Customer Defence System

Written by Dave Collins, SoftwarePromotions Ltd.

Perhaps you remember the world before the internet really took off. I do; at least vaguely. I started regularly buying goods and services online around 1996, and at first could barely believe how much money I was saving by doing so.

I remember thinking that there just had to be a catch. That even though I was often taxed on my imported items, they were still cheaper than I could possibly find locally.

Today’s web is overwhelmingly commercial. And every day sees many thousands of new online businesses and existing businesses trying to sell their goods and services online. As the number of sellers continues to grow, so too do the number of buyers.

I don’t have any figures to hand, but my gut instinct is that there are more new buyers each day than new sellers. And once a person has made their first online purchase they’ll be back to do so again. It’s more or less guaranteed.

The good news is that you don’t have to worry about your business being swamped with demand. Spiralling sales, insatiable demand and bloated bank accounts can all be conquered by the implementation of a sales-effective Customer Defence System.

Better still, if you’re pushed for time, you only need to take a small number of quick, easy to implement steps to start protecting your business from your customers more or less immediately.

The following, in no particular order, are my top fourteen CDS steps. There are many more. But these are some of the most effective.

(1) Secure your borders.

Writing about how there are other countries beyond the US has almost become a cliché. So why do I continue to come across websites that just don’t realise this? Despite being UK based, there are forms that make me choose a state or don’t let me indicate I’m in a different country, companies that don’t mention that they only deliver to the US and more.

One very well-known credit card processor has let me select the product and version that I want, choose the licence I need, enter all my details and card details, only to return some sort of 0000×85 error response. The eCommerce equivalent of the blue screen of death.

When I called the company’s US office, it took some time for them to realise the problem. The credit card was non-US. Here’s a thought. You already have my contact information. You know the sale didn’t take place. Instead of an error message, why not offer to look into it and contact me? Wouldn’t getting the sale be worth it?

(2) Contact pain.

On the subject of contact, here’s a particularly quick and simple CDS step to implement. When I try to contact you, make me use a ticket system, then keep me waiting for days (or longer) before replying. Don’t let me contact you by email, and definitely not by phone. Keeping me at arms length is a great way to make sure my wallet is closed. You don’t want the headache of having to add me to your customer database after all.

The beauty of this system is that you can keep me waiting for days. Then when you do reply, use CDS tip 10. Great stuff!

(3) Prevention is better than the sale.

Cunning technology can also be quite effective. IP detection is a good example. Before we moved to our new home, I had to make use of a 2-way satellite connection to connect to the internet. The hub used to be based in Germany, so anyone tracking my IP address would have thought I was German.

I found a number of websites that automatically displayed the German pages to me. No matter what I did to try and get around this “feature”, I only saw German. Most users are capable of clicking on their flag, unless of course your main reason for doing this is CDS. In which case well done. It worked for me.

(4) Paypal at gunpoint.

While we’re on the subject of location, our company is based in the UK, and we bank with Barclays bank. Naturally when a company signs up with our services, we force them to open a Barclays bank account, as this means that paying our fees is fast and efficient, and we won’t have any charges. Our needs come before those of our clients, right?

Obviously this isn’t the case, as doing so would be a little on the stupid side. So why do so many companies only take payment through PayPal? Many of your potential customers will not be willing or able to open a PayPal account, so the forced PayPal option is yet another effective means of deterring your customers.

(5) Technical terrors.

Over the years I’ve become reasonably competent with my PC. But no matter who you’re selling to, I guarantee that not all of your customers will be as familiar as you with their boxes of technology.

Assuming you’re interested in making the sale, then don’t frighten the potential customer into running for cover. I know of a person who was scared to pay for some software he’d come across, as he didn’t know what grade Pentium processor he had, when the website said Pentium III or higher. And if someone uses Firefox, they may be concerned when they see IE 6 or higher is supported. 32 or 64 bit may also be cause for concern, and only worth referring to if (a) absolutely necessary or (b) as part of your CDS.

(6) Licences from hell.

Software companies are usually, but not always, in the business of making money. It’s all about selling licences and support. But some companies produce software licences that can concern, confuse or even scare away some of their potential customers.

One company we worked with ran an uninstall survey, and received two responses explaining that they hadn’t purchased because of the confusing licensing terms. The two lost customers both expressed concern that they wouldn’t “own” the software, and were worried what they were paying for.

I know what the licence meant. You know what the licence meant. The potential customers didn’t.Licensing is a horribly legal aspect of selling software, but make sure that your terms and conditions don’t chase your sales away.

(7) Purchase torture.

True story: I once purchased software from a company who forced me to (i) fax or mail a signed statement, (ii) download an installer that would generate a key, (iii) send the key, (iv) download the full version from a unique URL and (v) install the software using the unlock code that was sent by a separate email. I also only had 24 hours to use the code!

