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Your call is important to us...

I sometimes think I've fallen into an nightmare episode of The Twilight Zone where my particular level of hell is to be consigned to listen to hold recordings until the end of time, not realizing that my life is ebbing away while badly recorded voices tell me "your call is important to us," and the "real people" promised to be at the other end never answer, because (as it's revealed in the last 15 seconds of the show) they're all cobweb-covered skeletons wearing operator headsets.

Lately, that nightmare seems to be happening more and more often and each time I think, "I never want to deal with this company again." The rash of these seemed to start when I tried to return a defective computer to Gateway. I was on hold for a full week (I'm not exaggerating) and their five minutes of endless loop pop music from the 80's nearly had me booking a flight to their corporate office, electric cattle prod in hand.

This week I was consigned to a new level of hell, namely waiting on hold for United Health Care, an insurance company that doesn't seem to understand the mental cruelty it inflicts on hold will mean more doctor visits.

Every thirty seconds, a woman with an accent that made Sue on Survivor sound positively classy would intone, "Your call is important to us. Please wait for the next available operator to assist you."

Of course, if my call was really important, wouldn't they answer faster? The problem with her saying that over and over is that each time she did, I'd think it was the operator and get all set to talk. In between her useless interrupts, a man with a slickly professional voice was extolling the virtue of peanuts, excitedly explaining that they weren't nuts at all, but legumes! (In case I hadn't heard him the first 22 times I'd heard the same message.)

My dream is to force one of the executives at these companies to spend as long as I have on hold, and listen to these badly recorded messages. Then they'd realize the torture they're inflicting.

The point of this rant (and yes, there is a point) is that this is bad customer service. Bad, bad, bad. There are good ways to handle this. The ISPchannel, plays a classical piece by Borodin. It's a 15 minute clip, it's lovely, soothing yet interesting music, and when you're on hold it's simply background music, which is fine. I never get tired of this music. And because they don't tell me my call is important, I am able realize that all by myself.

But the real problem is—people shouldn't have to be on hold at all. These days, I find myself on hold most often when I couldn't get my question answered on the web. See the problem there?

THE WEB IS CUSTOMER SERVICE. All of it. From your product and service information, to content sites to "contact us" pages to pictures of the staff. It's all customer service. For some reason, a lot of companies (and their web sites) don't seem to realize what kind of "experience" they're creating.

Every little thing adds up. When we're done slogging through a site to find something, not finding it, trying to find a phone number, calling it and waiting on hold, we think, "Next time I'll take my business somewhere else."

So what can you do about it on your site? First—make sure your site answers the questions your customers have most often. And make sure those answers are easy to find. Put them on the home page.

Make sure your site shows and explains your products and services as well as it possibly can. The more people can learn from your site, the easier it is for them to make a decision and the less time they have to spend trying to talk to you.

Use a free service like HumanClick to help you answer customer questions (for free) in real time. You don't need an expensive 800 number, your customer can ask questions right through the web. Imagine if you went to a site, had a question and got it answered immediately. Wouldn't you be more likely to go back to that site and perhaps buy something? I would—and have.

And remember—LIFE IS THE ULTIMATE EXPERIENCE. When you stop and actually think about where you are, what you're doing, and how it feels, it's much easier to decide what you need to do differently, for yourself, and others.

Daniel Will-Harris

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OK, so you want to make your site more useful, so people can find what they want without having to call you. Here are some ways to add more info to your site:

Adding Acrobat PDF files to your site

Adobe's Acrobat PDF files are great for when you want to give people something that looks just like a printed brochure (fonts, layout and all)—and something they can print themselves. It's also good for documentation (NetObjects uses this—and so does Nokia—which is good since I lost my cell phone instructions instantly but can still call them up on the computer—see, good customer service).

To make a PDF file, you need to buy Adobe's Acrobat. Or create a PDF file online

Once you've made your files, they're easy to add to your site. How?

  1. Upload the PDF to your web server.
    1. (If you're using NetObjects Fusion, add the pdf to your assets and NetObjects Fusion will upload it for you—or upload it yourself with an FTP program)
  2. Include a link to that file, like:

http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/pdfs/acr4faq.p df

Of course, the link address has to be exactly right (and remember, that upper and lower case matter in folder and file names). What I do is type the URL, paste it into the browser's address/location bar, and if works, I can just paste the link back into my page (if not, I need to retype it).

That's it. The PDF file will show in your visitor's browser (if they have the acrobat reader installed, which many people do, and if they don't, they can download it for free here.

