustration and waste a lot of your valuable time.

Research the best source of finance for your stage of business and who’s likely to invest, and focus on them. Each source of finance will require you to prepare your pitch in a different way.

2. Not making yourself cheaper than your competition

It is painful to watch entrepreneurs pitch investors and lose them because the investment is not tax efficient compared to other investments.
If only they knew that they could take advantage of the tax benefits that our government has given us to make raising finance a lot easier for businesses just like you.

If you are a UK qualifying business and you don’t get the certificate that gives investors tax relief when investing in you, you have made yourself up to 85% more expensive to investors. Apply for SEIS / EIS in advance.

3. Breaking the law

No one wants to listen to a lawyer talking about shareholder agreements, articles of association, pre-emption rights and the rest.

But when you take on investors, you need to update the setup of your company.
You need to comply with financial promotions law and to protect both yourself and the investor in case the company is the huge success you expect. If you don’t, this will cause problems as your business grows.

4. Sending a 127 page business plan

Your business plan is the document between you and the investors money.
If it is not presented in a way such that they will actually read it, then they’ll normally give you a polite ‘adios’.

Avoid templates that you find for ‘free’ with Google search. Those templates have been written with a bank in mind – they aren’t exciting to investors.
Creating a visual, exciting business plan gets investors’ attentions, and screams that you are investment ready.

5. Forecasting more revenue than Apple and Google combined

Don’t create a hockey stick shaped graph showing how your company will turn over more money than Google, Apple and Microsoft in five years.
If you’ve done your financial forecast correctly you’ll be prepared for questions on forecasted return on investment.

Start with where you are today and work the model up by going through some assumptions. Don’t start with broad size-of-market assumptions – start with your team and work through the next few years.

6. Leaving valuation up to the investor

When seeking investment you need to value your company and create a proposition that makes investors want to open their wallets.
Most entrepreneurs think their company is worth more than it is, while investors want to invest at a lower valuation. Value it properly.

If you have revenue, this is easily done. If you don’t, you need to use a valuation model based upon your off-balance sheet assets, and this needs to be presented and figured out up front.
If you leave it to the investor it will almost always be lower than what you want, and makes you look amateur.

7. Pitching for more than 20 in 10 in 2

You could have the best idea, the perfect legal structures and a great business plan – but nobody will see it if it’s not pitched correctly.
You need to be armed with a 20 minute pitch that covers the 10 important points that investors look for, in ten slides with 2 videos.

The 10 points are elevator pitch, problem, solution, team, market size, marketing, competition, financials, milestones and exit. The two videos are a mission video showing why your customers love what you do, and a quick investment pitch that fires off the 10 points very fast.

So there you have it

If you want to raise finance, it’s all in the preparation.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

5 Social Media Management Tools and Services You May Not Know About Yet (But Should)

If you follow my writing, you know that I love introducing people to new things. There’s nothing I enjoy more than getting comments from readers on how they had never heard of something, but can’t wait to try it. In this post, I’d like to introduce you to five social media tools and services I have mentioned in posts this year that have elicited that reaction and what you can (and should) be doing with them.

Be sure to click to enlarge the images for a better preview!

1. KnowEm

Have you ever visited @Apple on Twitter? While the account has 31.9k followers, it doesn’t actually belong to the Apple that we know and love.

If you’re in the process of creating a brand, don’t make the mistake of creating one that you can’t claim on social media. KnowEm is a free tool you can use to check and see if your name, business name, product name, etc. is available on social media.


Not only will you be able to quickly see which networks you can establish your name upon, but you will also discover over 500 social networks. They are broken into categories including blogging, bookmarking, business, community, design, entertainment, health, information, microblogging, music, news, photo, tech, travel, and video.

2. $99 Social

You know you need a social media presence, but if you’re time-starved like many of us, even the best tools won’t help you keep things under control. Especially considering there are so many social networks that you “must” be a part of to reach your audience.

$99 Social is a social media management company based in the US in my former hometown of Phoenix, Arizona. For $99 a month, they will post an update to your Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ profile or page once a day, seven days a week. In addition, they will also promote your products and services to to your social communities and optimize your profiles to appear in social search.


As a busy freelancer, I know how hard it is to get even one update a week to some of my social profiles. This service will ensure that your main social profiles never go dry again. And of course, the less time you have to spend worrying about keeping your social profiles maintained with quality content, the more you time you can spend simply engaging with people.

3. Oktopost

For those who have time to dedicate to social media, Oktopost is a powerful social media management tool at an affordable price. You can use Oktopost to publish updates to your main social profiles including your Facebook profile, Facebook page, LinkedIn profile, LinkedIn company page, Twitter profile, and Google+ page. But what I love in particular about their platform is that you can schedule posts to the Facebook and LinkedIn groups you belong to. They even provide analytics so you can see engagement statistics for each profile, page, and group that you post to.


This tool is an absolute must for content promotion. In the case of Facebook and LinkedIn groups, be sure that you have taken the time to get to know the group to ensure that link sharing posts are welcome. When you do post content to the groups that allow it, be sure to review the analytics for each campaign to make sure your posts are getting published and receiving engagement. Use that data to weed out groups that aren’t engaging with your content, especially if you’re near your group membership limits (300 for Facebook and 50 for LinkedIn).

