I get allergy shots fairly regularly, and one time while I was getting my shot, the nurse asked what I did for a living. I said Internet marketing, and she said, “Here’s some advice for you.” I mentally rolled my eyes and thought, “Here we go,” wondering what the hell an allergy nurse could tell me about Internet marketing that I hadn’t heard before. It turns out she indeed had some valuable information, which I thought I’d share with all of you.

The nurse told me about an experience she had shopping online. Since she’s on her feet all day, she buys shoes that are comfortable and have a lot of cushion. This particular pair of shoes she prefers to wear doesn’t come cheap, but she managed to find a good deal online. She scoured the website for a phone number so she could call them and ask them a couple questions about the shoes, but she was unsuccessful. Frustrated, the nurse fired off an email asking how come the website doesn’t list a contact number. The response she received was less than professional: “we r an internet company” (yes, “r” instead of are” and improper capitalization abounds). Unimpressed with how this company carried itself, the nurse took her business elsewhere and opted to spend more money at a more reputable-seeming company. She still ended up getting her shoes, while Company #1 lost their sale.

It’s important to remember that the Internet is not your tuxedo t-shirt. By that I mean that just because you’re an online shop and have no physical location where someone can waltz in and expect to see your smiling face, that doesn’t mean you can compromise customer service. Having an online-only presence doesn’t equal insta-casual — customers still expect you to seem legit before forking over their hard-earned dollars. To them that could mean that you have a business phone number, a mailing address, and no (or few) misspelled words or grammar issues (I know, I know, do as I say and not as I Shoe).

“Chill out, dude, we’re an Internet company.”

Don’t like talking on the phone? Neither do a lot of people, but you’re still going to run into the occasional customer who feels more comfortable contacting someone over the phone than firing off an impersonal email. You don’t have to have someone stationed in front of the phone like it’s a telethon — set up a recording and check messages daily, then call back people as needed. The same goes for an address — don’t expect to receive care packages or Christmas cards in the mail from your clientele. It’s more there for piece of mind, to assure people that you’re a legit business and you’re not trying to scam them. Obviously not all online shops with this sort of setup are legit and there are scammers who’ve set up bunk contact information, but many don’t go through the trouble and setting it up shows that you’re taking the extra step for your customers.

These are simple steps to give your users and potential customers piece of mind, and it could separate you from a competitor who’s not willing to change out of his tuxedo t-shirt because he wants to feel casual at a formal party. With the Internet as over-saturated as it is, it’s little things like this that can give you a slight edge over someone else and win both a customer and his or her dollars.

By Rebecca Kelley

Rebecca Kelley is the Director of Marketing for This or That Media. She also runs Mediocre Athlete, a hobby blog about exercising and training, and My Korean Mom, a blog about her harsh but amusing Korean mother. In her spare time, Rebecca is a freelance blogger for hire, loves food and movies, and trains for marathons and triathlons.

118 thoughts on “The Internet is Not Your Tuxedo T-Shirt”
  1. This part:

    “itÒ€ℒs little things like this that can give you a slight edge over someone else and win both a customer and his or her dollars.”

    is the best takeaway I have from your post. Sales folk whose grammar is sadder than 27 politicians who failed to buy a house majority of votes immediately lose me as a customer.

    I waging enough war regarding the lowest common denominator in communication with my kids; in almost all cases, I refuse to tolerate it in my online real-life “we’re adults” kind of world.

    1. The bottom line is we should never roll our eyes without first hearing what the other person has to say. Right, buddy?

        1. I’m not sure, but recently I’ve noticed her wearing Vibrams (not the five-finger running shoes), so maybe those were the ones she bought.

      1. So right TomYoon. Easy to for Rebecca to have dismissed her allergy nurse’s concerns. Good for us she didn’t.

      2. There is always room for learning. And sometimes the lessons come from the most unexpected sources.

    2. There are companies or organizations that make it difficult for their site visitors to contact them. Such policy doesn’t inspire confidence from potential customers at all.

      1. It also depends on how big the company you’re referring to. What if they only have a handful of personnel and can’t handle the amount of calls and emails they’re receiving daily? What if they’re just a start-up company just getting the venture off the ground? So many questions, so little time…

        1. Not all online companies can afford extra services. We could cut them some slack. Unless they are really rude and have no regard at all for their customers.

          1. Customer Service is not an “extra” service.

            The lack of a telephone number (on a website) that connects to a human shows ignorance, arrogance or both.

            If you’re going to hang your shingle, put a phone number on your website.

      2. I definitely agree. The harder it is to contact a company, the more you wonder how legit and trustworthy they are.

    1. All web marketers should pay attention to every detail of their businesses. If they cannot project this to a customer — potential or regular — they absolutely fail and should look for another activity to excel in.

      1. Success in Internet business is established upon attention to the small things rather than to the large things. Miss a few small things and you can fail *big* time.

      2. Setting up an FAQ page might help. Anticipate questions then provide the answers that you think would be most helpful to site visitors.

  2. I’m curious… I don’t run a business phone number online because I have a regular job that doesn’t allow me to answer the phone. I feel like it would be more unprofessional to have a phone that I do not answer during regular business hours than to just go without and give a simple contact form that I make sure I get responses back quickly. I’ve been debating hiring on someone that I could pay per order they accept via phone or something along those lines. But my fear is that they simply won’t be knowledgeable on the products and won’t have the same customer service standards that I do personally. How would you guys handle this situation?

    1. I think that if you’re at the point where you can hire someone to field customer service calls, invest and do so. If, however, you run into an issue that LB has outlined in the comments, you could try setting up a mailbox and returning calls, or, if that doesn’t prove successful, you may have to do away with the line until you’re able to get a dedicated staff who can handle customer service over the phone. I agree with you and don’t think you should hire someone who’s not somewhat knowledgeable about the products you carry — in that regard, it’s better to have a contact form than someone on the phone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

      1. Encountered a lot of these so-called “parrot web marketers” who don’t even have the slightest idea how to connect with customers. They just provide a tagline or two and expect you to get enlightened. LOL

      2. Prepared product 411 isn’t that bad if the information supplied is clear and concise. Plus, it shouldn’t be very pretentious to repel customers. I’d definitely be a regular customer if I get all the details I want without reading too much.

        1. Keep in mind that the difference between something good and something great is attention to detail.

  3. Your point about treating online business like an offline one is a valid one.

    We’ve tried the “just list a phone number and take messages to call them back thing”. Bad idea.

    First off, it didn’t increase sales over the course of many months.

    Secondly, we got WAY more calls than normal support emails. People would call and ask all sorts of strange questions or weird complaints (your website’s font is too small- seriously) and then worst of all they wouldn’t leave a callback number half the time and then call angry two days later.

    The worst thing was trying to help people over the phone. How do you direct someone to a software page over the phone? It was impossible.

    Your nurse’s concern was a valid one, and the first company she dealt with did suck.

    The reality (as she found out) is that phone support often costs more because it requires someone at the phone all the time.

    If you’re a small business with only one or two employees it’s really tough to either put one of them on the phone or hire someone new to do it.

    It also depends on the market. Shoe customers are more likely to want to call compared to say someone buying a wordpress theme.

    I think the most important thing is to be accessable one way or another.

    I will say that if there is a phone number anywhere on your website there is a certain subset of customers that will call it…this is not always a good thing.

    1. Very interesting — you’ve presented a problem unique to small businesses. I stand corrected and do agree that if you don’t have the bandwidth to handle phone calls effectively, you could include a couple different disclaimers on your site. The first disclaimer would accompany a phone number and say something like “Due to the size of our staff, email contact is preferred as we are better equipped to get back to you promptly via email correspondence.” If you still receive a ton of calls you can’t field due to company size, then maybe you could do away with the line and note on your website that due to the size of your staff, you’re unable to field phone calls and thus have set up a contact email/mailing address only.

      1. I totally agree with this one, Rebecca. It’s better to be honest with your customers than to announce something fancy and still do a poor job connecting with them.

    2. It’s just like sending a letter to a love interest. How can you expect a connection if you don’t put as much details as you can?

      1. The more details you can provide, the more you can keep your users engaged. (Now what did I just win, Shoe?)

    3. In that case, email support seems to be the best option. I think regardless of the medium used, what’s more important is the timeliness of your response to queries and other issues that customers might have.