 

Show & Sell
Presenting your products

One problem with photos on the web is that they're flat. You can only see one angle of a product. One new, and very easy solution is http://www.hoyeh.com (as in "ho, yeah" — hey, I didn't name it). It lets you create an interactive animation, so you can show your product spinning around—and your site visitor can spin the product themselves, and stop anywhere they want.

All you need are pictures from various angles. Use any digital camera or scanner to get them into JPG format. At the Hoyeh site, you select your photos, in order, and the site uploads them to its servers and creates an interactive animation.

Here's an example using a hand-made teddy Bear By Dee

See how this animation adds more life to the picture—you can see all sides of it, not just the front.

To see more Bears By Dee (and an example of how to leverage your free space on ebay) click here.

Hoyeh is simple to use, and free, and lets your site visitors see more of what you have to offer.

If you want to add some Flash (literally) to your product presentations, try http://www.electrifier.com. This system lets you create Macromedia Flash ads for your protects, auction items (or site or business or anything).

You don't have to buy Flash or learn how to use it, because this web-based system lets you choose styles and music, upload some pictures, type a little text, and voila, faster than you can say, "NBC's Olympic coverage sucked," you have an interesting Flash presentation, complete with music and animation.

The site provides a number of basic styles in different feelings, from traditional to extreme, and choices of music from classical, to jazz, to rock. Here's an example using another hand-made bear.

Now, some people may call this "eye candy" since it tends to just create a splashy presentation rather than adding a lot of information. Even so, it can help make an impression, and that's a good start.

It's slick, easy, and also, free (at least until October 15, then there'll be both free (advertiser supported) and fee-based versions.

 

SPECIAL DEALS FOR EFUSE.COM READERS

SAVE THIS/EMAIL THIS
You've probably seen services on big sites that let you click to save a page to an online bookmark or send a friend an emailed link to the page. It's a good way to help people get back to your site—and to share something of interest with a friend.

I recently noticed a very handy system that did this on TIME Magazine's site (time.com), a bit of follow up led me to Clickability, the company that powers SAVE THIS and EMAIL THIS. These products are used by well-known sites such as Time, People, Fast Company, Popular Mechanics and Business 2.0. (To see an example in action, click here.) and look at the "Save This" button at the end of the article.

Well, now you can add this same feature to your site so that your visitors can easily save, organize and share content, all branded with your logo and colors.

Normally there is a serious setup fee, but they're offering a special to all FuseLetter readers—if you sign up (for free) by October 16th, 2000, there's no set up fee, no monthly fee, no nothing. Just a useful service that enhances the functionality of your site and brings readers back for more. (If you want to pay an annual fee, you can get "enhanced reporting" about who's saving your pages.)

SAVE THIS is a valuable service, at an unbeatable price. For more information please contact partnerships@clickability.com and to get free setup, make sure to mention that you heard about it through the Fuseletter.

 

FOR NETOBJECTS FUSION

Affiliate Wizard for NOF
Be Free and Bitmotion have joined forces to bring you Affiliate Wizard, a plugin for NetObjects Fusion 5.0 that enables point-and-click creation of affiliate links for your Web Site. 

Affiliate Wizard works directly within NetObjects Fusion 5. Affiliates can place promotional links on their sites within seconds, without having to write or copy any HTML code. Affiliate Wizard lets you to seamlessly and invisibly connect to Be Free and manage your relationships with Be Free's

merchants without having to leave NetObjects Fusion. Earning money with your Web Site has never been easier. You can download the component, for free, from http://www.bitmotion.com.

Index your site with SiteIndex
SiteIndex is a NetObjects Fusion v4/5 component that creates a flashy yet practical DHTML index of all the pages in your site.

SiteIndex uses Fusion's site structure to painlessly create a listing of all pages

in the site. You can control many aspects of how SiteIndex looks and behaves: the dimensions of SiteIndex, where it appears on the screen, and colors, fonts, and sizes are all customizable. You can exclude selective pages in the site from the index, or include pages external to the site in the index. And it's compatible with all types of Fusion HTML output. So if you're looking for a simple, thorough way to build a useful index of your entire, site, click here.

 

Do Good For Free With Just A Click

 

One Final Word

When watching the Olympics, I had to marvel over what people can do physically. And I wondered, "Why are there no mental or spiritual Olympics and gold medals for being smart and or doing good?" Ooops, I forgot, virtue is its own reward; and also there's Oprah ;-)

 

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The SchoomozeLetter is ©1998-2005, Daniel Will-Harris, all rights reserved. If you'd like to use any article on the web or in print, please ask for permission. If you're an agent or publisher looking to publish these pieces, just drop me a note.