Ordering new smart phones this week was an adventure. And, a story worth telling. Why? To start with, customer experience and key factors I noticed that lead to online marketing success. I was one click away from “cancel order” and more than once seconds away from ordering elsewhere. But, the offer of two absolutely free HTC DROID INCREDIBLE Android Phones (Verizon Wireless) was hard to pass up. And, not to mention, searching Google for “a smart phone deal” is a crap shoot – far too many irrelevant results to sift through – didn’t have the time for what appeared to be links to websites maintained by SEO experts (not exactly what I wanted). Where did I start?

I started at my bank’s website, credit card reward program. “Shop online from our links and get paid for it.” OK, buying phones was on my “to do” list so now I’m on the bank’s partner landing page scanning the retailers. Pre-scanned by my bank, I’m comfortable the retailers on the page are relevant to my needs. And, there is a certain trust factor build into the relationship. Well then, who sells electronics? In particular, who sells smart phones and who’s got the deal that’s hard to beat?

Before getting into that, one side note. I knew the “actual company offering the smart phones” didn’t matter all that much. I was specifically looking for a Verizon package; my wife’s current carrier, contract period past the renewal date (no cancellation fees) and Verizon’s reception is better than other phones we used at the house (rural area). To top it off, Verizon wants to keep the business and we know that.

Droid Incredible Smart Phone - the deal Many retailers are finally realizing the obvious, “keeping existing customers” is far more profitable than advertising to find new customers. In fact, I knew that almost all of the retailers offering Verizon phones landed on what was basically a Verizon framed page. Except for one important thing, the “smart phone deals” varied based on the “affiliate” offering Verizon’s services. Verizon services are the same no matter where you buy them. The affiliates, such as Sears, are after the commission they get from a renewed “two year contract” with Verizon. Basically, I know the affiliates can give away the phones and still make money. And, that’s what I’m looking for.

I’m not a cell phone fanatic, but my wife needs a new phone and upgrading my old cell phone is long overdue. I am a qualified prospect – you get the picture. And, yes, the phones come with an 8 mega pixel camera. You’ll soon see the pics as well, assuming the deal goes down. There’s more.

On the list of retailers partnered with my bank, Sears stands out immediately because it was offering twice the credit card rewards as everyone else (10 percent vs. 5 percent). Many companies just offered “free shipping” – big deal, I skipped those companies. Sears appeared to do their homework; they knew what their competition was offering and beat it.

Sears Electronics Best Droid Smart Phone DealsNOTE: The “partner affiliate deal” is more important in this case than the results of a Google search. And, I propose, far more effective than a Google search. The results of the Google search was good for finding reviews of different phones and a Bing search was excellent for finding photos of the smart phones. But, when it came time to make the buying decision, offerings from those that I already had relationships with was far more important – the trust factor higher. And, there was more in it for me, the customer.

The entire process is a long story, so I’ll get right to the point. After completing a series of unsuccessful radio button options – Verizon’s website usability challenges – I had no other choice than to talk to a human. Choices included: call or online chat with customer service. In this case, I started with a call and the CSR was a Sears sub-contractor obviously not in the U.S. About 40 minutes later, what I thought was a “done deal” was just the beginning.

I hung up the phone and the email autoresponders started kicking in. I received this in an email (bright RED letters): We need your help to complete your order!

You’re kidding me – the deal’s not done? With too much time invested, I had no other choice than make another phone call to find out if I could buy from Sears. Yeah, that was annoying after a 40-minute phone call already. Should I take the opportunity to “abandon” the deal and move on?

Not yet, I believed they had what I wanted and I’m invested in the process with my time. I phoned Sears customer service, again. About 30-minutes later the deal still wasn’t done because the CSR wasn’t trained well enough to figure out the real issue, which turned out to be a Verizon issue. I was told I had to wait 12-hours for them to research the situation – very, very annoying. I hung up. More autoresponders kicked in.

Somewhat frustrated, I decided it might be time to kill the deal. I launched the customer service link in the autoresponder to cancel the order. But, there was still “online chat” offered to help me. I thought for a second, maybe this will work – I’ll give it a try and/or use online chat to cancel the order. What happened next?

Fortunately, the online chat CRS was better trained then those in the call center. The rep quickly identified the problem, solved it and the deal went down. More email autoresponders kicked in:

“Great News! Your new Verizon Wireless DROID INCREDIBLE by HTC has completed processing and is ready to ship…” (no big RED letters this time).

I think my wife and I are getting new phones! That’s incredible.

The Process

Key components to successfully selling and marketing online:

  1. Establish partnerships of interest to your target market.
  2. Market your partners as well as your services.
  3. Create landing pages on your website that clearly describe “the deal.”
  4. Website usability – all’s for not if qualified customers have trouble completing the deal.
  5. Customer service options – if you can’t man a phone call at least offer an extensive FAQ page that answers the most common questions asked by your existing customers. Without it, bounce rates are high and your customer will be on your competitor’s website within a few clicks.
  6. Email marketing and autoresponders. They are expected after processing an order. Make sure you set them up and update them frequently based on customer feedback.
  7. Offer as much help as possible. And, more importantly, train your customer service reps or hire a sub-contractor that is willing to invest the time in doing so before answering your customer’s calls.
  8. Set a high priority on taking care of your existing customers.

Tis the Season | Sears Affiliate Promotions: