Streamlining the online experience by using feedback – Dr. Muneer Muhamed

Most corporate websites have a customer feedback mechanism. It’s usually an email address, a link or a template with a request for comments, or a space where customers can ask questions if they are confused by the process.

However, many businesses treat these communication systems lightly and too many of them answer the enquiries awkwardly or not at all. Few have used the platform as an effective marketing research resource.

Here’s how an enterprise in the ‘business-to-business’ space has made use of the feedback mechanism effectively.

Corporate Apparel Unlimited, which is an internet based direct sales ‘e-tailor’ that sells branded clothing, was established by a husband and wife duo in a small town.

Using the information about its website – coming in from customers through email, as well as over the phone, and enhancing that understanding through focus group research – Corporate Apparel was able to redesign its website and boost sales. It also managed to identify a significant secondary source of revenue that wasn’t part of the original business plan.

The entity had a promising start. Despite a crowded internet marketplace for branded goods and big time competitors such as Lands’ End, Corporate Apparel’s website was averaging about 2,500 clicks a month by the first half of the launch year – indicating a high level of interest in the business’ products.

Meanwhile, sales were limping along. The first step was to examine customer feedback that the enterprise received. Using emails from customers and comments made at the site’s operators, the enterprise realised that its website had a lot of problems.

It was hard to navigate; and while customers could finish buying goods on the website, many found that the ordering process was too complex and called the business’ operators to complete the sale.

Some customers also wanted a printed catalogue to view, which the enterprise hadn’t yet produced. And many wanted to buy the sturdy basic casual clothing without a corporate brand – an option that the entity didn’t offer.

First, Corporate Apparel overhauled its website and created special landing pages for each popular search term (‘jackets,’ ‘shirts,’ ‘sweatshirts’ etc.), which are made available on the site’s home page. The organisation was helped by an online focus group of 12 business executives who had never seen the site before.

After taking part in the evaluation, participants filled out a questionnaire exploring what they found difficult to achieve – such as placing an order or learning about a specific product – while browsing the site.

The business also couldn’t ignore the small percentage of customers who wanted a business catalogue. Though it didn’t have the budget to start a catalogue business, Corporate Apparel was able to make a deal with its largest clothing supplier, which agreed to do an extra print run of its own catalogue that would have a Corporate Apparel branded cover – at no cost except postage. Customers could now buy the catalogue from the site.

It was an important step as over 40 percent of customers who had requested catalogues were placing orders.

In response to enquiries, the business also added two special features to its corporate site that would appeal to event organisers. One feature called ‘Event Collection’ sold apparel and accessories catering to specific events and the ‘Event Wizard’ enabled event planners to ask Corporate Apparel employees for shopping assistance.

And in response to trends in enquiries, the organisation established a second website to sell a secondary line of clothing to those who wanted the apparel minus the embroidery.

There was an opportunity for Corporate Apparel to set up a secondary brand and sell greater volume at lower prices. The wholesale site has similar infrastructure and design as Corporate Apparel’s original site but the product categories are somewhat different – such as offering children’s clothing.

The success of the second site has far eclipsed the first and the wholesale site has contributed half of the business’ overall revenue. The same period sales in the initial launch time frame were approximately nine times greater. Corporate Apparel receives about 1,800 calls a month from customers now, up from 200 generated by the first site alone.

More businesses are beginning to recognise the value of the type of customer relationship effort made by Corporate Apparel. They study and monitor changes in the data they collect. And when they see negative outcomes, they drill down and try to understand the problem. Thereafter, organisations choose the methodology that best fits their need to find the ideal solution.

People are doing product evaluation and research now, and often want to go to the site directly to make a purchase. In terms of e-commerce, the whole idea is to make the shopping experience as easy as possible. See how well Amazon is doing in the marketplace!