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  1. #1
    Affiliate Manager David Carter's Avatar
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    Should we disable our customer support phone number?
    Most magazine merchants with customer support phone numbers also take phone in orders from those lines. So in effect, the customer support number is also and order number. This is considered a leak by most affiliate marketing standards but largely accepted due to the presumed small number of lost sales and the presumed need for phone support to "seem" legitimate.

    We currently have customers who call our Customer support number to try to place orders. We have to explain that we do not take phone orders because we are a 100% online merchant. We take that step to insure that we do not compete with our affiliates at all and to make sure that the affiliate gets the commission every time. Because of this we have had 0 reversals since we opened shop in 2004. We don't even reverse refunded sales since we only expect the affiliate to send the customer, not guarantee that nothing goes wrong after we get the customer. I'm sure that one day we will get a wiley affiliate who will try to beat the system somehow and force us to reverse some sales but so far we have the most reliable and ethical group of affiliates on the net and our program is growing everyday. (its not my horn but my affiliates horn so I feel OK tooting it )

    Long story short, we may have to disable the support phone number for two reasons, the first is that the vast majority of calls are customers trying to make orders and secondly the vast majority of our customer support is handled online through our customer support forum. A lot of the time, we (and the affiliate) miss the sale when the phone order comes in because the customer, for whatever reason, doesn't go back to the site to place the order after the call. What do you guys think would be the best course of action? Keep the CS phone number or move everything online to keep down confusion and help insure that the affiliate who refers the sale gets the commission?
    David Carter
    MagazinesQuick.com

  2. #2
    Moderator BurgerBoy's Avatar
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    Yes.

    Remove the phone number and let customers use the online support forum.

    Vietnam Veteran 1966-1970 USASA
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  3. #3
    ABW Ambassador Ron Bechdolt's Avatar
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    One of the things we did with one of the merchants I manage was to take the support number off of every page and just put it down low on the support page (it's not even listed on the Contact Us page). We really rarely had any sales by phone, but just to be safe we added phone order tracking. Operators are told that anyone trying to place an order by phone should really try to support the customer with their on-line order, not to take the order by the phone unless it seems there just is no alternative.

    We are soon adding on-line support to one of my merchant sites and it's purpose is actually to help the customer with their online sales. No orders will be taken by this method.

    In short I guess what I am trying to say is it probably helps customers feel more secure about a site that offers these types of support access, but it is important to use them to redirect the customer back to the web site and help them finish the sale. In the long run, if you track these kind of support issues, you may find that there is a certain section of your web site that might be causing problems that, in fixing, would reduce the number of calls.

    Great question to ask. There are many views and opinions on this issue and I'm not saying this is the way to go, just sharing my experience.
    Ron Bechdolt | Affiliate Program Management Consultant
    7 Days A Week Marketing

  4. #4
    Member lookingfortips's Avatar
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    It seems you are aware that phone numbers and call in orders are a problem for affiliates and that you are making a proactive attempt to make your site affiliate friendly so kudos to you.

    I completely removed the phone number from my site a few days ago- even from the contact page. Now there is simply a contact form on that page. As soon as I join SAS I would like to look into their phone tracking but for now having a phone number on my site is out of the question.

    Do you by any chance know how SAS phone tracking works?

  5. #5
    ABW Ambassador Ron Bechdolt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lookingfortips
    Do you by any chance know how SAS phone tracking works?
    The helpful folks at SAS will give you some code that you put on your pages that will provide the affiliate ID number to the customer which they will provide with the operators ask for it. When you are ready, simply email SAS at shareasale@shareasale.com and ask them for it.
    Ron Bechdolt | Affiliate Program Management Consultant
    7 Days A Week Marketing

  6. #6
    Member lookingfortips's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 7-days
    The helpful folks at SAS will give you some code that you put on your pages that will provide the affiliate ID number to the customer which they will provide with the operators ask for it. When you are ready, simply email SAS at shareasale@shareasale.com and ask them for it.
    Thanks! I figured I would get more information directly from SAS once I was ready to go but I was curious about how the tracking actually worked. I will most definitely look into that.

