For the last several years, I’ve had the privilege of personally helping the directors of an e-commerce site acts as a portal to an online clothing store. In the last 3 1/2 years, we’ve been fortunate to experience a 1600% increase in sales.
I’ve recently been reflecting on lessons I’ve learned through this exciting but tumultuous experience. What follows is a list of 6 lessons I’ve learned, often the hard way. I hope these lessons are helpful to your business as well.
Lesson #1: Serve your Customers Offensively
All businesses give lip service to good customer service, and yet few are known for the truly remarkable kind. I believe this is due to a defensive rather than an offensive approach to customer care. Too much emphasis is placed on serving customers who initiate contact with the company rather than the company initiating contact with them. Would you be considered a good friend if you never called? Probably not. Your customers aren’t impressed that you answer the phone with a friendly voice, that’s an expectation. Do the unexpected. Call or email them first. Actually listen and respond to all feedback. Publicity recognize them. You can’t win in sports if you’re always on the defence. Neither will you win the hearts of your customers if you never go on the offense.
Lesson #2: Don’t Listen to Your Best Customers
Hear me out on this one. Over the last few years, I’ve succumbed to complacency in areas of our business because I believed the feedback I was getting. We sent out surveys. We brought customers in-house for testing. Everybody loved the website. Customers gave nothing but praise. The problem was in who we were getting our feedback from. When you poll your customers for feedback, understand that your best customers will respond. These are the ones you need the feedback from the least. They already love you, and probably don’t want anything to change. And yet growth necessitates change. Seek out the kind of feedback that is painful, but necessary.
Lesson #3: Redesign for Customer Needs, not Internal Ones
One of the most dangerous temptations in web business is to constantly be redesigning a website. Rather than driven by customer needs, these incessant redesigns are usually motivated by the company getting tired of their existing design. Website overhauls that are driven by anything but customer needs are a colossal waste of time and money. Trust me, we’ve done extensive overhauls that took months, and yet customers barely noticed, and conversion didn’t change.
Lesson #4: Deploy when you’re 80% finished
I don’t believe in perfection, especially when it comes to web development. While you’re busy getting to perfect, your competitors are stealing market share. There is no such thing as a perfect launch, so the sooner you discover the problems the better. If you launch your website improvements and new features when they’re 80% ready, and you’ll instantly gain priceless feedback your development team would never have encountered in testing.
Lesson #5 Create a Flexible Development Culture
I’ve been blessed to work with a group of incredibly gifted developers and designers who can adapt to any situation and meet any deadline. A flexible developer will realize that meeting a deadline is more important than 100% fully complaint code. (I’ve actually not hired incredibly gifted designers because they told me they couldn’t put out a page that wasn’t 100% standards compliant.) A flexible attitude is key. When you run an idea by your development team, are they excited for the challenge or give you a million reasons why it can’t be done or it will take too long?
Lesson #6: Don’t sell the product
The sooner you realize it’s not the product you’re selling, the better. We don’t sell clothing, but rather a way for its customers to express deeply held faith beliefs through clothing. When you address the ultimate need, your customers will see you as more than a business, but part of their lives. Sell the experience. Sell the meaning. Just don’t sell the product, that’s what your competitors do.