Optimizing a Website for New Customers

Love-at-First-Sight-Image

Make it easy for prospects to embrace you.

By Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia Inc.

The most successful energy marketers are masters of creating great customer experiences, and they are particularly adept at inspiring a kind of “love at first sight” that compels prospects to become their customers.

Great marketers understand buyer psychology, particularly where it pertains to finding a new provider. They know that the rubber meets the road when a prospect goes online to vet potential providers, and they plan accordingly.

To woo customers most effectively, companies need an online presence that (a) consistently brings prospects to the website and (b) gives them the inspiration and information they need to make a choice on the spot.

More often than not, the prospect will make a choice quickly once they are searching in earnest, and they will choose the company with the website they like best, because they’ll figure—rightly or wrongly—it’s the best company. Why? Because their e-commerce experiences have taught them that smart companies have strong websites. That inference is not necessary reliable, but we can rely on prospects to make that inference.

Begin at the Beginning

It is a given that customer convenience differentiates competitors in this commodity-based industry. When you build a great online presence that makes it easy for customers to find your website and, upon arrival, find answers to their questions, you get a head start in the convenience race, and you are rewarded with an outsized share of new business.

Prospects begin their evaluation the moment the first page of search results appears on their screen, so the first goal is always to get to the top of the search results for pertinent keywords and keyphrases. Your presence on Page One not only puts you in front the prospect, it serves notice that your company is a leader. (When you can’t get there with your website listing, at least be there with pay-per-click advertising.)

Effective use of SEO strategies, centered largely on strong informational content, helps a company achieve a first-page presence in search results, and an attractive listing maximizes the opportunity. When a developer builds a website with a strong internal hierarchy, the site may generate an enhanced listing with sitelinks, which are direct links within the search result to subpages on the site. A search result with sitelinks gives the user the ability to click directly on a subpage that interests them, and, more importantly, it has a commanding look.

The “courtship” continues when they click on the listing and arrive at your site. Demonstrate your convenience with a design that begins to answer their most important questions in short order. Whether they arrive via home page or landing page, they should be able to form a near-immediate impression of what you do and what kind of company you are.

Here are some questions prospects are likely to ask and some solutions you can use to help them get comfortable and choose you as their new provider.

• What does this company do?

Answer this question at a glance with a combination of typography and imagery, focusing on the most prominent words, which is might be a headline, the top navigation bar or prominent buttons indicating types of services.

If you have distinct divisions such as commercial, residential and natural gas, the focal point might be a set of panels or buttons where the visitor chooses which divisions to explore. This design announces you as a substantial company with diverse capabilities, and it enables the visitor to move immediately to the website section that interests them.

If you are a full-service fuel company specializing in residential, announce all your major services in a prominent navigation bar and use a headline that summarizes the nature of your business.

If you have a whole array of services that makes you a convenient one-stop shop, play that up. Don’t expect prospects to read between the lines. That’s a big time convenience. Shout it out.

If you sell products that people might be unfamiliar with, such as Bioheat® fuel or ductless air conditioning, make sure comprehensive information about it is just a click away. People like products that are new and improved, and they want you to tell them all about them and demonstrate your expertise.

If you are a COD fuel company, keep it simple, with a strong emphasis on convenient ordering and reliable service.

Whatever the nature of the company, be sure the pages are clean and uncluttered and don’t scream, because no one wants to be confused or overwhelmed in their first few moments at your website.

Change your home page a few times a year to reflect the priorities of the season, because a customer who is calling for a new central air conditioner in May might have a mental hiccup when seeing a home page with a snow scene.

• What is this company like?

Many energy marketing companies enjoy excellent reputations within their customer base and the communities they serve, but there is no denying that fuel delivery in general has a mixed image. Natural gas utilities have spent millions tarnishing the image of heating oil, and the media plays up every prepay program gone bad and every accident. As such, an energy marketer has a special burden to exude professionalism and expertise.