  7. #7
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    You found out how consumers want to use your site and you are going to deny them the option they want?

    That just doesn't make sense. What you should do is set it up so you can track phone orders.

  8. #8
    Affiliate Manager David Carter's Avatar
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    Thanks Ron,

    We are pretty much handling things exactly like you say in your post. Most of our authentic CS issues revolve around order delivery and we have 8-12 weeks posted everywhere on the site. Most people still don't see it because they didn't look, however, and then fill out a support ticket two weeks after ordering. Those are fine and are usually handled online. Our support number is not prominent on our site because if customers see it they will call because they feel its easier than filling out an order form. Thanks to everyone for helping with this, all of your advise will be considered when we make our final determination.
    David Carter
    MagazinesQuick.com

  9. #9
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    What chetf said. As a merchant you should always think customer first. Just find a way to track it to affiliates if they come thru affiliate links/phone orders.

  10. #10
    Affiliate Manager David Carter's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by chetf
    You found out how consumers want to use your site and you are going to deny them the option they want?

    That just doesn't make sense. What you should do is set it up so you can track phone orders.
    Thanks for the input Chetf and Trust, let me clarify.
    We have not made a decision yet. We want to maintain the integrity of our affiliate program, first and foremost, while still serving our customers with top notch quality and customer service. If we need to set up a tracking and a phone order service, that can be arranged as well but we want to absolutely make sure that our affiliates are credited with every sale that they refer.
    David Carter
    MagazinesQuick.com

  11. #11
    OPM and Moderator Chuck Hamrick's Avatar
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    David, the minimum you can do is to conditionally display an affiliate 800 number when the referrer is an affiliate link. Sum those sales at the end of the month and bonus back all affiliate sales a percentage.

    Next you can take your top affiliates and give then unique 800 numbers that you trigger on the site when their links are referred. Then they get that credit back at the end of the month. The remaining affiliates would share the spoils from the general affiliate 800 number.

    We did the first example with Ancestry last year when I was still managing the program and all affiliates got a 20% bonus.

  12. #12
    Affiliate Manager David Carter's Avatar
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    Thanks Chuck

    You are right, that is a great way to handle phone orders.

    I think what we are really juggling is whether the reassurance to the customer is worth the risk to the affiliate. From what I have been able to determine over the last three years is that customers by and large today are savvy enough to buy online without a phone number. Our online system handles every request within hours at the most, and those CS requests are ticketed and we tracked to completion. So if the question becomes can we provide CS without putting the affiliate at risk, the answer is, absolutely. So what is the real benefit to the customer of the phone number?
    David Carter
    MagazinesQuick.com

  13. #13
    notary sojac Herb ԿԬ's Avatar
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    I believe in using a little psychology to preserve an affiliate's sale. Call his/her ID when it appears near the phone number a "priority number," so the customer thinks he's getting something for mentioning it.

    Catalogs do it.

  14. #14
    OPM and Moderator Chuck Hamrick's Avatar
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    The benefit to the customer is higher confidence in ordering and there are still a good percentage of consumers who are not comfortable typing credit card numbers into an online form. If merchants didn't see a real benefit from having call centers and 800# they wouldn't be a standard in online marketing.

  15. #15
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    I would strongly prefer that you keep the toll free support number on the site. The confidence that it gives customers (even if they never call it, which most don't) causes a good bump in conversions.

    Of course I would prefer that you add phone tracking and accept tracked orders over the phone, but even if you don't add phone tracking I would prefer that you keep the number. Several studies have shown that the increased conversion more than offsets the leakage.
    Michael Coley
    Amazing-Bargains.com
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  16. #16
    http and a telephoto
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    Chetf hit it this time. People want to call in orders and you are going to stop them? Shareasale phone tracking is easy to implement. Just do it. And train your operators to ask for the promo code. And then credit the affiliates with the sales.

