How service businesses can sell online

Many service-based businesses are missing out on e-commerce. David Brakha, founder and CEO of SaaS platform Blackbell, offers simple solutions for growing businesses to employ.

Customers are used to shopping online. In fact, in the last 12 months 78% of adults in the UK bought goods or services in this way and have high expectations when it comes to convenience, choice and speed and won’t think twice about walking away if you can’t deliver it. While product providers have been successfully perfecting the art of ecommerce for years, many service-based businesses are still lagging behind when it comes to giving customers what they want.

Given that most ecommerce technology was developed with the physical product retailer in mind, service businesses – from hotels and spas, to idyllic country wine tours – have had plenty of obstacles to overcome. Some of the most common are:

Too much admin, too few people

Countless businesses continue to use a mix of software tools to tackle numerous individual business challenges – which can be costly in time and money. When encouraging web visitors to make a booking, many organisations are ‘just about getting by’ through basic contact forms, or an email address or phone number. But, this can require huge amounts of admin, such as taking calls or reservations, which can cause immense strain on a small to medium sized business. This is because they are typically run by a small team with limited resources, or those whose core role is not necessarily manning the phone desk. As a result, reacting quickly to customer requests and responding to current trends is much slower than desired.

Hoops for the consumer to jump through

Customers want what they want and they tend to want it now. The rest of the ecommerce world knows this but many service businesses just aren’t geared up for handling online sales. Long preached sales wisdom advises sellers to lock in the consumer’s initial interest as soon as possible. This way you can do some hand-holding along the customer journey to encourage a quick and seamless sale. But, asking a customer to fill in a contact form or step away from the computer to make a call, for example, are unnecessary hurdles that service providers are still deferring to, but which act as a barrier between consumer interest and a purchase.

Simple changes

If you’re a business looking to grow, some simple, practical changes you make to overcome these hurdles are:

Make it easy for customers to interact with you

With the help of new technologies such as AI, it is now easier than ever for customers to engage with you. Adding a simple chat function to your website, for example, will enable you to handle customer queries immediately before they lose interest. Nor do you need a member of the team manning the system 24/7. Chat-bots give customers an easy way to get in touch which means the website also remains at the core of your communication – compared to a contact form which is likely to lead to them clicking off altogether.

Keep the number of channels to a minimum

Service providers should ensure they are providing customers with everything they need in one place. At all times, you should avoid driving them to communicate or purchase through additional channels – such as by phone or email – as this not only creates more work for your team but is more likely to result in lost sales.

Make repeat custom easy

As well as helping new customers buy from you, there should be a focus on making it easy for existing customers to turn into repeat business. If you offer your service on a recurring basis, for example yoga lessons or cleaning services, ensuring your website is geared up for customers to request a repeat subscription could pay dividends. Adapt your website to give customers the option to sign up this way.

Service businesses may have started on the back foot, but with digital technology fast becoming integral to all sectors it’s time they upped their game. To become more competitive online, it is vital you make it as easy as possible for your customers to communicate with you, and crucially, to buy from you. Having a single platform that ensures your website’s back-end functions are integrated with your sales and marketing efforts will help with this, as it means your system is joining up the dots so that you and your team don’t have to. Adopting the practices outlined above will help you to nurture your businesses growth by simplifying business processes and improving customer service and retention.

See also: Six tips for small businesses to master e-commerce

David Brakha

Eulalia Satterfield

David-Benjamin Brakha is founder and CEO of SaaS platform, Blackbell.

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