Practical Ecommerce

Treat Customers as Next-door Neighbors

People often ask me where I learned so much about ecommerce and business in general. I didn’t attend business school, nor do my college degrees reflect what I do today. Besides being book smart and having been raised “old school,” I accumulated the majority of my knowledge from experience, logical thinking and learning from others.

This all leads me to a need to reflect on someone recently lost by the ecommerce community — someone who played a role in who I am, and why I do what I do. Luray Williams was my first partner in the ecommerce community. Coming from different backgrounds, we butted heads as often as we partook in total agreement.

Remembering Luray Williams

That’s a good thing because it meant we both spun ideas based on what we knew, and ultimately found a method that would work for most of our clients. Sometimes I called on him just to tell me I was wrong, because Luray was a brilliant man whose goal was to be simply human when it came to dealing with people. He didn’t like using highly technical words and corporate-speak because the majority of customers with whom he dealt would never have understood that kind of communication.

Which brings me to why, this month, I chose to memorialize someone in a column that usually focuses on the goal of providing insight on how to run a functional, usable online store.

The fact is, we can learn a great deal from those close to us. Being successful does not mean a person sits down to write technical outlines or tries to follow the big dogs who use multi-million dollar strategies from people many of us would likely never have the opportunity to collaborate with.

Success is about interacting with real people — our customers — and learning from our own mistakes. It’s also about translating real-life experiences to a business model, and I’ve found when we do this, we come up with grand ideas that are tailored to our own needs.

Luray wasn’t the absolute best at what he did; no one is. Yet his determination to interact on a human level with customers made him successful. I’ve received scores of comments about him these past weeks, and one, offered up by Wrenae at, summed up the bulk of them: “(Luray) was my one source of help and humor when I started using Miva years ago. He developed all my original modules and answered my volume of dumb questions with a laugh while his birds talked in the background. While I never met Luray in person, I considered Luray a friend, and I mourn the loss of his knowledge and his dry wit.”

Customers want great service

Just as he’s remembered quite vividly because of this practice, so are many businesses. Customers will remember great experiences just as well as they’ll remember bad ones. A great customer experience speaks volumes about a business — it has a chain effect as the customer recommends the company to others, which by far produces a better return on dollars spent on conversions than any advertising campaign. After all, the customer spent money to obtain that interaction; you actually profited from it, and if you carry that torch forward, the interaction will continue to generate profit in the time to come.

I see just as many “wanting-to-grow” sites with poor design and lacking navigation ease as I do sites modeled after huge corporate offerings. And neither of those work. Customers don’t want to be treated like idiots, and they certainly don’t want to feel like idiots. Every online store, from its shopability to customer service, needs to find a happy medium, so it can speak to customers like they’re next-door neighbors. This is what forges relationships that last much longer than a single order from a single person.

When you take your next sit-down to discuss changes in your site or company operations, think about the people you know — your family, your friends — and how they might address a totally different situation. Then tailor that response to your own model. Follow it through with logical thinking, and you can reach that human interaction level online shoppers — even if they don’t say it (heck, they might not even know it) — are vying to experience.

Pamela Hazelton

Pamela Hazelton

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  1. Legacy User February 23, 2007 Reply

    I completely agree with this article. Technology is great, however, so often business’s seem to take out the human factor from the equation. Small companies complain that their lack of financing does not allow them to have creative operations. Whilst, larger corporations seem to get so caught up in micro management of their people that no creativity is ever really 'genuinely creative'. Then worst of all there the companies and their man power that seem to think that their approach to customer service is far superior to the comments gained by the “actual” customer.

    Today so many of the X & Y generations are expecting to be treated like real people rather then just the money they bring to the profit margins. And if companies fail to meet the needs of the X & Y generation, they will lose force in their industry. Because what many companies do not seem tot understand that the X & Y generation is very empowered!

    Mr. Luray Williams. I wish there were more people out there like him!

    — *Kimberley Woelich*

  2. Legacy User February 20, 2007 Reply

    It's quite true that no one knows everything. We have to listen. We don't always have to agree. We have to consider options. In today's frantic world, any site that can make life easier and give you what you seek at a price that makes sense is on the launching pad of success. I have certainly learned plenty the hard way. That seems to be what sticks best of all.

    — *Karen Gross*

  3. Legacy User February 20, 2007 Reply

    I think as an E-trepreneur or E-firm, one of the most important aspects of your company is your website, which is your main platform for offering services or goods to your customers. I was once riding in a car with an ex-lover a few years ago, and she was looking for a dress for a special event. We landed at a strip mall in Charlotte, N.C. — there sat two relatively similar stores with the exception that one was known for less pricier offerings and the other a bit upscale. I suggested we visit the "discount" retailer first, and she responded that she would rather shop at the more expensive store because being able to locate what you need at the discounter was very difficult — "they got crap all over the place, you can't tell which size is which and the sales associates do not care," she said.
    Moral of the day — price alone will not give you a leg up on the competition. A site's ease of use and customer service are just as important.

    — *Frank Dappah*