5 ways your online customer experience sucks and is costing you sales – lessons from a trip to Quebec

by on June 27, 2011

Supporting a small business

Enjoying a B&B - Ile d'Orleans, Quebec

I was just recently on holiday in Quebec with my mom. One of my favourite things about traveling is supporting all kinds of different small businesses while I’m on the road, from bed and breakfasts, to restaurants to small shops and attractions. That’s all part of the travel experience for me.

As I was on my trip, I was actively searching out small businesses, and a lot of that searching was done on the internet. And of course, I have some lessons to share with you, my fellow entrepreneurs. The following mistakes made my online experience difficult, and in many cases resulted in me not buying from the business. Don’t let this happen to you!

Making your web usability easier for you, not for your customers

This is a common mistake that I have seen time and time again. Small business owners choosing processes that make their lives easier, but actually make things more difficult for their customers.

My trip was very last minute – I was waiting for the hockey playoffs to finish (yes, I’m a huge hockey fan and yes, what happened in Vancouver broke my heart, in more ways than one) and we were flying standby thanks to tix from my sister who works for Air Canada. Given that, we had absolutely no accommodation arrangements made. So we had to quickly find some bed and breakfasts. I headed to Google.

Due to the last minute nature of the our search, what I was looking for was bed and breakfasts that could tell me right away whether or not they had availability, via an online reservation system. I did not have the time to be making dozens of phone calls or waiting for a response to an email. Well, the great majority of the websites I visited did not have an online booking form. So, I moved on to the next.

Now certainly for the business owner, the email and phone call route is easier. You don’t have to purchase and plugin an online booking program. You don’t have to keep it updated. But what’s easier for you is irrelevant if it’s not also easier for your customers. Yes, the online booking form is an investment. But if that’s what your customers want, it’s well worth the time and expense.

False promises

I’m going to give most businesses the benefit of the doubt, and say that this is an honest mistake. But it’s detrimental when you promise something and don’t deliver.

I went to the Facebook page of one business, and they offered a special discount to those who liked their page and processed their booking right on Facebook. I was all over that! Sweet, a small business that is working social media to their advantage. The problem? There actually wasn’t a discount. I just got the same price as I did on their website. Needless to say, I was outta there pronto. Had there been no mention of the discount, I would have most likely continued on with my booking. But I didn’t like being promised a discount and then not given one. So I left. And being pressed for time, I didn’t bother contacting the business to let them know about my experience.

False promises can happen accidentally if  you have changed your policies or offerings, but have forgotten to scour your website and social media profiles to find and delete any mentions of what used to be the case. Make sure that your deliver on your promises, no matter how small. Period.

How do I find you?

If you run a business that has an actual physical location that your customers go to, you absolutely must have a map on your website (that you have a website is a given here people!). It’s not enough to just have the address. And while you’re at it, make it a Google map. People like having an interactive map that they can adjust, especially if they are not totally familiar with your neighbourhood and need to figure out how to get to you.

Now does your business cater to out of town customers or tourists? You’re going to have to take things one step further by offering directions by car and by public transit. And please don’t cop out by providing a link to your local public transit provider. Figure out the most common route, and give instructions. This will take you about 5 minutes.

I came across several websites that simply listed the address. As a tourist, the address meant nothing to me. Yes, I could have whipped out my map and tried to find the street. Did I? I think you know the answer.

Twitter silence

I sent out 2 tweets prior to my trip asking for recommendations for bed and breakfasts and restaurants. I got only one response – and the business didn’t have a website, so I wasn’t able to figure out where they were or learn more about why I should give them my business.

Can you see the missed opportunity here? I was actively looking for these types of businesses and ready to spend my money with them. I gave them an opportunity to reach out to me and sell me on their business. And imagine if they had offered me a special Twitter discount. Pretty good chance I would have checked them out, don’t you think?

If your small business offers a service or product that is of interest to a wide variety of people either in your local area or worldwide, Twitter search is an invaluable way to keep tabs on people looking for what you do. (Not sure how to do a Twitter search? Here are the details including a how-to video.)

Scrimping on details

Your customers want it all. They want to know as much as possible about your business and that’s why they’re on your website or online profile. Think carefully about what they want and give it to them.

Some examples from my trip. No photos of the rooms on a bed and breakfast website. A Facebook promotion that was difficult to understand and did not give enough details. An address without a map or directions.

In your quest to be succinct, are you actually not giving enough information and leaving your customers confused or with doubts? A great indicator of where you may have some information gaps is from questions that your customers ask. In the Facebook promotion I mentioned above, the only way I was able to figure it out was that someone had posted on the wall asking for a further explanation. This should have been a red flag to the business that the promotion was not clear enough.

So now, on to you. What online experiences have you had with a business that ended up with you not buying their stuff? What steps have you taken in your small business to make it as easy as possible on your customers? Share your tips and experiences – it helps us all to learn!

Comments, likes and tweets are always appreciated! Did I mention that I LOVE your feedback?


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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

J.D. Meier July 1, 2011 at 11:22 pm

Your insights resonate and it looks like your trip helped light up these lessons.


Martina July 5, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Thanks for stopping by J.D.!


Debbie September 2, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Hi Martina, I’ve been on your site reading for the last few hours and I love, love, love all your info! You are to the point, very clear and I’m looking forward to much more info and guidance from you. You’re giving me great ideas and I will be looking at our current website from a different angle with a plan on making it work to it’s full potential. Loved the FAB info, I will be sharing it will my instructors next week.
Thanks so much, Debbie


Martina September 6, 2011 at 8:22 am

Really appreciate your kind words Debbie! SO glad that you’re finding the info useful. Great to have you here 🙂


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