Any selling relationship has a lot to do with trust. A salesperson needs to be able to listen, to understand the buyer's situation, and to know his or her product; vendor name and experience also help break down barriers to doing business.
In online sales, trust can be even more important—because a buyer isn't touching a product, or looking a salesperson in the face. People go through a lot of stress when they buy online, explains Josh Norman, president of AFA Stores, a 1-year-old home furnishings and housewares retailer. The site features more than 10,000 items with an average sale of $400 to $500, Norman says; some of his customers pay upward of $2,000 for a bed set. So trust is what relieves the stress of purchasing decisions.
"One of the most effective ways we are able to add comfort and trust to the customer's experience is by constantly talking to our customers--not only before and after a purchase is made, but after the delivery is made as well," Norman says. AFA calls and asks whether customers received what they ordered, and whether they were pleased. Norman explains why: "You not only leave the customer feeling confident about their purchase and your company, you also learn about your business--and some things you may be able to improve on."
I asked him to explain how the retailer builds trust with his customers. Here are a few of his key strategies.
"Make sure you're there to answer the phone--and if you don't answer the phone, respond within half an hour of the call. Respond to all emails within one hour. We are open 9 to 6, Monday through Saturday, for anybody who calls and we guarantee an hour response time for any email. We do this not only because there is a lot of competition in our business, but because we want to make sure these customers come back, refer other people and feel secure with their decision. A lot of our competitors do have large sites up--but they don't have a dedicated person there to answer the phone.
Be the Experts
"All of our customer service representatives who answer the phone come from a furniture background in retail or wholesale, so they have the expertise to answer the customers' questions. [Customers] can ask questions about the finish of the product, who manufactures it, where it's made. This allows the customer to feel comfortable with the decision: knowing that our customer service people have the knowledge to answer any question they have."
"Give the customer an option to return the product within 30 days for any reason. For example, if [something is] damaged [and] they call and report that within two days, they can return it."
Norman says he had a 30 percent increase in business each month over the first year of his business. He believes a quick response, industry product knowledge and a strong return policy are critical for building trust--and having happy customers come back.