      1. Throw in a bit of predictive dialer in the mix and you’re sure to have a surefire strategy for a solid web marketing venture. Nonetheless, not providing contact details to customers is just like burning bridges. What do you think, Shoe? πŸ™‚

        1. Not just contact details. I’ve seen a few vague (at best) company information that made me think twice if they’re legit. Apart from the contact info page, online companies should extra attention to their about page too.

      2. I can tolerate late response much better than no response at all. I rarely send emails so when I do it must be about something that I think is terribly important. I would expect the courtesy of responding to my email even if they don’t have the answers I seek.

  4. Online business people tend to take a lot of things for granted, especially those little things. Online, as well as offline, we need to pay attention to the ‘small’ things. Customer relations is important to any business – it does not matter where that business if located.

    Imagine if you had failed to listen to the allergy nurse, we would have missed out on this wisdom.

    Thank you for this post Rebecca, very well written.

      1. As my former boss in the last advertising gig I joined used to say, “don’t pay any attention to the critics and don’t ignore them as well.” That company the nurse talked about sure is going down the drain sooner or later.

    1. As Dale Carnegie once related, speakers who talk about what life has taught them never fail to keep the attention of their listeners. The question is: when will you have another allergy shot as well as another epic post, Rebecca?

      1. I compare failed web marketing to being in a car accident. There’s so much adrenaline rushing through you that you remember being in the accident but you don’t remember any of the details. Still something you wouldn’t be proud of…

        1. No matter how well you know the rules of netiquette, you will eventually offend someone who doesn’t. Best course of action? Carpe diem!

      2. I just had one on Monday and I get another one this coming Monday. Allergies suck. πŸ™

    2. People shop online for the convenience it affords them. Companies who make it their business to make the shopping experience more seamless are more likely to attract customers. Making it hard for their customers to contact them can be bad for the business.

      1. Just to add a point, people shop online because of convenience. If you are able to sustain that kind of perspective for your own web business then you’re on your way to greatness, my friend.

  5. So what? Look at the bright side, they got to wear a tuxedo t-shirt to work. I bet the other company that got the customer has a boring formal attire policy.

    I guess it all comes back to what you value more – a tuxedo t-shirt or more sales.

    1. One of the greatest victories you can gain over someone is to beat him at politeness. Apply this to your web venture and you’re going to get your business off the ground faster than the other guy in no time.

  6. You’re completely over simplifying things with that post.

    “Unimpressed with how this company carried itself, the nurse took her business elsewhere and opted to spend more money at a more reputable-seeming company. She still ended up getting her shoes, while Company #1 lost their sale.”

    That quote above only tells half the story. Company 1 still has the cheapest prices, which is what way more customers care about than being able to ask questions on the phone. Big deal, company 1 last that specific sale. How much did they save by not having to speak to morons every day? How much cheaper are their prices because they don’t need to man the phone lines 9-5? How many extra sales did that gain them?

    1. They may be cheaper, but they could be compromising sales by being potentially untrustworthy and unprofessional. Sure, some people may be fine with that and patron them anyway, but many folks might feel uncomfortable doing business with a site that has hard-to-find contact information and typos.

  7. Art works because it appeals to certain faculties of the mind. Music depends on details of the auditory system, painting and sculpture on the visual system. Poetry and literature depend on language. As for web marketing? Attention the the smallest details that can keep your customers engaged.

    1. Pump up the visuals and you’re definitely good to go. Why am I saying this? Facebook did a complete visual-oriented campaign and look where it is now.

  8. The Contact Us page can help convert visitors to customers. I think it’s unfortunate that there are a lot of websites that make it difficult for their visitors to communicate with them. I’ve experienced sending emails that bounced back or calling numbers that redirect me to fax machines. I’d much rather do business with companies that make it easy for customers to reach out to them.

    1. One of the downside of posting an email address online is that you get tons of unwanted mails. But it shouldn’t stop organizations from posting their contact details anyway.

      1. One of the quickest ways to lose a customer is to not listen to what they have to say. Posting contact information on your website means that your company is open to all kinds of feedbacks.

        1. Okay, let’s put it like this: How about if it is the *other* way around. The customer has just provided you with an unclear feedback that you couldn’t even decipher? What’s your two cents’ worth on this, Jeremy?

      2. That’s probably the reason why some online businesses, especially the small ones, hesitate to share their contact information on their website.

