I'm going to share a story with you about an interesting company with a fantastic product... and a business-killing marketing and fulfillment side that is keeping them from being a great company. Then I'll give you 6 tips you can use to avoid repeating these sadly common mistakes.
Over the holiday season, I made a wonderful discovery of a very cool knit hat company. They make 'critter' toques of all varieties of animals: donkeys, raccoons, tigers, cats, dogs, floppy dogs... even skunks! Their hats sport a signature, unique look, and come with available matching mittens. Think sock monkey zoo.
These hats are crazy, fun, attention-getting, hilarious, and inexpensive to boot. I was immediately smitten and emerged from one of my favorite Vancouver shops - Bang On, on Robson Street - having metamorphosed into... what else? An ass. A donkey for you folks who get the other word confused with swearing.
My toque (interestingly, according to Merriam Webster's Online Dictionary, it can also be spelled as 'tuque') proved a magnificent purchase right from the start. It prompted conversation with strangers. It triggered smiles from passers by. It entertained many small children. Imagine my delight, strolling the Robsonstrasse, wearing the ass hat.
There was only one small problem. I was heartbroken.
Why, you ask? Why, because I really really really wanted the skunk hat the store fellow was wearing, having snagged the one and only out of the mixed box sent by the hat company.
I begged him to sell it to me. I offered to pay more, even though it was pre-worn, in fact, more skunky. All to no avail. It's the first time I've ever considered mugging someone for an article of clothing, Ed Hardy be damned.
There I was, standing amid masses of people, feeling exactly like I looked: an ass.
And then it occurred to me! The hat had a label, identifying it as a Knit Wit creation. AHA! I could google the company, and maybe order my favorite hat online! The first available opportunity I checked it out. And got my first disappointment.
Man, were they hard to find. I could find some of their distributors - barely... it seems there's a lot of knitwits around these days - but not the corporate site. I'm normally a 2 minutes or less searching kind of gal so they had me flummoxed for a bit. Through much ferreting around I discovered there was a secret handshake required for Google: Delux Knitwit. Finally.
There they were, if you really looked and didn't skip right past it:
d e L u x. knitwits.
Useless title, strange capitalization, no description, no keywords, nothing. Wow, even their SEO person is a nitwit, I thought to myself.
I clicked on the link. You should too.
Cute little faces in squares, sort of like Hollywood Squares, without the famous people and funny lines. Or the KnitWit Brady Bunch. NOTHING that said or showed what the company does on the front page. Not even an email address.
I thought, Oh! Maybe that's what those other links are. I clicked on 'About'.
Nope, nothing that says what they ARE or what their company DOES. It says what these mysterious somethings are made from, and the wonderful qualities of the whatever-they-ares, but not one word about toques, hats, chapeaus, or any other manner of calling an ass an ass HAT.
Oh well. I still LOVED my toque, and still desperately wanted a skunk toque, and still wanted to tell these KnitWits about how cool I thought their company was, how I wanted to blog about them, how I had a dozen Bang On cards in my pocket to hand out to anyone who asked about why I was (wearing) an ass for a hat, and maybe could I give out their cards too?
I found their email address and wrote them a short but passionate letter including the above. I asked if they had ever considered making some West Coast animals, like seals, or otters or even octopi. I raved about KnitWits. I WAS a nitwit about their product. I begged them to sell me a skunk knitwit directly, since Bang On told me they just got a mixed box and it would be hard to tell if any store had one in stock as the types weren't 'ordered' per se.
And here was the second, and much bigger disappointment. Someone named Sabrina wrote me back and perfunctorily pointed out that no, they don't drop-ship, and hey, here's a pdf list of the stores that carry the hats. No hi, nice to meet you, thanks for writing, we're so glad you love our crazy hats. No response to the other parts of my message.
No job title or contact information. Was this an assistant knitwit, or was I dealing with the Grand Poohbah Delux Knitwit? No way of telling, and I usually have my wits about me.
It was deflating to say the least. My ass hat felt more like an Eeyore than a jaunty heel-kicking happy-go-lucky kind of ass.
I still love it. Deep in my heart of hearts, I still yearn for the skunk hat (which in retrospect seems a strangely symbiotic illustration of KnitWit's customer service and marketing model). I confess I still want to love this company... to be a raving fan, to be a joyful knitwit as it were, but that sentiment is languishing somewhere along with Sabrina's email.
And that is the story of how a company with a great product missed out on being a great company.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO AVOID THESE MISTAKES:
- Make sure your web site has a good title, description and keywords and that you can be easily found.
- Describe what you do for us ordinary folk. Don't make us guess. It's also good for your search engine rankings.
- Have a clear policy on your site for how people can buy your products. Don't make them ask for the list of stores via email... have the list there and downloadable NOW.
- RESPOND fast to any passionate communication. That customer is just dying to buy your product and tell everyone they know that they did or is a raging inferno only you can transform into a cheery little hearth fire.
- Include your job title and contact information in your signature. Make it easy for people to talk with you.
- Thank the writer for their interest in your product. How about "We're so glad you love our hats!" It starts the conversation off on the right foot.