4. RivalIQ

Competitors can be a great resource when forming your social media strategy. Rival IQ allows you to analyze your competitor’s social media strategy. For example, you can quickly see your social media profile bios compared to your competitors.


You can get insights into how your social media activity, engagement, and audience growth compares to your competitors. You can even get alerted to changes competitor’s make to their social profiles. Soon, they will have a feature that allows you to see the top Twitter mentions for you and your competitors based on total reach.

5. Cyfe

Do you do the rounds across your social media networks to check to see if you have new fans, followers, likes on your posts, and so forth? The more social networks you belong to, the longer it will take. Cyfe simplifies this process by allowing you to create a dashboard with all of your social media analytics on one screen. Click on the below image to get a full view of just a portion of my social media dashboard.


Using this dashboard, I can get all of the data I want to know in a quick glance. If logging into Cyfe is too much to add to your plate, you can simply have your dashboard emailed to you on a regularly scheduled basis. Add in widgets for your website’s Google Analytics, keyword rankings, SEO stats, and other data, and you can monitor your business in one screen or PDF!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Using Pinterest to Get Customers through the Door

A picture is worth a thousand words. You’ve heard that before, right? But, how often do you profit from it? With Pinterest, you can. A beautiful image is your best friend on the Internet. Pinterest is a website dedicated to beautiful images. It’s almost like a match made in heaven. Here’s how to make use of it, and how to capitalize on a new feature: Place Pins.

Place Pins For Local Business
Place pins are a way for you to tag places you’ve been (or want to visit). But, for businesses, they’re a way to garner free advertising. What you do is pin your business, using images, and tag them to a location – your store.

Think of it as a mix between Foursquare and Yelp. Because users can access pins from their mobile device, they can find you pretty easily when they’re tooling around town.
These pins are like other rich pins in the sense that they will contain things like your phone number, address, and other pertinent details. Why is this important?

Let’s say your customers are out getting groceries. They’re tired from all that shopping and they want a bite to eat. You’re a deli owner and your customers are out there – hungry. They stop in and they love the place. They want to pin your business and so they do. Guess what? Other pinners find your place through Pinterest. They see what their friends pinned and, more importantly, where you are. It’s free advertising.

Arranging Images On Your Site
When you put images up on your site, make sure they are place pins. That way, when users pin them, they pin your business location so that others can see it.

Creating Your Pinterest Board
Create an interesting board that will resonate with your target audience. This is something you should be doing regardless of whether or not you’re using place pins, but it’s more important if you are. Think locally.

According to marketing firm Yodle, Inc., things like a “things to do” list for out-of-town travelers or a local guide that includes your store location work well. You could even make a game out of it. If you’re a larger store, create a scavenger hunt.

Reach out to other bloggers in your niche, or those who write about your industry, and let them know what you’re doing. Create a news story out of it, if at all possible. That will make it very easy to write about, and it will also give the blogger or reporter a motivation to write about you.

Signage In your Store
If you want to encourage users (customers) to pin your store (and you do), hang signs inside and out that encourage people to pin you. Give them some kind of incentive to do so too. You can offer them a discount on their next purchase or a freebie of some kind.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be a promotional offer from your store. You could also enter them into a contest to win something – a “VIP” prize of sorts.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

SEO PowerSuite – Everything You Need for Your Website’s SEO

One thing that generally drives me nuts about SEO tools is the waiting game. A lot of tools that I have tried in the past would have you enter your domain and it would take time to compile the data about your website. For this review, I set up the Mac-version of SEO PowerSuite in ten minutes. Four tools, ten minutes. Within fifteen minutes, I had entered my website information, connected my Google Analytics & AdWords accounts, and received most of the data from each tool. That I find impressive – especially for a toolset that offers a free license.

The SEO PowerSuite Toolset

Now, let’s take a quick look at what each tool within the SEO PowerSuite can do for your SEO.

Rank Tracker

Rank Tracker is the keyword monitoring portion of the SEO PowerSuite that will keep track of your keyword rankings. When you start up the tool, it will ask for your website. It will then generate a list of keywords based on your Google Analytics data and what your website is optimized for.

Once you have added your keywords, you can select them all and click on the Check Rankings button to get your current rankings in search for each keyword. Select all of your keywords again and click on the KEI button to get search volume for all of your keywords.


There are lots of additional things you can do with Rank Tracker. For example, you can highlight one of your keywords, click on the Keyword Difficulty button below your list of keywords, and then click on Update to get detailed metrics about your competitors in search to determine difficulty.


You can also get keyword suggestions based on a highlighted keyword from your list using the Suggest Keywords button at the top left.


From here, you can add new keywords to your project and check the rankings.
As you can see, Rank Tracker does more than just check your rankings. It’s a powerful keyword research tool!

Website Auditor

The Website Auditor tool does a comprehensive check of your website’s on-site search optimization. Any errors it finds, it details for you so you can get them fixed.


In addition to an overall site check, Website Auditor will do an in-depth review of specific pages / content on your website and give you an overview of key metrics including domain strength, domain info, and social sharing signals.

