Is your company using online communications in a relevant way? For the worst examples, try buying a car online! I spent several hours online yesterday car shopping. What a colossal disappointment. It has been five years since I bought a car and I had hoped and expected the experience to be better this go 'round. So far, it hasn't been very satisfying at all, primarily because of the irrelevance of the information I'm getting from car dealers. There are four specific cars I'm considering: Acura TL, Lexus IS 250, Audi Quattro 4, and Infinity G35 sedan. It was easy enough to find the metro Atlanta dealers who sold these models. Product reviews (www.caranddriver.com and www.edmunds.com ) and blogs about them were a snap to locate online. But when it came down to finding out what I really wanted to know, I felt rather let down. I had hoped online car buying had gotten more sophisticated by now. I used a single web site to get multiple local dealers to tell me what they had in stock and how much they would charge for an online purchase. Supposedly, by completing the form I would receive e-mails directly from the dealers with the information I requested. Only a Lexus dealer responded with what I wanted to know. The others all sent auto-generated e-mails letting me know they would call to discuss my needs. I e-mailed them back to tell them not to bother. Did I mention that all this online research and e-mailing happened in the wee hours of the morning? In other words, I specifically used the Internet because it enabled me to do my search at a time that was convenient for me. If I wanted to chat, I'd call during normal business hours. I will not do business with any of the dealers who sent an "I'll call you" note. (BTW, I used a fake phone number deliberately to prevent them from successfully reaching me). The way I see it, they've already demonstrated a lack of understanding about how online communications should work. Moreover, they've been disrespectful of my time. Why would I want to give them money? As part of my personal little protest, I will send each of the" losers" a link to this blog. So what's the lesson here (besides "Make Marilynn cranky and she'll tell everybody"?) If your company wants to do business with avid Internet researchers/purchasers like me, here's what you need to consider: 1. Remember that an Internet user may have no other contact with you other than online; therefore, every interaction counts. When someone sends an inquiry, it should be answered promptly and with relevant information. Countless tools now make it possible to set up auto-generated messages that appear to be a personal response. That's not just a nice touch... it's good business. 2. E-mail gives you a great opportunity to build community. It's irritating to ask for information online only to receive a response that you'll get it offline. People who are big on using the Internet for research and inquiries are handing you a golden opportunity to demonstrate you understand that convenience is paramount to them. Follow their lead and you'll build a sense of "these people understand me" before they ever darken your door. 3. Your web site should be a fulfillment point. Tell people what they want to know. In my car-buying example, I expected to be able to browse inventory at a dealer. Instead, most sites let me "build" my car and gave me a price, but I should be able to then find out instantly whether "my" car was available. No wonder CarMax sells so many cars - you're always just a few clicks away from knowing exactly what they have and how much it costs. 4. Be respectful of online users. Since sending my request for information, I've been inundated with irrelevant notes from financial institutions wanting to sell me a car loan to pitches for credit cards tied specifically to auto brands. I didn't ask for this information and I don't pay it a bit of attention except to make note if it's connected to any of the dealers I contacted so I'll know one more reason not to do business with them. People are becoming more comfortable with making high end purchases on the Internet. They're aslo quicker to blog about their experiences, as you can see here. Doesn't it just make sense to meet expectations up front and let go of the notion that customers always have to do business the way it has been done for eons?
Are you relevant? Here's how to know: if you're absolutely certain what you offer really matters and you've won the mindshare and heartshare of your clients and potential clients, you "get" the SPUD Factor. SPUD stands for Strategic, Proactive, Universal, and Dynamic. If you aren't sure how relevant you are, or you fear becoming a SPUD Dud, this blog's for you. Find out what it takes to remain relevant in the face of change. Learn from good - and bad - examples how relevancy drives longevity.