Had I known what would be involved, I never would have bothered. But you’re the developer. Make it simple for me. I shouldn’t really have to do very much at all. If your system is complex, then minimise the pain. And little touches like recognising that a code is in the clipboard, or being able to pull it out if I copy the whole registration email can go a long way . Keep me happy or keep me at bay.

(8) Navigational no-nos.

The browser wars from a few years ago are over, and all sides lost. Anyone selling through their website should know that people use different browsers. Firefox may have started as a Geek tool, but chances are that a lot of your site visitors are using it today.

So why am I still seeing websites using technology that doesn’t work in my browser? Text that’s obscured by images, buttons that don’t click, navigational dropdowns that don’t drop and more.

If I really want your software, perhaps I’ll persevere and copy and paste the URL into IE. But chances are I won’t. It’s just the sort of CDS tactic that your competition like to see on your website.

(9) Scare me.

Buying online is worrying enough nowadays, so from a CDS perspective, the more fear you can plant the better.

There are so many ways to concern your customers. Don’t give them a means of contacting you, don’t list an address or phone number, let them think they’ll have to purchase through an insecure system, make them think your software and company are brand new and may be gone tomorrow, and don’t, whatever you do, give any indication of happy customers or testimonials.

The more you give them to worry about, the less likely they’ll be to reach for their credit cards.

(10) Template traumas.

For many companies, templates are a part of doing business online. Use them correctly and they’ll save you time and quickly give your customers what they need. Use them incorrectly and you’ll have customers and potential customers either banging their heads in frustration or walking away in despair. Good CDS. Bad approach.

We’ve all tasted it at some point. You email the support, asking them three questions, and get one answer that doesn’t quite address any of the issues you raised.

The customer is left with a very strong feeling that they’re little more than an inconvenience to you. Which isn’t the best approach to take. It doesn’t take much to personalise your replies and make sure that they’re getting the answers that they seek. On the other hand it takes even less to fob them off.

(11) Good old-fashioned ignoring.

Recently I’ve been looking into advertising for some of our clients. I contacted a very well known company who had recently introduced an Advertising Exchange. I filled out a form on their website explaining that our client had a fair sized advertising budget to spend. Actually I filled out the form three times over as many weeks, and never got a reply.

When I called the company’s UK office, I spoke to their sales person who had never heard of the scheme. When I prompted him with details it finally rung a bell. He promised to send me a presentation (no idea why) and some pricing information that day.

It never came. I also left two voicemails. I would have left three, but their phone system directed me to a dead line. At the time of writing this they still haven’t replied. I’ve given up.

This is classic CDS. You don’t even have to actively turn people away. Just ignore them, then wait for them to give up trying to get hold of you. Perseverance pays off.

(12) No trial.

Why are there so many software companies out there who don’t offer a trial version of their software? What year is this? If all the micro and not-so-micro ISVs can do it, why can’t they?

Try Before You Buy is a powerful sales tool. The customer has nothing to lose, and if your software is what they’re looking for then you’ve got them.There are so many one-person companies out there offering trial versions. No software company has any excuse for not jumping on this bandwagon.

(13) Bewilder through sheer confusion. Language. Wise.

As far as CDS options go, this one takes a little longer to implement. But if your goal is to keep your customers at bay, then language can be quite effective.

I like to think that my (British) English is a lot better than average, but I’m still sometimes left scratching my head trying to work out what some of the navigation items and buttons are or for that matter just trying to make a little sense from occasionally bewilderingly long sentences with little or no punctuation. Or, while we’re on the “subject”, too much punctuation (!), re-in-venting punctuation for your convenience’ or dec-o-(ration), or just leaving your customers wondering

Overly-embellished and mindlessly-over-articulate prose may make the author feel good about themselves, but ultimately will do you no favours. Keep it short. Keep it clear.

(14) More than words.

We live in an age of hype. We’re used to seeing advertisements that make junk look like quality, and that make bland sound intense. We’re the generation who’ve paid for new forms of life and received little shrimp creatures, and who (collectively) spend millions of dollars on hyped-up rubbish. We’ve all done it.

Looking at a website that talks about your software isn’t enough. We need to see it in action. If it looks like an MS DOS application then it’s not going to dazzle us. But if it looks slick, well thought out and designed, we’re one step closer to purchasing.

No screenshots, or screenshots that are too small and blurred do nothing to impress us. If your customers can’t see it, they won’t want to buy it.

And screenshots also give you one final CDS opportunity. If you’ve got them, hide them away. Make them as hard to see as possible.

Keep those pesky customers at bay.

Be seen, be sold.

Written by Dave Collins, SoftwarePromotions Ltd.