By the time you have reviewed and acted upon the data provided by Website Auditor, you will have a fully SEO optimized website.

SEO Spyglass

SEO Spyglass is a tool that analyzes your website’s backlink profile. You will receive a detailed view of your backlinks.


Using the tabs, you can see additional link details, penalty risk, and links organized by category. You can click on the Statistics button to get a wide variety of statistics on your backlink profile, such as the percentage of .com links, the number of root domains linking to your website, and much more. You can also run a summary report of your backlink profile.


SEO Spyglass is, overall, a powerful backlink analysis tool.


Last, but not least, is LinkAssistant. This is the tool you use to build links to your website. It will help you find link opportunities based on keywords, competitors, submission forms, and URLs on a specific webpage.


LinkAssistant will collect any contact information for the potential link opportunities that you select and give you the option to email them a link request. While the software has templates that promote reciprocal linking, I would HIGHLY suggest using those and instead customizing the template to ask for a link based on content relevance and worthiness. Alternatively, you can just grab the email addresses LinkAssistant finds and email the website owners through your own email service.


SEO PowerSuite has three editions – free, pro, and enterprise. Click on the image below to get a the rundown of the overall features you will get with each edition.


You can visit the comparison page for more details on specific features offered with each of the four tools included in SEO PowerSuite for each edition.

All of the screenshots and features mentioned earlier are part of the free version. For startups, small businesses, and individual website owners, the free version will give you plenty of valuable insights and actionable items for your SEO strategy. The biggest downside to the free edition is the inability to save your project. So if you stick with this edition, you would need to re-enter your data each time you re-opened one of the tools. That alone makes the license worth it.


When you sign up for your free license for SEO PowerSuite, you will be redirected to a page with a quick, step by step guide on how to use your new software.


You can visit their video tutorials page to watch short tutorials that help you use each of the features that come with SEO PowerSuite’s toolset.
You can also visit their screenshot library to see different features in SEO PowerSuite plus get tips on how to use them.


In short, no matter how you like to learn, SEO PowerSuite has a guide to help.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

4 eCommerce SEO Best Practices You Can’t Forget

ecommerce SEO

eCommerce SEO is a very common concern for many of our clients. Given the depth and breadth of their different product, category and transactional pages, their eCommerce websites tend to be much larger than a typical website. While many classic SEO best practices are still applicable, there are some crucial considerations that must be in play to see true success with SEO and eCommerce.

1. Keep it clean

There is a lot of advice out there on SEO, but you need to be savvy enough to understand which tactics will help, and which ones will be hurt, your rankings. Google is getting increasingly adept at ranking sites based on quality of content and relevance to search queries. “Black hat” SEO techniques often employ tricks to fool Google and other search engines into believing that there is more to a page than the user would actually see. If someone suggests that you add as many keywords as possible to a page, or that you should hide keywords using text colors that match your site’s background colors, stay away!

This post from Moz delves into deeper detail on the major black hat SEO tactics: Knowing Black Hat SEO. This is a must-read before you begin outlining your SEO strategy!

2. Remember your personas

You’re targeting a specific group of people with your offerings, and you need to fully understand the online behavior they exhibit when searching for products. There’s a certain push/pull interplay when it comes to your web traffic. Email marketing, social media sharing, and display ads are all strong sources of qualified traffic, but these visitors are often pushed to your site because something caught their eye. Conversely, a potential customer searching for a product is actually raising their hand, and admitting they need help. In this sense, your strong placement in search engine results pages (SERPs) will pull these types of visitors to your site. Better yet, since they’ve already sought you out, they’d be more likely to make a purchase!

To start effectively pulling traffic from Google, think about how your target audience raises their hand. Some folks know exactly what they want, and more often than not, a well-optimized product page will rank highly for your specific product. On the other hand, some visitors know they have a problem to solve, but don’t quite realize exactly what it is that will help them.

Let’s say you’re in the market for new hiking boots this summer. It rained during your last outing, and you realized your old boots can no longer keep you dry. At this point, finding the most waterproof boots is the top priority, not necessarily buying a specific brand or model. To find the perfect boot, you’re likely to start with Google, trying a query like “waterproof hiking boots.” Or maybe, if you’ll get a bit more specific and give “GORE-TEX hiking boots” a go. I gave the first query a try and here were the results:

ecommerce seo SERP

If you click through each of the top results – with the exception of REI – you’ll find one thing in common, which brings me to my next point.

3. Optimize your category pages

In my previous example, I stumbled onto several category pages – not specific product pages. These pages offer a ton of opportunity to retailers to build a larger story around the term that was just searched, and should be treated as individual homepages, not a middleman between your product pages. These pages need to be content rich, and place an emphasis on the keywords – especially in the page title – that echo the problem that a potential buyer might be looking to solve.

Deep links from category to product pages are also critical, not just for the SEO value of internal linking, but also for user experience. Going back to the hiking boot example, maybe I did search specifically for “GORE-TEX hiking boots.” A category page that clearly indicates which boots use the material would make my shopping experience much smoother. Product pages shouldn’t be the only location linked to, however. It’s critical to link to contextual content relating to the search query, such as blog posts, videos or pages specifically dedicated to a related topic – such as hiking tips.

