Wednesday, July 23, 2014

6 tips on writing clear and understandable contracts

Here at BBB, we hear a lot about contracts. When misunderstood or used incorrectly, they can cause a great deal of conflict between a business and a customer. Customers complain that something promised was not delivered and then are surprised to see that the disputed item or service was not outlined in the contract.  Business owners complain that customers don’t take the time to understand the contracts that they sign.  In the end, confusion over contracts can result in a customer not trusting your business and we know trust is a very big deal when it comes to building your business.  Trusting customers spend more, repeat purchases, buy additional services and products, and refer your business to others.  Non-trusting customers cut back on purchases, use your time and resources by reporting numerous problems, demoralize employees, complain about your business to others, and wind up giving their business to your competitors.

A perfect place to start building trust with a customer is how you write and use your contracts. 

For both your business and the customer, a good contract should:

  • Clearly outline terms of the agreement.
  • Address the extent of obligation by both the seller and the buyer.
  • Cover exact specifications of the goods and services, delivery, and price.
  • Give your customer the confidence that you will do what you promise.

Tips on writing clear and understandable contracts:

  1. Pay attention to the scope of the contract, known as the “Terms and Conditions”.  Have you included everything that’s important to all parties involved?  Can you live with the “worst-case scenario” if all else fails?
  2. Give your customer time to digest the contract. Pressure to sign a contract is not a trust-builder for your business.  Believe that your customer will value this. It might even help for you to explain to your customer that you don’t want to pressure them and are confident that given time they will make a great decision and choose your company.
  3. If you promise it verbally, put it in writing.  Teach your sales reps to be honest and upfront with your customers.  Tell your customers that everything you’ve promised is in the contract so they can trust that you will do it.
  4. Be flexible enough to make changes.  Small changes can be crossed out and initialed.  Bigger changes will require that the contract be re-drafted.  Consider being flexible and working with the customer on his requests.
  5. Leave the wide open spaces for Wyoming.  The BBB advises consumers to never sign a contract with empty space.  Nothing should be filled in after the contract is signed.  Remember, once signed, a contract is a legally binding document.
  6. Don’t let your customer be confused by the 3-day “Cooling Off Rule”.  This law was created to protect consumers from unscrupulous door-to-door sales tactics.  Among other limitation, it only applies if the contract is signed at a place other than your normal place of business.  Many consumers mistakenly believe this rule applies to any signed contract. Reminding them if it does or does not apply can build trust.

Written by Kimberly Hazen, Regional Director for the BBB Serving Wisconsin

Monday, July 21, 2014

9 Awful Ways You Push Customers Away

The content of this blog post has been taken from HubSpot. Click here to view the original blog post.

A customer goes to your website to buy your wonderful product or service. He or she stays there for a while, clicks through the site, and then leaves. Why?  

This is something all businesses, marketers, and operation analysts contemplate daily. 

Here are nine definite possibilities, courtesy of this HubSpot blog post:

1) Poor Showcasing of Merchandise
Leading brick and mortar retailers like Macy’s and Harrods are known to spend small fortunes on window dressing their stores. After all, first impressions are crucial to draw in a potential customer. Similarly, your website is your window to the world. You might have the best products out there, but if you don’t showcase them well, even the most willing customer will get put off.

The Fix:

Aesthetics are important. Keep the site easy on the eye and don’t overwhelm the customer with disorganized merchandising.
Have a lot of variety in SKUs of each product? Showcase them, but in a sane, easy-to-navigate manner. Customers like to see what they’re buying. Use high quality images and allow customers to zoom in to see details.

2) No Trust Building Measures

A user who visits your site for the first time has no clue whether they can trust you, particularly when it comes to payment systems. With major gaffes like Target's security breach, shoppers are extremely wary of where they swipe their credit cards and what information they share with businesses.

The Fix:

A professional-looking website that keeps up with the latest web design trends does wonders for customer confidence. It's an indication to the customer of the level of commitment business owners have toward the ecommerce venture.
Your website probably uses various security services like Verisign, Norton, etc. Online shoppers are subconsciously tuned to recognize these logos on ecommerce sites as a measure of security. Give them what they need, and display logos of your security partners across your site.
Image source: Baymard.com
Additionally, if you have a customer protection program, by all means highlight it. eBay reinforces its buyer protection messaging on the homepage (in some countries), on the product listing pages, during checkout, and on emails sent out to customers to reinforce their confidence in the brand.
Product reviews by existing customers are also a great way of telling a prospective buyer how good a particular product is. Don’t skip including customer reviews in your product page to ensure conversion.