    2. Good customer service and relations drive business. I don’t think you can be successful at one without the other. How else can you improve your services without any form of feedback from customers? At the end of the day, it’s the customers who can make or break your business. It’s an excellent policy to listen to what they have to say.

      1. As a web marketer, it is a must to gather customer feedback. The real challenge here is how you can do that effectively without making them look a bit lacking upstairs…like some surveys I come across in and around the Internet.

      2. Sometimes though it’s a bit difficult for businesses to address customers’ concerns given limited resources.

  9. The question is, will people buy from online shops they can’t contact? I think most of them won’t.

    1. It depends. If it’s not necessary for a potential customer to make contact then he/she probably will.

  10. Emails and phone calls can be great sources of invaluable feedback from customers and random site visitors. Companies who make it a point for people to find it simple to contact them have a distinct edge over those who don’t.

    1. Customer relations management should have a vital part in any business. It doesn’t have to be as elaborate as what big companies do. What’s more important is to open the lines of communication with customers.

      1. Providing clear information and responding to customer problems in web marketing is like investing pennies and getting dollars back.

    2. Online companies should post an email address at the very least to make it easier for site visitors to contact them. They should make it a point to respond as well. Some post contact information but never make an effort to respond at all.

      1. Happened to me once while I shopped for an electric bass online last summer. There was a problem with the machine heads and I called the company to ask for a replacement. They obliged immediately. If that’s not customer service then I don’t know what is.

  11. This post is a testament that you can still pick a helpful pointer or two from another person no matter how high up you are in the field you are currently in.

    1. True. That’s why there’s much to be learned from feedbacks. And the good thing is, you don’t even have to spend anything to get valuable insights.

    1. Internet Marketing can attract more people to your website, increase customers for your business, and enhance branding of your company and products. If you are just beginning your online marketing strategy, it is best to provide all the details they need.

  12. Apart from contact details, a contact form can help organize the types of inquiries visitors might have. But the contact form should be simple and straightforward since some people don’t like to waste their time filling up forms.

  13. Great post, Rebecca! It serves as a good reminder for all businesses who maximize web presence to attract customers.

    1. I had a similar experience with the nurse when I was out shopping a few months back. The store assistants were neither polite nor helpful so I left the shop without buying anything.

      1. The goal of any web presence should be to improve the business as a whole and complement its offline marketing and sales efforts. In other words, to help it achieve maximum profitability and make it stay as a top of the mind option for customers. You can start by providing a phone number in case a problem arises.

    2. As long as you have content that is relevant, products that are truly innovative and a solid brand, you’re good to go.

    3. Cleanliness and order are not matters of instinct; they are matters of education, and like most great things, you must cultivate a taste for them. Inject these into your web business efforts and you’re good to go.

  14. The link to the contact us page should be clearly visible. Some websites put theirs at the bottom of the page, which makes it more difficult to find if needed.

    1. Sometimes the website template is a major factor in terms of landing pages and contact details. See some WordPress templates that link them at the bottom? You’re welcome.

      1. You may be partly right but I just have one follow-up question: if it’s supposed to be that way, why do most websites have their contact details at the bottom?

  15. I agree with the person that said some people take their online business for granted. They think that they can sit back & half-ass their job. Those kind of people are up for a rude awakening.

    1. Thankfully, I haven’t had much encounter with those types of online companies.

      1. We know that when it comes to the way men and women shop. It’s completely different. Men waltz into a store to gather what they came for while women will take the time to browse and explore the new products that have been introduced in the aisles. The same is true when it comes to the online behavior of men and women; gender stereotypes apply. Thoughts on this, Shoe?

  16. Great article Rebecca. Just because you’re an internet company, it doesn’t and shouldn’t give you a reason to be less of a professional. After all in doing so, these guys are probably losing out on a lot of $$.

    1. Nonetheless, it doesn’t give you the excuse to spend tons of money on communication crap that just confuse customers sooner or later.

      1. That`s the secret of web business. You make your guests feel welcome and at home. If you do that honestly, the rest takes care of itself.

  17. Telephone customer service can be helpful for some, but I think any business should evaluate whether or not it’s actually going to be that much better for them to go to the trouble. If you don’t enjoy it and you don’t need that small increase in revenue, don’t do it. If you like connecting with customers or you’re working with a market where a phone contact might be especially important (such as extremely large items or things that appeal to older demographics), then you may have to take the phone thing a little more seriously.