Take a look at Merrell’s category page here and note the SEO rich page title, product links, and copy at the bottom of the page. Merrell also does a great job of linking to a hiking boots buyer’s guide, which only strengthens the site’s position in the eyes of Google.

4. Alt tags, all day

Google Image search also plays a very important role in pulling visitors to your site. Often times, potential customers are more visual in their online behavior and will search for photos of a product they’d like to buy first. This is especially true when researching any apparel or fashion products.

Alternate text (or, alt tags) is especially useful for sites with many products that fall into a single category. For example, if you have multiple photos of a given product within a product page, tag each image with alt text that reflects different features that people may be searching for.
For example: alt = “Merrell Pulsate – waterproof men’s hiking boots”
alt = “Merrell Pulsate – cold weather men’s hiking boots”

These are just a few tips to get you started, and to help you think a bit more high level about the way you pull potential customers to your site. As you explore SEO strategy further, consider how you can avoid duplicate content, and how you can manage product pages for unique challenges, such as out-of-stock or out-of-season items.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Simple and Affordable Resources for Creating a Website

There are a lot of myths that hold people back from creating their own website. You have to sign up for a ton of services. You have to learn how to design and code, or hire high-end consultants to design and code. You have to spend hundreds a month. Fortunately, none of these are true for those who are looking for something simple. In this post, I’m going to share some easy-to-use and affordable resources for creating your own website.



If you’re looking for affordable web hosting for your domain, then you might want to check out Hostt. They offer free web hosting when you register a domain with them for three years. While there are several hosting companies out there that advertise $0.99 web hosting, you will find that when you go to sign up, that offer only lasts for a few months, and then you will pay $5.99+ per month.

With Hostt, you will register your .com domain and pay $41.85 up front for three years registration (or more, depending on what TLD extension you choose for your domain). With this purchase, your web hosting for the next three years will be free. Compared to web hosting services that charge as little as $4 per month, you will save $100 over the course of three years, making it a great deal or simple sites. This free plan includes Cpanel access, unlimited storage, bandwidth, sub-domains, email accounts, FTP accounts, and a $100 free Google Adwords credit (for new Google AdWords accounts only).

Website Design


As much as I love recommending WordPress to people building a website, the fact is, not everyone needs or wants such a robust solution. IM Creator allows you to create websites using their easy to customize templates.

For $9.95 a month (or less with a long-term commitment), you can publish your website to a new or existing domain name. Hosting through IM Creator is included with your monthly fee, along with unlimited bandwidth and storage, a custom email address, and access to all of their current and future templates.

If you need to design websites for your clients, you can enquire about their Pro subscription. It allows you to quickly create white labeled websites for clients.




Sometimes, you don’t just want an affordable solution, but you also want an easy solution. For those who are looking to sell products on their website, but don’t want to go through the hassle of dealing with intricate ecommerce platforms, there is Pimwi.

Pimwi offers one design that is customizable using cards – blog postcards, contact cards, gallery image cards, Google Maps cards, menu cards, and more, including product cards for ecommerce. Simply add each of your products as a card on your Pimwi website with a title, description, and image of your product. That’s all you have to configure! People will be able to add your products to a shopping cart and checkout using PayPal. Funds for sales will immediately be deposited into your PayPal account with no additional fees beyond what PayPal charges.

For $25 a month, you can create your ecommerce site. You don’t need your own domain or hosting as both are handled by Pimwi.

Mailing List


If you don’t plan to have a large mailing list then MailChimp is the best choice. It’s free for up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month. This means if you max out your number of subscribers, you can send six emails per month. To keep your plan free for as long as possible, be sure to regularly prune your list for inactive subscribers.

Everything Else



If you are looking for affordable resources for a variety of tasks, Fiverr can be a great resource. You will find gigs for logo design, video creation, content ideas, local business marketing advice, and pretty much anything else you can think of. While the premise of the site is everything costs $5, be sure to read each gig description carefully – some offer the bare minimum for $5, but you have to upgrade to get what you really want.

What are your favorite simple and affordable website creation resources? Please share in the comments! 

Sunday, 7 December 2014

How to Handle 8 Challenging Customer Service Scenarios

In the world of customer service, many would argue that pure “scripts” are the antithesis of great service.

That is to say, customer service should be a conversation rather than a cold, lifeless script.
However, given the variable nature of interacting with customers, it’s easy to see how support champs can certainly benefit from some forward thinking in dealing with tough scenarios.

This is where flexible responses—in lieu of pure scripts—can be quite useful. They allow reps to have some idea of what to say to customers in a tough situation, but also give them the flexibility to adapt and add their own personality.

We know that great service benefits from having good systems, so below I’ll outline some of my favorite "field-tested" responses to tough customer questions that you can use and adjust when you’re providing support.

1. When You Don’t Know

You shouldn’t beat yourself up for not knowing an answer. After all, a support rep’s responsibility is to have the tenacity to make things right, not to be perfect (especially true if you’re new).
The mistake many support reps make, however, is in using the knee-jerk “I don’t know” response, which doesn’t help the customer. The customer may be sympathetic that you don’t know, but they’re not interested in hearing about it.
Instead, try the following:
"Does the ‘Premium’ package come with ______? Great question, let me find that out for you right now!”
Placing the emphasis on the customer’s needs over your own situation (“I don’t know, I’m new here…”) lets them know that it doesn’t matter that you don’t know the answer, because you’re going to do whatever you need to in order to find out for them.

