Web checklist for services firms
Wednesday, November 26, 2008/
The web is more critical for providers of services than to their product counterparts. CRAIG REARDON
By Craig Reardon
By their nature, services are a completely different beast to most other industries due to their inability to be inspected the way a product or property can be. As such they rely heavily on a range of “tangiblising” devices to provide as much evidence of their quality, reliability and value as possible.
To this end, the internet is more valuable to providers of services than other industries, as it can provide information faster, more widely, more graphically and ultimately more cheaply than any other medium.
This “on demand” evidence of one’s capabilities can lead to fast online sales. The fact that airline and other travel bookings are one of the earliest sectors to embace and succeed in e-commerce speaks volumes on what’s possible.
Add unprecedented capabilities like “last minute” offering of unsold offerings and it isn’t outlandish to say that the web has changed the marketing face of many service industries.
But not all services providers are created equal. For example, the online needs of an airline differ markedly from those of a plumber. And those of an agency business are fundamentally different to those in the medical profession.
To this end we’ll look at common ground this week, and examine the different needs of specific providers shortly in more coverage next week.
But for now, a list of the online needs that most service providers have, or should have, in common.
1/ We “tangiblise” our services using evidence such as testimonials, reviews, results and other data.
The intangibility of services is the stuff of marketing 101. So how can the web provide all important evidence of the quality of one’s services? As the web grows in both speed and capability, new ways of proving one’s worth are being uncovered on a regular basis.
If the result of your service provision is visual, the web’s immediacy can provide unprecedented ways of demonstrating results via photography and video. Content management systems allow you to add your latest work to your online gallery or portfolio.
Even if not so visual, a ringing endorsement from a customer speaks louder than an impressive gallery. And now thanks to eBay, Amazon and their web 2.0 ilk, customer reviews are now commonplace. Of course a video on YouTube comprising both customer comments, demonstrations and graphical depictions of results is not only strong evidence of one’s capabilities, but is also viral as both web surfers and search engine “bots” discover the footage and act on it.
2/ We bundle our services for fast and easy purchase.
An obstacle to purchasing services is the delay between briefing on requirements, allowing for estimate evaluation and subsequent response. But all this can be avoided if you can bundle your services into flat rate packages.
Smart service providers organise their products into easy to comprehend packages, which apart from providing a clear indication of the end result, are able to be enhanced with added features or services.
For example my firm offers search engine marketing services. We started off in typical “brief and quote” fashion without much uptake. However since we bundled it into a clear and measurable package, it has not only become one of our most popular services but is seamless to order and pay for – increasing both sales and cashflow.
At first this approach may seem untenable for your style of service. But by thinking outside the square you may discover some packages that are ideal to promote via your website.
3/ We blog.
One problem larger organisations have is working out who the blogger should be – a problem smaller firms don’t have as “service champions” are usually obvious and communication stakeholders less protective.
There’s no doubt blogging about your area of expertise takes time and discipline – as my wife would attest to after constantly finding me piecing together my latest SmartCompany blog at some wee hour. But the pay-off is significant. Since starting this blog I have expanded my business’s market to most states of Australia whereas previously it was at best statewide. Similarly it has attracted clients with larger budgets than before.
And as outlined in an earlier article, you can repurpose content for both of e-newsletters and your own website.
4/ We have an online briefing form.
A web commandment for all businesses is to take your customer as far down the purchase path as you can online. Apart from packaging services above, the next best option for services firms is to include a comprehensive briefing form on your website. This allows you to capture all the information you need to respond as quickly as possible, avoiding the dreaded and costly phone tag and beating your competitors to the punch.
Many good content management systems have survey or form builders “built in” and are worth their weight in gold.
5/ We freshen up our website with service news and information.
It’s amazing the number of business of all types that treat their website like a brochure. That is, they spend time planning, preparing and creating the website and then leave it there to fester and become the proverbial “billboard in cyberspace”.
But from both of a promotional and technical perspective, it is imperative to update your website with your news and information as regularly as possible. Promotionally, it keeps your website fresh and allows repeat visitors to find out more about services they may not be aware of.
It also is a “good look” to have something new and interesting on your pages when they next return – providing a perception of currency, professionalism and attention to detail. From a technical perspective, search engine bots reward changing sites by visiting more regularly and indexing more content – leading to a higher ranking.
6/ We are members of online communities.
One of the best kept secrets of web 2.0 (and something that will be covered here next week) are special interest groups that reside in social and professional networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook.
These groups offer one of the very first forms of community on the web – the discussion thread. These threads (once you get through all the self promotional dross) are often provided by members looking for services that you may be able to provide.
In recent weeks I’ve quoted on our first two e-marketing projects in the US as a direct result of these discussion threads. While I am yet to convert one, I feel it is just a matter of time before we do.
To find out more, click on the “groups” tab inside your network and search for special interest groups pertinent to your business.
Next time I’ll look at the special needs of more specific providers of services, such as quotation based services, appointment based services, tourism, travel and accommodation, agents and intermediaries, and events.
And as services businesses are so diverse in offerings, it seemed inappropriate to present the above as a list that readers could “score” their business against, as past lists have done. But each reader should be able to get a feel for whether their online offering meets these priorities.
Craig Reardon is a leading eBusiness educator and founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which provide the gamut of ‘pre-built’ website solutions, technologies and services to SMEs in Melbourne and beyond. www.theeteam.com.au