Photo appears courtesy of Liz West. Guest blogging for the Aurora EDI Alliance is Nathan Camp of Liaison Technologies. I was intent on making this last holiday season a time of reflection and peace. I would not succumb to witty advertising campaigns inducing me to spend money on needless gifts. But then those brilliant marketers at a sky-rocketing start-up called Corkcicle overcame my ability to say no. I had bought Corkcicle’s products during the summer so I knew how well their products converted my garage-warmed bottles into delightfully consumable beverages within a few minutes. This was a vast improvement over ice-in-a-glass. I knew my friends would love these products too. So when I received the offer email on Black Friday talking about the pending Cyber Monday deal, I knew I would be ordering.
- Monday Morning – I received the email that the deal was on. I headed to work with the intention of placing my orders that night.
- Monday Night– Corkcicle sent me the reminder email. I tried to place an order on my iPad.
- During the first attempt, the order failed at the credit card authorization.
- I, unlike many others, tried again. This time I placed an order successfully.
- Although I didn’t receive an order confirmation, I decided to add a second order.
- Still no order confirmations came through. I thought there was something going wrong with the eCommerce site. But then again, it could be I entered another email. I decided to look the next day.
- Tuesday – No order confirmation. No billing. No emails as promised. I added a calendar entry for Wednesday to check on this.
- Wednesday – I got my order shipped notices. Two orders at full price. Whoa, what just happened? I knew I had to call Corkcicle and get this billing issue fixed.
- Thursday– I had a great call with Corkcicle’s support team and they issued a credit to my card, but my confidence in Corkcicle’s systems and processes was shaken. The experience also left me asking:
- how elastic were their systems?
- what were they doing to secure my data and credit card information?
- what was happening with their sales channels?
- were their other retailers/resellers being affected by Corkcicle’s data integration issues?
Stephen Bruner, Partner at Corkcicle, responded to my emails within an hour. In the midst of the holiday season, he took the time to both apologize and quell my concerns, and he shared with me the root cause of their Cyber Monday issues as, “We did have a setting that was incidentally turned off in preparation for Cyber Monday that had simply turned off confirmation emails from being sent. I can assure you that our systems are all using up to date and robust security and data transfer methodology. This was just the result of a costly human error.”
Over the holidays, I provided these Corkcicle packages to my friends, and they loved them. But this episode also reminded me of four obvious statements around successful eCommerce systems. And it’s now, in between seasons, where we can prepare and act, with enough time to make corrections and adjustments to guarantee a flawless 2014 shopping season.
Have A Plan
This needs to be a holistic approach to your customer experience.
- Know how you will find customers, or better, how you can help them find you.
- Identify all available sales and marketing channels. Actively nurture your referral and reseller partnerships. Assess performance and reward excellence.
- Provide your customers with everything they need to make an informed decision about you and your products. This means a clean, well designed Web site, video content and tutorials, easy access to knowledgeable salespeople, client testimonials, and a simple ordering process.
- Have a return merchandise process in place. Monitor out-sourced operations closely. If returning faulty or unwanted products is harder than ordering the products initially, you will lose repeat business.
- Share your data broadly. You will be sharing your customer information and ordering history with your fulfillment providers, to payment gateway services, to your financial/ERP software, to your CRM systems, to your marketing automation solutions, and your supply chains. Make sure you have access to your data, and that you have a means to reformat that data for all other systems. Middleware technologies, like Liaison Delta and ECS, are vital for this.
- Share your customer data securely. Target’s data breach of up to 40 million debit and credit cards has been a staggering blow to consumer confidence for this retail giant. Since your eCommerce operations will be exchanging valuable customer information with other systems and companies, you must have a plan in place on how to make only the necessary information available to the necessary resources. Tokenizing customer details like credit card numbers, account numbers, names, phone numbers, addresses, or other sensitive information is vital. This will allow your customer support to access customer details without the risk of compromising this data through error, negligence, or theft.
- Share your customer data consistently. Data cleansing is a vital task. This should include address, phone, and email validation services from companies like Service Objects in my town home town of Santa Barbara, CA or Melissa Data, also in CA. Using validation services as new orders are being placed will reduce shipping packages to the wrong addresses, help you recognize fraudulent activity, and/or will de-duplicate customer contact information before it is shared across your systems. As an example, Richard Smith, Rich Smith, Dick Smith all have the same phone number of 805-882-0536, and are quite likely the same person. They should not show up three times in your CRM system.
- Build in elasticity. Remember this commercial where the eBiz company exceeds their sales expectations? One other consequence to such success is that their IT infrastructure can crash. Virtualized machines with proper back-up, software as a service (SaaS), or completely Cloud-based managed services are very viable options for you to explore and adopt.
Stick To The Plan
Once your plan is in place, stick to it. Of course there will be exceptions and changes to the plan, but any changes should be carefully articulated, reviewed/scrutinized/approved, and documented in your living plans.
It goes without saying, but having separate environments for development, test, staging, production, and disaster recovery processes and environments is a best business practice and a sound investment. As my friends at Corkcicle discovered, a single, small change introduced to a system at the eleventh hour and forty-five minutes can have very unintentional, costly consequences. Just like pilots going through their flight checks, it’s vital for you to test your end-to-end processes before leaving the gate. Test the process in your sandbox environments first. Then retest every change you make in these systems. Do your tests internally. Do your tests externally. Call up your least technical relative and have them order from your Web site. Test the system again. Don’t trip because someone forgot to turn on the light for you.
Have A Backup Plan
As the Sochi Olympics approach, buzz and attention are being focused on Lyndsey Vonn’s announcement that she will not compete next month. Lyndsey Vonn’s Olympic Supporter, Procter & Gamble, had made a huge bet on her star power as key to their 2014 marketing plan. Part of the plan building process should also include predefined contingencies that have undergone the same rigorous reviews of the initial plan. Identifying and anticipating system and process vulnerabilities is hard. Hiring professionals to help you identify and develop emergency response processes and procedures is money wisely invested. In addition, being able to recover from the unexpected requires a company-wide culture which expects excellent delivery to a customer from day one, with everyone in your organization ready and prepared to do what is necessary to give your clients the best treatment each and every time they place their confidence in you.
I know that Corkcicle believes in their plans deeply. Their deft recovery from an important stumble means more of my friends should be expecting Corkcicles and Chilsners in their stockings next year.