2. When an Item Isn’t Available

No eCommerce store owner or support champion likes to tell a customer that an item isn’t currently available, but there is a much better way to go about it.

One of the most important skills in interacting with customers is the use of positive language.
Here's an example: let's say a customer contacts you with interest in a particular product, but that product happens to be backordered until next month.
  • Without positive language: I can't get you that product until next month; it is back-ordered and unavailable at this time."
  • With positive language: "That product will actually be available next month. I can place the order for you right now and make sure that it is sent to you as soon as it reaches our warehouse!"
Positive languages eschews negative phrases (“I can’t…”) and instead places emphasis on the solution, which is what the customer actually cares about.

Try finding places in your response where a lot of negative language is present (“We don’t do that”) and see where positive language can be substituted.

3. When Transferring a Customer

There isn’t a single consumer out there who likes hearing, “Please hold while we transfer you. Your call is very important to us.”

The problem is, sometimes you do need to transfer customers in order to better help them. The problem is that many businesses don’t seek to help customers understand why they are being transferred.

Here’s a typical unappealing response some reps use to transfer people:
"Sir/ma’am, my apologies, but I’m going to have to transfer your call to Department XYZ.”
Annoying! As a customer, my gut reaction is to think that the wheel of misfortune has begun, and that I’m going to get passed around and treated like another hassle.
Imagine using this language instead:

"Hello Mr./Mrs. _____! Let’s get this problem resolved for you. I’m going to transfer you to our _____ specialist who is the best-suited person to answer your question.”
Hearing that I’m being sent to the resident expert and knowing that the rep who is sending me has my problem in mind is much more reassuring than the vague “Sorry, you’re getting transferred,” response that most companies use.

Few customers will jump for joy because of a transferred call (no matter how you handle it), but it’s better to assure them that the action was taken in their favor, in order to solve their current problem.

4. Feature Requests That Won’t Work

Customers can often have some valuable insights on how your product is used and how it could be improved, but your product’s vision is your responsibility, thus the final call is left to you.
If it is very obvious that a feature request a customer has sent in won’t make the cut, you have to be able to tell them so. Saying, “We’ll take a look!” gives false hope that can end up with a customer checking in weeks later, only to be disappointed again.

The truth is, you don’t need to be worried about a mass exodus of customers just because you regularly say “no” to many product features.
As someone who regularly answers feedback requests for Help Scout, here is the language that I often use to tell customers a feature just isn’t the right fit:
"Hey ______, I really appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts with us. As of this time however, [Feature X] isn’t the perfect fit, and we have no immediate plans to implement it. We do have some other exciting features on our plate, and should anything change about your request, we’ll make sure you are the first to know."
If you’re using a simple feedback system like Trello to keep track of past requests, adding an email is easy, so if your stance on a certain feature does change in the future, it becomes a simple process to notify customers via email.

5. Favors that Cannot Be Done

"Can’t you bend the rules just this once?!”

To be frank, most requests from customers are very reasonable, and every effort should be made to make them happy.
Bob Farrell describes this as “giving them the pickle,” a phrase which refers to a letter he received from an unhappy customer who wasn’t able to get an extra pickle for his hamburger.

We call these “frugal wows,” but the idea is the same—a small request fulfilled can often leave a very positive impact on a customer, which is why it's almost always worth it to just 'give them the pickle.'

But what about requests that you truly cannot say 'Yes' to? I can give you a very candid story of when this really mattered to me: I was checking in to a very tiny beach hotel with a few of my friends, one of whom had a severe allergy to cats. I vividly remember watching this older couple at the desk while we were checking in, pleading with the employee to let their cat stay (the policy was “No Pets”).
"Please let Mr. Sprinkles stay!”

(I don’t actually remember what they said, but you get the idea.)
If the front desk employee had given way to their request, he would have (unknowingly) made our group upset, trading one potentially unhappy customer for an even bigger problem.
I remember being really impressed with how he handled the situation, and I’ll paraphrase his response below:
"Mr. and Mrs. ______, as much as I like fulfilling our customers’ requests, I’m afraid that the “No Pets” policy we have in place is too important, as it deals with the safety and comfort of other customers. Can I perhaps call around for locations where your cat might be able to stay?"
A stellar response to a pretty wacky request (c’mon, most people should know you can’t bring a pet to a hotel). It can be tough learning how to say no, but bending too much for a single request can result in an even worse situation.

Remember that a customer's perception of your service quality is greatly affected by how attentive, thoughtful and sincere you are. In an awkward scenario where you simply have to refuse a request, showcasing your empathy and a willingness to find an alternative is one of the best ways to lessen the sting of saying 'No'.

6. A Product is Defective

Having a purchase come up short is very disheartening from the customer's perspective. I'm sure we've all ran into this scenario: after finally convincing ourselves to pull the trigger on a purchase, we wait with excitement until it’s delivered…only to have it arrive broken.