Help a prospect overcome their hesitance and choose your company by oozing professionalism, expertise and trustworthiness on your site. Start by giving the site a highly professional “look and feel.” The prospects you are wooing are regularly exposed to high caliber marketing from the likes of Apple, AT&T, Bank of America, Geico, and they have standards.

Details like typeface, color scheme and graphic design combine to create an image and feel that can be anywhere from repellent to highly appealing. Take care to make sure you’re your overall effect is at the right end of the spectrum. Strive to reflect the customers and the community you serve. People are not complicated; they respond to pretty things. You don’t have to be Amazon, but you have to look sharp.

• What sets this company apart?

If the “look and feel” inspire visitors, they are likely to start poking around to learn a little more. Anticipate their questions, and plan proactively. One very effective approach is to place a prominent button on the home page that says, “Become a customer” or “New here? Click here for in-depth information about our services.”

That button should not take them straight to a credit application or enrollment form, because that’s jumping the gun. Instead, give them what they really want: insight into what sets your company apart from the rest.

Tell them succinctly who you are and how you deliver value. Don’t try to cram all the details on one page; instead use more buttons and subpages relating to your range of services and benefits.

If you use advanced software and hardware to improve business processes and customer service, include a button like “How we support our customers ” that links to a page where you describe the technology you use and the customer service benefits. For example, if you use CRM software that enables a CSR to access customer histories instantaneously, tell them. It matters to them, and they’ll like the idea that they don’t have to re-educate your staff about their service history.

If you offer electronic billing, add a button that says “Get invoices the way you like” and clicks through to an informative page on billing and payment options.

• Is this company trustworthy?

To help prospects get comfortable with you, flash your credentials and provide easy access to customer reviews and testimonials. Full-service companies that join Angie’s List, the Better Business Bureau and their state and regional industry associations have more credibility than those that don’t. Display those affiliations and lead customers right to your reviews and/or testimonials.

• Can this company give me what I want?

Many energy marketers have transformed their companies in the face of challenging market conditions to serve customers in new ways. Some are servicing all fuel types with equal expertise. Some offer whole home energy analysis and building shell improvements. Others help homeowners deploy “smart home” devices throughout the house. Announce all your service and value-adds in your “new customer” information section with links to subpages where customers can learn more.

• Is this company on the leading edge?

Prospects might not know what kind of equipment they want to install, or they might not. Either way, though, they probably have a sense that modern comfort equipment achieves high performance through sophisticated electronics, and they want a competent contractor with a mastery of new appliances.

As such, it is risky to leave them guessing. Use the new customer page to give them one-click access to your best informational copy, whether it is a series of blog posts, YouTube videos or copy you have written for your equipment pages.

You should also expect customers to make inferences regarding your expertise based on the their website experience. Strong design, navigation and informational resources combine to create an image of intelligence and competence.

• Can I do business with this company on my schedule?

Expecting customers to call the office to do business with you is very 20th century. Make it obvious to prospects that they can log into their accounts at any time and get things done. Put a button on your new customer page such as “24-Hour Access” that links to a subpage where you highlight everything your customers can do online. Explain online price protection enrollment, online service plan selection and online rewards point redemption. Tell how they can pay you online, schedule or request service, and order fuel online or by text message.

Extreme convenience sets you apart from the competition. Play it up, and differentiate yourself with emphasis! Prospects will appreciate the difference and be glad that you helped them understand.

• This company is perfect. How do I sign up?

Give customers the ability to initiate service with you on the spot, whether it is ordering fuel, signing up for a service plan or price protection, or simply requesting a call from a customer service representative.

Be sure to accommodate everyone, including prospects who like what they see but aren’t quite ready to sign up. For the undecided ones, offer the opportunity to request a call from a CSR and/or to download an exclusive piece of valuable content, such as a white paper about saving energy at home. This way you can capture contact information that enables you to continue marketing to them.

By making it easy for prospects to find you and size you up, you greatly improve your prospects for growth. If you’d like help attracting prospects and converting them to customers, PriMedia is happy to help. Please contact me at 800-796-3342 or rrutigliano@primediany.com to get started.

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