The Internet has been popular for long enough that many people have forgotten one of the key reasons for having a website: saving time and money by helping customers help themselves.
If you can remember the business environment before the late 1990s, you may recall that customer service was a much more “hands-on” affair, and it usually involved a phone call or an in-store visit to get information. Before the Web became ubiquitous, servicing the customer involved the time of a trained employee, and it didn’t always result in a positive return on investment. Solving customer issues was based more on verbal than visual cues, and customer satisfaction could be mixed as a result.
On the sales side, it was necessary to send out salespeople for face-to-face contacts. Plus, businesses kept the local printer busy generating trifold brochures and folders, which often contained product descriptions that had to be reprinted when critical specs changed or were inadvertently left out. In the days before the PDF, printing up a batch of sales sheets could run you hundreds or thousands of dollars depending on the size of your audience. Invariably, you’d end up tossing out reams of unused glossy paper when the product was discontinued or upgraded.
For most businesses, websites have offered solutions to those problems. In the same way that advances in software have made accounting a lot easier, a good website design can help your business save time and money when it comes to personnel and marketing. Let’s look at some examples:
* If your customer service people are answering the same questions over and over, you can update the FAQs section on your website with the relevant information or make sure that it’s prominent in another section on your site.
* If people are frequently asking for more information about a specific product, you can showcase that product on your website and then train your salespeople to guide callers to that page. This creates a real-time conversation with in-depth information, and it increases the potential for a closed sale.
* While it still pays to follow up a valuable sales inquiry with a snail-mail reply, you can often save the cost of shipping bulky sales collateral by including the same information sheets on your website—along with videos and other promotional materials that can be viewed by window shoppers and warm leads alike.
For years, institutions like banks have been training their customers to use automated features like online banking in lieu of calling customer service or using a teller. Although most small business website owners don’t have the complex infrastructure that a bank website requires, they can still benefit greatly by enhancing their sites to address specific customer questions. Better yet, you can head off issues at the pass by showing pricing or related information up-front. If you’ve ever had a long sales conversation in which the client had an issue with the price or service level, you probably understand the value of placing such important information on your site.
If you’re continually being asked for an item you don’t (or can’t) sell or if people want a related service outside your capability, you may want to let people know that you don’t offer it. For example: If your business provides commercial pest control but not residential service, your website would be a good place to point that out. As an added service, you could partner with another company to make sure that a site visitor can be sent to the right destination for residential requests. And if you have enough site traffic, you can even sell ad space to a company that can take care of those visitors.
Using your website to streamline your small business operations offers you a lot of advantages as your business expands. For instance, you can increase your revenue without having to add to your headcount. You can also improve employee satisfaction because self-service customers (or nonconverting callers) will free up your staff to concentrate on more profitable work. By adding interactive features to your site, customers can do things like place orders, make appointments, or schedule reservations online 24 hours a day—which helps to cut down on the dreaded “Monday” call crush that most brick-and-mortar companies tend to experience.
Revisiting your site content—or creating a brand-new website—can take a lot of pressure off overburdened employees without adding to the cost of personnel, especially in an era in which people are more likely to look to the Internet before picking up the phone.