We all internally recognize that even great companies can’t build and ship everything perfectly, but it’s just so frustrating to be the person on the receiving end of a dud.

Showing empathy to the customer’s situation thus becomes very important, following with an immediate explanation of how you’re going to fix the situation. Consider the following example:
"I’m so sorry about that, that’s very disappointing! There might have been a slight mistake in the manufacturing process, or perhaps it was damaged while being shipped. Can I send a new one out to you right away?”
While long, it completes three important objectives: it empathizes with the customer’s frustrating experience, it explains what the problem might be (instead of having a customer assume, “we make crap products”), and it offers a clear and immediate solution.

Depending on what you sell and how you conduct business, you might also add, “or should I send you a full refund?” Either way, know that in this situation it’s the ability to relate with a customer that counts.

7. Closing with a Customer

One of my favorite tips in dealing with customers is to make sure that you always “close” a conversation. This has nothing to do with closing a sale, and everything to do with making sure the conversation with a customer is complete.

This is important because as you’ll recall, the average business only hears from 4% of its dissatisfied customers. You needn’t add to that harrowing statistic by leaving people you’ve helped with an unsolved dilemma.

Your willingness to ensure that a customer is leaving perfectly happy shows them three important things:
  1. You care about getting it right.
  2. You're willing to keep going until you get it right.
  3. The customer is the one who determines what “right” is.
Try ending your conversation with a phrase like the following:
"Excellent! I’m glad we were able to get that sorted out for you. Before you go, was there anything else I could assist you with today? I’m happy to help.”
Believe it or not, there are some people who might walk away with another problem if they aren’t asked about it. Adding, “I’m happy to help” is a very small gesture you can make that has a big impact: it shows the customer that asking for another favor isn’t being a burden; in fact, you’d be happy to do it.

8. Severely Angry Customers

Support champions are often required to act like lightning rods: to take the brunt of an emotional, angry customer despite the fact that it is not their fault.

Sometimes this anger from customers is unjustified, and other times they have a cause for their actions. Either way, it’s often quite hard to win back a severely angry customer (even the best businesses can’t make everyone happy), but the smart folks at Telephone Doctor have a great system called “ASAP” for dealing with these most difficult of customers:
  • Apologize sincerely: “I’m sorry” is a mandatory response in these situations, even if it isn’t your fault. Consider your “I’m truly sorry about that” as a personal apology to the customer that the experience wasn’t up to their expectations, not that you are to blame.
  • Sympathize: As you might have guessed, many times angry customers are just as interested (if not more interested) in hearing that someone empathizes with their situation over getting the actual problem fixed. Even if you cannot understand a customer (“Why are they so angry?”), you can imagine how you’d like to be treated if you happened to be that upset. Even small phrases like, “I understand how upsetting that must have been,” can have an impact on getting the customer to realize that you’re on their team in this pursuit to make things right.
  • Accept responsibility: As the ambassador of your company, you accept responsibility for the customer’s unhappiness. Again, this doesn’t make you “at fault,” and it doesn’t give the customer leeway to demand whatever they want, but it does give them someone to talk to instead of being angry at a faceless company (i.e., “I’m very sorry that our product has been so disappointing thus far, Mrs. _____, but if you stay on the line I’ll make sure that we get this situation fixed for you.”).
  • Prepare to help: With angry customers, the actual 'fix' tends to take up a small portion of the entire support process. Placing a replacement order likely takes you very little time, but that fix doesn’t address the underlying problem of the customer’s frustration and unhappiness. These 'emotional' fixes are often the most important element: refunding someone may take you 15 seconds, but did you make sure enough time was spent trying to help them calm down and leave happy?
It’s hard to come up with a perfect solution for a customer in this state, and know that even if you handle things perfectly, some people simply cannot be appeased. Don’t let that stop you from making your best effort.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

20 Tools for Customer Feedback, Surveys

Feedback tools can help you find out what is, and what is not, working with your website. Better yet, they can help you get fresh insights from your most important resource – your customers.

Here is a list of 20 customer feedback tools. There are survey and polling tools, customer support platforms with feedback forums, live chat solutions, and user testing tools for consumers to voice their opinions.

20 Tools for Customer Feedback, Surveys

SurveyGizmo. SurveyGizmo enables you to build surveys with 30 question styles with advanced features like sliders and drop-downs. SurveyGizmo features pre-made themes, reporting tools, style editor, branding, and distribution features like mobile-optimized and offline surveys. Price: Free version offers eight question types. Paid plans start at $15 per month.


SurveyMonkey. SurveyMonkey is a customer survey tool with 15 different question types. Customize the look and feel of your surveys. Create a survey URL and send respondents to a promotional landing page upon survey completion. Gain insights with real-time charts and graphs, filters, and cross tabs. Download results with a variety of export options. Price: Free plan offers 10 questions and 100 responses. Paid plans start at $26 per month.

Polldaddy. Polldaddy lets you create surveys and polls that match your brand, budget and vision. Choose from 14 question types, including multiple choice, free text, and Likert scales. Use the iOS app to collect responses anywhere. Watch your results in real-time. Price: Personal version is free. Paid plans start at $200 per year.

