By Daniel Zhao, founder of StudyGate

The  online marketplace presents endless opportunities for businesses around the world. But establishing yourself both online and within your industry comes with significant hurdles due to the ever-increasing competition in the space. As a serial entrepreneur, I have identified three ways to give your online business a competitive advantage based on what has worked for me.

Focus on the quality of your product.

Your product is everything. Some people believe in pushing out a product regardless of the bugs, but in my experience, quality should come first. When people purchase a product online, whether it's a service or something physical, skepticism always plays a role. That's why transparency is a major key to creating a good product.

Due to running an online tutoring service, we leveraged our network of high-ranking academics to create a high-quality product and then showcased our network for users to easily pinpoint who we work with and what we do. Blazingly fast service figured as one of our core values for connecting with customers.

Work hard to provide the best quality possible to your users from both a website and product perspective. Both are equally important when selling online because there is no face-to-face interaction right off the bat -- or possibly even ever. First impressions are everything, which falls on the initial feeling the user gets when they enter your website.

Create a seamless platform.

To engender a positive first impression, develop a clean and easy-to-use platform. The importance of this for customer engagement and retention has been reiterated in numerous market studies. At my company, we have seen a spike in user engagement and duration of time spent on the site after making changes to enhance the user experience.

Think about the feeling you get when you enter your website and the level of effort required to navigate it. Providing a clear roadmap creates a calm and trustworthy feeling, so make your call to action (CTA) visible at first glance. Each landing page should have one specific CTA that is easy for the user to identify. 

Hone-in on your customers' pain points and address them accordingly. To create a website that addresses your customers' needs, start by listing out all the pain points and interests of consumers in your target market. Then, go through your website to check if every piece of content and information satisfies a need or interest on this list. If something doesn't, remove it from your website to keep it clean and easy to navigate.

You can also use Crazy Egg to monitor where on your site visitors are spending the most time. If there isn't a lot of activity somewhere, either update the content or replace that section with something else. We have found these methods to be extremely valuable. Keeping customer needs top of mind is vital for success, which speaks to my final point.

Prioritize customer engagement.

Your relationship with your customers is sacred. Providing support when they need it will always be a crucial element to success. My founding members and I pride ourselves on the level of commitment we have to supporting our customers. Whether it is 3 in the afternoon or 6 in the morning, we have made it a priority to give our customers around-the-clock support. When your marketplace is the world, there are no off-hours. 

It is also imperative to understand your customers and their experience from various angles in order to gain a deeper knowledge of how to improve your product or service. As a developer, I can learn a lot by asking customers how we can improve our platform and usability. My co-founder, who specializes in marketing, has learned a lot about user cases and what customers really want when purchasing a service. Every founder should take the time to talk to their customers directly, rather than handing it off to an outside party who isn't directly working with the business.

Regardless of what stage your business is in, implementing quality and timely customer care will help get your foot in the door and keep it there with your target customers.

Daniel Zhao is founder of StudyGate, an online tutoring service.

Published on: Oct 17, 2018