    That's not all that difficult.
    Deborah Carney
    TeamLoxly.com BookGoodies.com ABCsPlus.com

  17. #17
    Affiliate Manager David Carter's Avatar
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    Seems like strong support to keep the number and implement phone tracking when taking orders over the phone. Great points all around and thank you all for helping us with this decision. We always know where to go when we need advise.
    David Carter
    MagazinesQuick.com

  18. #18
    AM Navigator Geno Prussakov's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by David Carter
    ...So what is the real benefit to the customer of the phone number?
    The confidence that M.C. has mentioned above, the sense of security it instills in your potential customers, helping transition them from prospects into clients much easier than is the case with some of your competitors that use a basic online 'contact us' form.

    If possible, conduct a poll, asking your current customer base to answer a simple question: All things being equal, would they buy from a merchant that displays an online contact form, or a toll free phone number? Make sure you promise to reward them for their participation (for example by entering each participant in a draw for a one year subscription to their favorite magazine, or something of a kind). I would be willing to sponsor the winner's subscription if you share the stats with me [not kidding]. ;-)

    Geno

  19. #19
    Affiliate Manager David Carter's Avatar
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    Great idea as usual Geno! I will pass that idea along to the other David and see if we can set it up. I'll sponsor the contest in your name if you can send me some of the official "spirits" of Russia.....
    David Carter
    MagazinesQuick.com

  20. #20
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    There have been at least a couple merchants (including another magazine merchant) here on ABW who have done tests specifically to measure the increased conversion ratio when a toll free number was listed and the increased conversions more than offset the number of phone orders.
    Michael Coley
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  21. #21
    http and a telephoto
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    Testing or a poll isn't needed, it is common knowledge that a toll free customer service number increases conversions whether orders are called in or not. But if you want to try and do one...
    Deborah Carney
    TeamLoxly.com BookGoodies.com ABCsPlus.com

  22. #22
    AM Navigator Geno Prussakov's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MichaelColey
    There have been at least a couple merchants (including another magazine merchant) here on ABW who have done tests specifically to measure the increased conversion ratio when a toll free number was listed and the increased conversions more than offset the number of phone orders.
    I personally don't doubt this axiom a single bit [hence, my post above -- it's first paragraph].

    But if you do want to do the poll, shoot me an e-mail, David, and we'll discuss.

    Geno

  23. #23
    ABW Veteran Mr. Sal's Avatar
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    We currently have customers who call our Customer support number to try to place orders. We have to explain that we do not take phone orders because we are a 100% online merchant.
    A 100% online merchant should have a toll-free number on the site, not only because it makes the site look more legit, but because it can also help the customer with any question they may have about the product before they buy it, and at the same time you might even get that customer to spend more money on a better deal that they may not know is available at the site.

    And, with a toll-free number on the site, even if it may look like a leak because of the issue of having a working tracking-code in there or not, I believe that a customer that have decided to buy, by using the toll-free number instead of just typing their CC number on the site, would be less likely to return the product and cause a reversal later, because they didn't knew about the other deals on the site, or that the product that they just received was also available in blue or in quantity discount, etc...

    Keep the toll-free customer support number, try to plug the small leak with a script that will show the affiliate ID close to that number, and don't tell the customers that batteries are not included, try to sell them the batteries too.

  24. #24
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    What about simply making sure that whenever your phone number appears on your site you have this text: "800 XXXX (For support enquiries only, no phone order)"

    At least you won't have to explain that you don't take orders by phone.

  25. #25
    Affiliate Manager David Carter's Avatar
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    Thanks again for the input guys, it seems that the number has value above and beyond its intended purpose.

    Geno, I will send an email later if for no other reason than its been awhile and Id like to catch up on goings on.... hehe

    This forum is worth its weight in gold because of the people who contribute congrats to Haiko and thanks again to everyone for help on this one.
    David Carter
    MagazinesQuick.com

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