One area of services marketing that is, I believe, neglected, is that of online services marketing. A little concerning considering the massive presence professional services currently hold in the online realm. (A discussion for another post.)
Just as human professional services must be branded, so should online professional services. And at this point, I must mention the fact that we’re not just talking good customer service here. We’re talking about service provision that explicitly reinforces a company’s brand.
Here are 5 items I feel will help in accomplishing this very thing:
1. Align your online service provision process with your human service provision process.
Have you ever received perfectly branded service, beginning to end, at a dry cleaner, convenience store, independent medical facility, or legal firm, only to get home, bring up their website, and realize that it must merely have been an afterthought? A token? Kind of deflates the compelling nature of the otherwise perfectly branded service, doesn’t it? Avoid this. Be sure that brand-building initiatives that have become a part of your personal service over time are also applied to your online service.
2. Brand every step of the service provision.
Do your account confirmation emails contain links to your site aside from the confirmation link? Do they promote all areas of your site/service? Are your transaction screens branded? Even if you’re using a third-party checkout process, be sure that your company’s website template has been i-framed in, or at very least, the third-party site contains your logo and a link to your home page. Be sure that every step of your online service includes not just logos and links, but also unique processes and “motifs” that pertain explicitly to your brand.
3. Provide an easy way out of the transaction process that points directly back to you.
Think about the last time you were performing an online transaction and you forgot your wallet, ID#, purchase login, etc. Perhaps you simply forgot a detail found elsewhere on the website that was necessary in order to continue with the transaction. Whatever the situation may be, you probably had to exit the transaction process temporarily.
Some sites kill all “distracting” links (a.k.a. “exits”) within the transaction process in order to make it challenging for a client to discontinue a transaction. (Amazon.com is a perfect example.) Not a good idea. While I can appreciate the fact that companies want for clients to complete the transactions they started (or invest in shares of stock or request legal services or order a pizza), clients should not be made to feel like they are locked in a one-way path through a sewer well. This only frustrates the client, and because there is no readily-accessible, local, branded escape, the client often simply enters a new URL in the address bar.
4. Have life-rafts available.
One of the beauties of online service provision is that of comparatively low overhead. One server can take care of service provision for hundreds, thousands, or millions of clients online. But what happens when a client has questions? What happens when a client has a truly unique situation? What happens when one of the trademarks of your human service provision is that of a unique experience for every client? (I hope it is!) While it is common for a website to dynamically create user-specific content page after page, there are times when a client simply needs to have a discussion…with a human being. Don’t seek low overhead at the exclusion of humans altogether. Provide a 24-hour 800-number, a chat option, or at a bare minimum, a branded customer service email address with an auto-response that contains helpful information.
5. Brand your site construction.
Smashing Magazine covers this issue in great detail here with 9 ways to handle 404 errors on your website.
Have you observed memorable online professional services marketing (good or bad)? Good customer service aside, what methods of online services branding have you witnessed to be most effective?