Sell Softly on the ‘Net
Sometimes a little back porch advice can go a long way, according to officials at a number of e-commerce sites that have added “ask-the-expert” forums to their marketing mix.
Based on the premise that friendly answers to Web cruisers’ questions can lead only to new business, some catalogers created online advice forums that add a human voice to their Web images, while also growing revenues.
As you’ve probably surmised, ask-the-expert forums — Q&A pages where customers go to post questions and get answers from a company expert — are simple to set up. A Web designer posts a picture of a company expert on an ask-the-expert page, adds a little background text detailing the employee’s knowledge, and an online virtuoso is born. Web site visitors are invited to post questions, and before you can say “return on investment,” the domain is off and running.
While setting up such a service for your site takes relatively minimal resources, your payback can be substantial. According to Internet marketing analysts, the best ask-the-expert services can generate multiple, ever-growing communities around a Web site — communities that represent an enthusiastic following of pre-qualified, potential customers who often become volunteer catalog evangelists in the process. Following are some examples:
NB Web Express (www.nbwebexpress.com), a Web site that sells New Balance athletic gear, offers a sophisticated, multi-step, ask-the-expert domain that considerably narrows a shopper’s questions before the queries are e-mailed to a company expert for answering.
Conney.com, an online cataloger specializing in workplace safety products, sports an ask-the-expert domain that enables shoppers to get answers by e-mail or via a supplemental online archive.
CablesToGo.com, a connectivity solutions provider, offers live and e-mail ask-the-expert help.
How to Get Started
Often, ask-the-expert services start out as extremely low-maintenance projects, with the Web designer manually uploading questions and answers onto Web pages every few days. But once traffic starts building, companies generally upgrade to bulletin board software designed to automatically maintain such forums. By using such software and services, people can come and go, post questions and answers, and start conversations based on the ask-the-expert Q&A — all with virtually no intervention from your IT department.