Six months ago, as our first job experience after graduating from college, my best friend and I started an online music store. That made us immediately stand out from the crowd. We haven't started advertising yet, online or elsewhere. We had no prior business experience, programming knowledge, or any idea of how the music industry works. We've made almost every mistake possible. And success has never seemed so easy. Why? We merely applied the essential business principle which seems to be lacking in both the music and Internet communities, and that made us immediately stand out from the crowd.
Having a brand-new business pay both its bills and ours from the very first week was rewarding, but the qualitative benefits are much greater. One of our customers keeps buying records from us (over $150 worth so far) even though she still doesn't have a record player. Bands we don't release ask if they can put our name and logo on their new CDs. A customer of our monthly music subscription service spontaneously started sending us copies of rare music from his collection each month. Every day our inbox is filled with messages which tell us that MeteorCity (our company) is the greatest thing since air travel. Each week a different customer calls or writes us asking if we would like to stay at his or her home. Our customers asked us to release a CD, and now that it's one week from coming out we continuous get calls from magazines and stores telling us that our customers want them to review and carry it. And, as you can imagine from all this, over sixty percent of our customers order from us again--at least once a month.
How did this happen? It's so simple it's amazing. Customer service. We try to respond to each customer individually, and when we get too many orders to do that, we still let them know that they're important--such as by dropping e-mails to let them know that we will answer their questions as soon as possible. We learned how to program, coordinate with distributors, and produce CDs on our own as we went along; but customer service we wielded as our most essential tool from day one.
I wish this was as obvious as it sounds. If it was, our jobs would be much easier. But treating customers well is definitely not a universal maxim these days. I have experienced this on the Internet by ordering from our competitors; almost invariably, they ignore our questions, botch our orders and fail to follow our requests. In the music industry, it's even worse. Stores, labels and distributors seem to try to make it as hard to order from them as possible. In some cases we've simply abandoned going through the official outlets and bought CDs from well-known bands directly through their managers. In other cases, we have to pay large fees for money orders to enable us to purchase sought-after imports. Not surprisingly, our customers are thrilled when they can later get the same CDs from us by just punching in a credit card number. We deal with the ineptitude of the outside world so our customers don't have to.
Perhaps the most amazing thing we've learned, fresh out of college and with no training in any of the areas we're succeeding in, is that the executives we talk to over the phone don't know what they're doing, either. The only difference is that we're more polite.
Our online business has a long ways to go. We have a lot more ideas than money to pay for them all. But tonight, having just received a letter from a girl who was out drinking with friends and then went home to write a long letter to her favorite music store, I'm completely confident that our customers will stick by us and tell their friends about us as we continue to learn.
The Internet connects everyone who's on it, and makes them all equals. We've heard this a thousand times, because this phrase has become part of our pop culture. So why do so many businesses persist on designing their pages and treating their customers as if the customers are merely inessential observers in the whole online experience? The Web is interactive. If you keep this in mind, and interact with your customers in a helpful and friendly way, your small business on the Internet can easily surpass the larger organizations which still haven't grasped this essential Internet principle.
You can view some of the tools used to make a successfull online business at: http://www.merchantbusinesstools.com/#label1
About The Author
Scott has been a webmaster since 1996 and has created a number of business and recreational webpages. More free information on how a successfull online business is created can be found at: http://www.merchantbusinesstools.com/#label1