3) Painful Navigation

Imagine walking into a basement filled with old junk. You’d probably spend hours combing through the mess if you had to try and find something. This is exactly what you put your customer through when you don’t have a clear site navigation structure.

The Fix:

Keep it simple. Avoid overwhelming the user with unnecessary pop ups and flashing banners. Spend time and resources on perfecting product groupings and creating logical and easily comprehensible categories, sub categories, variants, color choices, and SKUs.
(You can also put in a prominent search bar on your homepage so that even if your navigation is not the best in the world, a user can still search and find what they're looking for.)

4) Inventory Issues

Let's say you have a customer buying an elusive first edition copy of Batman: Shadow of the Bat on your site. Just as they’re about to complete the transaction, they get a message saying, “Sorry, item not in stock.” They get frustrated and leave your site. Probably for good.
This is an inventory nightmare for any retailer. It could happen because the item got sold on a different platform (maybe a traditional brick and mortar store?) owned by the retailer, it could be because inventory positions are not linked to the checkout process, or could even be a straightforward error on the part of the retailer.

The Fix:

Use technology to your advantage. If you have an offline and an online presence, don’t depend on luck. Manage the inventory between the two using smart tools -- such as Shopify’s online POS system. You can also use inventory as a tool to create urgency. By showing the number of items left for a particular product, you can encourage a customer to buy right away instead of postponing the purchase.
Expedia does a great job of communicating the exact inventory available and motivating the user to buy right away:

When you’re running short on a particular item, cross-sell a similar item that has decent stocks. Cross-sells are a powerful tool that can generate tons of revenue if applied correctly. In fact, according to Amazon, 35% of their sales in 2006, came from cross-selling items.

5) No Guest Checkout

How many different websites have you shopped on to date? Five? Ten? More? And how many login IDs and passwords do you remember for these? A very small handful is my guess.
Jared Spool from User Interface Engineering talks about a client who lost over $300 million dollars a year in sales due to the absence of a guest checkout option.

The Fix:

It’s really simple. Allow guest checkouts.
In the case of first-time customers, guest checkouts avoid diverting them into a new process. For returning customers who may not remember their passwords, they prevent frustration and drop-offs.
In the case study referred to above, Spool and his team found that 40% of returning customers requested password resets. Of these, only 25% actually reset their passwords and of these only 20% completed the purchase. 

6) Long Checkout Process

Most of us dread going to a supermarket or a big box retail store, thanks to the serpentine queues at their checkout counters. So what do we do instead?
Go online, right?
The trouble is, ecommerce businesses sometimes don’t realize how their frustratingly long checkout processes are actually counterproductive and replicate the same problems that traditional retail suffers from.

The Fix:

There are verifiable merits in shortening your checkout process. A study of the top 100 ecommerce sites conducted by Baymard Institute, showed that their checkout process was an average of 5.08 steps long. As the checkout process grows longer, user satisfaction with the purchase process starts to drop.
Ask only for information that is absolutely essential to complete a purchase. Most organizations never use the tons of information they collect from their customers, and customers find it highly annoying to part with irrelevant personal details.
Additionally, autofill entries wherever possible to reduce the overall time taken by the customer to check out. For example, when a customer provides their ZIP code, prefill country and state based on the given information.
Do not ask for the same information twice. If you've already collected the user’s shipping information, ask if you can replicate the same address for billing, instead of creating a new form for billing address and forcing the customer to refill it all over again.
If you do not have a one page checkout process, include a checkout progress indicator prominently in your checkout section to inform the customer exactly how many steps away they are from the purchase.
Finally, add a "Save for Later" option. There is only so much pruning that you can do to a checkout process. For customers in a real hurry, this option will allow them to save the items they want to buy and come back to them later. A good way to use this feature and ensure the customer returns would be to send a follow-up email within 48 hours of the customer creating the saved cart.

7) Hidden Costs

How do you think a customer reacts when the price of their purchase jumps up by 10-15% by the time they reach the end of the checkout page? Not very kindly at all.
Research shows that hidden or unexpected costs are the #1 cause of abandoned shopping carts.
Unless mentioned alongside the price of the product, “hidden costs” in a customer’s book include
  • Convenience fees
  • Shipping & handling costs
  • Taxes
In fact, according to a ComScore studyat least 61% of users are likely to cancel their entire purchase if they eventually find that free shipping is not offered.

