The customer’s digital journey is often supposed to begin with an inquiry on the website's landing page, to be followed up by eager salespeople acting on the lead who then seal the sale.
However, recent experience on several sides of the equation has underlined how totally obsolete this approach is and how it has been consigned to the spam or nuisance category and ignored and never acted on.
The result is frustration and a wasted opportunity unless, of course, the business has so much work that it can afford to ignore inquiries. But this is probably not the case, so the conclusion is that many companies are missing out on sales because they are just too lazy to act on their inquiries, or their systems are so poor that they never even receive the message.
To explain my case, I needed some work done to the outside courtyard at my home, where the sandstone pavers are old and covered in a layer of mold that no amount of regular cleaning seems able to budge.
The solution, apart from re-paving, is to get in the professionals or hire some appropriate equipment and do it myself.
This led to a major internet search that turned up several companies offering these services in the local area. It also showed me the best equipment to hire if that was the chosen route.
Of those companies offering services where professional staff would come and do the job, none had a telephone number where they could be contacted.
Most appeared to be franchised businesses with local operators. It was explained that the closest operator would be in touch upon filling out the inquiry form and inserting the appropriate contacts.
Forms were dutifully filled out and sent, explaining the issue and requesting help. Not even follow-up emails several days later brought a response. The score was a miserable zero out of inquiries sent to five companies.
The situation was no better with hire companies, even though some had phone numbers. The people on the end of the phone had absolutely no idea about the problem and could offer no help.
This resulted in a decision to get in the car and make a trip to physically visit the hire company where, it was hoped, a human being with some knowledge of the equipment might be there to converse with.
This did prove to be the case, even though the item of equipment in question — which the website told me was available at this particular outlet — was not there and wouldn’t be back and available for hire for several weeks.
While I was talking to the human staff, the phone rang. I asked him if he needed to answer it and, in a reply I found somewhat ironic, he said: “No, don’t worry about that. It’ll go through to the call center. That’ll give them something to do.”
And so ends the anecdotes about my recent experience as a customer, which leads to an example from the other side of the equation.
One of my digital ventures is a website that publishes obituaries. Called www.australianlives.com.au, the idea is that many average and ordinary Australians have lived extraordinary lives which are undocumented and remembered only by family and friends. So, the site is a place where these stories can be told.
On the advice of the developers, the site has an inquiry page. Instead of bringing in dozens of emails from people wanting to tell the life stories of family members, this channel is absolutely deluged with spam.
Most of it appears to be from self-proclaimed experts from all over the world who say they have seen the site, love it, but believe they are well placed to use their SEO skills to increase its traffic. Most, if not all, of these emails appear to be automatically generated.
In some cases, they come through as being sent by people I know; of course, this is not the case. I know this because one regular correspondent is a colleague who passed away ten years ago.
The only conclusion to be drawn from these experiences on either side of the digital buying and selling equation is that there needs to be a better way, but what is it?
On the customer side, one fix would be for the companies who fielded my inquiries to have experienced staff on hand to respond promptly. Right now, their digital inquiry channels are just leading to a black hole. It's impossible to know, but maybe they know that and don’t care.
As for the inquiries to my website, I clearly need to do more to encourage a greater response from potential customers, so there’s a whole marketing piece to be explored if and when I can take the time from the day job.
But is there anything I can do to stop my inquiry channel from being barely more than a spam magnet for bots?
If anyone has any ideas on this, send an inquiry through the site, and I’ll get back to you straight away.
Lachlan Colquhoun is the Australia and New Zealand correspondent for CDOTrends and DigitalWorkforceTrends, and the editor of NextGen Connectivity. His fascination is with how businesses are reinventing themselves through digital technology and collaborating with others to become completely new organizations. You can reach him at [email protected].
Image credit: iStockphoto/stefanamer