GetFeedback. GetFeedback is an online survey tool that allows anyone to create branded, mobile-ready surveys in minutes. GetFeedback automatically formats your survey for smartphones, tablets, and browsers. View the data in real-time. Price: Free up to 10 responses per month. Paid plans start at $20 per month.

Feedbackify. Feedbackify is a website widget to receive feedback from your website visitors. Create a custom feedback form, using the drag-and-drop editor. Copy the short code into your website’s HTML to start receiving feedback. View feedback in real-time. Filter your feedback by category and subcategory. Price: $19 per month.


UserVoice. UserVoice provides multiple tools to keep your customers happy: feedback forums, support ticket systems, and a knowledge base. Use SmartVote and satisfaction surveys to solicit feedback. With the helpdesk, users can reach you without going to a customer portal or opening an email composer. UserVoice also suggests knowledge base articles or feedback from other users to answer questions. Price: Plans range from free to $95 per month.

Usabilla. Usabilla seeks to make it easy for your website visitors to get in touch and share their feedback. Your customers can simply select the part of your website they want to give feedback on. Run different feedback forms on your website with targeted feedback forms. Ask your visitors different questions within your funnel. Usabilla features targeted messages, slide-out survey and full (exit) survey campaigns. Price: Plans start at $49 per month.

IdeaScale. IdeaScale is a solution for the collection of feedback and ideas. Users submit ideas, while others vote. Watch a community form as people start discussing and voting for ideas. The widget can be added to any online experience. Members can submit ideas, vote, comment and complete other tasks, without leaving the original digital environment. Price: Free plan offers 5 campaigns. Paid plans start at $2,500 per year.

UserEcho. UserEcho is a customer support solution that offers a forum, knowledge base, help desk and live chat. In the forum, users can vote for proposed ideas, so you get the information that your customers need most now. Widget enables feedback collection and live chat. Chat tab will appear only if there’s at least one support agent available online. Chat history is saved in the searchable archive. Price: $15 per month for each agent.


FormSite. FormSite is a tool to build forms and web surveys. Choose from over 100 pre-built form templates to customize for customer surveys. Use the drag-and-drop editor with over 40 question types to design a form or survey. Price: Free for five forms per month. Paid plans start at $14.95 per month.

UseResponse. UseResponse is a self-hosted, open-source tool for customer feedback and support. Create votes for your products, ask for customer opinions, or just find out if your customers are satisfied. Best ideas quickly gain popularity as users vote. FormSite also features ticketing helpdesk, knowledge base, live chat, and analytics. Price: Free or $499 fee.

Twtpoll. Twtpoll is a tool for your social survey needs. Twtpoll offers a host of survey combinations, such as a hashtag survey, one-question or multi-question survey, or a quiz. Choose from more that 20 combinations of questions for your surveys. Price: $7 per question or $19 per month.

Qualaroo. Qualaroo is an onsite survey tool that lets you ask website visitors questions in real-time right from the page they’re on. Qualaroo exit surveys let you trigger an on-page survey to find out why they’re not quite ready to buy. With the Qualaroo Convert add-on, you can recapture potential abandoners with special offers and customer support. Price: Plans start at $63 per month.


Feedback Lite. Feedback Lite is a customer feedback and survey tool. Feedback Lite offers five feedback templates, with multiple choice, an open-ended answer, a rating scale, a Likert scale, and a ranking scale. Run simultaneous campaigns on the same domain, or across multiple websites, generating as much feedback as you need. Price: Plans start at $17 per month.

All Our Ideas. All Our Ideas is an open-source, data collection tool that has the scale, speed, and quantification of a survey, while still allowing for new information to “bubble up” from respondents. Start by creating a wiki survey, then invite participants to vote and add new ideas. Price: Free.

UsabilityHub. UsabilityHub lets you learn how visitors interact with your design before launching. Upload an image, and choose the type of test you’d like to run: a Five Second Test, a Click Test, or a Nav Flow Test. Specify how many people to test, or even bring your own testers. Get a report on the interactions each tester has with your design. Price: Free community use by taking tests. Paid plans start at $20 per month.

UserTesting. UserTesting seeks to provide fast and affordable user testing. Select your target audience. Have them test your website or a competitor’s website. Receive a video of a user performing tasks that you specify as they think out loud. You can see and hear where they get confused and frustrated. After you’ve received the test results, you can still interact with users and ask them follow-up questions. Price: $49 per user test.


Olark. Olark is a live-chat solution to talk your customers for sales and support. See visitors on your site, what they’re looking at, and where they’ve been. Set the number of chats to receive and get notified when new chats come in. Targeted Chat lets you set rules to interact only with customers who go to a specific page or perform specific behaviors. Manage relationships and encourage feedback with customer-management integrations. Price: Plans start at $15 per month.

Zoho Discussions. Zoho Discussions lets you set up your own customer support communities and private communities where problems and topics are discussed, and ideas are exchanged. It features rebranding tools, moderation, a reports dashboard, and more. Manage feedback, ideas, questions and problems under a single portal. Price: Free plan available for one moderator. Paid add-ons start at $3 per month.