The Fix:

Being as upfront as possible about all costs related to a purchase is the safest way to go. Include all additional costs on the product page to avoid any ambiguity. The online travel industry was plagued with bad customer experiences in the past when just base fare used to be displayed at the start, and on entering the checkout process, numerous other fees like fuel surcharge, airline fees, and airport terminal user fees were added on to the original price. This is now changing with bundled fares being displayed at the search stage itself to ensure complete clarity.
Shipping is an unavoidable cost in ecommerce, so if free shipping isn't possible at all times, build in shipping cost calculators so the customer can check the actual cost of shipping before heading to checkout. eBay is a good example, which has been offering a shipping calculator for years on every product page.

8) Limited Payment Options

Imagine a shopper who’s found exactly what she wants, at the right price, at the right time, but not being able to complete the purchase just because her preferred payment mode was not offered by your site.
After doing everything right in terms of attracting the right customer, guiding them through the entire search and checkout process, only to fail at the final step is truly a criminal waste of the marketing resources spent on getting the customer to your site in the first place.

The Fix:

Research by WorldPay shows that alternate payments will account for over half of all payments by 2017. They already account for over 22% of all ecommerce transactions worldwide.
Given these numbers, the only real alternative that any ecommerce business has is to incorporate as many different payment options into their system as possible.
Clear messaging about the various payment types accepted is also equally important to ensure that the customer does not miss the options and move on.

9) No Live Help

Who do you turn to when you’re shopping for a shirt in a department store and can’t find the right size? The sales assistant.
While ecommerce sites are obviously handicapped in terms of providing in-the-flesh guidance to a confused customer, most do provide a call center number or email contact details. Unfortunately, both of those communication modes are time consuming -- it usually takes at least 24 hours to respond to customer queries via email, while call center numbers are notorious for their long wait times, ruining the customer experience.

The Fix:

Offer Live Chat as an option to customers. According to a study by Forrester Research44% of online shoppers considered live chat one of the most important features of ecommerce sites. An eMarketer study shows that most buyers who use live chat -- a whopping 63% -- were likely to return to the site for a repeat purchase.
So these were some of the big ways product marketers and online retailers have been shooing customers off of their sites. Did you recognize anything on this list that you’re guilty of, or any big ones we missed?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Body Language in Business

Proper nonverbal communication is just as important as verbal etiquette when it comes to business. Your body language determines how people perceive you, and learning to fine tune these skills communicate confidence and honestly. Your nonverbal communication can determine how well you develop relationships and have an influence on your success. Here are the three body language traits that you should be aware of:

Posture- The way you stand has a direct affect on how your feel. Standing tall with your neck elongated and shoulders back helps to make you feel more confident.This stance also gives an outward appearance of strength and poise and can help set you apart from fellow employees. 

Eye Contact- Avoiding eye contact sends a message of presence and authority and in some cultures it can be perceived as disrespectful. Remember to keep your gaze when making presentations or speaking with your peers, as lack of confidence can communicate deception and looking down might suggest insecurity. During presentations, it might be easier to imagine the room in thirds. Devote an equal amount of time to each part and make eye contact with at least one person on each side.

Hand movements- Fidgeting with your hands or cell phone often communicates vulnerability. Keeping hands still and only making small gestures (when appropriate) sends a message of authority to your peers. It is important to keep these gestures below your shoulders.

What body language practices help you feel the most confident? Comment below!


Monday, July 7, 2014

Balancing Act: 3 Ways to Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

A recent study released by Ranstand.com showed that employees in the United States are having a really difficult time maintaining their work-life balance. This research revealed that 42% of employees feel like they are required to check with work while on vacation and about a fourth feel guilty about taking vacation in the first place. 

Unfortunately, The guilt that employees feel isn't restricted to vacation. The report also highlights the 45% of workers that feel obligated to respond to emails at home and that 47% still try to work when out sick. Technology has made it significantly easier to be available 24/7 and harder to leave your work in the office. Establishing these habits can take a serious toll on your work ethic, health, and relationships. Check out these ideas for maintaining a healthy work-life balance:

Schedule your downtime
Make it a point to schedule time to spend with your family and friends and to relax during your week. This gives your something to help you manage your time and give you something to look forward to. Try blocking off time to be "hands-off" with your loved ones or time on the golf course with a friend until it becomes a habit.