    Phone customers can be a big hassle, and that hassle doesn’t always equal a lot more money. I spent several years in e-commerce, and the time and energy spent on high-maintenance phone customers definitely wasn’t worth it. The time could have been better spent developing the business in other ways.

    But of course, it’s up to each business to decide. I just hate to see people painted as bad business owners simply because they have chosen a different way of doing business. And, like the nurse in your story, customers have to decide what kind of businesses they want to work with. Some of us need a lot of support, while others would much prefer lower prices and less hand-holding.

    1. Good point. Phone support may not be cost-effective for some businesses. Email’s a viable option though and responding to queries doesn’t have to eat up a huge amount of time.

    2. I think email takes the cake on the most practical choice in this situation. Mostly it’s free and you can always expect the other person to respond ASAP.

      1. Yeah. Sifting through the junk mails that get through spam filter can get annoying sometimes. One of the downside of sharing email info online. Can’t be helped though. It’s all part and parcel of growing a business.

        1. I get tons of those every single day after I posted my email add on my blog site. I should have created a new account for that.

    3. It depends on the preferences or needs of the business and it’s clients. Whatever works best for less is an excellent choice.

  18. Companies that don’t put too much value to good customer service are unlikely to attract more customers and inspire loyalty.

    1. Networking is one of the most effective ways to find clients for any consulting or professional services business.

  19. As Lilian Watson related, you shouldn’t reserve your best behavior for special occasions. You can’t have two sets of manners, two social codes – one for those you admire and want to impress, another for those whom you consider unimportant. You must be the same to all people.

    1. The two-faced act is bound to be exhausting. Besides, customers are more discerning than some businesses think they are. It’s pointless to try fool them when honesty work best.

  20. Not all online businesses can spare time and manpower for email or phone support. However, there are probably workarounds that can be explored.

  21. Got any updates on next year’s Humongo Nation tour up your sleeve, Jeremy? I am gunning to make it to their next list.

    1. I’m more interested with the Affiliate Summit West free pass, accommodation, etc. that Jeremy mentioned he’d be giving away soon.

  22. Nice article. It’s a good reminder for me to go the extra mile in responding to customer inquiries.

    1. It’s just sad that sometimes some site visitors or customers abuse the email or phone services that companies offer.

  23. I think it all goes back to the human element. Sometimes, if you are an internet company, you forget that your customers are people. What I mean by that is e-mail is one step removed from face to face contact, or telephone contact. And since you don’t actually see your customers face to face, and sometimes your cashflow is automated, then it’s sometimes easy to forget that your website should cater to actual human beings.

  24. Making time to answer questions is a great way to encourage customer engagement. Word of mouth is a powerful marketing approach. Negative feedback is something businesses try to avoid.

  25. This is very timely. I’ll be launching my online business soon and it’ll do me a lot of good to keep the tips you shared in mind.

  26. If you’re not taking maximum advantage of web technology like high-speed emails, mailing lists and other stuff to market your professional services, you are behind the times, and missing out on huge opportunities.

  27. Interesting read. I’m picking a lot of useful tips not just from your post but from some of the comments as well.

  28. Emails and web ( ajax chat are the best but for some users phone is proof of quality of the customer services.

  29. Love the post but its pretty much way off.

    The internet is far from saturated
    and lots of times you cant have a phone number because people that run the sites are at work which is the beauty of the internet.

    The time you spend answering a phone call to make a $50 sale could be better spent on setting up a ppc campaign or SEO campaign to make 100 $50 sales.

    So you have to think in terms of ROI and using your time effectively.

    1. I don’t think it’s “way off,” but I agree with your last point that you have to think about your ROI. If you’re at the point where you can handle phone support, you should consider it and at least test it out to see if it makes a positive impact on sales and customer satisfaction.

      1. It does make an impact on sales and is a well known fact.

        For many businesses just having phone number on can increase sales even when people dont phone.
        The safety and comfort factor.

        But you have to factor many things in before you just say put a phone number on the site and its way off from a hard and fast rule.

  30. I’m a fan of the chat box for customer service. I can get an immediate response without having to use the phone. Side note: I once wore a tuxedo shirt as part of a wedding party.

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