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Customer Surveys Reveal Site Weaknesses

Jul 1, 2008
by Eric Leuenberger

In its simplest form, a dam is a structural system that controls the flow of water. It can stop the flow completely, or it can be opened up to allow water to flow through in a controlled manner. Although simple in nature, the dam is made up of many complex systems that all work together as a single unit to achieve one task: to control the flow of water.

Periodically, as with all complex systems, the dam should be inspected for potential risks that may present problems down the road. Upon discovery, these risk areas should be addressed before they become a real problem. If not found and corrected, a single hole in the dam could quickly turn into a catastrophe.

ECommerce Websites Are Like Dams
Your website can be thought of in much the same way as a dam. It is simple in concept, yet contains an array of complex systems which work together as a single unit, controlling the flow of traffic through it to achieve a desired goal: to generate sales. A weakness in any one system can jeopardize the entire outcome. In a website, traffic is your water. Your traffic contains both customers and visitors (customers actually buy, visitors just look). Like a dam controls water, your website should control its traffic. The proper control of that traffic will become the lifeline to your ultimate success.

Finding Holes in Your Website
If you were managing a dam, you would probably send out inspectors to analyze, take notes, gather data and report on the integrity and stability of the structure. You, however, are managing an ecommerce website. How do you periodically gather data? You send out an Inspector Survey.

Surveying your customers can provide great additional insight into what works well and more importantly, what needs improvement in your website. Surveys can give you data on:

  • How visitors perceive the customer experience you provide to them.
  • How easy or difficult your visitors find your site to use.
  • How effectively you run the online portion of your business (as seen through your customers' eyes).
  • If the products you offer satisfy the buyer need appropriately. Properly conducting periodic surveys of your customer base will help you fine-tune potential risk areas of your business that could become problems in the future.

When and Where to Conduct Surveys
Finding the ideal position for conducting surveys depends heavily on what you want to accomplish and who you want to survey (customers or visitors). Customers buy from you while visitors are "window shoppers" who do not. Are you seeking information about the experience a customer had while shopping at your site, or are you trying to uncover why some visitors are leaving without buying? Some potential survey opportunities are:
  • On the thank you page immediately following a sale. The thank you page of any website is one moment during which you have their complete attention. Why? The customer wants to know the next steps in receiving their package. It might be a good idea to include a short survey asking them about their shopping experience with you on this page.
  • Email follow-ups. If you want to learn what past customers thought about the buying experience at your store, you can send an email to them that includes the survey or a link to it. Make it short and simple. Get their attention with a nice subject line so they actually want to open it. Things like, "A survey for you," or, "Please give us your feedback," or, "Inquiry from..." more than likely will not get you the best open rates. On the other hand, subject lines like, "Please accept our gift," or, "Help us help you and get a free gift," or, "get xxx% off your next purchase when you help us," etc., might see better open-rates. If you are looking to survey visitors that did not make a purchase, you may have at least one viable option (without resorting to pop-ups):
  • Visitor follow-ups. You can and should follow up, when possible, with visitors who did not purchase from you but added items to their cart. These are considered "abandoned carts." How you deal with these visitors can provide valuable insight and could also add sales that might otherwise been lost.

Implementation of a "recover cart" system is a valuable asset to any ecommerce store. Most of the major retailers have this kind of system in place. You do not have to be a big player with a big budget to get a cart with this capability. There are several affordable open-source shopping cart systems that offer this feature.

What you Learn by Surveying Abandoned Carts
Remember, an abandoned cart means that a visitor actually put products into their shopping cart but then left without completing the purchase. With products added to their cart, you can make an educated guess that they found at least one item they were interested in (or, chances are, it would never have ended up in their cart). Using the right mix of questions, you can learn any of the following from surveying abandoned carts:

  • Was it the product selection that caused them to leave?
  • Was it the price?
  • Was it the usability of the site?
  • Was it the shipping time or cost?
  • Was it the credibility of the store?
  • And more... You may even consider simply presenting one open-ended question, asking them to tell you why they decided not to complete the purchase. No matter what you choose, the data you gather will become a tool you can use to improve your store for future visitors.

Good Survey Tools
In addition to being an effective email newsletter and follow-up system, Constant Contact also provides survey ability as well, through their Listen Up! survey software. I have used it with great success on a number of ecommerce web sites. It is easy to use and offers the needed flexibility to get exceptional results.

Now get out there, find those holes and plug them before they become a problem! You will turn more future visitors into customers for it, keep your current customers happy and learn more about how to better control the traffic flow by enhancing the overall customer experience.

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Topic: Business Strategies

Related Articles: e-commerce 

Article ID: 665

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