Pay attention to your health

Don't ignore your health! Make it a habit to be mindful of your physical, emotional, and mental health. Regular exercise, adequate sleep, and proper nutrition are essential to productivity and it can get very easy to slack off in these areas as you assume more responsibility in your career. Scheduling fun workout classes and preparing healthier meals ahead of time are some ways to actively

Say no!
Sometimes maintaining your work-life balance means saying no. While this seems easier said than done it is important to be able to clearly communicate your boundaries. If you are already have too much on your plate taking on another task can only decrease productivity. Don't feel the need to say yes even if you happen to have the time you should still evaluate if this task fits within your priorities.

How have you worked towards achieving a work-life balance? Comment below!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

What are bit coins?

If you’re a business owner who hasn’t yet heard of bit coins, it might be time to get up to speed. 

Bit coins are not exactly the type of coin that jingles in your pocket. Rather, this “virtual currency” is internet-based, digital cash that uses cryptography to verify the transfer of funds in and out of bit coin servers. Unlike other currency, bit coins aren’t backed by any financial institution and aren’t sanctioned by any government. Yet, despite what may seem like a risk, bit coins are becoming more mainstream, reaching nearly 50,000 daily transactions worldwide. 

Check out this couple, who traveled for months to three continents and spent nothing but bit coins.

Why people like bit coins

  • One reason people like bit coins is because they cut out the “middle man.” Traditional online money transfers require the participation of a third party, such as PayPal, which charges transaction fees. There are no transaction fees with bit coins.
  • Since the money transfer is digital, bit coin users don’t leave a paper trail, making their transactions less traceable and users more anonymous, which is why scammers like bit coins!
  • Bit coins allow for easy money transfers across the whole world. You do not need to convert between different currencies.

The risks

  • Because encrypted bit coin transactions are untraceable, more scammers are using them. Check out this posting from noted security blogger Brian Krebbs, who calls 2014 “the year extortion went mainstream.” Krebs details how the scammers perpetrating a recent extortion scheme targeting businesses are asking for payment in bit coins. 
  • One point of clarification from the article: The scammers in the article are trying to extort money from businesses in a variety of ways, including filing false BBB complaints and negative reviews. However, such false complaints/reviews aren’t possible because of the BBB’s complaint/review verification process.
  • The “digital wallets” used with bit coins (similar to an online banking account) can be hacked. Once a thief drains the account, the money cannot be recovered, unlike a traditional banking account which can offer some protections if an account is hacked.

Do you have any experience either using bit coins, or accepting them at your business? If so, please share your experience in the comment section below.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

How are you treating your summer intern?

If you’re fortunate enough to have hired a summer intern, now is a good time to ask yourself if both of you are benefitting from the experience. Before you know it, summer will be gone and your intern will be heading back to college. So, before too much water passes under the bridge, check in with him or her and see how things are going.

Treat interns the same as you would full-time employees. This includes giving honest and constructive feedback about their performance. This is your chance to help these young people learn and grow. If something needs correcting, let them know – politely and respectfully. Don’t just wait out the next six weeks, hoping they’ll “figure it out.” If you take that approach, you’re not fulfilling your end of the deal, which was to be a mentor to your interns and provide them with a learning experience.

Feedback sessions should be scheduled regularly and include both praise and critique. Most importantly, criticism should be coupled with clear direction on how to make improvements. In addition, remember that feedback should be a two-way street. Allow the intern to provide feedback to you about his or her job, which will help both of you learn from the experience.

Finally, remember to treat your interns well. Today, they may be interns. But tomorrow (or sometime in the future), these interns (or their friends) may be your vendors, competitors, co-workers, or even your boss! If they’re not treated well, word will get around among their college classmates and prospective future interns that yours is a company that they should stay away from. Worst case scenario: They could write an online rant like this intern, providing vivid details of their mistreatment.

Written By: Susan Bach, NE Regional Director, BBB Serving Wisconsin

Monday, June 23, 2014

Beware of Phishing Emails from the FTC

The FTC is warning small businesses of an email with the subject line "NOTIFICATION OF CONSUMER COMPLAINT." The email states that a complaint has been filed with the agency against your business.

This type of phishing email is eerily similar to one that BBB has been dealing with for the past few years. The email may ask you to download and complete an attached form, or it will ask you to click on a link to view and respond to the consumer posting. The FTC also warns you not to do either! The links or attachments may install a virus or malware onto your computer.  

If you receive an email, FTC advises you to just delete it. If you happen to open an attachment or click a link, BBB recommends that you run a virus scan on your computer.