Google Consumer Surveys. Google Consumer Surveys lets you reach out to your target consumer for feedback. Gauge the demand for new products and discover relevant shopper insights. Get graphs, clickable demographic segmentation, as well as statistically significant insights across those demographics, so your data is ready to use right away. Price: Standard surveys are 10¢ per complete for one question and $1.10 – $3.50 per complete for 2 to 10 questions.

Monday, 1 December 2014

5 Ways Smaller Ecommerce Retailers Can Beat Large Ones

Smaller retailers that compete solely on price against large ones, like Amazon, almost always lose. But there are other ways that small retailers can beat Amazon and other large competitors.
Here are five strategies.

1. Fanatical Focus on Customer Service

Most businesses focus on serving shoppers. But for smaller retailers to be successful, they frequently must be obsessive about it and willing to go the extra mile. This could mean an extensive self-service help section, and easily accessible customer service — chat, phone, and email. Also, smaller retailers can offer value-added services to help shoppers find the items they are looking for and, also, share insights on the product the shoppers have selected. All this must be designed to scale so that shoppers do not feel ignored as the retailer grows.

Zappos, the foot and apparel retailer, is a good example of fanatical customer service. Even though Zappos is now large and successful, it still continues to have a customer-focused strategy. It is no wonder that Amazon purchased the company.

Zappos is famous for its high level of customer service.
Zappos is famous for its high level of customer service.


2. Nimbleness

A smaller retailer can be more nimble to adjust the shopping experience based on the feedback from its shoppers. A smaller retailer can quickly change the product assortment on its site and optimize it based on customer inputs, A/B testing, and historical tracking of what works and what does not.

Smaller retailers can use this nimbleness as a competitive advantage, especially in the earlier stages of the business. They should keep this in mind before signing a long-term contract with a supplier, even though it might look financially attractive.

An example of a retailer that used nimbleness to its advantage is Bonobos, the clothing site. A couple of years after getting started, Bonobos’ customers requested to try out the clothes before buying them.

Bonobos listened and opened a small store in its New York headquarters to allow customers to try on the clothes before buying them online. A larger online retailer would likely have debated and spent more time to assess whether to expand into the physical channel. But Bonobos acted on this feedback quickly. This first store was so successful that Bonobos ended up opening similar stores in Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, and other cities. Bonobos has further expanded by selling its clothes in Nordstrom stores.

Bonobos opened physical locations after listening to feedback from its customers.
Bonobos opened physical locations after listening to feedback from its customers.


3. Better Quality

Traditional retailers have relied on similar or better quality white-label goods to generate more revenue. Costco is a good example. Its Kirkland brand competes with almost everything sold in the stores. Smaller online retailers can use a similar strategy to offer products that are better quality than what is available from larger retailers. “Better quality” can mean several different things: better material, less harmful to the environment, more innovative. The better quality should also come with competitive pricing or unique features and functionality to justify the increased price.

Frank & Oak is a small retailer that has used design and technology to produce high quality garments in the crowded men’s fashion space. Frank & Oak has been successful because it is committed to producing a quality product by procuring the best possible fabric and a close attention to detail. It has quickly grown from a small team to almost a hundred people —demonstrating that quality and attention to detail can make a difference even in a competitive market.

Frank & Oak sells only high-quality clothing items.
Frank & Oak sells only high-quality clothing items.


4. Increased Loyalty

Smaller retailers should know their customers and work on building relationships for greater lifetime value from each one. They should also utilize their customers for word-of-mouth marketing and offer incentives accordingly. Personalized service and a compelling loyalty program with different tiers of incentives can help. The loyalty program can use innovative features, such as accepting points from other programs — airline miles, hotel points — to encourage participants to move to the highest tier.

Other innovative strategies could include offering incentives based on the seasons or to shoppers in a specific geographical area. These techniques are often difficult to implement by a large retailer.

Luxury goods retailer Gilt Groupe, no longer a small retailer, has a very effective loyalty program called Gilt Insider. The program has options for members to redeem their points, such as percent discounts, early access to a sale (a big hit), and using points to buy products. This exceptional loyalty program is one of the reasons why Gilt has become such a huge success in a short period of time.

Gilt Groupe's loyalty program a contributed greatly to its success.
Gilt Groupe’s loyalty program a contributed greatly to its success.


5. Relationship with Vendors

The vendors that supply the goods, the packaging, and the shipping for retailers are also running a business. These vendors often get squeezed by large retailers to offer low-margin prices. Thus, vendors are often pleased to work with a smaller retailer that can respect the vendor’s business and can provide healthy margins.

As an example, say a vendor supplying organic cotton fabric sells it at the rate of $8.80 per yard with a margin of $1.40 per yard. A large retailer may demand $7.50 per yard, and get it. The big retailer is selling 10,000 yards a month, netting the vendor $0.10 per yard with a total gross margin of $1,000.

Working with a smaller retailer, the vendor can offer a discounted price of $8.50 per yard and can still make $1,000 by selling only 910 yards of the fabric. This gives the smaller retailers a huge competitive edge, as vendors are motivated to work with smaller merchants versus the larger retailers. This strategy will not work, however, if the small retailer is selling commodity products, as it won’t be able to compete on price.