Rob Frankel - Branding Expert

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Fulfilling Your Dreams Through Automation.

To respond or not respond, that is the question. Actually, that's not the question, but it makes a pretty dramatic opening line. The real question I wanted to discuss was centered more on something web advertising people don't talk about much:

What do you do with people who actually respond to your sales pitch? Specifically, is it smarter to make them click through your site to order your product or service? Or should you feature a toll free phone number for them to call? As usual, there are plenty of answers, most of which revolve around the issue of what kind of business you're operating.

For now, let's restrict the discussion to sites that sell actual product or services.

I don't know about you, but I have a real hard time with businesses that go to all the trouble of building and publicizing a web site, only to have me call them on the phone to actually buy stuff. I mean, you've got me here, standing in your virtual showroom. Why wouldn't you simply sell me what you've got with a simple mouse click? It seems awfully silly to make me fumble around with the telephone, especially when I may only have one phone line to begin with. What am I supposed to do, sign off and call you back?

Man, that really frosts my cursor. The only things that freeze it harder are (1) tightwads that want ME to pay for the call to buy THEIR stuff and (2) web cadets that offer no way to contact them online to ask them questions before I purchase.

Ah, I feel better.

Okay, I hear a lot of keyboards tapping out replies already (yes, I do get mail from these columns), saying "Hey, Rob -- not everyone can afford to build secure servers with sophisticated order entry and delivery systems." To which I hastily reply, "Who says that NOT doing it is any cheaper?" The fact is that when you look at all the hidden and long term costs, NOT installing an automated system can cost you way more bucks than would chunking down a few bills now.

Remember that order-taking online is a 24 hour a day, 365 days a year option. A dynamic, secure server never calls in sick. Never complains about temporary water weight gain. And doesn't frustrate customers with answers like, "Gee, I don't know, they didn't tell us that -- can you hold?"

Another consideration is the fact that no matter how cheap your flat rate is, toll-free numbers cost money. It doesn't matter why the caller calls, either. Every so often, our phone rings because the knucklehead who dialed it confused our toll-free "888" prefix with a toll-free "800" prefix, costing our illustrious agency 14¢ a minute to explain over his objections that no, we are not credit dentists. That costs time and money.

Still another reason to think about secure servers is the fact that the only person who can screw up the order is your customer himself. A good click-dependent fulfillment structure not only takes the order, but send the customer a confirmation by e-mail, restating the order and terms. When was the last time your Customer Service Rep at Victoria's Secret did that for you?

Yet another benefit of automating your fulfillment operations is that you can instantly track your activity without having to rely on an assistant associate supervising manager to create the report for you. No lost data. No "garbage input". Just pure, virgin data.

Mmmmm, yummy.

Finally, my favorite reason for automating fulfillment: it makes you look big. Really big. In a world filled with ten speed bicycle web sites, automated fulfillment makes you look like a Cadillac. And not one of those wimpy little Credenzas or whatever they're calling those fuel-efficient latter day Caddies. I'm talking long, shiny black Fleetwood with dual exhausts and a TV antenna in the back. Think about your competition -- do they offer that kind of service? Of course not. Why? Because they're afraid of the cost, even though almost every piece you need is off-the-shelf stuff.

Admit it: don't YOU feel better about a site when you see how slick their order-taking process is? Sure you do. Because it makes the site look and feel more established and credible. And believe me, that increases sell-through.

Rob Frankel

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