Small Business Taxes & ManagementTM--Copyright 2011, A/N Group, Inc.
For most businesses, the toughest problem is getting the customer's order. Yet many businesses get the order and then never convert it to cash in the bank. The reason may be a failure to collect accounts receivable, (or even bill the customer), but often it's because the order isn't filled correctly and on time. Here are some things to keep in mind if you're planning an ad campaign.
1. Plan ahead. Don't wait until the ad hits the streets to plan your strategy for fulfilling orders. Even if you've been through it before, be sure you're set up to handle phone calls, mail, shipping, etc. And have contingency plans in case that ad pulls a lot more than you anticipated.
2. Test your system before the ad hits. For example, check the phone number in the copy you're sending to the printer, magazine, posting on your web site, etc. by actually calling it. Don't laugh. It's been done. More than once.
3. Make sure you have enough product on hand. More than ever, customers expect an immediate response. Many don't understand out-of-stock in the age of computers. If sales are much more than anticipated, follow up with an e-mail or phone call when the product ships and apologize for the delay.
4. Get skilled help in fulfilling orders. If you're doing it in-house, hire qualified individuals. If you're outsourcing, use a quality vendor.
5. Make sure all response options are available. While ordering from a web site or by e-mail is usually the easiest method for most customers, don't neglect telephone, fax or the old-fashioned postal service.
6. Be sure to enter all orders and inquiries into a computer database. Even if an inquiry doesn't result in an order, you've got a customer's name for future mailings.
7. Don't promise what you can't deliver. If you promise someone will be back to the customer to answer questions in 24 hours, make sure you meet the deadline. While longer delays could cause you to lose some customers, it's better to indicate the delay will be more than to miss the deadline.
8. Computerize your inventory. Even a small business can do so. You should be able to tell the customer whether or not a product is in stock. (Make sure sales and receiving data are being inputted to the computer to insure the inventory is up to date.)
9. Ship fast. Once an order is picked there's no reason it shouldn't be waiting for a truck pickup in a few hours. Bar codes, computerized weighing and shipping label systems, etc. are priced so low that they're available to every business.
10. Make sure the ad or mailing is clear. The customer should have no trouble telling what's offered, the price, etc. If not, you're going to get phone calls with questions. That will slow down order taking and cost you money. You might even need higher level staff to answer questions.
11. Have a competent telephone staff. They should be knowledgeable enough about the product to answer the most common technical questions. If the staff aren't natural technicians, get a handle on potential questions ahead of time and prepare a script.
12. Dealer followup is important. If you're directing inquiries to local dealers or distributors, make sure your list is current. Check up on dealers to make sure they're following up on customers.
13. Make sure any reply coupon is usable. Think about how many times a coupon allowed you 1 inch for the name of the town and 3 inches for the zip code. Or the spacing between lines was so close that only an engraver could write that small. Perhaps a minor point, but it's the last thing the customer sees before responding to your offer, so it's almost sure to make a lasting impression.
14. Create a system for reviewing customer complaints. We've read that probably only 10% of the customers who are disappointed with the product or service actually take the time to brother to complain. Complaints can pinpoint your weak spots, and at minimal cost. They're no good to you if the customer service department is staffed with people who don't have the necessary skills or don't care. More than one business has failed by ignoring customer complaints.
15. Lost the order? If an inquiry doesn't end in an order, find out why. Too expensive? Poor customer service? Not what he expected? You probably can't do it for every missed order, but a representative sample might be enough to give you an idea of why you're losing customers.
16. Mark sure the web site is easy to navigate. Sounds obvious, but we've seen some sites that aren't. Don't assume everyone will read the instructions the same way you do. Test it with some real people. And keep your customer in mind.
17. Follow up after shipping. E-mail, call, or mail the customer and ask if they got their order on time, in good shape, it met their expectations, etc. It's likely to impress the customer and you'll get feedback on your service.
Copyright 2011 by A/N Group, Inc. This publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is distributed with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The information is not necessarily a complete summary of all materials on the subject. Copyright is not claimed on material from U.S. Government sources.--ISSN 1089-1536
--Last Update 07/20/11