Web site credibility: Are you promising something you can’t deliver?

Does your web site promise more to customers than it can deliver? This week I’ve had two situations in which giant corporations failed to fulfill the customer promises that are implicit in features they offer on their web sites. If the likes of Sears and NationalGrid are getting it wrong, it stands to reason that many small businesses are too.

In the first instance, the in-store inventory system on Sears’ web site proved to be hugely unreliable. When we got to the store where – according to the web site – there should have been plenty of inventory on the air conditioner we were purchasing, there were none. The store clerk told us the online inventory system was rarely correct and that if it said there were fewer than 12 items in stock, chances were good of finding none at all when you got to the store.

Wow. Other retailers are getting this right; why can’t Sears? Rather than routinely misleading people, they would be better off taking down their inventory system and just providing store phone numbers for people to call to inquire about inventory.

In the other case, NationalGrid’s web site offers a standard type of form for consumers to ask questions. So I wrote to ask them if they had any rebates on Energy Star air conditioners. This is a simple yes or no question that doesn’t require a ton of research. But two days later I still have received no answer, not even an autoreply that lets me know they received my question and are working to get me an answer.

This lack of speed in responding to customer queries just doesn’t cut it in a world where customers who tweet about issues they’re having get answers immediately from some companies. Comcast, for example, does an amazing job of resolving issues rapidly if you tweet about a problem you’re having. That’s the standard people measure companies by these days. In such an environment, waiting days for an answer to a very simple question just isn’t acceptable.

So let’s get back to you, the small business owner. Do you have the systems in place to fulfill the explicit or implicit promises you make on your web site? Are you able to quickly and accurately respond to consumer queries that come in through the web site? If your site is a storefront, are all items shipped within the timeframe promised? If you offer some type of guarantee, is that always honored without a lot of hassle to the customer?

Failure to back up your online promises can have a huge negative effect on your company’s reputation in an interconnected world where consumers can give bad reviews on numerous review sites or  trash you on Facebook, Twitter or other social media. Messing up is just not an option so make sure you have the systems and procedures in place to provide quality customer service via your web site at all times.

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