Have you ever been put off shopping by an over-zealous assistant? If you have, then have you considered how you feel when that over-zealous assistant is not flesh-and-bone but instead only in digital form? Some people find the analogue version an irritant; yet others groan at the digital equivalent. And so that brings me to Customer Rule #1: Don’t hassle me while I’m just looking; not unless I ask you for help.
This does not mean that store assistants are unwanted. In fact they provide a really worthwhile function, as long as they know useful stuff about the store: where you go to find stuff; where you can try stuff, test stuff, compare stuff; how you buy; how you pay; how you take delivery; anything and everything. But only when you want it. I think of store assistants as analogue equivalents of search boxes, and often nicer to deal with. But I wouldn’t want the search engine in my face except at my behest. And this brings me to Customer Rule #2: When I ask for help, please make sure you’re in a position to help. Especially if you’re a search box. Too often I visit the search function of a site and it can’t find zip. Even though what I’m looking for is on the site.
If you’re in the business of selling stuff, then people who come and browse till the cows come home and never buy anything can be the bane of your life. And so there are a bunch of ways you can get your own back on the customer. You can leave fragile things in easy-to-knock-into places, under a big sign that says if you break it you pay for it. You can seal things so that they’re hard to inspect. You can place them “behind glass”. You can even try and get people to pay for browsing, with a “just looking” fee. These are all excellent techniques to use … if your goal is to frustrate the customer. We’ve all felt this pain in the real world: the harder you make it for me to find something, to get to something, the less likely it is that I’ll buy something. And so we have Customer Rule #3: Make sure there is a good reason for putting your products and services “behind glass”.
It’s not just the products and services that get put behind glass. Sometimes it’s the doors and entryways. Businesses love their customers so much that they put them through some sort of benighted IQ test before they can buy stuff. Want to enter our site? Prove you’re not a machine. [Alan Turing would have found that interesting, the idea of a human having to prove he's human via a test]. I love the way Randall Munroe makes that point in his excellent xkcd webcomic:
Think about this: how many telephone numbers do you remember “by heart” right now? And how many did you know twenty years ago? We used to have to memorise lots of numbers at one time; now we don’t have to any more. When we want someone’s number, we look up the person’s name. Nothing complicated about it. And, most of the time, we don’t even need to see that number, we just click and away we go. That’s what we started doing when mobile devices started getting smarter.
So the next time you ask a customer to remember twelve or sixteen digits as a prerequisite for her doing business with you, think about what you’re doing. Why not ask them to recite pi to 16 digits before she is “allowed” to buy something from you, or, heaven forfend, try and pay a bill….. try and pay you some money? Which leads me to Customer Rule #4: Try not asking customers to memorise stuff about you; instead, try to remember stuff about them.
I can’t remember the number of times I’ve walked in to a shop, both online as well as off-, only to be put off by all the stuff I have to do before I can actually buy something. Most of the time I’ve had one reaction. A predictable reaction. I’ve just walked away and found somewhere else to go about my business. Registration should be something lightweight and simple. Time for Customer Rule #5: If you make it hard for customers to do business with you, don’t be surprised if they fail in the attempt.
People have done business with each other for centuries, even millennia. They buy from each other, they sell to each other. They do so principally because they trust each other, because they’ve bothered to invest in a relationship between each other, because they have some understanding and some respect for each other.
Over those millennia, they’ve evolved ways of doing this simply and effectively. For some reason, we seem to think we can treat people differently in digital space.
Maybe we can. Maybe for some people it doesn’t matter. For me it matters. I want people to make it simple and convenient for me to do business with them. And if they don’t, I will find people who do.
How about you? Do you agree with what I’ve said? Does it match with your experience and expectation? Let me know. Your comments will determine whether I write a follow-up post on queueing time and baskets and trolleys and payment and delivery and all that….. or not, as the case may be.