When it comes to building confidence with shoppers online, eCommerce retailers usually don’t have a problem cluttering up their website with badges. Whether it be an icon showing the site is safe from hackers or a badge from a review site showing the number of “stars” customers have given the merchant, these graphical safety blankets have become pretty standard. But a single confidence building item has been disappearing from websites – a telephone number.
When I’m asked to review an eCommerce store, one of the first things I look for is a phone number in the header of the website. I don’t buy into the excuse that an online store doesn’t need to have a telephone number.
Just like those badges convey a sense of confidence in a customer’s mind, so does a telephone number. A shopper knows that if they have a pre-sale question, they can pick up the phone, dial a number and speak to a representative who can guide them through their purchase. That same shopper knows that a telephone number exists to contact a representative post-sale in case something wasn’t right or a return has to be made.
I hear plenty of reasons why store owners don’t put a telephone number on their site and none of them make business sense to me:
“I don’t have the time to answer the phone.”
“We prefer all our customers contact us through email.”
“I had a phone number there but all I got was calls from people asking questions.”
The only way I can demonstrate how important a phone number is, is to walk you through as a potential customer. So put on your magic hat, dim the lights and let’s go shopping….
“La, de, la. Where can I find that cool looking Charlie Sheen action figure that Dean was talking about?”
Click, click, click…. up comes the Google results with YOUR store….
“Hmmmm. Price is good. I wonder if his arms move up and down like a Ninja, the description doesn’t say. Crap, no phone number.”
Click, click, click…. back to Google, this time we click on the link for your competitor’s store….
“Geeze, this description doesn’t say if his arms move either, but hey, here’s a phone number.”
Ring, ring, ring….
Me: “Hi, I’ve got a quick question, on the Charlie Sheen action figure doll, do you know if his arms move?”
Rep: “Good question, let me check.”
For a minute we hum along to Indian Love Call by Slim Whitman.
Rep: “Sir, I checked with someone in the warehouse. Yes, his arms do move. His legs do as well. Would you like to order one?”
Isn’t the telephone wonderful? In the case of our magical shopping trip, it was! We’re getting the Charlie Sheen action figure with movable arms AND legs. Oh, but what about you?
You can take your magic hat off now, our little journey is over.
Now that I got you to buy into how important a telephone number is for your eCommerce store, the next question that needs to be answered is, “Toll-free, or not toll-free?”
If you asked me that three years ago, I would have insisted on a toll-free number. But as more and more consumers have ditched their land-lines and opted for cell phones with nationwide calling, a non toll-free number isn’t a deal breaker.
I’m just happy to see a phone number.
Now that you have that number, what you do with it when it rings is another story. You must have someone available to answer it. Let me say that again in case you didn’t understand. You must have someone available to answer it. Now, repeat after me. “I must have someone available to answer it.”
Sending calls directly to voice mail isn’t acceptable. Neither is returning a call two hours later during normal business hours. A customer wanting to place an order with you isn’t going to leave a message and if they do, they’re certainly not going to wait hours for a call back.
If you can’t handle answering the phone yourself, look at hiring someone part-time, assign the duty to someone else in the office, splitting up the duty among everyone in the office, or farm it out to a US based call center.
Before I leave you, one more thing. When you add your phone number to the header of your website, make sure it’s text and not a graphic. People using Vonage, Skype, Google Voice or other VOIP services (read more at Connected Solutions Group website)have browser plug-ins that turn on-page telephone numbers into click-to-call hyperlinks. That added benefit can’t be derived from phone numbers in a graphical format.